Pakistan’s Kashmir Strategy: Baiting India and Fanning Flames



India has recently counterattacked Pakistani positions along the LoC in response to the terrorist attack on the Sujuwan Army camp on February 13th. In 2018 alone the Line of Control (LoC) in Indian Administered Kashmir has experienced an increased number of attacks from Pakistan that will likely continue throughout the year. These attacks have been met with similar retaliation by Indian forces, who have undertaken cross-border raids and artillery strikes to inflict casualties upon the Pakistani military and infiltrators. These attacks, have caused frustration in India since the collapse of the 2003 ceasefire in 2015 which is spurring the engines of ingenuity to respond more forcefully to Pakistani aggression. However, escalation of attacks may be exactly what Pakistan’s goal is, for Islamabad is seeking not only victory over India but vulnerability within India.

With the recent rise of Hindu nationalism inflaming the ethno-religious tensions of the nation, India is on the path to vulnerability. Hindu nationalists have harassed, beaten and killed Muslims in addition to lower castes, and have violently protested movies that have depicted historical events – sometimes based on legends – and individuals like Padmavati, wife of Ratan Singh of Chittor. New Delhi has remained silent while protesters set ablaze hundreds of vehicles across many states and in key cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai. 

India was founded as a secular state, and was intended to be secular due to its plethora of ethno-religious groups by its founding fathers. Hindu nationalism not only undermines India’s democratic principles but also offers a chance for Pakistan to divide India along ethno-religious lines, and exploit this vulnerability for its own gains. Hindu nationalism in India does not empower Hindus, but rather endangers the entire country to the manipulations of Pakistan, China or extremist groups such as ISIS.

Worsening Hindu-Muslim relations, rising social tensions and a silent government will only create an opportunity for Pakistan exacerbate the tensions in India through the continued use of terrorism. 

Pakistan was founded on the flawed ideology of the two nation theory – the belief that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist. India’s 70 year history as a secular state which has more Muslims than either Pakistan or Bangladesh has disproved this theory. However, Pakistan may leverage the behavior of Hindu nationalists as evidence of the “incompatibility” of Muslims and Hindus. 

Moreover, as tensions flare, opportunities may arise wherein Pakistan arms separatist groups. India is certainly not short of separatists and insurgent groups based on ethnic, linguistic and religious reasons. Close to 40 different separatist groups exist in the country, and "Hindutva" will only continue to bolster the rise of separatists. As Muslims continue to face growing persecution in India, these tensions feed into Pakistan’s narrative and may drive Islamabad’s strategy going forward.

Pakistan is already willing to escalate attacks on the LoC, as the attacks in 2018 alone are set to outpace that of 2017. Each year the LoC incidents have been greater than that of the previous year, and this yearly escalation in attacks has been met with a corresponding amount of counter-attacks by India. These attacks not only expose weaknesses in India’s defenses in Kashmir, but could also be an attempt by Pakistan to bait India into escalating its responses by initiating deeper cross-border raids or airstrikes. As the number of attacks increase Pakistan seemingly turns up the heat on India each year, and still effectively strikes positions on the LoC despite the Indian army’s preeminence. Moreover despite the counter-attacks by India, Pakistan still gets infiltrators and arms in to Indian Kashmir to cause havoc. But what is Pakistan’s strategy? Islamabad has been engaged in this strategy of non-state insurgency in Kashmir since 1948, when the first Pashtun raiders marauded Kashmir and drove the state into the arms of New Delhi. Pakistan sees the effects of terrorism as an effective way to undermine India as a whole rather than just undermine Kashmir. 

By baiting India into more aggressive actions, Pakistan seeks to incite greater ethnic tensions in India. The increasing LoC attacks could be a way for Pakistan to draw India into a campaign that would not only cost blood and treasure, but also further stress the tense relations between Muslims and the Hindu nationalists as accusations of fifth column activity or Pakistani sympathy could easily be lodged against Indian Muslims. Pakistan may also be utilizing terrorism in order to pressure Modi and the Parliament to initiate a controversial action such as an Indian PATRIOT Act, a harsh counter-insurgency campaign in Kashmir or aggressive military actions over the LoC. Pakistan’s actions coupled with the Indian reactions could set off a series of events that initiate widespread sectarian conflict. Therefore, India, and by association Kashmir, would be extremely vulnerable to further Pakistani aggression once the country is experiencing domestic upheaval. Although this would hardly topple the Indian state, it could potentially cause domestic conflict which would distract and weaken New Delhi, giving Pakistan a significant advantage. 

India must carefully manage its Kashmir strategy, for improving defenses and resources available to forces along the LoC will ensure better survivability and security for the people and forces within Kashmir. Investments must be made in better equipment for the LoC operators, and better support services such as rapid response forces and emergency responders. Utilizing enhanced thermal imagery would allow Indian ground forces to detect infiltrators even during barrages, and if used in coordination with increased unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) patrols, India could significantly reduce the number of successful infiltrations. Building better defensive systems and giving security forces at the LoC more advanced capabilities would be a safer and more effective strategy than engaging in more aggressive offensive actions against Pakistan. Diplomacy too can be and should be leveraged in order to cut the Pakistan ISI’s global funding fronts. 

Muslims in India were essential actors in the freedom struggle, and Muslims are continually contributing to Indian society. India has had Muslim presidents, political leaders, business leaders, Bollywood stars, cricket champions and leading military and intelligence officials. India’s founding elite comprised people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and languages and all religions. The country was founded upon a pluralistic, tolerant ethos and the Constitution reflects this ideology. India is where it is today because in 1947 India and its leaders took a path different from that taken by Pakistan. India’s future and that of the region and the globe, lies in India moving ahead along this path, instead of allowing identity politics, religious nationalism or social unrest to undermine Indian society. Hindu nationalism should be condemned and dismissed as an ideology designed to bring India ruin and Pakistan opportunity to wreak havoc. Although the constant harassment of the LoC costs lives, escalation against Pakistan at the LoC might be exactly what Islamabad wants. India can better absorb Pakistan’s attacks than Pakistan can absorb India’s counter-attacks, and the escalation of attacks against India by Pakistan might be an attempt by Pakistan to bait India into an aggressive action with unknown consequences.