The similarities between our positions are deceptive. We are battling terrorists; the Israelis are battling those they call terrorists. Both their opponents and ours are armed and trained with the help of external actors. This is where the similarities end. Israel faces an existential crisis and has been, since the moment it was created, surrounded by hostile Arab states. It has an unwilling Palestinian population under its control. Adding to the fears such a situation creates is the memory of the Holocaust. We have no such fears. India is a large country—basically indestructible. The most that terrorists can do is bleed us. The second big difference is that Israel is dealing with groups based in territories under its control; most groups that attack us are based outside India.
More importantly, the idea that Israelis are masters at carrying out such missions is a myth. Two famous missions created this myth: the surgical strike against the Osirak nuclear installation, which stunted Iraq’s ability to create N-weapons; and the commando operation at Entebbe in Uganda, during which Israelis were freed from a hijacked plane with a minimum loss of life. These created the impression that Israel could inflict damage upon its enemies without being touched, but since then the myth has diverged from the reality. Two years ago, Israel marched into Lebanon thinking they would destroy the Hezbollah but ended up retreating in disgrace. And now, in Gaza, for all their claims of attacking only Hamas—a terrorist organisation and a legitimate target—Israel has attacked a civilian population and even bombed a UN school. Such atrocities against innocent civilians are turning even their closest friends against them.
This is not an example we should follow. What has Israel achieved with attacks on the Palestinians? The moderates have been sidelined, the extremists have been encouraged and after a history of 60 years of military actions against the Palestinians, Israelis still live in an atmosphere of fear for their very existence. If this were to happen to Pakistan after military action taken by India, we will confront a failed state and a Talibanised neighbour. There will be no prospect of durable peace in the foreseeable future.
The real enemy is the isi and the terrorist groups that continue to receive military backing. They need to be isolated from the larger Pakistani nation. During the last five years, following the composite dialogue process, a constituency in Pakistan has risen demanding just this. Many Pakistanis have begun to question whether 60 years of hostility towards India have led to anything other than their nation sinking deeper while India has forged ahead. This constituency has to expand if we are to see the prospect of Pakistan becoming a stable democratic nation, one that stops exporting terrorism. There is no reason to destroy the real achievements of the last few years by ill-considered military actions that will only strengthen the hands of our enemies.
Besides, there isn’t any empirical evidence that surgical strikes work in stopping terrorists. In this case, a military strike would give the Pakistani army an excuse to silence its critics and even overwhelm or oust the civilian government. We might end up driving Pakistan into the hands of the militants, giving them much greater power to threaten us. Above all, there is the ultimate threat of nuclear war. That always has to be taken into account in our calculations.
Lastly, we need to realise that diplomacy alone, coercive or otherwise, can never solve the problem of terrorism; 80 per cent of the solution is internal to India. We didn’t have, and don’t have, the laws, the police force or the intelligence to deal with the issue. The US, at least in this regard, offers a precedent, with its Department of Homeland Security. In contrast, we have a home ministry that looks after security, the national language, and even the Padma awards! We need to pursue solutions that make every Indian safer, not just follow the example of a country that faces a situation starkly different from ours.
(Lalit Mansingh is a former foreign secretary.) as told to Omair Ahmad