India’s Unrealistic Military Aspirations | Muhammad Ali Ehsan

The exchange of fire between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) hasn’t stopped despite the recent visit of the DG Rangers Punjab to New Delhi, where he met the head of India’s Border Security Force (BSF). It remains to be seen if the brigade commander-level flag meeting between the two militaries on September 21 in Poonch district will have any positive effect. After the earlier meeting between the DG Rangers and the head of the Indian BSF, it had seemed that the two sides had mutually agreed on ‘not being the one to fire the first shot’. Clearly, this agreement was not adhered to.

India, for the last few months, has raised the ante without there being any visible reason for this or a change in the strategic threat environment. Its ministers and military commanders are no more speaking the language of ‘going to war as a last resort’. Fighting a war of necessity may be a national obligation, but illustrating a desire to fight a ‘war of choice’ in the current environment is a misguided strategic blunder. Unfortunately, the messages coming from across the border are about fighting just such a war. “Any future conflict is expected to be short and swift” was a comment made recently by General Dalbir Singh Suhag, the Indian military chief. The ‘short and swift conflict’ that the Indian chief spoke about is aimed at avoiding the high cost and time-consuming mobilisation that the Indian military had to engage in when trying to meet its desired military ends in the past. The Indian minister of state for information and broadcasting was also heard saying that “the government will explore every possible means, including covert or a special operation, to neutralise Pakistan-based terrorists”.

Subscribing to the doctrine of preventive interference, which aims at forestalling likely dangerous situations developing in future, the Indian military, it seems, is planning to initiate ‘limited military actions’ inside Pakistani territory. While it is choosing to term such actions ‘preventive’, whether these will be preventive or provocative is for the leaderships of the two countries to figure out. What amazes me, though, is the Indian preference for utilising war-mongering as a preferred tool of statecraft, instead of relying on diplomatic efforts to resolve outstanding disputes.

All ceasefire violations and the extensive Indian firing across the LoC and the Working Boundary for the last three months or so is actually a demonstration of the aggressive intent and tactics of the Indian military, which is meant to showcase a readiness to counter any perceived threat. This trend is basically a representation of the kind of future warfare that nations like India, which are bent upon imposing their hegemony and imperialism, are now resorting to. They utilise strong-arm tactics to force their adversary into (unlikely) submission.

Preemption and prevention are offensive military strategies, but such actions — no matter how swift and limited — are only initiated when an attack from an adversary is inevitable. India faces no conventional military threat — demonstrating offensive designs — from Pakistan and the irregular threats that both countries face are not a new phenomenon in the proxy war that the two neighbours continue to fight. What is new is the Indian rhetoric, which promotes military action that is out of proportion to the threat that it seeks to address. This could ultimately mean that a red line might just be crossed, triggering the beginning of an all-out war.

Otto von Bismarck once wrote that “fighting preventive war is like committing suicide for the fear of death”. This seems an apt analogy, keeping in mind the current state of military preparedness and nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan. There is a huge risk that the leaders of the two nuclear states take, when military, and not diplomatic actions, are seen as preferred methods of conflict-resolution. The ‘quick fix military methods’ that India is seeking to employ, using its conventional force by initiating state warfare against perceived non-state actors and an irregular threat can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a failed military doctrine, which may invite a counter-military strike by Pakistan. Even a lieutenant knows that when it comes to a military operation, things often don’t go as hoped and planned. Given this, is there any need to play with fire and to willingly disengage and withdraw from demonstrating an ‘all options on the table’ attitude?

Pushing the nuclear threshold is dangerous. Why would India’s army chief speak about a short and swift military action if its military is not preparing itself to execute such a mission? Pakistan, on the other hand, by testing its tactical nuclear weapons has already hinted that it has lowered its nuclear threshold. Why would such weapons be tested if they won’t be used? Which side is bluffing? There are huge responsibilities attached to being a nuclear state and sidestepping these can result in dangerous accidents, unleashing a sequence of events that might be difficult to control.

The core ideology of Nazism was laid out by Adolf Hitler in his autobiography, Mien Kampf. That Hitler-inspired ideology led millions of young men and women to various frontlines and battlefields, and eventually to their deaths. Had President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Charles De Gaulle not repeatedly met and spent endless hours in conferences, they would have been unable to set the right goals to meet the threat posed by Hitler.

Terrorism is another form of Nazism and a common enemy of not only India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the whole world. Defeating terrorism demands prudence and good political judgment by leaders who are prepared to display the kind of statesmanship demonstrated by the leaders of the day during the Second World War. It shouldn’t take a military catastrophe, millions of deaths and another Hiroshima and Nagasaki-like scenario for the leaderships of India and Pakistan to figure this out — for if it comes to that, it would mean that they didn’t learn anything from history.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2015.

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