Through history, it has been evident that walls and forts do not really stop invaders and that the best defence is the one that prevents the destruction of your own home territory. It is for this reason that the chosen strategy of powerful countries is to fight the battles for their homeland security away from home, preferably in the adversary’s territory.
Translated into our relationship with Pakistan, it does tell us that neither military strikes, deployments along the LoC, nor the fence along the International Border will keep out Pakistani terrorists from this country. They need to be dealt with in their own home territory through a mix of means.Last week, India took one step in the direction by carrying out the air strike on Balakot. Whether or not the Indian bombs hit their targets is not as important as the fact that for the first time since 1971, in a no-war situation, India used air power to hit targets in Pakistan proper.
Unfortunately, the ruling party’s electoral agenda has sharply distorted the strategic landscape, and this includes the Balakot episode. Looking at the evidence currently available, an Indian strike did take place on Balakot. It did not damage the main JeM seminary, but may have taken out a number of subsidiary structures and killed an unspecified number of militants (evidence for this is awaited). In the meantime, there was an air clash in which an Indian aircraft was shot down and a pilot captured. The Indian side says an F-16 has been shot down, again evidence is still awaited.But if you look at the narrative playing out in India, the whole thing is being projected as an unvarnished triumph for India. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman did display heroism, but it was heroism in adversity, maybe greater than the one that is often required in victory. But the fact we lost a pilot, and had to face the ignominy of having him in Pakistani custody was a setback, and it is delusional to show it as some sort of a victory. You can attribute some of the over-the-top response to the ruling party’s ability to control the narrative and to the hyper-nationalist attitudes where common sense and caution are discarded.
All military action comes with the possibility of failures and casualties. If New Delhi is to adopt cross-border strikes as policy, it must be ready for such eventualities. On balance, though, the Indian strikes on Pakistan are a major shift, whose significance we will have to assess in the coming years.
The problem with Indian policy lies at two levels. First, it has not decided what its grand strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan is. Should it seek the break-up of Pakistan, or military dominance over it, or, should it move on another track, seek to incorporate it in a larger geoeconomic and geopolitical area? All options must be weighed against the price that comes with its chosen strategy. Whatever endpoint it has in mind, it must be able to effectively meld the military, covert, economic and informational aspects of its policy in an effective manner, something it has not been able to do till now.
Our policies towards Pakistan have zig-zagged from the Lahore Declaration of 1999 to Kargil, from the January 2004 joint statement to Balakot and from Modi’s embrace of Nawaz Sharif on December 25, 2015, to the campaign to isolate Pakistan in 2016-17.
In this we also need to factor in the failed policy of the BJP government in Kashmir. The relentless hardline, minus any political outreach, has led not just to an intensification of the insurgency, but enabled Pakistani groups to recruit locals. It was such a person who, after all, carried out the Pulwama attack.
War always looks like an easy option — use your legions, defeat the enemy, impose your terms on the other side and all is well, at least for a while. But in today’s world, it is so much more difficult to defeat an ethno-religious insurgency or a nuclear-armed adversary and neither Pakistan nor the insurgent Kashmiris are a pushover.
In my previous article, I had referred to Clausewitz’s dictum that war is a continuation of policy with other means. Writing in The Diplomat, James R Holmes says that most translations have mis-stated it to say ‘by other means’. In fact, he insists, Clausewitz meant ‘with’ and this is significant since it says along with the kinetic aspects of war, the contest also includes other means — diplomatic, covert, informational and economic. This is particularly important for the current era where an all-out war between states, especially those armed with nuclear weapons, is unlikely.
An ideal, and possibly the only, strategy we have under a nuclear overhang is to have Pakistan collaborate in the process of defeating the monsters it has nurtured within. Modi has not got Islamabad on the backfoot by his military instrumentality, but by his successful West Asia policy that has got the principal powers there — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran and Israel — accept India as the preeminent power in South Asia. The battle to subdue Pakistani jihadists must be fought not only in the Kashmir Valley or Pakistan, but also in the capitals of West Asia, United States, China and Russia. As for the Valley, the most important battle is the one we are not even fighting any longer, that for the hearts and minds of its people.
Tribune March 5, 2019