Beyond last week’s (September 29) raid by Indian special forces into Pakistani Kashmir, New Delhi is considering new economic and diplomatic measures to bring pressure to bear on its neighbour, Indian officials said.
Some officials said the military was not planning further attacks or a major military offensive against Pakistan.
But they said prime minister Narendra Modi’s government was debating whether to use New Delhi’s rising economic and diplomatic weight to squeeze Pakistan, a country one-fifth its size and with an economy seven times smaller.
“The objective is not just to go across the border and kill 10-12 people,” said an Indian security official who has been involved in the daily consultations since the September 18 attack on an army base in the border town of Uri in which 19 Indian soldiers died.
“The objective is to bring about a change in Pakistani behaviour, and for that you need to move on multiple levels.
“The strategy will involve all instruments of national power. Military is only one of the options,” added the official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Options under consideration include choking trade with Pakistan that takes place through third countries, officials said, even though it is limited and in India’s favour.
New Delhi is also considering building dams on rivers running into Pakistan and intensifying diplomatic pressure, hoping that it can show other countries how militants based in Pakistan impact the rest of the world, the officials added.
The steps being considered signal a far more assertive posture by India under Modi’s administration than the previous government, but it risks escalating tensions between the countries.
Recent Indian governments have held off launching military strikes, including when gunmen from Pakistan mounted a three-day assault on Mumbai in 2008, for fear it could invite retaliation from its neighbour that could escalate into a nuclear conflict in the worst-case scenario.
One Indian security official described the new approach as moving from a “defensive posture to defensive offence”. India would work on the vulnerabilities of Pakistan – its economy, internal security and international image as an unstable nation, home to militant Islamist groups.
“Pakistan’s vulnerability is many times higher than that of India,” the official said.
Hours after last Thursday’s raid, one Indian government official said New Delhi would review its economic relationship, including trade flows, with Pakistan. But he downplayed the possibility of India taking measures such as blocking travel between the two countries, saying the reality of policy-making was much more sober.
Official trade between India and Pakistan was a modest $2.6 billion (£2bn) in 2014, but informal trade is estimated to be closer to $5bn (£3.9bn), with jewellery, textiles and machinery exported from India through third-country ports such as Dubai.
India’s informal imports from Pakistan through the same channels consist of textiles, dry fruits, spices and cement.
Indian security planners said a crackdown on such trade, in which some former members of Pakistan’s powerful military are believed to be active, would help increase the pressure.
However, the head of Pakistan’s Board of Investment, Miftah Ismail, said sanctions had usually not worked elsewhere in the world.
He said since much of the trade was in India’s favour, any restrictions would affect India more.
“If India does (go ahead with economic sanctions), Pakistan will react, and we will further impoverish the people in both countries,” said Ismail, who is also a special assistant to the Pakistan prime minister.
“I don’t see anything good coming out of this,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s media regulator has launched a crackdown on companies airing Indian television channels and content, officials said on Thursday (October 6).
“Given the recent tensions between India and Pakistan, the public is demanding that Indian channels and sitcoms be completely banned,” a spokesman for Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said.
Pakistani law only allows 86 minutes of Indian content to be aired by a channel daily, but entertainment channels and cable operators routinely flout the rules as Indian films and soap operas are so popular.
The sale of Indian direct-to-home service is also forbidden but common in Pakistan.
The authority said in a statement dated on Tuesday, it had given its chairman the authority to revoke or suspend the license of any company that aired illegal Indian channels or Indian content “without providing show cause notice and without giving the opportunity to respond”.
The announcement came a week after Pakistani cinemas owners said they had stopped screening Indian films in “solidarity” with the country’s armed forces. It has been seen as a tit-for-tat retaliation after Pakistani actors and technicians were banned from working on Bollywood sets by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association (IMPPA). “It is deeply regrettable that a film trade body, the IMPPA, has passed a resolution to ban Pakistani stars and technicians from working in India,” a statement from Pakistan’s Film Exhibitors and Distributors group said last Friday (30).
“(Following) the decision… the majority stake holders of the (Pakistani) film industry have decided to suspend the screening of all Indian films until normalcy returns.”
Celebrities on both sides of the border have weighed in on tensions over the past week.
Bollywood star Salman Khan saw a vicious social media backlash after he was reported as saying that Pakistani artists should not be equated with terrorists.
Meanwhile, singer Adnan Sami, British-born but of Pakistani origin who received Indian citizenship last year, has been slated on Twitter by Pakistanis since praising the Indian security forces.
Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt received a similar reaction when he posted an image of himself calling for peace on social media.
Cinema employees in Karachi were seen removing the giant posters advertising Indian films over the weekend and replacing them with banners for Pakistani and Hollywood movies. (Reuters, AFP)