New Delhi: Narendra Modi’s macho national security policies have proved singularly disastrous. Far from stemming Pakistani terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, the much-hyped cross-border action of September 2016 (bombastically called “surgical strikes” outside their nuclear context) increased their incidence in subsequent weeks and months. Muscular counter-insurgency policies in Jammu and Kashmir not only further alienated the population and eroded citizenship rights and entitlements but dried up actionable intelligence flows leading to the Phulwama massacre. The 150 to 250 kilos of RDX used in the car bomb explosion in Phulwama advertised monumental intelligence failure which should have prompted the national security advisor, Ajit Doval, to resign on moral grounds. Instead, a muscular narrative was fed to the papers which was lapped up because of the generic information drought in the Modi regime (only The Hindu displayed sobriety and sanity all through); and the Bharatiya Janata Party and its social media outlets also injected such huge doses of jingoism to skew public opinion that it fed the hysteria that could have hurtled India into a miscalculated war with another nuclear power.

The grossest miscalculation lay, in any case, in the decision to send eleven fighter jets haring off after alleged terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and incredibly even into the heart of Pakistan in Balakote in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without paying adequate attention to preparedness for certain and absolute Pakistani retaliation at a time and place of its choosing. So complacent was the Modi regime that Pakistan would not retaliate that celebrations broke out in the social media after the raid and a BJP outlet listed on Whatsapp bogus military reasons for Islamabad’s alleged impotence ending with praise for Narendra Modi’s unique and unequalled strategic vision.

Modi cannot know that strategic and tactical bombardment have proved of limited utility in conventional wars, sub-conventional conflicts and in hostilities showing features of both after the initial period of surprise is over. In Poland, the Nazis succeeded with Blitzkrieg and Luftwaffe cover but the Luftwaffe proved increasingly ineffective in most of the rest of the war to Adolf Hitler’s chagrin and anger which he vented on its chief, Hermann Goring. The Luftwaffe bombardment of Britain which was intense during the Blitz and continued intermittently thereafter did not produce the capitulation that Hitler so anxiously desired. After the war, a US survey went so far as to discount the importance of strategic bombing despite having destroyed several German cities. It is now more or less accepted that the Soviet Union turned the tide of the war on the Eastern Front with desperate land campaigns at a horrendous loss of 27 million soldiers and civilians. In the Korean War, US generals ruled out the effectiveness of even atomic strikes to stop the “human wave” attacks of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. In Vietnam and to this day in the Afghan War, bombardment has not eased American occupation.

Sub-conventional war which has become a speciality of Pakistan in Kashmir demands a solution in sub-conventional terms. The Mukti Bahini made signal contribution to the Bangladesh War victory. Contrary to what Modi & Co. propagate, India has not been a geopolitical wasteland before he rose (disastrously) to power. This country, contrary to conventional wisdom, still possesses sub-conventional capabilities to terminate Pakistani terrorism once for all. For obvious reasons, details cannot be shared.

But Narendra Modi has such a penchant for making outre and disastrous choices like demonetization, an ill-considered GST, “surgical strikes” and muscular J and K policies that he perhaps could not resist the spectacular and faux manly nature of air raids. But air raids, despite their proven limitations, constitute a grave violation of sovereignty and no self-respecting state can eschew retaliation. Air raids in the sense of Carl von Clausewitz’s “continuation of political activity by other means” bring not only limited but highly deniable returns. India’s figure of terrorists killed in the Balakote raid has risen since it was conducted from over a hundred to well above three-hundred-and-fifty while Pakistan denies any deaths at all and has taken the international media to the bombed sites as proof of its claim. Who’s right? And even if we assume the first figure of one-hundred-plus dead terrorists who mean nothing to Pakistan dead or alive, is it worth the lives of eleven air force pilots and at a further price of at least comparable levels of Pakistani retaliation? And when the retaliation came, it beat the best anticipatory preparedness leading to the capture of an Indian war pilot. With the capture, the war fever on the Indian side died as suddenly as it had erupted, with the entire nation praying for his safe and speedy return. Imagine if several of the raid crew had been killed or captured. Could any government have survived the tragedy?

War is an instrument of politics as Clausewitz said, not the other way around. That instrument may be used only if political objectives can be met. Operation Balakote (if that is what it was officially called) has not met its political objectives. Instead, it has yielded the moral high ground to Imran Khan, compelled India to hand over the Phulwama Jaish-e-Mohammed dossier to Pakistan which Imran had sought for from the first, and there is the further ignominy of New Delhi pleading with Beijing to instil good sense into Islamabad with an undertaking not to escalate the conflict. The United States is also brokering India-Pakistan peace behind closed doors. It is good that war has been averted. Two nuclear powers cannot go to war. But it also highlights the apocalyptic nature of Narendra Modi’s muscular national security policies which almost brought the nation to doom.

Editor’s Note: Having taken the country to the brink of war with Pakistan, Narendra Modi is now trying to milk the nation’s tragedy for electoral purposes. At taxpayers’ expense, he is dashing about the country to the neglect of official work. His election campaign continued unimpeded through the tense situation with Pakistan and he was shooting a documentary after the whole nation went into shock and turmoil from the Phulwama tragedy. Citizens of this country are entitled to ask: What is going on? Is re-election of person A or B of greater value than the nation? Are there no limits to personal ambition and narcissism?