The political atmosphere between India and Pakistan is very charged. Tough statements by India’s minister of external affairs, Pranab Mukherjee and those by Pakistani leaders are now almost daily fare. Pakistan alleged that Indian Air Force fighters had violated its airspace. India denied that. Islamabad has now scrambled its fighter jets and kept its armed forces on high alert. The question is: are we close to war?
The small window of military opportunity that existed after the 26 November attacks in Mumbai now seems to be closing. Almost one month has elapsed since then. At that time, Islamabad had not stirred the mullah-terrorist establishment. You could find militants in their hideouts, their mobile physical infrastructure was intact and precise military strikes could have achieved the right mix of punitive and deterrent goals.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Not any more. There are two reasons for this. By now, the militants have disappeared and, given India’s abysmally poor intelligence gathering capabilities, there will be more collateral damage than meaningful destruction of terrorist apparatus.
At the same time, the US is unlikely to let things get out of hand at this time. The stern messages are not only meant to serve as a warning to the rulers of Pakistan, but also indirectly to India. India cannot use the excuse that the US is not applying pressure even if that pressure is worth less than what the US would have us believe. Diplomatically, that can’t be ignored.
There are additional factors that complicate matters now. Given the internal situation in Pakistan, do we have a strategy that prevents a small military strike from escalating into war and then, however remote that possibility may be, into a nuclear exchange? A comparison to US-Soviet and Chinese-Soviet cases is not useful. None of those countries faced an existential threat from within. Pakistan is a polar opposite of those cases. Its perceptions of threat to its existence are much stronger than of those countries. Have we factored that in?
Military success demands a blend of initiative and right capabilities. While our capabilities remain strong, mindless statements are ensuring a loss of strategic surprise vital for such endeavours. These imponderables would not have arisen had we seized the the right moment.
That only leaves one question: What purpose does the jamboree in New Delhi serve? The calling of 120 envoys of the country for consultation did not have to be a media spectacle. Mukherjee’s statements increasingly have that air. One only hopes that our leaders have not discovered a political opportunity in the wake of 26 November.
Mere sabre rattling or meaningful strategy: what are our leaders up to? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org