Of bluster and reality…


Now that post-Uri attack bluster in India, and the fantastic extravagance inevitable to it, has subsided, let’s look at things rationally.

Too many Indian and western analysts talk about Pakistan’s ‘perfidy’, presenting Pakistan as an irrational, revisionist state and contrasting it with India’s restraint. This analysis might serve as accepted op-ed copy, it doesn’t as informed, strategic analysis.

Pakistan is not just acting. It is also reacting. It is important to view and analyze Pakistan’s responses in terms of the peculiarities of the ‘make up and structure of South Asian state-to-state relations, and how India and Pakistan have positioned themselves within it.’ The argument here is not about the real or perceived Indian threat to Pakistan, which is how the issue is generally viewed and discussed. Threat levels, as we all know, can and do fluctuate. Also, whether they are or were real or perceived can be, is and should be debated. The point here is broader and structural and relates to “Pakistan’s drive to avoid falling within India’s ambit of influence”.

This is a legitimate concern and is grounded in realism. Realism, at the most basic level, has a simple premise: relative power is the primary determinant of interstate behavior. Peace can be achieved in two ways: through an adequate balance of power – acquired either by a state’s own strength relative to the other or by bandwagoning with an ally to make up for any weakness; or by submitting – i.e., if state X allows relations to be shaped according to the will of state Y or for X to be coerced by Y into taking the submission option.

Some years ago, discussing the realities of the South Asian region, Dr Moeed Yusuf, working through a system-level analysis, used what he called the hub and spoke model. Briefly, in this model India is the hub and the other states of the region are spokes tied to the hub. India, with nearly 80 per cent of the region’s GDP, a vast majority of the population, nearly three-fourths of the total regional exports, by far the strongest conventional military, and geographical and historical centrality in South Asia, considers itself the natural pivot for this region. This, again, is a function of realism. India’s overbearing presence leaves little doubt of its supremacy in terms of relative power.

Since we have determined that relative power is the most important factor in system-level analyses in international relations, it is natural for India to think in terms of projecting its hegemonic presence and dominate relations with its neighbors. It is a matter of fact that India has an overwhelming power differential with most of its neighbors. That means, given the model, that peace and/or conflict in South Asia depend on (a) India establishing ties with its neighbors on terms preferential to itself and (b) how the other state responds to that.

To that end, it is again a matter of record that wherever and whenever India and a spoke in the wheel (one of its neighbors) have been able to find ‘equilibrium’, resulting in relative peace, the arrangement has approximated the power realities of their bilateral equation. Conversely, whenever one of the spokes has tried to defy the hub (India) on issues the latter considers central, the situation has resulted in tensions, crises, or worse, conflicts.

As I wrote elsewhere: “It is a matter of record that India has had troubled ties with all the surrounding spokes at one point or another. Each of these instances can be explained as efforts by the hub and the particular spoke in question to find an equilibrium that would suit them respectively, keeping in mind, of course, the power imbalance; on each area of disagreement, India would seek an outcome in line with its position, while the spoke would attempt to gain whatever concession it could.”

Of all the spokes in this region, the only one that has consistently challenged India’s power outreach is Pakistan. Both act and react in and through the realist paradigm. The disputes in this scenario are just markers. The real issue is about relative power.

In other words, even if Pakistan and India were to get out of the conflictual model in the sense of war, overt or covert, they would still remain rivals.

Put another way, it is time for Indian analysts to get out of their ‘Pakistan-is-perfidious’ level of ‘analysis’ and become more rigorous. It is also important for them to start analyzing the comparative conventional military strengths better. [NB: here I am not even referring to the nuclear umbrella.]

In this context, let me put three points on the table, given the chest-beating we have just seen on Indian TV channels (as also, unfortunately, by some faux-Bonapartes in Pakistan): One, since the 2001-02 standoff, generally known in literature as the twin-peak crisis, India’s main concern has been to cut down on the time for mobilization. It was a good lesson because Pakistan’s mobilization was complete because of shorter interior lines even while India’s cumbersome army had barely half-deployed. To offset this disadvantage, India came up with the doctrine called Cold Start, which was to contain eight Independent Battle Groups. While most Indian commentators say CSD is stillborn and India does not have the capability to operationalize the concept, the fact is that they have quietly changed the nomenclature to Pro-active Operations (PAOs). It is true that currently India does not have the capability to launch integrated PAOs, and the exercises they have conducted have not validated the concept, India is busy in modernizing and integrating its forces toward that end. Put another way, the intention is there and the capability has to catch up with it.

Two, Pakistan, in response began working on forward deployments and e-arms and integrated air-land operations. All these concepts have been exercised and validated. The Indian planners know this.

Three, while Pakistan has developed the short-range tactical nuclear weapon, their potential induction has a strategic purpose. [NB: my own assessment on this differs sharply with that of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division and I have written about that.] The fact, however, is that Pakistan’s military is prepared for countering a conventional foray by the Indian army or the Indian air force. What is important here, and I mentioned this in a previous article, India can make no significant gains in the first few days of any military thrust and by then the third parties will have been seized of the matter. Corollary: no net gain for India.

Significantly, bluster aside, the Indian planners know this. This is why, after a couple of irresponsible statements on the first day, the Indian government began to downplay its rhetoric. Significantly also, the rightwing social media that were calling for a nuclear war with Pakistan slowly began to quiet down.

Will this result in something positive?

No, at least not in the near future. The upcoming 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections (possibly in February next year) are crucial for the BJP and could well set the dynamic for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Narendra Modi, who talked about his 58-inch chest, is in a quandary. He must be seen to be doing something. The rightwing has now begun talking about opening a front of India’s ‘own choosing’, taking a cue from what India’s DG-MO said during a press conference in the wake of the Uri attack. Abrogating the Indus Water Treaty is also coming into play. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, chairing a cabinet meeting said that India will now fully utilise waters of western rivers. This is a euphemism for trying to stress and overwhelm the dispute resolution mechanism built into the treaty. The decision to not have the mandatory Indus Waters Commissioners’ meeting is also a violation of the treaty. Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court has rejected a petition requesting that the IWT be revisited.

The options India would use is to ratchet up its covert war in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as also in Pakistan’s urban centers. Simultaneously, it will try and isolate Pakistan, a venture that hasn’t come to much yet. Occupied Kashmir continues to burn and muddy the waters. However, India still thinks that its market potential will help it deflect pressure. Its foreign minister, speaking at the UNGA Monday, predictably tried to move the international community’s gaze away from IOK to painting Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, referring to Balochistan. That’s straight from Modi’s playbook.

None of this translates into any immediate change of the game. That said, Pakistan itself needs to think of developing a policy which contains within it multiple strategies employing all elements of national power and not just the military potential. That, however, is a topic for another day.

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One Response to Of bluster and reality…

  1. Pakistan’s drive to avoid falling within India’s ambit of influence. That is it

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