By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: Is a fourth general war between India and Pakistan imminent? If one were to go solely by the bellicose statements of a phalanx of armchair warriors and would-be strategists in India such a deduction might seem irresistible.
Such a grim conclusion might appear equally inescapable hearing the populist clamor and demands from myriad political parties calling for unleashing the dogs of war against Pakistan.
The dramatic flights of Pakistan Air Force F-16 fighter jets over the night skies in and around Islamabad – and their eye-catching landings and take-offs from Pakistan’s broad highways, closed to motor traffic for that purpose, might seem equally premonitory.
What sparked all this? Briefly, it was a September 18 raid at an Indian Army barracks near Uri by four Islamic militants – identified in India as belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit – across the Line of Control (LOC) leading to the death of 18 Indian soldiers near the LOC. It also resulted in the killing of the four perpetrators.
India promptly accused Pakistan of responsibility for the atrocity; Pakistan rejected the charges, accusing the former of apportioning blame before the incident had been properly investigated. More generally, too, India has accused Pakistan of playing a role in 27-year long insurgency against its rule in Jammu and Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state. Pakistan denies sending fighters into Kashmir.
To fully comprehend the background of the latest blow-up, it is necessary to take cognizance of at least three seminal developments: that India’s portion of Kashmir has been under a major security lockdown sparked by the July 8 killing by Indian security forces of Burhan Wali, a popular young commander of the Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen, whose leader is reportedly based in Pakistan; the unprecedented threat issued by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking on India’s Independence Day, warning that India could assist in the ‘liberation’ not only of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, including Gilgit and Baltistan, but also her province of Balochistan; and, finally, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, speaking at the UN General Assembly September 22, declaring that as Pakistan could not ignore India’s “unprecedented” arms build-up she would “take whatever measures necessary to maintain credible deterrence.”
In the interregnum, one has noted the significance of the wall-to-wall, high-level strategy sessions that Modi has been having, not to mention his well publicized speeches including those in which he announced that India was even prepared for a 1,000 year war with Pakistan – a take-off, no doubt, of former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s much publicized threat, in the aftermath of the emergence of Bangladesh from East Pakistan, courtesy India’s military intervention in 1971.
Incidentally, it is widely believed that it was that climactic event that led Pakistan irrevocably down the nuclear weapons and missiles path, creating today what IHS Jane’s Intelligence review believe is a nuclear arsenal of around 120 weapons, more than India’s, North Korea’s or Israel’s. That is what, I have not the slightest doubt, Nawaz was obliquely referring to as “credible deterrence” for Pakistan vis-à-vis India.
WAR: NO WALK IN THE PARK
Attempting, now, to answer the query posed above, let me enumerate several facts relevant to this discussion. 1. Thus far, in the face of similar provocation, Modi’s India has not been trigger-happy, as demonstrated that there was no reprisal attack on Jaish-e-Mohammad following its audacious, lethal attack at the beginning of the year at an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, near the Indo-Pak border.
2. According to a plurality of experts – both Indian as well as Western – Indian military forces are not as formidable as they look on paper; indeed, the chinks in their armor are multiple and serious. Besides, if the Uri raid proves anything, it is that the Indian Army’s professionalism is less than spectacular.
3. Though much is being made in some quarters of India’s ‘strategic’ ties with the United States, elsewhere, it is believed, as Pravin Sawhney argued in The Pioneer recently, “India does not have the military capability to defend its disputed northern borders with China and Pakistan…(The) US will never mar its relations with Pakistan…Today, ironically, the US needs Pakistan more than the other way around. Washington is petrified by (the prospect of) Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadis…Moreover, Pakistan has emerged as a major geopolitical pivot being wooed by three major powers – the US, China and Russia.”
4. Presently, a joint military exercise is being carried out between Pakistan and Russia in Pakistan, a move that, as Pakistan analyst Hasan Askar says, “signifies Russian desire to expand their options in South Asia”, adding that it was the “natural” result of closer Indian ties with the US.
5. Modi’s Independence Day speech, by also targeting Balochistan, has clearly threatened to undermine the ambitious, far-reaching China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) joint endeavour, to which Chinese South Asian expert Prof. Hu Shisheng warned, “if this kind of plot causes damange to CPEC, China will have to get involved.” Worth recalling here is that CPEC will connect China’s largest province Xinjiang, with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan.
6. If India’s decision to wage war against Pakistan is made, there is no guarantee that the US administration, now in a transitory mode, with intractable international problems such as Syria piled high on its plate, will blindly support her.
7. Unlike India (and China), Pakistan does not endorse a ‘no first use of nuclear weapons’ doctrine,
as her nuclear weaponry provide her the only effective deterrence against India, with far stronger, superior conventional forces.
8. Robbed of the invaluable asset of stealth and secrecy, India very well knows that, as Pakistan is prepared for a military response from India, it will be that much more difficult for her to prevail.
Though time, as usual, will be the final arbitrator, I lean towards the view that India will limit her action to tough rhetoric and diplomatic pressure – not war!