New Delhi: In the middle of an economic crisis, India is buying billions of dollars of weapons from Russia. Swept away by jingoism and Manichean hatred for Pakistan and China, cheers meet the Narendra Modi government’s splurges on arms. Few pause to make another connection between mega arms deals and the general elections of 2019. Ultra-nationalism may or may not sway voters to favour Modi and the BJP but the regime believes in leaving no stone unturned to win. Going for broke bust Hitler and his ambitions of world dominion but who reads history any longer or cares?

Except that all the conventional weapons that India buys will not reward it with a made-to-order war. Previously argued by this writer, it bears restatement. India’s so-called strategic gurus have reached a conclusion (don’t ask how) that the next war to be fought in the subcontinent will be short and decisive. It flies in the face of all the factors that determine the nature of future wars in the region. Short and decisive wars do not fit derivations but the Modi government is planning and making acquisitions believing this to be the case.

India’s two hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China, are highly nuclear savvy. As a Major Power vying with the United States and Russia, China has to remain on level with them in the nuclear game. It is not yet there but it is certainly progressing. Money is a problem unlike before Donald Trump’s trade war. Nevertheless, pushed to a corner, China will give a decisive reply. It could not expect to win against the United States but it would dent its aggression. On this broad and deep foundation of nuclear expertise, China strategizes against India. It won’t be deterred by conventional weapons if it chooses to take Arunachal Pradesh to complete its Tibet-related acquisitions. Armed forces will keep pushing the government for conventional weapons purchases because the employment of nuclear weapons is not in their hands. The conflict scenario in the subcontinent, however, has progressed beyond conventional war. The Narendra Modi government does not get this.

Pakistan has also grown sophisticated under Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Pakistan suffers from huge legacy disadvantages but Imran Khan is squarely facing them. For Pakistan’s new prime minister, economic concerns are priority. He not only understands that Pakistan has been living beyond its means, he also aims to tackle the profligacy. His moves against the conspicuous consumption of one of his significant predecessors, Nawaz Sharief, could be dismissed as populism, but it is anything but that for Imran Khan. He is determined to cut down wasteful government expenditure and revive the economy. He may not succeed but Imran Khan does not easily accept defeat. His attempts to reduce Chinese debts to be incurred with the CPEC are a pointer in that direction. He is readying for his first state visit to China. The Chinese will know soon enough that Imran Khan means business. He has few if any levers to deal with the Chinese, but he won’t give up getting a better deal for Pakistan from CPEC.

The mid-term conclusion to draw about China and Pakistan from this is that neither is interested in the sort of hostilities for which India is splurging at a time of depleted sovereign, corporate and individual wealth. India simply cannot afford a conventional arms race. Investments have to be made in diplomacy with Pakistan and in making the economy abundantly competitive with China but neither are happening. Imran’s peace offer should have been accepted than stumble into a calamitous overdependence on arms that bog India further. With China, quiet but determined nuclear balancing would have yielded sustained fruits and produced dividends in the form of restraints placed on Pakistan. But who is to suggest sophisticated forward planning to this most anti-intellectual of governments whose national security policies are anchored by flat-footed policemen?

The most that India can attempt by way of conventional weapons’ attacks are cross-border strikes which have been going on long before the Modi government bombastically called it “surgical strikes” and elected to celebrate it to the embarrassment of the armed forces. Except that multiple, coordinated Indian border actions could meet with the sort of resistance that may constitute a slap in the face of the Central government. If prisoners are taken, the loss of face may be more than the government can take. And anything bigger, in the nature of mobilization, would be countered by Pakistan with nuclear war-fighting. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are in direct possession of the military. It decides its deployment and use and not the civilian government. With an absent political firewall, it is sensible not to step on Pakistan’s metaphorical “nuclear foot”. And Pakistan and China are one when it comes to Pakistan’s survival from Indian aggression. A second Chinese front against India will dramatically stymie the Indian war effort. The economy, moreover, is in such poor shape, with business sentiments hovering close to zero, the feel good factor having meanwhile fled from the general mass of the economy, that the last thing India needs is a war. If we backpedal from jingoism and ultra-nationalism and devote time to peace, trusting to nuclear weapons to preserve the balance more than conventional ones, it would be what the doctor ordered for the region. It will always be the economy, stupid!

Editor’s Note: With the mess that Narendra Modi has made of the economy, his old video taking a dig at Harvard economists and extolling hard work without the benefit of college education is back in circulation. Laugh and cry watching it: laugh at the idiocy of the Harvard versus hard work comparison, and cry for the destruction of the economy.