How does India deal with Pakistan

Many including me were angry. 17 soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack in Uri. After the ‘Newshour debate’, twitter trended with #indiawithforce. The intensity with which the speakers on the debate spoke would have convinced any ordinary person that a military retaliation was possible. Unfortunately, this is not the first time, we had such an incident. Indeed, the number of fatalities were higher, but such terrorist attacks are not new. The Mumbai terrorist attacks killed 168. The terrorists were found to be trained just like this time. Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind roams scot free. Early this year, India’s air base at Pathankot was attacked. Same clichés aired: ‘Attack on military means war on India’, ‘we will give a befitting reply’. All countries condemned. The nation mourned. This time too, it is no different:

First, India’s strategic culture. Many academics claim that India does not have a strategic culture. The loosely defined term is often misused by academics. In an essay, I had argued that India has a strategic culture, one of the facets being that of showing restraint in the use of force. Indian politicians for a long time have had a distrust with the army, starting from Nehru when the post of the Commander in Chief was abolished, fearing that a single person might get too much power to undermine the political establishment. India uses force only when its territorial sovereignty is undermined. However, once the territory is regained, India stops. There are several examples. The forces did not cross the LoC during the Kargil War. The 1971 war did not go to India’s western border. Strategic culture does not change overnight. It is a dynamic concept, an interplay between grand strategy and strategic behaviour. Unless the discourse changes, it is unlikely that we see India attack Pakistan.

Second, external pressure. India and Pakistan are both nuclear armed. Major nations would not want to see India-Pakistan conflict escalate. This is true for both China and the United States. Obama’s term is about to end and this is the last thing Washington would like to see. Pakistan remains important for the United States with respect to the regional situations in Afghanistan. Without any major power supporting, India’s retaliation would not be seen positively by the international community, only strengthening Pakistan’s case. Those who advocate blackmailing the United States, regarding cancelling the recent purchase of Chinooks and Apache helicopters are just being absurd. Such defence purchases help in increasing India’s capabilities. The United States is a superpower and India will not like to disrupt the improving relations. India’s internal capabilities are not superior enough and continue to constrain India from taking a strong action.

So does it mean, that India can do nothing? Obviously, it can. As of now, as advocated by many experts, diplomatic pressure is the best tactic that India can use to pressurize Pakistan to act on terrorism. Isolating Pakistan on diplomatic forums, boycotting the SAARC are some of the measures to alienate Pakistan. The west has been plagued with the problem of terrorism and India must lobby for assertive actions. Pakistan has managed to raise human rights issue against India successfully. Protests outside Indian High Commission in London (which sometimes are also joined by some self-righteous Indians and Indian students) happen many times a year. Highlighting the problems in Baluchistan was a great move and India must take it more strongly. India must strengthen its propaganda machinery. Our huge population and diaspora must be tapped to make soft power work. Covert strikes on terrorist camps in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan areas is another step to send a strong message to the Pakistani establishment.

These are short term measures that can help contain Pakistan. However, it will be foolish to dream that Pakistan will not indulge in such activities again. This calls for long term planning: developing a grand strategy. The fact is that India has failed to capitalize on the slowdown in the world to showcase it economic might for its defence and security needs. Firstly, economic reforms must be accelerated to increase the investments and possible growth. Unless many business interests of both United States and China do not large stakes in the country to lose, it will be difficult persuade any nation to our advantage. Any economic sanction could have greater impact on Pakistan should India become an economic giant. Second, research and development. India remains heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for its defence needs. Increased investment and professional management of DRDO and other institutions would help India become more independent. Strong growth and growth prospects can facilitate increased investments. Third, institutionalize foreign policy. Mr. Modi has provided a boost to Indian Foreign Policy and this should not go away if BJP doesn’t stay in power. Just like we have NITI Aayog for our economic policies, we need an institution to coordinate ministries of Finance, Defence, and External Affairs. If the need for domestic economic reforms are highlighted from the point of security or foreign policy needs, it can help in facilitating an all-party consensus who would otherwise waste time in petty politics. This institution can allow for lateral entry and ensure continuity of foreign policy, and aid the development of a coherent grand strategy to achieve long term interests.

Those who refer to Israel and its attacks must recognize that Israel doesn’t deal with nuclear armed neighbours. Second and more important, it has the unwavering support of the United States. India has no such support and in fact, is opposed by China. Being all by itself, internal capabilities that have constrained India must be dealt with. Economic reforms, leading to economic growth and thus increased defence expenditure can help provide India and effective way to contain China. Unless that happens, Pakistan shall remain a problem for Indian security.