It is pathetic how far behind India has fallen in strategic thinking.
New Delhi: When the Narendra Modi government announced in September of last year that it had carried out “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control to target Pakistan army-sponsored terrorist camps, this writer had mixed feelings about them. That the strikes were carried out were not in doubt. Churlishly, the opposition doubted its own army’s capabilities, magnificent as they are, even if it validly criticized the chest-thumping of some of Modi’s cabinet ministers.
This writer’s problem with the strikes was on another level. As a tactical one-off measure, the strikes had much to recommend. Strikes were conducted by prior governments too. Perhaps the scale was conservative, and there was another major difference. Those strikes were not formally made public. An enterprising journalist could gain at the truth from friendly defence contacts, but that was about the size of it.
The September strikes, on the other hand, were publicized. No less than the DGMO made the strikes public. It was also emphasized that no uniformed Pakistani soldiers were targeted, implying that anyone of the army who was killed alongwith the terrorists was working sub-rosa and deserved that fate. The idea behind the publicity was to deter Pakistan from further terrorism against this country. Typical of this government, it couldn’t quite cease patting its own back, extolling the “surgical strikes” as a silver bullet against Pakistani terrorism: the strike to end all terrorist strikes, as it were.
This brings to this writer’s mixed feelings about the strikes from the moment they were made public. The strikes were tactical in nature. As anyone who knows anything about tactical operations will tell you, they have a limited and temporary effect. At this exact moment of writing, there is a news report to the effect that the terrorist camps targeted by the September 2016 strikes are back in operation. This is not in the least surprising. Tactical operations have limited validity. To assume that the strikes would deter Pakistan forever is foolish and foolhardy. There are not a few in the Modi government who held that view. For all that this writer knows they may still do.
At that time and subsequently, this writer pleaded for the government to think strategically to contain Pakistan. Surgical strikes were one option. A hundred others had to be conceived and strategically threaded up to bring Pakistan to its knees. It is possible. It needs brilliant conception and planning. However, the pleas fell on deaf ears. The government went on advertising the strikes as a panacea to Pakistani terrorism (forgetting that the element of surprise would no longer be available, while potential ambush situations loomed large), and it joined to it a moth-eaten tactic of “isolating” Pakistan, a standard potion offered by the Indian Foreign Service to counter the ills of the western neighbour. Still more dubiously, the Modi government used the strikes in election campaigns, thereby politicizing the military. In the meanwhile, Pakistan has scarcely rested on its oars. It has indubitably gained the upper hand in destabilizing Jammu and Kashmir, and terrorist infiltrations joined by insurgent populations have magnified the crisis of the border state.
And before you think the worst is reached, there is now the Kulbhushan Jadhav nightmare. The hysteria building up in this country over his kangaroo trial and death sentence by a Pakistan military court is dreadfully reminiscent of India’s emotional collapse in the face of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 hijack in 1999 which led to the exchange and freedom of Masood Azhar, whose UN proscription China has repeatedly vetoed. For all the hard talk, India is a soft state. This has been proved again and again. One moment it is surgical strikes, at another it is jhappi-pappi, the Punjabi phrase for pop friendliness. Even as India visualizes itself as a rising Great Power, it embodies all the seriousness and resolve of a pipsqueak state.
Without strategic thinking and purpose, this country will falter at every step. The United States and Russia do not share a border or a land dispute, but it took the containment strategy propounded by George F. Kennan close to forty years to bring down the communist behemoth. Kennan was a brilliant Sovietologist who had reached to the heart of Soviet Russia’s political, social, economical and military infirmities. His proposal in largely intact form was closely applied by eight US administrations of both political parties to the Cold War to produce the collapse of Soviet Russia. Containment was the product of great thought and intuition. There is no Indian equivalent of that to contain Pakistan, and from the looks of it, the present government is not even embarked on that course. A parliamentary resolution (whose authorship is now ignominiously in doubt) appears to be the capstone of the efforts to save Kulbhushan Jadhav. The gap in strategic thinking about Pakistan has not deserved a mention so far in public discourse, and naturally, no action has been taken in that direction.
India appears condemned to have governments which come nowhere close to the greatness of the country.