Security personnel stand guard over Raisina Hill in New Delhi| T. Narayan/Bloomberg
Security personnel stand guard over Raisina Hill in New Delhi| T. Narayan/Bloomberg
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The reality of war has hit an emotionally charged India sooner than expected. The euphoria after the Balakot air strikes has given way to a sombre realisation of the war’s ugly face after Pakistan’s expected response, which resulted in a Mig-21 Bison jet being shot down and an IAF pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, being taken captive.

Although the armed forces of both India and Pakistan seem to have been mobilised, there has not been any significant military operation, except the ongoing firing on the LoC, since the aerial engagement Wednesday.

Is it the proverbial lull before the storm or are both nations likely to explore options other than war? International opinion is asking for restraint and will soon start exerting pressure on both countries to disengage and start talks.


Also read: Why Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman stands a good chance of surviving Pakistan ordeal


India has made it clear that its war is against terrorism and not against the Pakistan state and its people. It has achieved a significant success at Balakot and the first 24 hours certainly belonged to India. As I had predicted earlier, Pakistan responded militarily and shot down one Indian aircraft although it claimed to have downed two. In the aerial engagement, Pakistan lost an F-16.

At this juncture, both India and Pakistan can claim victory and engage in talks with the other. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has publicly made the offer. Given that the Pakistan’s army virtually runs the PM’s office, it can even be assumed that Imran Khan made the offer under its guidance.

The problem for India is Pakistan’s track record. Despite all the earlier accords, peace talks and promises, Pakistan has remained steadfast in pursuing its strategy of trying to seize Jammu and Kashmir through a proxy war driven by terrorism. Even America has failed to prevent it from doing the same in Afghanistan.


Also read: Escalating to de-escalate is India’s new strategy with an irrational Pakistan


Pakistan, basically, is seeking reversion to the status quo so that it can pursue its strategy after a possible tactical pause. India can set preconditions for talks in the form of tangible action under direct international monitoring. These can be banning of terrorist organisations in Pakistan, dismantling terrorist infrastructure, arresting the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba/ Jaish-e-Mohammed/Hizbul Mujahideen and putting them to trial. Pakistan is unlikely to accept such preconditions without military ‘compellence’ being forced on it.

In my view, India is left with no option but to persevere with its strategy of forcing ‘compellence’ on Pakistan, no matter how long it takes. India has its options open. Strategic surprise may have been lost but material surprise by concentrating overwhelming force at the adversary’s vulnerable point can always be achieved multiple times. India is the bigger economy and a carefully calibrated prolonged war below the nuclear threshold will economically and militarily bring Pakistan down to its knees.

Political consensus is of paramount importance to pursue the strategy for a prolonged war of ‘compellence’. Military strategy must not be driven by political compulsions. What is at stake is bigger than political power. The war must be managed professionally and not driven by statements at political rallies. The National Security Council (NSC) must meet on a daily basis.


Also read: India must explicitly seek escalation to establish a deterrence regime


In the last 60 hours, we have looked like rookies as far as managing the information war is concerned. By the time our spokesperson came on the stage, Pakistan armed forces’ statement was already all over the domestic and international media. There is a need for a formal military briefing every 3-4 hours. Our media too must be more balanced in its approach.

In my view, now is the time to remain steadfast and show national resolve. If we miss this opportunity, we will forever have the millstone of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism around our neck.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.

Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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5 Comments Share Your Views

5 COMMENTS

  1. India: world no 1. in angry rhetoric and self delusion, world no. 183 in ability. Unreformed colonial legacy definitely at least partly to blame. Indian military is good for harassing civilians in Kashmir, not so good at fighting other 12th rate armies like Pakistan, 100% useless against real armies like China. We need to fire our badly trained officer class and reorganise the army on Chinese lines. Wrap guys like Panag in parachutes and airdrop them in Pakistan. Build a wall and close the Wagah border so the Pakistanis can’t give them back.

  2. The impending release of the downed pilot has again turned the narrative in India’s favor. After years of careful diplomacy, the world instantly understands that Pak offers of dialogue are empty gestures for the sake of propaganda. And with the foiled attack by Pak air force on Indian military bases, India finally understands that, as far as Pak is concerned, it is at war with India. It is time India joined in.

  3. Regretfully Pakistan seems to be winning the PR and diplomatic war while we end up looking like bumbling fools. First, the choreographed. Video of our captured Wg Commander to show what a civilised army they have! Gentle reminder how they treated Lt Kalia in 1999. Next comes the statesman like national address of Imran Khan urging restraint and extending his hand of friendship. Contrast this with the jingoistic speech by our PM in Churu! Finally his generous offer of credible evidence with which he will take punitive action. Someone should remind Imran Khan that reams of evidence has been given for 26/11 and nothing has happened. Moreover you don’t need evidence when the culprit has publicly accepted his role and complicity in the Pulwama attack. All their posturing is to maintain status quo, keep bleeding India through their surrogates. Pity is the world opinion is rapidly turning in their favor showing them as peace loving doves and India as a war monger! Can we hire a firm of professional PR managers and let the mandarins of MFA focus on something else?

  4. A reassuring statement from President Trump in Hanoi, suggesting that the two nations are moving back from the edge. The next two months belong to Indians choosing their next government peacefully, in an atmosphere that is not surcharged. Pakistan and the pain it has caused us is not melting away. A newly elected government, with five years at its disposal, formulating a carefully thought through strategy, a blend of creative diplomacy and coercion. For reasons that need not detain us here, political consensus has broken down completely, even on issues where it was almost taken for granted. This is not a time in the nation’s electoral calendar to lay down new doctrines to deal with such an old problem. The immediate concern should be to de escalate, something a good friend like the United States would be willing to assist in.

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