The Problems with Modi’s Hard Line toward Pakistan

The new Indian government has pursued a noticeably harder line toward Pakistan-based terrorism than its predecessor.  During the recent electoral campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and promised to “Talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language because it won’t learn lessons until then.”  He has responded to the ongoing firefights along the Kashmir divide with aggressive shelling.  Consonant with his tough-guy image, that “The enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated,” and displaying his skill in wordplay that “This is not the time for empty talk [‘boli’] … but for bullet [‘goli’] for our soldiers.”The new Indian government has pursued a noticeably harder line toward Pakistan-based terrorism than its predecessor.  During the recent electoral campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a “zero-tolerance policy” and promised to “Talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language because it won’t learn lessons until then.”  He has responded to the ongoing firefights along the Kashmir divide with aggressive shelling.  Consonant with his tough-guy image, he boasts that “The enemy has realised that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated,” and displaying his skill in wordplay he proclaims that “This is not the time for empty talk [‘boli’] … but for bullet [‘goli’] for our soldiers.”

Mr. Modi’s national security advisor, Ajit Doval, stated last week that while New Delhi is willing to talk with Islamabad, “effective deterrence” is key to dealing with Pakistan.  Referring to the cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir, Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley similarly warns that “Our conventional strength is far more than theirs and therefore if they persist with this, the cost to them would be unaffordable. They will also feel the pain of this kind of adventurism.” And a senior government official reports that “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses.”

The merits of this tougher posture have sparked a lively debate within India.  Some observers caution that “machismo has never worked as a plan against Pakistan” and that an approach based solely on coercion is “a dangerous game” that could easily spin out of control.  A former Indian envoy to Pakistan contends that a policy of escalatory response is “what the Pakistani army wants and we are falling into this trap.”  Others, however, argue (here, here and here) that Mr. Modi has no choice but to reply robustly to what are deliberate Pakistani tests of his resolve.

But beyond this debate, there are other problems associated with Modi’s new line toward Pakistan that have so far escaped much notice.

Read the entire essay in The Diplomat.

[UPDATE, October 31: In an opinion piece in The Hindu today, Sharat Sabharwal, a former Indian ambassador to Pakistan, echoes some of my points.  He writes:

“Faced with Pakistan’s firing across the LoC, we have no option but to respond. However, in general, more subtle strategies to contain and counter threats from Pakistan would be in our interest.

Finally, the jingoistic and threatening rhetoric in a section of our media in response to each provocation from Pakistan does us no good. Our growing power ought to be felt by our adversaries and not flaunted. Threatening language tends to drive a significant number in Pakistan, who think constructively of relations with India, into the arms of the security state proponents.”]

[UPDATE, November 2: A suicide bombing today killed over 50 people, including three members of Pakistani Rangers, a paramilitary organization, and injured well over 100 others, at Wagah, the main border crossing between India and Pakistan.  The attack occurred on the Pakistani side of the border and just as the famous border-closing ceremony involving Indian and Pakistani guards was concluding at the end of the day.  Several jihadi groups, including Pakistani Taliban splinter groups and an Al Qaeda offshoot, have claimed responsibility.  The attack’s objective is unknown at present but had it caused Indian casualties, it would have further strained already fraught relations between the countries, conceivably prompting Indian military retaliation.]

I invite you to connect with me via Facebook and Twitter.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “The Problems with Modi’s Hard Line toward Pakistan

  1. According to me the stand taken so far is too little too late. India should go on the offensive, short of war, till the menace of terrorists and separatists is completely eliminated.

  2. On a very short term of a month or two, such non-engagement and increasing the tempo of response by India will work and perhaps even desirable to send a message.
    After that it will yield diminishing returns!
    The problem with a strategy “short of war”,is that Pak has also to keep it short of a war or not even escalate the confrontation pushing more “jihadis” across the order.
    There is no surety in either of these scenarios.
    In fact if Indian responses remain as aggressive as now, Pak is likely to use the second option.
    That will be very undesirable option for India in the short or long term.
    I would not put my Rupee on Surinder’s suggestions to work.

  3. Superfluously, the latest round of skirmishes along the Line of Control between Indian and Pakistani troops appears to be just another incident of cross border firing. But if viewed with some degree of objectivity, one could make the reasonable conclusion that it might lead to disaster. Owing to the increasing frequency of firing incidents along the Line of Control and working boundary, the situation is becoming tense by the day. Consequently, if this pattern of cross border clashes continues, the situation could potentially trigger a conflict, and the escalation could have serious repercussions for both India and Pakistan.
    The Indian media is blaming Pakistan for initiating the clashes, but these claims appear ridiculous. Pakistani forces are currently engaged in an ongoing major military operation in the tribal areas with apparently no end in sight. The continuing political stalemate between the government and protestors led by Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri has brought the government to its weakest point since the 2013 elections. And finally, the dwindling economy remains one of the most formidable challenges for the government amidst an ongoing energy crisis and price hike situation in the country.
    Thus, having committed the bulk of its forces against the western front, it would be a strategic and economic nightmare for Pakistan to redeploy its military forces against the emerging threat from the eastern border. Not only would such a deployment prove to be a massive drain for the economy already in doldrums, but it would conceivably put the ongoing military operation in the tribal areas in complete jeopardy. A two front war scenario has always haunted the policy-makers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Indian media’s claims of Pakistan initiating the conflict are thus simply untenable.
    It remains entirely inconceivable that Indian forces are escalating the situation without the consent of the political leadership. There could be multiple reasons for this deliberately planned escalation, like coercing Pakistan to squeeze some concessions over disputes like Siachin and Kashmir, or planning to test the efficacy of the military’s nascent proactive cold start strategy, or maybe using it as a pretext to introduce an explicit preemptive clause in the existing nuclear doctrine. It is also possible that the Indian conservative government has decided that it is now time to demonstrate and project power in the region to establish hegemony in South Asia. But the Indian government is disregarding one fundamental fact: there aren’t going to be any winners in a nuclear war. Both Pakistan and India can destroy each other, but none can claim a decisive victory over the other.
    Mr. Modi is apparently living up to his promise of taking a tough stand against Pakistan. Not only has the Indian government pulled out of the secretary level talks recently, besides ruling out the possibility of third party mediation on Kashmir, but has also reiterated that there will be no dialogue until cross border firing continues. This policy illustrates that the incumbent Prime Minister, on one hand, is closing the opportunities of resolving lingering disputes through meaningful dialogue, but is also exerting pressure on Pakistan through military coercion and diplomatic rhetoric. Such imprudent policies would obviously strengthen the perspective in Pakistan about the futility of the dialogue process with India, which is going to compound the problems in the region.
    Mr. Narendra Modi might not have found enough time to read about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons- which can starve to death one third of humanity in case of a nuclear war in South Asia. Modi’s hatred for Muslims in general and Pakistan in particular, is an open secret. His desire to coerce Pakistan into submission might sell good in his political constituency, but is actually far from reality. As highlighted by Colin Gray, “A nuclear state is a state which no one wants to make desperate.” No rational actor would pursue that kind of approach.
    The only way to achieve peace in South Asia is through meaningful dialogue with definitive timelines. The mantra of talks is now over six decades old, with no tangible outcomes. Pakistan has already extended a hand for the initiation of dialogue to which Mr. Modi should respond positively. But even if he shreds this opportunity away, there is still no way to claim a conclusive victory over Pakistan. India lost that edge in May 1998, after the nuclearization of the region. Nuclear weapons are a fait accompli in South Asia and India will have to live with it.

    The writer holds an M Phil degree in Strategic & Nuclear Studies from NDU Islamabad and is co-author of the book Iran and the Bomb: Nuclear Club Busted.

  4. Pingback: The Water's Edge » Ten Most Significant World Events in 2014

Comments most welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s