The contours of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘war’ on Pakistan are becoming clear. More so after his speech in Kerala, where he addressed a rally. India’s response, it seems, will be less about an overt, all-out muscular retribution many are expecting or even hoping for or even goading the government into. But, a strong response is being aimed for in terms of eventually targeted outcome. The Uri attack on the army camp has certainly crossed a red line in India’s strategic response to Pakistan.
In his address in Kerala, the PM took the conventional line of a strong Indian answer to the 1000 year war that Pakistan leaders say they want to wage on India. He also pointed out Pakistan’s inability to handle its different regions, from the erstwhile East Pakistan – which is now Bangladesh, to Sindh to Balochistan. All this, a not-so-veiled threat that India will now start taking more interest in Pakistan’s internal squabbles.
That done, he took the battle into a different, perhaps unanticipated, territory. He separated the Pakistan leadership from the Pakistani people. I want to speak directly to the people of Pakistan, he said, perhaps anticipating that his speech will be covered extensively in the neighbouring country. An Indian PM wanting to address the people of Pakistan directly is perhaps a first. So far, the political leadership in India has tried to separate the ‘democratically elected’ government in Pakistan from its all-powerful meddling army. So, this move goes several steps further. He was disappointed perhaps that Nawaz Sharif for whom he made a special effort, read out a speech which he felt was written by the ‘terrorist masters’ in the neighbouring country.
It is significant that he tried to address the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. His barb of India being a software exporter and Pakistan an exporter of terrorism was followed by the call to fight poverty, child & mother mortality, illiteracy and unemployment. Let’s fight in eradicating all these ills he said. It is almost akin to promising ‘acche din’ in exchange for peace & end to terrorism. For those fearing that Pakistani artists will be asked to leave the country, this attempt at separating the Pakistani people from the army & the political leadership should be comforting. If PM Modi indeed wants to appeal to the people, it is unlikely he will ask the Pakistani artists to leave Bollywood.
But, where does that leave the muscular response expected from the ’56 inch’ PM Modi? And, is the PM being too naive in believing that people of Pakistan would be willing & able to take on their masters for the Pakistani version of ‘acche din’? Opponents have also been mocking him over the last few days for his feeble (non) response, comparing him uncharitably with the ruthless action of Indira Gandhi in the 1971 war.
A big military response it seems will not happen. One, for the well-known reasons of miseries war brings and the constant threat of it escalating into nuclear conflict. Two, realistically, it doesn’t seem India is equipped to fight a decisive war just yet – with procurements and critical equipment not being there. But, more than all of this, it seems that the strategic establishment feels that even a short war that Indian may win will still not bring the commensurate strategic gains or lasting peace. Will it deliver PoK and force Pakistan army to abandon terror forever or stop them from using the big bad N weapon? Not likely. Thus, the need for a more effective & long lasting solution to the problem, one that finishes off terrorism permanently.
Economically too, a war, no matter how limited, does not make sense for Modi. He came to office on the promise of bringing economic prosperity, jobs and development. All of that, including his ambitious programs like ‘Make in India’ go for a toss with any conflict in the region. And, the economy has just about managed to put the worst behind it with the promise of better days ahead, especially with a normal monsoon after two years of crippling drought.
— ANI (@ANI_news) September 24, 2016
Modi’s solution to this problem it seems is to work on Pakistan’s internal problems to India’s advantage & to permanently destroy the stranglehold of the army in that country. With his constant references to Balochistan, he has made the intent clear. In Kerala, he brought in Gilgit and Sindh. We do not know, but it is quite possible that groundwork for this had been going on for the last two years. India will not go for the jugular, the war of a thousand cuts, will work the other way round too, though Modi may not want it to stretch a thousand years. He may want a significant move in the direction of altering Pakistan’s course strategically before 2019, to recover the ground he will lose from not giving a muscular response right now. And, it is likely that there may be short, very limited, aggressive covert operations in the interim. One news website reported such an operation & stood by the story even after it was vehemently denied by the government and the army. We do not know for sure if that incident was true, but it may or may not be.
In all likelihood, Modi’s response to Pakistan is unlikely to have an ‘explosion’, it will more likely be a war by ‘implosion’. Pakistan has to fold up or come around due to its own duplicities, contradictions and failures. It is a relatively more long term game than a muscular, 56-inch war everyone expects from Modi and for which the PM himself raised expectations in his election campaign. However, if the strategy delivers, the outcome would most certainly be more than 56 inch. That is what PM Modi seems to be aiming for. Time will tell if PM Modi & Indian strategic establishment has the strategic capability & will to address this problem on its western front once for all.