In a worst-case scenario, if India is threatened with serious territorial losses and its authorities visibly unnerved, other neighbours may be prompted to press their own territorial claims. Depending on the outcome of these larger military encounters, with an Indian army beleaguered in the north, it is likely that recognition will be accorded to a Khalistan government-in-exile. Some Khalistani terror elements remain ensconced in Britain, enjoying discreet local hospitality and malicious incitement, while also being permitted free rein to engage with their own militant clusters in Pakistan. Assam will be vulnerable to a wave of Bangladeshi migrant infiltration seeking to occupy territory, without even the need for any formal military sortie, though the migrants are likely to be well-armed on this occasion. And Nepal has territorial claims against India that have been discussed by its political parties lately and could be revived. Its elites harbour venomous animus towards all things Indian and only await an opportunity to repay perceived historic humiliations. And the two hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Sugauli, from which its territorial losses date, is approaching. Perhaps the people of West Bengal, already historically primed by the parochial Bose clan for it, may revive a clamour for Dhaka's socio-political tutelage over a united Bengal.

Two major issues, the nuclear dimension and international diplomatic reaction to an unfolding war in the Indian subcontinent, will be crucial to outcomes. Indian nuclear weapons, designed to address its two-front dilemma, are unlikely to do anything of the sort. India has already lost the most important asset of nuclear deterrence, which is credibility. By failing to carry out military chastisement several times to punish the most egregious acts of violence against it, including the attempt to decapitate India's political leadership, which merited an immediate declaration of war, and the warlike assault on Mumbai, India conveyed a decisive negative signal. It highlighted the fact India's nuclear tests were driven by the impetus of scientific advances, having marked time to test a nuclear device, and desire for prestige, and only remotely intended for use in dire national crisis. If any further proof was required of Indian qualms and spinelessness, the tortuous endeavours to avoid even accidentally infringing Pakistani airspace during the Kargil War, launched by Pakistan, underlined the fear writ large on the perceptions of Indian decision-makers. In any case, the no-first-use policy rules out initiating the use of nuclear weapons even if national disaster impends, or pre-emptively, if certain first-use by an enemy portends.

Some additional thoughts on India's nuclear strategy are merited in the context delineated above. Having lost the advantage of engaging in convincing deterrence that Pakistan has successfully adopted by espousing unbridled brinkmanship, India should consider innovating means of retrieving it by issuing meaningful threats of nuclear retaliation. Pakistani nuclear strategy has espoused the kind of electrifying brinkmanship discussed by strategist Thomas Schelling which was avoided by both the USA and USSR as potentially too dangerous. It seems likely that although India tested in 1998, its delivery systems were traditional and unreliable while Pakistan acquired tried and tested missile delivery capability off the shelf from North Korea, thanks to Chinese intermediation. Pakistani ability to deliver its nuclear weapons with missiles prompted an Indian loss of nerve and insouciance that failed to affirm that it would not succumb to nuclear blackmail for implausible reasons. For example, Pakistan warns of launching a nuclear attack if India blockades Karachi harbour. In addition, there was a catastrophic loss of credibility because India's anxiety about nuclear deterrence left room for doubt about the circumstances in which it would unfailingly retaliate. It might have even been felt that a solitary nuclear attack on a carefully chosen Indian target would not necessarily elicit retaliation. Indeed, it is possible to infer that India's political leaders attach a high value to their own safety and should not be targeted because they are the best guarantee that retaliation will not occur.

There are ways of changing Pakistan's strategic calculus before India's own unconvincing strategic posture becomes a temptation for a Pakistani nuclear assault in a moment of high tension. In the event of an Indo-Pak nuclear standoff, there needs to be a strategy to affect Pakistani decision-making. There are two countries that have extraordinary influence over Pakistan, the first being the one that largely funded its acquisition of nuclear weapons as an Islamic asset. And the second is the country that tested Pakistan's first nuclear device on its own soil and ensured its missile delivery capability and has since helped enlarge the quantity of nuclear warheads in Pakistan's arsenal. The Indian authorities should discreetly sponsor a discussion in the press suggesting that in the aftermath of a nuclear strike against India all bets would be off and retaliatory targets will include cities in these two aforesaid countries. A mere public discussion of such a possibility, unconnected to any official insinuation, will suffice to induce an incalculable dose of realism in all three antagonists of India.

The collapse of the USSR and end of the Cold War enlarged India's diplomatic options while simultaneously failing to reinstate their previous intrinsic high value. China no longer fears Soviet intervention if it attacks India, a persuasive factor during 1971 and a possible deterrent in 1965 as well. India has no friend or ally in a position to offer such a powerful guarantee, especially against a China with a growing economic reach that has cowed most and rearmament that intimidates even its sworn foes. A setback for India will cause the gravest international alarm and prompt rearmament across Asia. But all the evidence available so far suggests China is prepared to even countenance the prospect of Japanese abrogation of World War II commitments to rearm, the one certain outcome of an Indian military defeat in war with China. The Europeans are proudly inward looking, visibly awed by China and do excellent business with it. Britain has always sympathised with Pakistani truculence, even as it is on the verge of routing NATO in Afghanistan, and a perfidious admirer of China. Britain recently mendaciously repudiated Article 9 of the 1914 Simla Convention demarcating the Indo-Tibetan border, apparently to order, despite lacking locus standi in the matter. The US has something to lose from an Indian setback, but one wonders exactly what it would do. It should be borne in mind that when push comes to shove, the Anglo-Americans will not abandon Pakistan to its fate, and any Indian military action that threatens its vital interests will, in the final analysis, be firmly opposed. The only question for India at present is who will offer military hardware and ordnance in the event of a prolonged war.

India needs to make provision for an inestimable supply of trained reservists and the ability to equip them, much as the USSR did during World War II, though no country is ever likely to quite approximate the Soviet wartime production effort. India's defence industries need to be upgraded on a hitherto unimaginable scale and unprecedented measures taken to accelerate productive capacity. India should immediately embark on collaboration with Vietnam and Israel to design and manufacture a whole range of military hardware and ordnance, establishing collectively-owned defence production units on the soil of all three partners. There is already an example in India's BrahMos missile collaboration with Russia, which might also be encouraged to participate with the three principal partners, India, Israel and Vietnam, whenever politically feasible. Perhaps some other countries may wish to form a relationship with the three collaborators as well. One outcome of such a massive programme of cooperation is that it will make it less likely for India to run out ordnance, as it did in 1962, or beg for artillery shells, which were generously supplied by Israel during the Kargil War. Perhaps India can then leverage its manpower assets to continue fighting in the face of any initial military reverses.

The vital ingredients that have virtually disappeared from Indian political life are unwavering commitment to India's nationhood, courage to defend it at all cost and statesmanship to lead if the survival of the country is at stake. Unfortunately, India has no Joseph Stalin, admired and respected as war leader by illustrious military commanders of the Soviet Union's Great Patriotic War. A solitary speech by Stalin to the people of Moscow of 7 November 1942 is considered to have prevented the city falling to the Nazis. Nor does India have a Winston Churchill capable of inspiring the nation to fight on when all seemed lost. Without decisive political leadership the most valiant armies are condemned to defeat because policy drift and disarray in decision-making are fatal for it. By contrast, contemporary India is in serious danger of losing its economic momentum, which is sheer tragedy, because augmented economic resources would be vital for war and constitute a persuasive signal that affects any decision by an enemy to attack. In the final analysis, the publicly aired, diabolical Sino-Pak goal of an India divided into satellites beholden to them can only be rebuffed by strong political leadership and adequate material resources. Indian politics instead suffers from a surfeit of low cunning, colossal avarice and impulse for sell-out if one's own private interests can somehow be assured.