To not have the bluff called

The attachment of impossible conditions is revealing

Across the border, Ejaz Haider opines that “if Pakistan is asked by the US and other western capitals to pull out troops from the eastern border and deploy them to the west, then perhaps India should also be asked to thin its much-heavier Pakistan-specific deployment.” He goes on to demand Pakistan be financially compensated for committing more troops to fight the Taliban. (Hey, but we thought they were Pakistan’s enemy too.)

As we’ve argued, India must call this bluff by pulling back troops from the international border. In response to our op-ed, a prominent strategic analyst privately noted that such a move is politically impossible unless Pakistan first delivers something tangible on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A job, it seems, for Richard Holbrooke.

Mr Haider, though, asks for too much. It is unnecessary to address all of Pakistan’s threat perceptions vis-a-vis India in order to get it to commit more troops to its western front. It is plainly obvious that Pakistan’s structural insecurity with respect to India cannot be addressed merely using policy, money or military movements. The power differential between India and Pakistan is large and growing and the only way for Pakistan to avoid feeling more insecure is to drop its points of conflict with India. This is cold realism (and yes, it applies to India too, via-a-vis China). This is a larger problem but it need not get in the way of solving the issue at hand, which concerns releasing more troops for the war against the Taliban.

We have argued that Pakistan can move as many as 150 infantry battalions (150,000 soldiers) from the border with India, without changing the military balance along the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, and on the battlefront in the Siachen region. Mr Haider asks for the impossible when he asks for India to lower its troop levels in Kashmir: not least when Pakistan has escalated its infiltration attempts, the demands of counter-insurgency remain and when part of the Indian military deployment in the state addresses China, not Pakistan.

Often, asking for the impossible is a way to kill the whole idea. We are sure that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex would like the idea killed. But we’d like to believe Mr Haider doesn’t.

16 thoughts on “To not have the bluff called”

  1. Haider’s blowing smoke. He used to be fun to read. Now he hides behind “theoretical frameworks” and tortured reasoning. Guess even the toughest minds turn to jelly under constant siege. Or it might be a case of communication from the powers-that-be to get in line.

  2. mr.haider – “The most important factor in threat perception is not the issue of “intention” but of “capability”. The military calculus, therefore, is never based on whether State X wants to attack or harm State Y but whether it has the capability to that end should it choose to do so.”

    canada and mexico should be very afraid.

  3. I too used to take this Haider guy seriously..Moderate or liberal..there is a pervasive India-obsession in somehow we have to dissolve Indian Union for them to survive..I think its high time we bring in Baluchistan next time in composite dialogue process..If they want to discuss J&K which is our integral part legally and culturally.. they are fixating on incomplete partitioning “self-determination” of Baluchis should also be on the table..But for that to happen..we need a more titanium-spine PM..Manmoron wont do..You cant threaten Pak with resignation letter..ha ha

    Bangladesh now..kind of survives nicely without India-bashing..Hope Sheikh Hasina can clean up her country of jihadists..she certainly have balls..

  4. Can you clarify your side comment about the need for “cold realism” from India vis-a-vis China?

  5. ““if Pakistan is asked by the US and other western capitals to pull out troops from the eastern border and deploy them to the west, then perhaps India should also be asked to thin its much-heavier Pakistan-specific deployment.””

    Ignoring who asked Pakis to do what, I thought this is what you advocate too – in blog and in op-ed – which, btw, I don’t agree with. But the difference between redeployment and thinning much-heavier deployment is what?

  6. Chandra,

    There is no difference between redeployment and thinning in this context.

    There is a difference between pulling back troops at the international border (that we advocate) vs redeployment of troops at the border plus Line of Control plus AGPL at Siachen (that he suggests).

    Army doesn’t guard the border, BSF does. Army guards the LOC and AGPL. Army deployment in Punjab, Rajasthan etc serves a different purpose as compared to Army deployment in J&K.

  7. armchairanalyst,

    The full fleshing out is the matter for another post (and will be off topic here). Suffice it to say that if you are against a more powerful adversary, and the gap between you and your adversary is growing, then it is not a smart idea to get into a fight. (It doesn’t matter who starts the fight, the fight itself isn’t to your advantage). So says Kautilya.

  8. In a nuclear theater, the only workable principle for ones survival is – Kill Them Before They Can.

    The pakistanis are investing in more nuclear bombs and more delivery platforms [ Link ] to protect jihad inc. and sustain their strategies of war.

    Therefore, it is vital for us to think in terms of – vital counterstrikes to disable the enemy – so that it is not able to hit us with its full strength. The Death rate that we can absorb in a full scale war – and the period of post-war recovery.

  9. Two concerns about any Indian pull-back from the border:

    1. The greater the chaos in Pakistan, the more important that we defend our frontiers as aggressively as possible. The notion of pulling back when Taliban is steadily marching East across the border is counter-intuitive

    2. India has correctly worked hard to limit Mr. Holbrooke’s mission to the Af-Pak theatre. By pulling back, principally as a means to facilitate his mission, we would be demonstrating why India ought to be in the mix (formally or otherwise). This may serve America’s interests and Pakistan’s desire, but is inconsistent with Indian policy

    Best regards

  10. It is always fun to call someone’s bluff. Calling this bluff would not be costless however. Suppose India does pull back. What would be the next demand the Pakistanis make for fighting the Taliban?

    This reminds me of a kid who refused to eat. The parents were besides themselves with worry. They get a doctor to help out. The doctor sees nothing wrong with the kid. Finally, the doctor offers to get the kid whatever he wants to eat. Alright, the kid says, I will eat earthworms. So they dig up some earthworms. He then says that he would like them fried. So they go and fry up the worms. Then he says, not that many. I want only two. So they throw away the rest and keep two. Then the kid says that he will eat only one but the doctor has to eat the other one first. So the doctor eats one. The kid bursts out in tears, you ate the one that I was going to eat.

    Pakistan is demanding worms. Don’t indulge it.

  11. All in all, pulling back troops from the border to make Pakis do something similar points to the fact that we are relying on complicated beaureucratic methods to defeat the enemy, when the situation demands the simplest course of action.

    Paki army is a brazen, shameless, lying and a really ugly entity and it will NOT destroy Taliban come what may (and it makes no difference to us either way). There is really NO option but to first take away its nuclear arsenal and then confront it head on. If the Taliban join the Pakis in the matter, so be it.

    Right now, we need to be pouring over maps and satellite images and plan for a series of recon missions to find out where their N-bombs are.

  12. PR & Atanu,

    There was an exhaustive debate on the topic in the comments section of that post, so I won’t dwell on it again here.

    Red’s second argument is more persuasive than the first. But I don’t think concerns over Mr Holbrooke’s job description ought to prevent us from doing what we can to allow the Americans hammer the Pakistani army.

    Troop pullback doesn’t affect counter infiltration.

    Atanu: nice metaphor. There is a risk of a slippery slope. But it is controllable. The defence and security establishment is deeply conservative and risk averse: no benefit of doubt or quarter given. So if troop pullback doesn’t work, they’ll first laugh at those who suggested it, say “we told you so” and won’t budge an extra micron.

  13. Why doesn’t America give them temporary security guarantee on their Eastern flank and assuage the Pakistani fears? Troop pullback is a meaningless trope of the Pakistanis. If the Americans can’t do it, ask China to do the same. The last thing we should be doing is to indulge the Pakistanis with actual concessions where none is needed. Pulling back troops is not a cheap affair.

  14. I would go one more step and ask that India be compensated if Pakistan wants troop pullback.

  15. @ Nitin

    About your reply to armchairanalyst (comment 7):

    Agree with your position on what India’s China policy. How about the other principle in Arthashastra, namely to cultivate your rival’s rivals? Are we seeing an interplay of both these policies?

    Interesting how interdependent economies can shape realist policy: that’s one way to understand Obama administration’s perceived “softness” towards China, IMO…

  16. photonman,

    Of course there is interplay, and economic interdependencies are always part of the calculus.

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