India has changed paradigm for addressing terrorism, says former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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India has changed paradigm for addressing terrorism, says former High Commissioner to Pakistan

New Delhi:  Calling the 2019 Pulwama terror attacks one of the “turning points” in India-Pakistan relationship, former High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria said on Thursday that India has now changed the paradigm of addressing terrorism, especially that originating from across the border.

“There has been a paradigm shift in the way India has dealt with terrorism and, in particular, terrorism from Pakistan. A case in point is the 2016 surgical strikes and the 2019 air strikes in Balakot, which changed the game and set up a credible deterrence against terrorism.

“It made it clear that India would be willing to go into hot pursuits of terrorists, either punishing them punitively or preemptively. That is what marks a shift in that policy,” Bisaria said during a panel discussion organised by Usanas Foundation, a geopolitical and security affairs organisation.

Having taken over as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan in 2017, Bisaria was asked by Islamabad to leave the country in August 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370.

His recent book, ‘Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship Between India and Pakistan’ not only provides a gripping account of events that unfolded during the period but also looks at the troubled relationship between the two neighbouring countries since 1947.

“I have argued (in the book) that, with the benefit of hindsight, India had possibly not used enough force in the 1980s, 90s, 2000s and certainly not in 2008 in the Mumbai terror attacks which deserved a very strong, hard-powered response.

“I have also mentioned that if India had used instruments like air strikes and the surgical strikes in 2008, we could have set up a better deterrence against the terrorism that followed,” Bisaria told Abhinav Pandya, the founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation.

The diplomat notes that the 2016 surgical strikes and 2019 Balakot air strikes were a demonstration of the fact that India was willing to enter into a hot pursuit of terrorists in their territory.

“India does not any more conflate its Pakistan and Kashmir policy. A Pakistan policy of a tough posture on terrorism is an external policy. A Jammu and Kashmir policy, which at the moment is administering a healing touch and looking at development, is an internal policy. Pakistan has no locus standi in it. In the past, Pakistan wanted to promote a narrative that it is a stakeholder in J&K,” he said.

He accepts that there were some “positive developments” and a “positive mood” in terms of trying to engage with Pakistan and to assess how the country would be different from the Pakistan of the past once Imran Khan came to power in 2018.

“But when in 2019, on February 14, the Pulwama attack took place, that changed the complete equation. It confirmed to India that nothing had changed and that the Pakistani establishment was not willing to rein in terrorism”.

In his book, the seasoned diplomat argues that it is Pakistan’s own ‘identity crisis’ that is driving the military establishment towards hostility with India.

“Pakistan was never a normal country, a normal neighbour defined as a country which perhaps does not have the army determining every little bit of policy and also not using the instrument of terrorism as state policy,” he said during the discussion.

However, Bisaria believes that the general public, especially the younger generation, looks at the fast-developing India very differently.

“The people look at India very differently from the way official Pakistan does. Sometimes the poison of the official narrative seeps into the popular narrative. But, by and large, you will see a lot of latent goodwill for India which is often visible now on social media, particularly amongst younger Pakistanis who are willing to look at India with fresh eyes, they are willing to benchmark themselves against India, be critical of their own country and admire some of the things that they see across,” he said.

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