Securing a Subcontinent: An Interview with General V.P. Malik

General Ved Prakash Malik oversaw Operation Vijay, the Indian military operation against Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil War, which expelled Pakistani forces from the Kargil region of Kashmir. General Malik has authored numerous works related to Indian foreign policy, most notably Kargil: From Surprise to Victory, an account of the 1999 war.

The Politic: How has the nuclearization of India and Pakistan stabilized or destabilized South Asia?

VPM: Nuclearization of China, India and Pakistan has created a ‘stability-instability paradox’ situation. The military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear and conventional war; it has become less stable at lower levels of violence. The likelihood of a full-scale war stands reduced, while the possibility of proxy war – through terrorists or limited war and skirmishes with regular troops along disputed borders – appears to have increased.

Earlier, proxy war and terrorism, which could lead to a limited or full-scale conventional war, were not viewed as part of the spectrum of conflict. The Kargil war and the Indo-Pak military standoff in 2001-02 have shown that proxy war and terrorism must be included in the ‘spectrum of conflict’ between two nations.

The Politic: What lessons did the Indian security establishment learn from the Kargil conflict?

VPM: There are a number of important strategic lessons that have emerged from the Kargil war.

1) There are smaller chances of full-scale nuclear or conventional war between two nuclear weapon states. But as long as there were territory-related disputes, the adversary may indulge in a proxy war leading to a conventional war or a limited border war.

2) Loss of territory is unacceptable to the public or political authority in India. This is a strategic handicap and a risk in a conventional-war setting, which increases in a limited-war scenario. It implies greater attention to surveillance and close defense of the borders or lines of controls.

3) The successful outcome of a border war depends on the ability to react rapidly to an evolving crisis. The military would be expected to react quickly in order to localize, freeze, and reverse the situation, arrest the deterioration, enhance deterrence, and prevent escalation on the ground.

4) A war may remain limited because of credible deterrence or escalation dominance, when a side has overwhelming military superiority at every level. The other side will then be deterred from using conventional or nuclear war due to the ability of the first to wage a war with much greater chances of success.

5) A limited conventional war will require close political oversight and politico-civil-military interaction. It is essential to keep the military leadership within the security and strategic decision-making loop.

6) Mobilizing and sustaining domestic and international support for military operations would depend on righteous action and the ability to operate in a manner that conforms to political legitimacy, for example the avoidance of civilian and military casualties and the minimization of collateral damage.

7) Information operations are important due to the growing transparency of the battlefield. The political component of military operations—namely retaining the moral high ground and denying it to the adversary—requires a comprehensive media and information campaign.

The Politic: What do you believe has been the greatest impediment to improved India-Pakistan relations?

VPM: Indo-Pakistan relations have made little progress primarily due to Pakistan’s physical and moral support for anti-India cross border terrorism in the past and, willingly or unwillingly, not being able to stop terrorist outfits using Pakistani soil to carry out terrorists acts like the Mumbai incident on November 26, 2008.

The Politic: How has Pakistan state sponsorship of different Kashmiri militant outfits changed since the Kargil conflict or since the 2001 World Trade Center and Indian Parliament attacks?

VPM: On account of global condemnation of terrorism, UN Security Council, and SAARC resolutions on counter-terrorism, and Indo-Pakistan bilateral talks wherein Pakistan has promised that it would not allow its territory (including Occupied Kashmir) to carry out terrorism activities in India, the Pakistani government has taken to public denial of terrorist acts in India. As a result, the number of such incidents has reduced. However, as the Mumbai and incidents elsewhere have shown, Pakistani territory and terrorists continue to be used for planning and launching terrorism in India. The sophistication and violent intensity of such incidents has risen considerably.

The Politic: What tools does the Indian security establishment have to confront the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan? In light of the longstanding counterinsurgency in Kashmir, the Kargil Conflict, the 2001-2002 border crises, and the response to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which of these tools have proven the most successful?

The contentious Kashmir regions between India and Pakistan

VPM: On the domestic front, the Indian government has fenced its border with Pakistan and improved its surveillance, improved intelligence capabilities and coordination, given greater teeth to its investigation agencies, and is in the process of improving the rest of the state machinery and procedures to tackle counter-terrorism. It has engaged the Pakistani government more intensely on the counter-terrorism issue bilaterally and multilaterally. After the Mumbai incident, substantial evidence has been given to Pakistan to legally prosecute the perpetrators.

These measures will prove effective only when the Pakistani government bans and takes action against anti-India terror outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and removes their training camps, planning, and logistic infrastructure from its soil, and takes legal action against their leaders.

The Politic: Does the more moderate response to the 2008 Mumbai attacks by both India and Pakistan (compared to 2001 for instance) signal a shift in their relations?

VPM: I do not believe so. There was, and continues to be, very strong public condemnation of the Indian government’s response to counter-terrorism during and after the Mumbai incident.

In the Mumbai incident, the government of India may have reacted more moderately. But its public mandate on the progress of Indo-Pakistan relations has been narrowed and restricted. And as we know, public perceptions in a democracy are very important.

The Politic: Could you comment on Pakistan’s recent offensive against the Taliban and what implications this has for India-Pakistan relations?

VPM: Though belated, the Pakistani Army offensive against Taliban is in the best interest of Pakistan and the rest of the world. India expects that Pakistan should take similar strong action against jihadi terror groups who plan and launch cross-border operations against India. This is not visible so far.

Indo-Pakistan relations at present remain hostage to cross-border terrorism launched from bases in Pakistan.

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