Today's Editorial

12 October 2016

An unconventional enemy


Source: By Prasenjit Chowdhury: The Statesman


The much tom-tommed ‘surgical’ strike and the vicarious pleasure that surrounds it feeds a domestic audience. The self-congratulatory messages might be premature because we never know when the Deep State will strike again. Therefore, it is time to count how many chickens India has, before they come home to roost. Pakistan has proved time and again that it can tinker with India almost at will, at any time of its choosing, and with impunity. It is also apparent that Pakistan, already known as the bad boy in town, is not overly concerned with its image problem or unnecessarily hindered by any moral righteousness or any pretension to it. Until Pakistan is made to pay a heavy and incalculably high price, it would continue to bleed India, perhaps despite it.

The worst fallout of the Uri attack is the vulnerability of the Indian Army. Coupled with the ongoing unrest in Kashmir and the retarded political response to it, India must be wary of being spoken of in diplomatic policy circles and multinational fora like the UN in the same breath as Pakistan again, re-hyphenating itself with the country that it loves to loathe. India - unlike Pakistan - must desist from playing great power games in the absence of a matching military-industrial-economic capability.

While there is a visible upsurge of jingoist slogans (‘jaw for a tooth’) following the nationwide outrage in the aftermath of the Uri attack, there have been greater acts of provocation (Kandahar hijacking, Parliament attack, 26/11, Pathankot) by Pakistan against India. The imprint of Pakistan was traced to both the March 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and the July 2006 suburban train bombings, attacks that had killed more people. But the drumming up of base passions and retaliatory rhetoric might come to salve the hurt to our confused sense of nationalism up to a point and no further. This rambunctious call to war, just to mollify the anger of a domestic audience, would serve us no good.

It must not be forgotten that the mere symbolism of mounting a surgical strike barely a few kilometres into the LoC would not take us far, apart from giving Pakistan the impression that India is ready to take the war to their side, It is prudent to consider if India can show a similar girth if the launch pads are shifted deeper into the PoK or across the international border. Therefore, however much we gnash our teeth in hopeless anger at being shortchanged by Pakistan for the umpteenth time; let us first calculate what India cannot do. India cannot play America or mount a witch-hunt in Pakistani territory for its known bête noires – Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, et al. It cannot even do a China to Kashmir and follow the instance of overrunning Tibet with the Han Chinese. It cannot continue to play the hardline state as it is neither Israel nor Russia, or for the even simpler reason that Narendra Modi is no Ariel Sharon or Vladimir Putin. It cannot be seen as an aggressor state. It does not have enough diplomatic clout to absorb the huge international ramifications that might follow. Besides, Pakistan is no Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear weapons of low yield as a deterrent against an invasion by the Indian Army - a “one-dimensional” nuclear programme to stop Indian “aggression” before it happens - claimed by one of Pakistan’s foreign secretaries last year. According to a finding, Pakistan is on way to securing the world's third-largest stockpile after the US and Russia and twice that of India within a decade.

This brings us to a nuclear/pre-nuclear, much in the vein of a lapsarian/pre-lapsarian, discourse. Had it been militarily inclined, it would have wrested PoK in 1971 itself, had it not been for the dispatch of the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Bangladesh War, driving the symbolic politics of keeping the nuclear option open in India. That weaker and poorer country may seek to use nuclear weapons to shape the perceptions and alter the decision calculus of diplomacy and war of advanced military powers is a valid argument. If Washington could have been the object of such a leveraging calculation as part of India’s complex mix of motives in acquiring nuclear weapons in 1971, Pakistan’s growing nuclearisation for managing the situation in Kashmir region since 1991 is the outcome of the same instinct. That partly explains why India is hobbled by Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail. With the nuclearisation of Pakistan, it has subsisted on a sub-conventional conflict with India, particularly in Kashmir, without the fear of a conventional military retaliation from New Delhi. The option of subterfuge in line with ISI, through sustained support of separatism (for instance, recognising Afghan claims on the Durand Line Treaty or supporting the independence-seeking people of Balochistan) and terrorism was never pursued seriously by the Indian political and strategic leadership despite the occasional clamour from the security establishment. Beyond propaganda, what, then, is the way out? Instead of pandering to a vituperative war of words through online trolls and social media, what India can do instead is set its own house in order. It can ramp up its defence establishment, shore up its modernisation programme, seal its porous borders and pay more attention to be vigilant and by all means, should try to chart out a political solution for Kashmir and formulate an institutionalised counter-terrorism strategy. It must try to keep a hawk’s eye on every act of infiltration and build better interdiction capacity to pre-empt and neutralise terror attacks, to which end resolution of our existing unresolved border disputes cannot be put on hold endlessly. The incidents of Pathankot and Uri point to a serious deficit in the army establishment: how can the army in charge of protecting its own people be so cheaply ambushed? The symbolic value of an attack on our Parliament as much on our soldiers is the disdain with which the enemies treat India. On part of our defence establishment, the factor of oversight and foul play borders on criminal laxity. We cannot claim martyrdom for tomfoolery every time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently ruled out the full-blown military option as a response to the Uri attack and instead called “upon people of Pakistan to come forward, fight a war on who defeats unemployment, poverty, illiteracy first”. While that itself is a laudable call, it bears recall that India is home to over 340 million destitute people and is the second poorest country in South Asia after strife-torn Afghanistan - Pakistan and Nepal have much lower destitution - according to a poverty estimation study by Oxford University in 2014. In a wide range of basic social indicators, including life expectancy, child survival, enhanced immunisation rates, reduced fertility rates, and even some schooling indicators, India lags behind Bangladesh. We have been warned against the pitfalls of an absurdly uneven and jobless economic growth and against gushing over a few ‘islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa’.

So far, the singular failure of Indian diplomacy has been its inability to isolate Pakistan - the biggest challenge being weaning the US and China away - and to devise a credible Pakistan and Kashmir policy that lends currency to such notions that had India been diplomatically far-sighted, it could have put paid to the ‘disputed’ tag for Kashmir years ago, or had it played the Balochistan card on a scale with Pakistan playing the Kashmir card, it could have saved itself many bruises. India has not sufficiently upped the ante about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which is integrally linked to Jammu and Kashmir. Part of the reason for this might be that India had never a taste for the overkill. Short of passion, intent and aggrandisement, it is no match for Israel’s ruthlessness, Pakistan’s venality, North Korea’s recklessness, or the imperial ambitions of China. Burdened with its own heft, India seems to falter on its own contradictions, or compulsions, should you insist. But India must learn to deal with a psychotic neighbour with monomaniacal hatred for it - both militarily and diplomatically.


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