Sunday, October 12, 2014

Long-Awaited Reply

The recent tensions over the Line of Control in Kashmir and the International Border in Jammu have given the world its second and most open glimpse of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's defense policy. And in one word - strong.

Consider both the incidents - the open Chinese aggression in Chumar in Ladakh and the continuing violence on the LoC and IB from Pakistan. Quite unlike the previous government, the Modi government has given a free hand to the army in both situations to dig in and retaliate asymmetrically. He has even backed it up with a diplomatic push, questioning the Chinese President himself, possibly something that led to the unusual censuring of the PLA when he returned to Beijing. That standoff was eventually resolved but, quite unlike the previous situation in Daulat beg Oldi, where UPA2 essentially caved in to the PLA's demands, neither side got anything out of this, except the rebuke to the PLA.

It is on the current violence however, that Modi's difference in tactics and strategy come to the fore. If reports are to be believed, the Indian Army has begun to retaliate for persistent firing from Pakistan, a trait that UPA2 almost got used to. It is well known that Pakistani firing in violation of the ceasefire agreement has been to push in militants under cover. This is a well-scripted part of the Pakistani Army's strategy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts. And amazingly, the Manmohan Singh-AK Antony duo has been quite happy to let them do this for the last decade - paying mere lip service while giving vague orders to ground officers. With the collapse of the UPA regime, Modi has clearly taken a different line - a line that should have been taken long ago.

There are some who worry that the spate of violence get out of hand. These are the people who keep forgetting that for the Indian side, it has gotten out of hand long ago. Intermittent terrorism in Kashmir hurts common Kashmiris and the fallout of militants who infiltrate from there hurts the rest of India as well. There is absolutely no sense in just keeping quiet on the border and further militarizing the streets of Srinagar, effectively punishing Kashmiris for Delhi's week-kneed policy on Pakistani terrorism. A strong reaction on the border alone will bring some fear into the Rawalpindi Generals' minds.

Will there be an International fallout of the vigor of India's reaction? Certainly, but that is secondary to India's security interests. The world right now will laud India for any aggressive stance against China, so there is nothing to fear on that front. While war with China is not an option, an open attack from China will galvanize Asia against it and forever work to its disadvantage. As for Pakistan, it is important to first keep in mind that the UN is a toothless tiger and a large and powerful country like India need not take it seriously. Secondly, while many European countries will call for peace, they are essentially asking for status quo ante i.e., India sitting back and cowering as Pakistan pushes more militants into Kashmir. This is not an option for India.

There is a large but quiet majority that can look beyond double-games in the West and will support a move to contain Pakistan's Army - notably many policymakers in Washington who are worried that the Pakistani Army's ability to rekindle the flame that led to 9/11 once ISAF leaves Afghanistan. For them, the real strategy is to contain Pakistan. It is this set of policymakers, who seem set to retake the US Senate in November, that India should be banking on. 

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