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Kitney aadmi thhey? The most juvenile question to arise from the 90-hour India-Pakistan war

India needs to invest in its military to scare Pakistan to peace and work on its own people to understand the realities of war.

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Kitney aadmi thhey (how many enemies were there), asked Gabbar Singh, the most feared yet adored villain of Hindi cinema, mocking his punch-drunk hitmen just back from a skirmish in Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 classic Sholay.

Now, why am I using this in the context of last week’s 90-hour India-Pakistan “war”? Or describing the nuttiness into which we have descended post-27 February, as ‘Gabbarisation’ of our politico-strategic discourse?

It is as if only three questions now remain: Did the bombs/missiles hit the Jaish facility or not? If they did, how many did they kill (hence, kitney aadmi thhey)? And the third: Did IAF shoot down a PAF F-16 or not? These entirely miss the nub of the issue.

We had written two weeks back that revenge was an unwise strategic impulse. That revenge is for idiots, while the wise prefer dissuasion and deterrence. These three questions reflect a revenge mindset, unfortunate for a nation of our size, power and pretensions. It’s the reason we call it “Gabbarised”.

The prime minister himself has given fuel to it by thumping his chest and saying to cheering crowds that his nature (fitrat) is such that he cannot wait long to take revenge. It is a dangerous politicisation of strategic response. Your military wants surprise to be on its side, not predictability that the adversary can easily ‘game’.

And second, it could be an admission that you do not think what you’ve done is enough to deter Pakistan. I may be over-interpreting campaign rhetoric. But rhetoric can also limit your options.

On the other hand, if the prime minister feels that these audacious strikes haven’t produced deterrence, the new normal the subcontinent must prepare for is different from what is best for India. A cycle of terror-retribution-escalation-de-escalation is just two steps higher but no different than the completely wasteful blood-letting that’s been going on across the Line of Control. The only difference being that instead of small arms, mortars, sniper rifles and commando-knives, fighter planes and smart munitions will be used. This is heady for defence nerds and teenagers. Unfortunately, it is also a strategic compromise, if not defeat, as Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag (retd) argued in his very wise and brave article earlier this week.

Also read: Pakistan’s 50-year self-destruction in blood-feud with India & how Imran Khan can halt it

Let’s list the positives first. For the first time since this cycle of Pakistani-controlled terror-subversion began in Punjab (1981) and Kashmir (1989), India drew a line on its tolerance levels. In the past, provocations much graver than Pulwama, such as the Parliament attack and 26/11, had passed without retaliation. The Indian response had become predictable and the world was getting bored.

Direct retaliation now was the logical option. Pakistan has therefore been given three important messages at Balakot:

· That there is a threshold of tolerance beyond which India will strike deep inside Pakistani mainland, unmindful of escalation. To that extent, Pakistan’s post-1990 nuclear bluff has been dented. It isn’t over, but Pakistan now has to factor in this new reality.

· That India has the muscle to carry out such reprisals, and the ability to maintain operational secrecy.

· And third, that the key powers of the world now accept India’s right to retaliate. It follows that India is subsequently expected to behave responsibly and, point made, should avoid getting caught in a retaliatory cycle.

This is how the game played out this time. But we should also count the negatives. So here again, the rule of three examples:

· The strikes, counter-strikes and Indian response exposed the inadequacy of conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan. In terms of technology, weaponry and capability, the two sides are about evenly matched if the engagements are episodic. In a longer war of attrition, India will outlast Pakistan. In short, India has conventional superiority to ultimately prevail over Pakistan, but not for punitive domination.

· A fast-developing situation like this needs great communication planning with your own people, media and the world. The Modi government has done poorly on this.

· As with the Kandahar hijack, Indian public opinion again proved to be the weak link. The same public that clamours for a decisive all-out war, or “aar-paar ki ladayi”, lost its nerve with just one PoW in Pakistani custody. By the evening of the air skirmish, “punish or crush Pakistan” type hashtags had been replaced by “Bring Back Abhinandan”. Fed the easy jingoism of Uri-style movies, the Indian public has forgotten that in a real war, both sides take losses. And sometimes setbacks too.

Also read: Revenge is for morons. Can Modi switch to deterrence, less sexy but way more diabolical?

In short, this crisis taught India that to embark on a new, low-tolerance, punitive approach towards Pakistan on terror, it has a long way to go militarily and temperamentally. India’s leaders, therefore, have to invest money to achieve the first, and emotion for the second. This kind of a cycle can play out may be once more, or at the most twice. History won’t take a vacation then and Pakistani conduct won’t so easily reform.

In fact, if this is the new normal, Pakistan and the international community will get used to it. I strike, you retaliate, then I retaliate and we go home at some point. Then we both declare victory to our respective populations who love their armed forces far too much not to believe it.

India needs to first make its people understand what war is. Too many are brainwashed watching the footage of American air and drone strikes, where they have total control of the skies. Or movies stirring but so idiotic they have to invent capers straight out of some old ‘Vijay Jasoos’ type pulp to conjure up “gadgets” like Uri’s “garud”. Real life fighting isn’t a walk through a Hamleys toy shop.

Even if your soldiers are Sunny Deol and Vicky Kaushal, Pakistanis are no Johnny Walkers. They are tough fighting soldiers too, children of the same soil. The one lot who never take them lightly is India’s professional soldiers. That’s why they keep winning the real wars. It is for the leaders to drum this also into their people’s heads. But if all they do is exploit the forces for their jingoistic politics, strut about in camouflage fatigues and trivialise the military, they are being unwise.

Finally, to have dissuasive, deterrent strategy is a great idea. It is also imperative. But this would need a punitive ability that also dissuades Pakistan from retaliating. Otherwise you be prepared for a new, sub-nuclear mutual deterrence. India tells Pakistan you will ultimately lose a war of attrition, and Pakistan says, militarily, may be. But economically, stakes are much higher for you.

Here’s one way out. Up your defence budget to a fixed 2 per cent of a rising GDP. Just that adds about 25 per cent to our current defence spending. Reform the forces. Gen. Bipin Rawat has a great plan for the Army, for example. Optimise them for conventional and decisive punitive deterrence. Throw the gauntlet at the Pakistanis. They will calm down, or pauperise themselves catching up. It might just make them rethink from their brains for once as they tie up their $12 billion IMF bailout. Remember, the best militaries are ones so powerful and dominant, you do not have to use them. India can afford to have one such.

Also read: Suicidal Pakistan should know Modi may not be scared of its nuclear button


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  1. Mr Gupta presents an issue with great subterfuge to content as well as form. There however seems no clear thought process and most of it is a mish-mash of warped ideas. Mr Gupta says that revenge is for idiots. He prefers that Indians talk with Pakistan and let the Aman ki Asha flow. He knows very well that India is hitting back Pakistan after 30 + years of criminal terrorist activities. Did this 30+ years of soft weak approach by the Congress help India?? If after 30yrs one fails, should we not try another approach?? No, suggests Mr Gupta, which is retrogade , foolish and shows the arrogance of such poorly read individuals to advise on India”s armed forces. Modi’s hard-hitting defense policy has been wildly successful and Pakistan is seriously compromised. Even then to advocate a cowardly weak and soft defense policy by Mr Gupta indicates a vacuous mind, lack of any knowledge of defense security issues or he is using propaganda to advance the enemy’s agenda. I leave it to the readers why such authors have the arrogance of ignorance to write on things they know nothing about.

  2. Rs 70,000 crores or some similar humungous figure on OROP (one rank one pension) — what does that leave for modernisation? And what modernisation? Even 10 years is not enough time to negotiate a purchase of armaments. Truly, we are becoming the laughing stock of the world.

  3. Prof PK Sharma,Freelance Journalist,Barnala(Punjab)

    Mr.Shekhar Gupta, your National Interest column this week’s headline ” Kitney Aadmi Thhey ?” pertains to
    questions reflecting the hype, euophoria, hysteria, sentimentalism, hostility, revenge, retribution,hollowness ,
    trivialisation, politics and what not ?

    In response to these myriads of questions and impressions , I am haunted by a popular Punjabi saying that is:
    ” Faujaan Jit Ke Unt Noon Haariyan Ne ” ( The forces ultimately have lost after tasting victory ).

    Is it not so ? The question that is pertinent at this point of time is those who are at helm supposed to lead the
    nation from the front why did they belittle the wonderful and valiant feats on the part of our brave pilots of
    Air Force ?

    Crazy for his lust for power to be in the hot seat for the second time, Prime Minister Modi is guilty of playing
    politics over the February 26 wee hours aerial strikes of the Indian Air Force !

    While addressing an election rally at Churu in Rajasthan a couple of hours after the aerial strikes, NaMo stated
    “Nation is in safe hands ” ! Could not he wait even for a single day ?

    Ironically, did he imply that for almost more than four years nine months, the nation had been in parkinsoned and
    unsafe hands ? What an example and evidence of self- disbelief ?

    Then non-plussed and overawed by poll winning mania, NaMo asserted that the air force aerial strikes outcome
    would have been different had India possessed Rafale fighter aircraft ? How smart and prudent a reaction that too
    from the Prime Minister of the nation ? NaMo should himself introspect why did he inrodinately delay the Rafale
    deal ? There is a valid and justified logic to believe that the availability of 126 fighter crafts must have taken big chunk
    of time ! Even after slashing the number from 126 to 36 planes in his renegotiated deal, India failed to get even a single
    aircraft speaks volumes of NaMo’s smartness and efficiency to deliver the goods in best national interests ?
    Is not NaMo himself responsible for all this mess and hanky panky state of affairs in the country ?

    Should not have BJP leaders NaMo, Amit Shah,Yogi Aditya Nath,Rajnath Singh, B.S. Yeddiuruppa and S.S.Ahluwalia
    exercised utmost restraint avoiding hype-creating, inciting public sentiments and hysterical utterances in public ?

    Playing politics blatantly over the issue of National Security-Defence is indeed betrayal of the mandate masses gave
    in favour of BJP in 2014 !

    The strategic aerial strikes did serve a timely purpose sending a strong signal required to the powers that be but still
    it is not prudent to live in fools’ paradise because the crux of the problem still remains to keep us constantly on our toes !

    Learning lessons from the past blunders and bitter experiences, long term measures on various levels and fronts are
    the dire need of the hour !

    So far, to recall a legendary urdu poet Mirza Ghalib we can amuse in our heart of hearts,
    ” Dil ko behlaane ke liye Ghalib ye khyaal acchha ha.”(To amuse the heart, Ghalib it is a fantastic idea)

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest,Barnala(Punjab)

  4. Dear Shekhar ji, Excellent points. Can you please proactively explain what you wrote beautifully to your own ever doubting and sarcastic colleagues in the print, tv, and social media, who repeatedly let the nation down at important times? The sage advice you have given to the government in the article can easily be directed toward your ever-skeptical fraternity too. You have been in journalism for a long enough time to have at least some influence over your fraternity; if you cannot explain to them, then nobody can. Thanks.

  5. I don’t know why of late i see a clear pro modi streak in shekhar’s writings where in he tries to weave his words to come across as a neutral blogger,but gives away the game quite easily.
    Anyways shekhar whosoever says that india has achieved anything drom the strikes is living in a fool’s world, for the escalation dominance which is the victory in such operations has been with Pakistan, who hit back which india called as military aggression and still couldn’t hit back.
    So chill and smell the coffee.

    • Great insight, Oldfox. When I read the article and saw the list of positives, this was the exact thought that crossed my mind. Seeing a positive is a war of any kind takes some effort. Mr Gupta’s writing is also right wing when he presents economic issues.

      Mr Gupta is a militarist, as I sense from his earlier papers. I see him as a believer of strongman tactics, followed by investment in defence.

      While investment in defence seems to be an important part of current world order, I never understand why we don’t ask ourselves – how do we eliminate the need for a war? During the last hundred years itself, the world has killed many million people and low-intensity wars have been the norm even during the last 30 years. Has anyone achieved the deterrence or any other objective that the war was to meant to have realised. Saddam Hussain was killed for weapons that did not exist and Iraq has been destroyed to an extent that there is a very little chance of an error. Syria is being destroyed for regime change. We probably have dozen of examples of this kind during the last few decades.
      Politicians who cause the wars or decide on going for a war are rarely heart in the war or its aftermath. People who die or suffer are the ordinary human being who fight in the war in their roles as specified by the babus and politicians. Anchors and bloggers make merry – improving TRPs and more ad or subscription money. Why is that the war-mongers don’t have to pay the price, the price has to be paid by individuals and families who die in the war or warlike circumstances that our politicians create.
      Any one, who has seen a feudal society or read about it, knows the cost revenge extracts from the families.


  7. You are right when you say that both India and Pakistan claim victory, but at least it is clear that we create history by giving them the response that we gave. We certainly do not know what will be the impact in the future but as it was a risky decision no one can stop this Govt to take advantage of it. If there were couple of plane had been shot down by Pakistan the same opposition leader ask responsibility from Govt and Govt could not hide themselves any where.
    Bunch of opposition is in a situation where if they raise question Govt easily divert it ‘look they have doubt on our forces’ if they do not than also Govt take advantage of it as it was a bold decision. It was immaturity to claim number of terrorists killed in this strike, the main thing is that we did airstrike deep in Pakistan.

  8. Good assessment Mr Gupta. Last week in the comments section I had posted that research and modernisation of Military Technology is an imperative for India. For that we would have to commit huge resources, but that may not be possible since a very large amount of public money is spent in simply feeding the poor who are in vast numbers. Even now it is not too late. Population control through incentives and disincentives is the dire need of the hour. A smaller population, with means to look after itself, will mean that Govt will have more resources to build a formidable army. But very few politicians or media people or our great intellectuals are willing to speak about population control. In fact, the Supreme Court missed great opportunities by dismissing petitions to control population. India is seriously overpopulated. There is nothing to be proud about.

  9. 200 / 300 / 400 is a matter of detail. However, it would be deeply problematic if the figure was zilch.

  10. Shekhar, people ASK this question because they are used to seeing such information being put out WITHOUT ASKING in other such instances around the world. Like US drone attacks and other precision aerial bombardments. Gabbar Singh poor fellow had no access to today’s technology, so he asked “kitney aadmi thaey” from his juniors. Gabbar was not juvenile but he thought the data was relevant. And the fun of it is, in the present context, Amit Shah and other BJP leaders have indirectly ADMITTED that it is relevant data by themselves giving a figure — 250, or 600 or whatever. Did anyone among the audience stand up and ask Amit Shah “kitney aadmi they”, and he answered in response to that? No! He voluntarily presented a figure admitting thereby that it was natural to present a figure!

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