Leave it at the tactical

Media-fuelled public outrage must not determine New Delhi’s strategy on the tensions along the Line of Control

Success or failure in a contest between two states is not measured by merely by the relative numbers of soldiers killed or bits of territory gained or lost. It is measured by the relative well-being of the people in the states concerned. What is the national interest if not “the well-being, prosperity and happiness of the nation”? The Arthashastra puts this in pithy terms: “The possession of power and happiness in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a less degree, inferior”.

Since the nuclear tests of 1998 and the Pakistan’s invasion of Kargil, leading to a brief border war in 1999, there has been a fairly commonplace lament in the popular discourse that India is unable to “do anything” to respond to Pakistani provocations. Let there be no doubt—Pakistani provocations have been many, they have been systematic and they have caused the nation physical, social and psychological harm. Let there be no doubt that India’s responses have been more restrained than they need to be—not least to a predilection among India’s prime ministers to see the need for “a peace process with Pakistan”. Let there also be no doubt: a flawed logic—the presumption that the Pakistan they do the peace process with is the Pakistan that attacks us—informs this policy.

Even so, by most measures, Indians in 2013 are better off than their Pakistani counterparts (see this Gapminder chart). This is despite the UPA squandering a good part of a benign decade and bringing the economy on the verge of a fiscal crisis. This is despite the neglect of governance reforms and bringing the polity into a wrenching political churn. Pakistan, for all its provocations and too-clever-by-half exploitation of its ‘geopolitical positions’ is back into the international doghouse it was in. It is being devoured by its own domestic monsters, without the need for any help from India.

So folks, we are winning this one.

Back in 2003, in a conversation with Sameer Wagle, a friend and intellectual sparring partner, this blogger had argued that the solution to our problems from Pakistan is economic reform. In fact, as argued in this Pragati cover story, Reforms 2.0 is our China policy, our America policy, our Europe policy and every-other-country policy. From this perspective, the UPA government’s abandonment of the reform agenda is its biggest foreign policy failure.

The purpose of national defence is to ensure that India’s growth and development can take place undisturbed. Defence policy is not an end in itself (a point that Pakistan has missed).

The recent escalation of tactical conflict between India and Pakistan at the Line of Control comes at a time when India is in the grip of a grand moral panic and political flux. The media and public discourse tends to rapidly end up in outrage and anger. For this reason, it is all the more important to be more careful and dispassionate and not precipitate actions that might end up being self-defeating.

First, it is important that the Indian side does not give Pakistan an opening to end the ceasefire along the Line of Control. For if the ceasefire goes, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will rub its hands in glee and attempt its strategy of the 1990s—essentially infiltrate men and war material into Indian territory under the cover of armed conflict. The broader situation is a lot like the 1990s, as ranks of the jihadi alumni from Afghanistan begin to swell in 2014, and though the Indian armed forces are better prepared than two decades ago, who needs the resumption of a proxy war?

Second, it makes sense not to disturb the adversary when he is making a mistake. Pakistan is in deep turmoil. A number of internecine rivalries are tearing the country apart. It will get worse in 2014 when international troops leave neighbouring Afghanistan and the militants no longer have a foreign enemy to fight. It is hard to predict which way Pakistan might go, but it is smart not to give the warring factions a reason to join forces and focus on a common enemy in the shape of us.

Third, let the armed forces sort out the tactical game along the Line of Control away from the media glare. The Indian Army has been engaged in this conflict for decades and is well-aware, well-trained and well-equipped to handle the matters. General Bikram Singh’s statements make this amply clear. The army “reserves the right to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing”. This is as it should be. It is imprudent, risky and counter-productive for media-fuelled public outrage to force the army’s professional assessment.

None of this is an argument for the manufactured and contrived ‘peace process’ activities. Rather, that New Delhi must use the detente to its strategic advantage. What the public debate ought to be about is not how New Delhi plans to react to a tactical attack but to chart out how it will exploit the detente to strengthen India’s strategic advantage.

Finally, one of India’s strategic projects has to be the systematic containment and eventual dismantling of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. So much of New Delhi’s policy is short-term, the here and the now. Worse, India’s public discourse is even shorter—momentary surges of awareness and emotion on one issue that quickly lapse and move on to the next one. All the more important then, for thinking Indians, to never forget that the military-jihadi complex must be destroyed.

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5 Responses to Leave it at the tactical

  1. S.Sistla 15th January 2013 at 10:15 #

    Very leveled, but the present problem is somewhere else. Its the non speaking Govt. and its leadership around. Anger is natural, but the leadership has to guide that to advantage.

  2. aditya 15th January 2013 at 12:04 #

    weak argument , even if a Indian retaliation strengthens the position of Pakistani radicals .. at least in the short term, that’s none of our concern. We should look at the long term & make Pakistan realize the value of peace . Any way “liberal” or “radical” doesn’t equate “hawk” & “dove” in Pakistan !

  3. vivekanand shenoy 15th January 2013 at 18:11 #

    I am afraid, when it comes to india, jehadists and the pakistani army are one! Be it 1948, 1965 or the 1998 kargil conflict pakistani army regulars intruded indian territory as extremists. the 2008 mumbai terror attacks were an army-isi-let effort.

    Our covert capability post-indira was compromised by successive prime-ministers, especially gujral…. This covert capability needs to be rebuilt. Just gloating in smug self-satisfaction that despite any number of attacks by pakistan, India is economically far well off …. is no solution.

    If we do not have the last straw; it seems we do not have any! the 4th generation war that pakistan has launched against us can cause social upheavals and openly polarize our country (owaisi etc…). Pakistan is just not any state, it is an islamic nuclear state; do we want a nuclear non-state attack on mumbai in the near future? Or are we waiting for that to be our tipping point?!!

  4. The Professor 15th January 2013 at 18:17 #

    Although you make a balanced and strong argument, I feel it fell a little short of being a convincing argument. “Media-fuelled public outrage must not determine New Delhi’s strategy”, perfect; no doubt about that. But later on you argue that it should be left to the army to sort out a response to that event. In making that argument you assume that the beheading of that Indian soldier is just a “tactical” event. The killing of those two soldiers would have been a tactical even if the Pakistani army men had only killed them. However, they didn’t just kill them, they also beheaded one of the soldier and took his head. Now that event is more than just “tactical”. It may not be a significant strategic event, but it is definitely more than “tactical”. New Delhi has to strongly respond to this ghastly event and not just the military. Of course, that response should not be a product of the discussions held in the TV studios.

  5. gbz 19th January 2013 at 02:18 #

    First things first – what options in terms of response does india have? The issue at hand as you correctly point out is tactical in nature. However, that doesn’t mean it is not important. India needs to have a portfolio of options to impose costs of transgressions on pakistan that are commensurate with the level of provocation. We know pakistan will continue with such acts, what will do next time? Not talk again? Being limited in our range of responses to talking or not is exactly the reason why all of india’s pretensions to being a regional power are so silly. We need clear responses that are stronger than not talking and not extreme to the point of full blown warfare (though of course that should never be off the table, if for nothing other than leverage). America can impose sanctions which can be escalated across a range from minor ones some of which i’m sure are still applied against india for pokharan and what not, to the far more powerful ones used against Iran. What sanctions can india apply on pakistan?

    Second, given the general quality of analysis on this blog, which is far and away the best as far as india’s foreign policy is concerned, i’m little surprised at the lack of appreciation of the fact that once afghanistan is liberated from the yankees, pakistan is beyond certain going to pump back the red collar workforce of afghanistan and adjoining areas back into kashmir. Do we really believe that they may not do not it if we don’t give them an ‘enemy’? Its not just an issue of pakistan’s foreign policy, its a matter of domestic survival for them to ensure that their vast labor force trained in killing and bombing is fully employed. Since pakistan can’t and won’t absorb this excess labor that will soon be underemployed, it needs to be deployed somewhere.

    Lastly, there can be no argument against the fact that the military jihadi complex is the real enemy. But the military jihadi complex is nurtured and supported by the pakistani aam aadmi. They are funded by donations from the same people. What is our strategy for dismantling it?

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