Sunday, May 19, 2019

Tactics at work, grand strategy unclear

The steps and missteps of the Modi government’s Pakistan policy are well known. Their general range has been from naivete to realism and petulance. The policy has been all tactics — surgical strikes, airstrikes, diplomatic moves and declarations. What we can’t get a measure of is its grand strategy. What is the endpoint that the government is aiming for when it comes to Pakistan?
Does it want to: (a) Hammer Pakistan militarily to the point of surrender? (b) Use covert instruments to break up the country or economic instruments to make it bankrupt? (c) Make it an international pariah like South Africa (of apartheid infamy)? (d) Persist with the older policy of transforming Pakistan into a mirror image of India?
India and Pakistan’s higher strategy in relation to each other goes back to their troubled birth. So, both aimed at ways and means of making the other a copy of themselves — India sought a secular, democratic Pakistan, while the latter kept pushing policies that would make India into some version of an authoritarian Hindu nation.
The stalwarts of the freedom struggle — Gandhi, Nehru, Patel or, for that matter, Subhas Chandra Bose — envisaged a country where religious identity would be submerged by identification with the nation. They were, however, blindsided by the Pakistan Movement that convinced a section of Indian Muslims that they needed their own State; they would never get political equality in a Hindu-dominated India.
Pakistan’s strategy has worked along the need to create ‘effective parity’ with India through heavy military expenditure, alliances with great powers, developing nuclear weapons, and using covert operations and terrorism to break up its larger neighbour. Its eventual goal was a smaller, more Hindu-oriented India, an entity it could manage, and one that would justify its own existence.
India’s primary goal has been the consolidation of an enormously diverse nation and effecting its economic transformation. Within this larger goal, India has wanted to get Pakistan off its back. It did not want to divert resources to a policy that would dismantle or degrade Pakistan, simply manage it to the lowest level of violence.
India and its leaders, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, believed that since India was much more powerful, it could adopt a strategy of strategic restraint. They believed this could eventually yield a Pakistan that was more like India — tolerant, democratic and liberal. So, New Delhi engaged the Pakistani State, even as it became a military dictatorship, threw tantrums over Kashmir and, after 1980, began to use terrorists and separatists to destabilise India behind a shield of nuclear weapons.
A high point of sorts was reached in the Vajpayee-Manmohan years. In January 2004, Islamabad hosted the SAARC summit; its great achievement was an agreement on creating a South Asian Free Trade Area. Through meetings on the sidelines, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf came up with an agreement for a comprehensive dialogue between the two countries relating to a range of issues, including terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir.
India’s grand strategy was now clearer — embed Pakistan in a larger South Asian economic area, resolve issues large and small and gradually ‘normalise’ its conduct through trade, commerce, tourism and educational exchanges. Over the next couple of years, violence began to come down and the two sides came close to resolving the Kashmir issue as well.
Alarmed, the Pakistani deep state unleashed the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008, an action that successfully poisoned relations between the two countries and prevented the Manmohan Singh government from putting its Pakistan policy back on an even keel. The Mumbai attacks succeeded in disrupting the unfolding Indian strategy in relation to Pakistan.
After a year and a half in power, Modi shifted away decisively from the strategy of ‘normalising’ Pakistan. We have seen tactical manifestations of a new Modi doctrine, but are yet to get a measure of the strategy itself. Perhaps there is none since the shift may be occasioned only by electoral considerations.
What we do, alarmingly, notice is that Pakistan’s larger project of dividing the subcontinent into its ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’ components has moved ahead several notches in the Modi years. It has been helped, ironically, by the BJP and Sangh Parivar scheme of marginalising domestic Muslims and demonising Pakistan.
The gau raksha movement has seen increased coercion and physical attacks on Indian Muslims. In Kashmir, political dialogue has been abandoned for a policy of relentless military pressure. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is seeking to facilitate the grant of Indian citizenship to religious communities from South Asia, but it pointedly excludes Muslims.
As for Pakistan, the Modi team’s views are hazy, but there is a lot of tactical noise about defeating and degrading the country through a mix of military and diplomatic means. But there is nothing in the military balance to suggest that we can transform Pakistan into the South Asian equivalent of the Palestinian West Bank. Even if Pakistan is broken up and left with only the rump of Punjab, it would still be twice the size of North Korea.
India simply lacks the resources of the US, which has degraded adversaries in Iraq, and is now attempting it in Iran. There are other key differences too — in both instances, nuclear weapons are/were not in play and neither of them is a neighbour of the US.
There is a saying, attributed to Chinese master Sun Tzu, that strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, while tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Just what ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ could mean in the India-Pakistan contest of grand strategies remains up in the air.
Tribune March 19, 2019

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