File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Kamal Singh/PTI
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Kamal Singh/PTI
Text Size:
  • 892
    Shares

More than fear and insecurity, it is outrage that is driving public opinion after the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama. There is widespread expectation that the Narendra Modi government retaliate using military force and further, conversationally at least, many people want to go to war with Pakistan

To the extent that such a state of public opinion allows the government a greater leeway in terms of options, it’s a good thing. On the flip side, to the extent that it compels the government to respond to the popular mood, it is dangerous. Politics might almost always be a popularity contest, but statecraft is not. If India must retaliate against Pakistan, it must be for reasons of strategy, not to assuage outraged public opinion.

The strategic reason for India to retaliate is to impose costs on the Pakistani military-jihadi complex so as to deter further attacks to the extent possible. If an attack on India goes without punishment, the military-jihadi complex will be encouraged to carry out more. Retaliation is also necessary to persuade the Pakistani military establishment that it cannot use its nuclear shield and Chinese political cover to attack India with impunity.


Also read: Bangladesh’s lesson for India-obsessed Pakistan: Transform war economy into a peace economy


The optimum Indian response is one that hits the Pakistani military-jihadi complex where it hurts most, but not so much that they would want to escalate the matter and start a conventional war. The hurt need not only be physical. In fact, the Pakistani army might more likely start a war if its image takes too hard a beating in the eyes of the Pakistani people, than if it suffers physical damage outside the limelight. In any case, since we cannot know at what point Pakistan will escalate and how, we should realise that any meaningful use of force by India risks, ultimately, an outbreak of war.

And once there is war, there is no saying how long it will take, and how it will end. History is replete with generals who said the “boys will be back home by Christmas” and were later found to be wrong by several Christmases (for the boys who did make it back home). So, you don’t do things that can start a war without putting a lot of careful thought into it.

This is not a great insight. Our political and military leaders are aware of it, as is anyone who has thought through the matter carefully. Unfortunately, our political leadership and mainstream media are failing to explain this to the people. There is too much casual talk of carrying out more surgical strikes, of going to war, of enough is enough, as if these were trifling things to do. To the extent that popular views feed back into the political system, there is a risk that political leaders allow public opinion to outweigh strategic considerations in their decision-making.

The prime minister has announced that India will respond forcefully, and that he has given a free hand to the security forces to respond at a time, place and manner of their choosing. Yet, it is hard to conceive of any meaningful response that does not need political consideration and approval. Given that their actions can trigger war, it would be irresponsible for the government to let the armed forces decide how to respond. Make no mistake: exercising any option concerning Pakistan will require the prime minister’s approval.


Also read: Not Pakistan, Indira Gandhi’s India escalated military action before 1971 war


As we talk of war, we should reflect on what it takes to prosecute one successfully, especially knowing that there’s no certainty that it’ll end quickly and on our terms.

Can we afford it? Projecting the costs of the 1999 Kargil war, my colleague Pranay Kotasthane estimates that a conflict of that kind today will cost between Rs 3,500 crore/week to Rs 13,000 crore/week. Over two months, it will cost us between 0.15% to 0.5% of the GDP. Of course, if we could afford it then, we certainly can afford it now. But remember every rupee spent on war is a rupee taken away from other areas — at a time when public finances are under stress to cover farm loan waivers, income guarantees, pensions and other social expenditure.

Moreover, military conflict will require higher taxes, deter non-military investments and incur opportunity costs in terms of the development sacrificed. Every additional percentage of GDP growth pulls 2 million people out of absolute poverty and improves the lives of tens of millions more. We might be able to afford the war bill, but this is what we will be really putting at risk.

Can our society bear it? These are the most polarised times in my memory. All kinds of cleavages have been sharpened over the past few years. Pakistan has achieved propaganda victories at very low cost already, as real and fake reports of attacks on Kashmiris in various parts of India do the rounds. If war breaks out, we will be more vulnerable. The Modi government’s failure to address the affective divide in Kashmir deepens our vulnerabilities there. With social harmony already under stress, this is not a great time to get into a war.


Also read: India and Pakistan both know that 1965 was a War of Mutual Incompetence


At this time, the international community — except China — largely favours India’s position. It is by no means certain that this will continue if we go to war. In any case, it is in China’s interests that we get bogged down by Pakistan as much as possible, and why they are unlikely to lose the opportunity to do that if we hand it to them.

These, at the least, are the stakes. That’s why how India responds to the terrorist provocation at Pulwama is more important than the casual conversations around us might suggest.

Nitin Pai is director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy.

Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments


  • 892
    Shares
11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. All these 2 kaudi journalists will write about strategy and diplomacy. Why doesnt india do a mandatory draft of all 21 yr olds for 2 years like israel so common man- and woman -knows what military means. Pakis need to be bankrupted with cold war and escalation and deployments of weapons. They cannot survive a 50billion dollar cost yearly. India is indisciplined. This government won’t get elected unless it visibly retaliates. Time to break up pakistan and take back PoK. India has to show its resolve which it did not after 2001 and 26/11 and hijacking. It only showed its incompetence. Modi can change that and he must.

  2. Anti-Pakistan sentiment on the rise, just before elections? hmmm Articles like these are springing up everywhere pandering to such hateful rhetoric. A war between our two countries is stupid and can only lead to mutually assured destruction, saying anything to the contrary is highly irresponsible and delusional!

  3. Comment from Pakistan side, I’m pashtun and we are supporting our Muslim brothers if the war started between India and Pakistan, if we can defeat super powers Russia, UK and Alexander the great and to repeat a history how you ppl lose half of Kashmir, we haven’t lose any war if the reader is good knowing history of pashtuns . But as human being hatred cannot be drive out by hatred it can be drive out by love. Let’s join hands and support each other.

  4. U know, when i read these articles, i have a feeling that god is still there to protect us.
    Then reading comments, i feel like i am already dead.

  5. Very sad to see people loosing lives in Pulwama.

    1. Security lapse that has caused it, who is responsible, India or Pakistan?

    2. Not talking to Kasmiris to resolve their grievances, who to blame?

    3. Occupation, subjugation, rapes, torture, extra judicial killings of her own citizens, who is responsible, India or Pakistan?

    4. Human rights violation, extra judicial killings, a couple of hundred thousand security personal for a couple pf decades could not control the Kashmir’s what is the massage for people in Delhi?

    Loosing precious lives of 49 mens, putting lives in danger for millions more, is it prudent? Do you have the capacity to inflict pain on Pakistani’s with immunity? It’s living in a fools paradise to even think for military action. If Indian military was capable enough to control the situation in Kashmir, there would not have been any event like Pulwama. It hurts, it’s hard, but that’s the way it is unfortunatley.

    Threatening a neighbouring country to impose sanctions on sports, literature, economy, and isolation has not worked in the past and seems unlikely to work now. End of the day Indian and Pakistan have to share the same geography, putting brakes on one’s progress would effect the other. What have we learned from First Afghan War outcomes in 1990’s?

    God bless all those who have lost lives in Pulwama, God bless people of Kashmir who loose everything that the have on a daily basis. May God bless Indian politicians with sanity to address the issue of their failed policy towards Kashmir.

  6. Very sad to see people loosing lives in Pulwama.

    1. Security lapse that has caused it, who is responsible, India or Pakistan?

    2. Not talking to Kasmiris to resolve their grievances, who to blame?

    3. Occupation, subjugation, rapes, torture, extra judicial killings of her own citizens, who is responsible, India or Pakistan?

    4. Human rights violation, extra judicial killings, a couple of hundred thousand security personal for a couple pf decades could not control the Kashmir’s what is the massage for people in Delhi?

    Loosing precious lives of 49 mens, putting lives in danger for millions more, is it prudent? Do you have the capacity to inflict pain on Pakistani’s with immunity? It’s living in a fools paradise to even think for military action. If Indian military was capable enough to control the situation in Kashmir, there would not have been any even like Pulwama. It hurts, it hard, but that’s the way it is.

    Threatening a neighbouring country to impose sanctions, on sports, literature, economy, and isolation has not worked in the past and seems unlikely to work now. End of the day Indian an dPakistan’s have to share the same geography, putting brakes on one’s progress Ould effect the other. What have we learnt from First Afghan War outcomes in 1990’s?

    God bless all those who have lost lives in Pulwama, God bless people of Kashmir who loose everything that the have on a daily basis. May God bless Indian politicians with sanity to address the issue of their failed policy towards the Kashmir.

  7. Reading between lines, while trying to appear balanced, what Mr Pai seems to be suggesting is that India has virtually no option except to remain stymied. He certainly has not articulated measures that would hurt the Pakistani military sufficiently without triggering an escalation. India has always played an appeasement approach to Pakistan and Kashmir. Look where it has brought us – exactly where Pakistan want us to be. Impotent in the face of constant attacks! This nuclear defence threat of Pakistan should not be taken at its face vale because that presupposes that the Pakistani Generals are willing to risk self annihilation! Kashmir issue will not go away whether we are stymied or otherwise. It is time Pakistan gets its own medicine back. India should make a concerted effort to destabilise areas of Pakistan that are vulnerable, such as Baluchistan but also in other theatres. This is not just a war for Kashmir, this is a jehad they have undertaken against largely Hindu neighbour and they will not stop this till they are exhausted, physically and economically. So a combination of diplomatic, trade, sports and cultural freeze India should accompany support for insurgency movements within Pakistan. Indian Government should require BCCI to withdraw from participating in ICC tournaments when Pakistan is involved and any foreign player who participates in Pakistani domestic tournaments should be banned from IPL. BCCI’s financial muscle will have impact on ICC. Starving Pakistan of water resources should also be considered. We have a variety of means that must not be just talked about but applied. If China becomes a thorn on our side we have a huge trade deficit with them and in China’s current economic situation it would not want to walk away from the Indian market. They must be warned of the possibility of trade curbs with China in the event it threatens our measures to tame Pakistan.

  8. One constructive suggestion for the future : No more supercessions n the military. The idea of India going to war with Pakistan is so absurd, it does not even merit a comment.

  9. what are the costs india is any way incurring for combating terrorism in kashmir on a daily basis since last two decades? 1800 cr/day is around average rs. 130/head per day. Instead of aiming just a revenge for the terror attack, with a concrete plan to dismantle the pak terror mechanism totally in india and in pak ,if we go ahead, the cost is worth. The least we need is demoralising articles like this

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here