New Delhi: Since this election is all about a jingoistic response to Pakistani terrorism, it is worthwhile to focus on that. The pursuit of jingoism has rarely brought lasting gains to those in power. It may be no exception in this case.

Pakistani terrorism does not have a military solution. The Balakot strike caught Pakistan by surprise but it replied twice in kind. It would be foolhardy to try a second time because India may have no control over the retribution. Pakistani terrorism is “successful” because India cannot match it with terrorism of its own. But an air strike can be matched and indeed doubled and tripled in intensity. Conventional thinking will not get the country anywhere with unconventional warfare.

The same holds true of cross-border land strikes. The September 2016 strike was not the first and it will probably not be the last. It did bring verifiable casualties but it did not cease future attacks worst of which was Phulwama. The massive publicity attending the September 2016 strike makes any repetition fraught with risks. Even should risks be taken which armies will, there must be clear understanding that it is a tactical response to terrorism with none of the lasting or even permanent effects of a strategic response.

Obviously, the jingoism which gave the BJP/ NDA a second term government at the Centre would not be satisfied with land or air strikes however well they are packaged for public consumption. Nothing less than a war would satisfy the jingoists who know nothing of war and the ruin it brings. Whatever else anyone thinks of nuclear weapons, they are unfailing purveyors of mass destruction. Pakistan is a deadly serious nuclear weapons power which is completely prepared for full-spectrum nuclear warfare should its existence be threatened. Pakistani terrorism under a nuclear overhang is well-established and India has been unable to undermine that connection. Once again, conventional thinking would make no headway there. There is only so much dare you can exhibit when nuclear weapons are involved.

Lastly, Pakistan is not isolated. Leaving aside the Muslim world, China is deeply embedded in Pakistan and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor deepens their strategic alliance. Pakistan has been propped up by China to contain India. With China under threat from the United States, it can give no reprieve to India, Wuhan be damned. So India will face a Chinese great wall in Pakistan. A military solution to Pakistani terrorism sells well in the election campaign but is practically undoable. Perhaps saner elements in the government realize it but dismounting a jingoistic tiger is never easy.

On the outer chance that the government wins some slack from its jingoistic constituency, it must pursue the arduous long-term course of containing Pakistani terrorism because it cannot easily be countered by Pakistan. India should hunker down to a long and grinding war against terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir where it slowly but surely gains the upper hand. It has been done before. This is not possible without getting Kashmiris on your side and their alienation runs sky-high. Counterterrorism operations must be quietly conducted and glory-hunting forbidden. The message should go to Kashmiris that there is no charm in this but it is regrettably unavoidable. Civilian casualties and the rest of the collateral alienation produced must be staunched.

But all this is still tactical. What will really make the difference are economic reforms that make India a powerhouse. As a major economic power with monetary and scientific/ technical resources to fund and equip a modern military, and India’s powerhouse status as such winning it powerful allies and partners across the world, it would be in a far superior position to contain Pakistani terrorism. Should Pakistan reform its economy to catch up, reform dynamics would put pressure on the Pakistan military to eschew terrorism.

The United States understood Soviet containment as a sophisticated and long-drawn process. Pakistani terrorism compares nothing to it but it still needs time, patience and politically consensual strategies to overcome. Would jingoists cut the government some slack? It usually goes against their grain