Thursday, January 26, 2023
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Not full-blown war but covert operations can help India keep Pakistan on the edge

India should strike preemptively, decisively and repeatedly to force compellence on Pakistan.

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After Pulwama, a full-scale conventional war with Pakistan to inflict a decisive defeat is not in the realm of reality, given the nuclear backdrop.

Instead, India’s strategy has to be a combination of covert operations in Pakistan and direct military action below the nuclear threshold over a prolonged period. This will enable India to achieve its political aim of forcing compellence on Pakistan to stop interfering in our internal affairs.

Pakistan’s strategy

Pakistan’s unambiguous political aim is to seize the Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and seek parity with India in the comity of nations.

In pursuit of this aim, it follows a long-term national security strategy, which is backed by a national consensus, and wages a calibrated hybrid war. Pakistan has persevered with this strategy despite all diplomatic, economic and military odds. The 14 February Pulwama terrorist attack is only its latest manifestation.

In a nutshell, the essential features of Pakistan’s strategy are:

  • Wage a fourth-generation war in J&K and hinterland of India.
  • Launch quid pro quo response to retributory Indian operations below the threshold of war.
  • Avoid a conventional war; if forced, stalemate India’s conventional superiority with a combination of dissuasive conventional capability and “irrational nuclear brinkmanship”.
  • Politically/militarily manage India’s counter fourth-generation war (as perceived) within acceptable limits.

Also read: To war or not to war with Pakistan: Strategy, not public mood, should drive Modi govt

Gaps in India’s strategy

Pakistan’s strategy has been eminently successful because it has checkmated a much more powerful adversary. Every major terrorist attack in India over the last two decades has led to political and public outrage. But our rare military responses have lacked strategic vision and a logical conclusion, as seen with Operation Parakram in 2001-02 and the ‘one off’ surgical strikes in September 2016.

This is because we do not have a comprehensive, long-term National Security Strategy to counter Pakistan’s hybrid war in a nuclear backdrop. In its absence, our responses are not carefully calibrated and we end up in a crisis management mode after every terrorist attack.

It is never too late to formalise a comprehensive National Security Strategy and initiate long overdue reforms in higher defence management and modernisation of armed forces. Let Pulwama be the turning point for that.

Nevertheless, national interest demands a measured response to the Pulwama terror attack.

Although our technological-military edge over Pakistan has got diluted over the last two decades, we still have adequate military capacity to achieve our political aim of forcing compellence on Pakistan. The essential ingredients of a possible strategy are:

  • Counter fourth-generation war in Pakistan by exploiting its fault lines.
  • Launch operations below the threshold of war focusing on terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere in Pakistan.
  • Engage in a proactive limited war at a time of own choosing to compel Pakistan to stop fourth-generation war in J&K and hinterland of India.

Also read: After Pulwama, another ‘one off’ surgical strike will be a strategic mistake

Engage Pakistan on all fronts

Waging a counter fourth-generation war, exploiting Pakistan’s fault lines, was and is the most cost-effective option for India. Baloch, Pashtun and Balti ‘nationalism’  and the sectarian divide between the Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadiyas are tailormade for this.

Since the subject is in the covert domain, to what extent Chanakya’s Kuttayudha (the art of covert warfare)  has been exploited by India is hard to tell. Had this option been efficiently exploited, Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed would not have been plotting attacks on India, and the Pakistan Army would have been reeling under a series of attacks by ‘unknown assailants’ post-Uri or post-Pulwama.

In my view, this is the best long-term option and must be relentlessly pursued in collaboration with Iran and Afghanistan.

Operations below threshold of war

Across the Line of Control (LoC), such operations can be in the form of fire assaults, special forces’ raids, air/drone/missile strikes or small-scale operations to capture selected enemy posts. These operations lie in the tactical realm and are used proactively across the LoC as part of the ongoing operational strategy or for quid pro quo retribution.

Across the international border, similar actions on targets, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed hubs at Muridke and Bahawalpur, would fall in the strategic realm. In the absence of an overwhelming technological-military edge like the US, India will have to consider a quid pro quo response and even the risk of escalation from Pakistan.

If we had a long-term strategy in place, such operations could have been launched in 24-48 hours. Nevertheless, any of these options can still be exercised at a time that India chooses.

Also read: Why India is developing nuclear capability beyond what is required for retaliation

Proactive limited war

There is adequate space for a short and intense limited war below the nuclear threshold. However, such an option must be exercised preemptively when the adversary least expects it. This is not a retributory option.

When restricted to J&K, this option is likely to give a bigger window before nuclear weapons actually come into play. The ongoing proxy war waged from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir provides enough justification to exercise this option, which is best timed during summers in J&K.

We should adopt a strategic defensive posture in the territory outside J&K and declare the same to the world. If Pakistan escalates the war outside J&K, we should decimate its air force, navy and mechanised forces. In 10 days, the LoC will be pushed back 10-15 km before nuclear weapons come into play, and we would be threatening their strategic objectives. All launch pads used for facilitating infiltration would be captured. This option would force Pakistan to the negotiating table as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would come under threat.

We must not hastily blow the war bugle, egged on by public sentiment or for short-term political gains. India needs to keep Pakistan on the edge with calibrated execution of its strategy. It should strike preemptively, strike decisively and strike repeatedly until the political aim is achieved.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.

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  1. Excellent options which even a layman like me can fathom and agree to but does our “Gandhian” leadership have the balls for persuing such a policy ? 100% doubt.

  2. Pakistanis need to be attacked am murdered all over the world.
    RAW must remove its kid gloves and ADOPT a POLICY of ASSASSINATION.

    As soon as Pakistanis are identified anywhere in the world, they need to be targeted for murder and destruction.

    We need to start with Nepal and Bangladesh first and then move to Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and Europe and the USA.
    Also We need to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff and go for a massive conventional strike which should be immediately followed by a
    nuclear strike which will wipe out six of their cities the blink of an eye..

    The only way we can deal with the pakistan menace is by killing 190 million of them in three hours.

  3. Such strikes are not only held by mere words. A lie has no legs. Their own people do not support the surgical strikes’ claims as PM Modi has not provided any evidence to them yet.

  4. Solid article. I was beginning to think I was the only person advocating a consistent, long term policy of dismembering Pak by supporting, aggressively and covertly a free and independent Baluchistan and Pushtunistan.

  5. Below the threshold of war, below the threshold of nuclear war… frequently used in this opinion but I have a question to ask, when you will attack Pakistan in any way possible who will decide the response ? Of course Pakistanis will decide how they respond.

    Once you attack them you can’t dictate your war terms, hey no nukes please, won’t work.

    We have completely failed to understand that we have tried everything to keep IoK but Kashmiris aren’t willing to be part of India. This has more an issue of national ego than security or sovereignty.

    This isn’t true that we have strong moral standing on issue of Kashmir, world supports us because we are a big market. Same is the case of China, US and other forces do not like China but still consider it a big market.

    We must project ourselves as secular state rather a Hindu state where other minorities are facing suppression, are killed ,raped or tortured just because of their religion. We should part ways from religious extremism and terrorism which has religious background but we do not want anyone to talk about it.

  6. “Across the Line of Control (LoC), such operations can be in the form of fire assaults, special forces’ raids, air/drone/missile strikes or small-scale operations to capture selected enemy posts.”

    I never knew a Lt Gen in India would be so naive that he doesn’t understand the effects of using missiles across LOC or anywhere else. A missile launched has inherent hysteria of unknown warhead, easily causing confusion that one might be a nuclear tipped. And how a man of this stature is suggesting openly to breed terrorism in Pakistan is marvellous. Hats off !

  7. How wishful thinking. Do Indians consider pak halwa that they will simply go and eat it and pak will not respond any measure against it. If India could do anything militarily or politically against pak it had done long ago. What India can do against pak is just an imaginary surgical strike and then producing movie of it for internal political gains. If u want to solve the problem, introspect that what u r doing in kashmir and with kashmiri people. Hysteria, rhetoric and warmongering against pak can never benefit India in anyway. How pak can prosecute anyone with out concrete evidence, specially on Indian demands. JeM is banned in pak since 2018, masood azhar is also since then and under house arrest. JeM also did blasts in pak but pak could not prosecute him for his crimes against pak due to the lack of actionable evidence because court demands evidence. JeM’s offshoots also operate from Afghanistan. And when pak demands any concrete evidence from India, it always denies to share but blames pak for any incident which happens in India immediately with out any prior investigation. Pak demanded access to 26/11 verdict and alleged Pakistani ajmal qasab but India denied and later Indian media itself proved not only his nationality but also his religion by revealing his UP domicile. One of his videos from hospital bed qasab says”bhagwan mujhay kabhi maf nahin kray ga” and that statement raises many questions.
    Suspects of Samjhota express blast in which 42 Pakistanis were killed r still free even after court rulings. KALBHOSHAN’s network killed hundreds in pak, 60 lawyers in quetta bar in just one blast. I will not talk about Killings after allegations of beaf eating, Mumbai Muslim killings and gujrat revolts and killings because its Indian internal matter but all these show only Indian hypocrisy. Tit for tat will go on even after war and if u want to end it abandon useless and wishful plannings against pak and try to listen kashmiris which is major dispute recognised by UNO, end brutal oppression of kashmiris, their genocide, torture, killings and grievances. 518 unarmed civilian kashmiris including women and children were killed in just 2018, thousands lost eyesight hit by pelt guns of Indian forces(18 months baby girl habba is one of them). Burhan Wani and Dar both were brilliant students before joining JeM. Today more well educated kashmiri youth is joining separatists. New trend of suicide bombing is very dangerous that shows hopelessness of kashmiri youth. Kashmiris have been traditionally peaceful sufi Muslims but Indian brutality and oppression is pushing them towards radicalization. If pak is rouge because of MASOOD AZHAR why does India is not because of KALBHOSHAN.

  8. Wah kya yaad kerva dia aaj! As you sow miss india so will you reap…. there’s a price to pay for murdering, raping and torturing millions of kashmiris.

  9. As if India isn’t doing it right now…. supporting terrorist activities in Pakistan
    She started it in 1947…..

  10. I must say an interesting share, however this seems delusional. The context and extent of any kinetic action b/ w two nuclear states will always remain a bulwark towards dessert not for one but both. Any thing which is hybrid in domain needs to be seen in both perspectives calibrated response and equally calibrated reply should be expected. The fault lines and it’s trigers of not more but remains equal in Baharat. The social, economic and political cleavages exit on both sides of the border readeally exploitable and has the potential to turn out nasty; but who is at loss a country who is still struggling to build its economy and get out from the shackles of turmoil or a country who is about to cross most of the world leaders in economy in next 20 to 30 years.
    A paradox indeed

  11. There is no denying that we have to be pro-active in our Defence. However, is war the only option, even if it is conducted below the nuclear-threshold level? How sure are we that it will be limited and short? Is the cost of waging a war worth it?
    In any case we have been at war with Pakistan ever since our Independence. The only thing is that the intensity has varied.
    India has many other options that it needs to develop simultaneously. Some have been very well explained in the article: India should counter Pakistan through a full spectrum of relentless actions By Sreeram Chaulia:
    Cyber Warfare; Diplomatic Isolation & Nurturing Diplomatic Relations with countries like Israel & Taiwan (to counter China); Economic & Financial imposts like removing the MFN Status for Pakistan and imposing stiff tariff and trade conditions (even if it hurts some of our traders – an excellent example is the US actions against China); Social & Cultural Isolation – by not providing a platform for Pakistani actors and artists; Imposing a sports isolation by refusing to play with them in ANY competition and having them blacklisted by all sporting bodies as State Sponsors of terrorism (as was South Africa during the Apartheid); taking them to the International Court of Justice and referring them to the International Criminal Court as State sponsors of terrorism.
    At the same time we need to examine the use of Drones and UAV’s. The Americans have been using them for quite a while. They are less likely to cause civilian casualties and more targeted for picking up high value targets.
    We also need to support the Baluchi’s and other marginalised communities like the Sindhi’s and Mujhairs.
    Modi’s initiative to engage with the Gulf Countries is very encouraging.
    We also need to be aware that we do not lose our moral high ground through indiscrimate acts.
    At the same time we need to protect our Muslims from being radicalised by engaging with our Islamic Community. After we have the second largest Muslim population in the world and they deserve our respect and support.
    It is also for consideration whether it is time to revoke Article 370? Yes, there will be a backlash and fallout as subsidies are withdrawn – but that could be phased over a period of 5-7 years to lessen the impact. That will also give time for the development and economic benefits to flow through.
    There are no easy answers and quick solutions.
    Lastly, the best Defence for India is to make itself economically strong. Money talks. China is a great example. A war puts a country back.

  12. Create Indian terror groups for use on Pak soil. There would be many patriotic people who could offer their services for such purposes. The target group should those who are not smart enough, tall enough, fit enough, educated enough to join the armed forces but would still like to contribute to the nation’s security.

  13. Pak PMs keep claiming that K is a disputed territory n unless it is resolved thru dialogue there could be no peace.So Pak position is clear w/o a shred of doubt given series of cross border terror attacks.Under these circumstances how can India even conceive any form of dialogue! So,first India should completely rule out dialogue option. Next,formulate some of the strategic options mentioned in the column paying them in same coins instead waiting for the cross-border attacks we have been getting all these two decades.Entire Indian leadership after INDIRA have failed miserably on Pak policy.

  14. Why don’t we have plans for retaliation in a couple of hours. Am sure this would be place. Guess it’s the go ahead which doesn’t come.

  15. Does Pakistan honestly believe it can wrest Kashmir from India … Neither conventional wars nor three decades of unconventional violence have come close to achieving this object. The generals in GHQ must have a good idea of Pakistan’s strengths, capabilities and also how far back it has begun to fall, below Bangladesh in per capita income. To posit continuing hostile acts, taking care only not to provoke a nuclear exchange, seems a very suboptimal response to the trouble Pakistan has undoubtedly given us. 2. The other factor that should trouble us is how Kashmir is now being seen almost entirely in military / security terms. Saw a graphic image of a young Kashmiri boy / man bleeding from his nostrils. Being punished by cowards for Pulwama. Bringing out the worst in us, deadening us to human suffering and numbing losses of life and livelihood. 3. Whether Pakistan or Kashmir, we seem to have lost our way.

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