Shivshankar Menon calls India-Pakistan relations “a major failure”

New Delhi: Shivshankar Menon, former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary, has told India Today TV’s To The Point in an interview that “India-Pakistan relations are one of the few major failures of Indian foreign policy”. Speaking in an exclusive interview to India Today TV’s To The Point to be broadcast tonight (Saturday 19th) at 8.00 p.m., to mark the launch of his forthcoming book Choices, which is officially launched on the 2ndof December by Dr. Manmohan Singh, he says India’s Pakistan policy has not always related with reality. He says we have believed that we can put everything right at one go. However, he is not even sure if India had smaller and better defined objectives it would have succeeded.

In the interview Mr. Menon also says that Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons, which will be devolved to lower ranking officers at the battlefield level, who will be “younger officers in an army that is increasingly religiously motivated and less and less professional and that has consistently produced rogue officers and staged coups against its own leaders” means that the likelihood of such tactical nuclear weapons being used against India has increased.

Mr. Menon also says that this, in turn, means that there is an increased possibility of an all-out nuclear war when India retaliates against tactical nuclear weapons with massive retaliation of its own.

Mr. Menon says that the Defence Minister doesn’t have a right to voice his personal opinion on nuclear policy in public particularly when that opinion contradicts the official policy of the country.

Mr. Menon says that Mr. Parrikar’s suggestion that India should give up its no first use policy would not be in India’s interest both in terms of the strategic deterrent role of nuclear weapons as well as their role as weapons of war.

Mr. Menon says that India’s nuclear weapons are no guard and no deterrent against Pakistani terror. Threatening a nuclear response to a terrorist attack from Pakistan “would be like threatening to kill a mosquito with a shotgun and would be unlikely to be understood by India’s own people let alone the international community.”

Speaking about 26/11 Mr. Menon says that he “pressed at that time for immediate visible retaliation of some sort, either against the LeT in Murdike or their camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir or against the ISI, which was clearly complicit”. He said at the time he believed retaliation would be “emotionally satisfying”. It would also go “some way toward erasing the shame of the incompetence that India’s police and security agencies displayed in the glare of the world’s television lights for three full days”. In other words, India’s honour, he believed at that time, required a military response.

As Foreign Secretary he advised Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India should retaliate and be seen to do so. Mukherjee, he says, “seemed to agree with me”. Menon doesn’t reveal Manmohan Singh’s response but in the end India didn’t retaliate militarily.

Mr. Menon says that “on sober reflection and hindsight” the decision not to retaliate militarily was “the right one”. He gives several reasons:-

First, military retaliation would have converted a Pakistani terror attack on India into a India-Pakistan war or another instance of Indo-Pak rivalry. Second, retaliation against LeT targets would have had limited utility and very little effect on the organization. Third, retaliation would have caused huge collateral civilian damage. Fourth, retaliation would have united Pakistan behind the Pakistan army and altered the balance between the Pak army and the civilian government at a time when the civilian government was trying to be friendly to India.

Mr. Menon says that the 29th September 2016 ‘surgical strikes’ were inevitable. However, he disputes whether the term surgical strikes is the right one. He seems to suggest they should be called limited retaliatory action. More importantly, Mr. Menon believes that going public with the surgical strikes was not in India’s interest. It was designed to appease domestic opinion not to advance a desired outcome with Pakistan. Going public meant that Pakistan was forced to deny the strikes happened and, at a later point, to indulge in a stepped-up cross border violations.

Mr. Menon believes that there is no foreseeable end to cross border terror from Pakistan. “India must be prepared for the long struggle to continue without decisive military solutions. Temporarily silencing the cross-border terrorists is the best we can hope for”.

Mr. Menon believes that Pakistan actually cannot control terror. He says “terrorism is hard-wired into Pakistan’s society and polity.” He says “I am not so sure that it’s any longer within Pakistan’s capacity to stop terrorism”.

The interview with Shivshankar Menon is broadcast by India Today TV’s To The Point tonight at 8.00 p.m.