Monday, July 27, 2009

Why is War with Pakistan off the Table?

[Update: I finally was able to find an answer to the question. Answer in the last comment.]

[Update 2: If you are reading this article, you MUST also read the follow up post to get a more complete picture.]


[ Those who know me well know how much of a non-war person I am, but here is some loud thinking on my part. Let me know what you think. ]

I was reading ShashiTharoor's tweets and other reports on the 10 year anniversary of the Kargil war, where we were left surprised by the large-scale incursion of the Pakistani forces mingled with "freedom fighters" in Kashmir. And then reports of how the deaths on the LoC continue due to firing from the other side.

M.J.Akbar has written another masterpiece today in the ToI, which, among other things, makes the following note (emph mine):
In 1965 Lal Bahadur Shastri thought a little give would purchase a lot of take at Tashkent. In 1972, Indira Gandhi bought Bhutto's plea that what remained of Pakistan would crumble without her sympathy. She did not insist on a written agreement ending the Kashmir dispute along the Line of Control. Atal Bihari Vajpayee reached out to shake Pakistan's hand at Lahore, and got slapped in the face at Kargil.

And asks this wonderful rhetorical question:
In the political calculus, Gilani does not have to do much more to survive. After all, what can India do if he does nothing? Start a war?

And I wonder to that, Why not?

I mean, during Kargil, the reason we didn't go into a full-fledged war was because we thought they could use the nukes. If we, in contrast, attack the terror camps in PoK, wouldn't Pakistan also be forced to fight a non-nuclear war, fearing that if they use their nukes, we will use ours too?

Note that I am NOT asking for war. However, I have begun to strongly feel that keeping the strike option (pre-emptive or not) completely off the table does us no good, and allows the govt. there to be in the state of "we oh-so-want to fix your terrorism problem too, not just ours" while doing absolutely nothing about it.

What do we stand to lose if we state to Pakistan in clear terms that "next time there is a terror attack (or if there is a delay in delivering those responsible for the 26/11 attacks), we won't ask you before bombing the regions where we believe the camps are located. Bring out your nukes. We got bigger ones."?

Any answers?

[P.S. Credit is due to P, who asked me a version of this question a while back]


  1. Complete disagreement with you. War will only increase anti- India feelings. You must think that this problem can be cured by endurance only. Let consider LOC officially as final border and divide the Kashmir.Otherwise,A referendum should be held and the Kashmiri people should be asked whether they want to remain part of India, join Pakistan, or become independent. The governments of India and Pakistan need to agree to honor the wishes of the people concerned over their own narrow interests.

    What will be achieved after war is more important to look into this matter ? A full kashmir with pakistan supporter inside it and more hostile Pakistan with more budget expenditure on milatary than economy. And more no. of misguided jehadis for the war. What we need is more interaction of people across the borders so as to defeat the purpose of radicals in both the socities. The fact of the matter is that the present set up in Pakistan is multi-polar and India might have to endure little longer before a strong unipolar civil mandate is thrown up by the people of Pakistan.
    Till then avoid the war

  2. @Y: You got me wrong. I totally agree with you in terms of the damage caused by war.

    But I am not saying we should have war. I am saying "why keep it off the table"?

    We would all like a society where no one crosses the LoC illegally, but we do not keep firing at intruders "off the table", do we?

    P.S. I have seen us playing the waiting game for a long time, and my patience is running out.

    P.P.S. I am not asking for a war to take back PoK, and believe that the LoC should be converted to a border and we should move on. I am asking to say that we are willing for an attack on Pakistani territory if we have reason to believe that terrorists have set bases there.

  3. Agree with you, using war as a deterrant should never be off the table - India has never been a nation of war-mongers, but if the strength of its forces are not even used as a deterrant, then what is their use ? In the recent past I've only seen the Atal bihari govt. use this power to a certain extent by heavily deploying the forces on our borders - which I think did prove benefitial by atleast putting Pak on the backfoot and giving our voices their due attention.

    We've seen US go over and beyond post 9/11 to give a very clear message to the terrorists, why can't we atleast stay within the line and talk/act tough ?

    Comparing the American and Indian stance - Post 9/11 America took a overtly tough stance and post 26/11 India took a completely diplomatic approach.

    Now lets answer a simple Q: Currently, is an average American in US more prone to (or scared of) a terrorist attack or an average Indian in India ? that should give us our answer.

  4. @Sid: I agree with your agreement with me, but disagree on the premise of the last question :-).

    The fact that the US has a less perceived threat of terror IMO has also to do with the fact that it is NOT easy to simply walk across the Atlantic/Pacific ocean into US territory, and not just because of the belligerent US attitude, which actually has also won it more enemies.

    Well, that is, unless you are Jesus/Moses, in which case the water/Ocean is no problem to you :).

  5. And in response to MJA, I give you SG (dear Shekhar Gupta i.e.)! In this week's National Interest (Saturday,. Indian Express) He thinks that the current 'stance' of UPA-2 may be a high-strategy thingy rather than the minor-tactics we have been playing for long. (Threat of war can be categorized in the latter).

    Now, I don't really buy his complete we don't even trust our govt. with 'thinking' leave alone 'strategizing'....and also, with the kind of mess Pak is in right now, may be we should have a short-term plan ready too. (the state of Pak, as many believe, is like a potato on fire...and shrinking fast)

    Yes, war may not be 'off-the-table' but impassionately seeing, having it on table has also 'gained' us nothing. The classic hindi film climax comes to mind where the villain's right hand man comes up with a gun at hero's mom's head just when hero has his gun on villain. And it's always hero who drops his gun even though logically, both have equal bargaining power.

    (May be, heroes have less bargaining power always...IC-814 hijack is a case in point.)

    P.S. - This message is not allowing me to paste links (Shekhar Gupta's article)...have no idea why. So search it yourself or check my response at Facebook for the article link.

  6. I just want to say, why can't we stop these wars or how can we do so?what are we greedy for?
    I feel so much depressed thinking about it...want to say something through this:

  7. @Varun: Reposting the link for you. Not sure why blogger stopped you.

    Regarding the filmi scenario, it is NOT the same. We do NOT bomb hotels in Pakistan. The villian in this case has already killed the hero's mom, his mausi, khala, and numerous other relatives. And the hero here has only complained to the panchayat so far. That in spite of having the bigger guns.

    BTW, when have we "left this on the table"? And if we did, what did we do when the next attack happened? Did we follow through on our threats?

    Again, I am NOT for a full-on war or invading territory. That would be stupid, and too costly in terms of lives (and we don't want their land).

    But how about some surgical strikes, with pre-bombing satmaps and close-cam pics of the terror camps posted 30 seconds after we have bombed them (so as to prove to the world what we just destroyed)? How about using a strike team to "extract" the LeT chiefs and bringing them here for a trail?

  8. @Animesh - there's agreement in your disagreement, matlab tumhari naa mai haan chupi hai ! :-) I think the 'water' logic has a very low significance - even UK is surrounded by water - but there's been terrorism there - Amchi Mumbai is not connected by land either from Pak. And do you think if there was a POK near US they'd have left it like we have .. naah .. even 2-3 countries around that would've probably vanished. So though I clearly disagree with Bush's approach - using power as a deterrent should always be on. Unfortunately, the next step in that case might be to use it to a certain extent, as you too have indicated.

  9. @Sid: The lengths of the British water barrier (and our own, near Mumbai) are NOTHING compared to the Atlantic and the Pacific. Now if Australia had suffered attacks in large numbers, I would accept that.

    And I am not sure why PoK's distance with the USA matters here - they can bomb anyone since no-one can bomb them back. The reason we don't bomb Pakistan's terror camps (or even impose sanctions) is not that it is close. It is because those in our current govt. are wimps IMO.

    (and no, the BJP govt. does not count. A slow and steady army build-up when someone has attacked your parliament is NOT useful. Quick surgical strikes are.)

    My point was that it is much "easier" to infiltrate India (as compared to the USA) due to its long land borders with non-friendly countries, and I stand by it.

  10. @all: on the facebook thread for this post, Anupama made a very interesting point.

    animesh, about the indo-china "stalemate"....

    there is an imminent danger of the situation exploding into a 3 pronged war, should we venture down the open conflict with pakistan route.

    to which I replied
    @Anupama: Good find. However, our lack of knowledge about them notwithstanding, the Nuclear Stalemate with China still holds valid. We can reach Beijing and they can reach Tvm.

    That said, if neither of us will nuke the other, then it _will_ come down to a traditional war. Ooops :-|

    OK all, thread closed. Now I know why the military option is off the table :-).

    Ah well. It was good while it lasted. If you cannot use the military option for strategic reasons anyways, then announcing that it is "off the table" surely gives you a diplomatic edge :)

    [proper context of "Majburi ka naam Mahatma Gandhi?" :-)]

    But why can't Dr. Singh at least talk about sanctions etc? We can do that, can't we?

  11. @Animesh
    Strike teams in our country take 30-years to take down Veerappans and like. Imagine them crossing the border and looking for guys over there...

    I think SG's article makes some sense...especially with war practically out of question in our region. (Many reasons...i know we all know them.)

  12. A little late, but...

    I think the assumption that Pakistan would be "forced to fight a non-nuclear war" is flawed. That assumption is true for an actor we are sure is "rational," according to our definition of rational (i.e., a leader would want to avoid the devastation of a nuclear attack and so will not provoke one by using their nukes on another country).

    According to, "The asymmetries of strategic depth and offensive military capability give India an operational advantage, and create a situation in which India's conventional ground forces could only be defeated by Pakistan's tactical nuclear forces."

    It's impossible to know how the situation would develop in the event of India making a military threat. Pakistan could take the threat seriously and take steps to avoid a potential nuclear war, which would be the rational step. Pakistan may, however, take India's threat as a bluff and play chicken, perhaps to gain points among political constituents or to maintain power.

    If India were to then follow through on the threat, one cannot assume that a desperate Pakistan, fighting a losing war, perhaps having been taken over by the military because of frustration with the conduct of the war, wouldn't resort to nukes to try to extract the maximum amount of physical and psychological damage on an old enemy. Or perhaps worse, Pakistan could give nukes to terrorist groups like Lakshar-e-Taiba or even Al Quaeda to do with as they pleased. One cannot assume that, faced with defeat, Pakistan would continue to act in a "rational" way, rather than going for the big finale.

    We also cannot assume that a strike against a terrorist camp wouldn't lead to a full out war, for the obvious reason of sovereign nations not usually putting up with military strikes inside their territory by historical enemy states.

    In my opinion, this is the real reason why making military threats between nuclear countries isn't a good idea. You can't assume that it will not lead to nuclear conflict. Personally, I don't see many signs that Pakistan will behave in a rational manner and thus avoid a nuclear conflict.

    Other, less nuclear-doomsday possibilities of following through with a strike on terrorist camps inside of Pakistan include the very real possibility that terror attacks inside India would increase in retaliation. The LoC is a porous border and it would be difficult to keep out all possible attackers.

    Of course the threat might work. But with the possibility of success comes the possibility of having to follow through with a military threat, with potentially devastating consequences.

    Just a few thoughts I had.

  13. Anonymous9:29 AM

    In this current age of suicide bombers, Nukes can no longer be considered as deterrent. If an officer in the paki C&C system feels suicidal then it will be the end of the deterrence game. I believe US has placed some sort of safeguard in place but I doubt the effectiveness.


  14. @Varun: you make a valid point about our strike teams. And yes, now that I understand the China angle, SG makes sense. But somehow I have a bad feeling about this.

    @ASL: Thanks for your well-researched comment. The "follow-through" problem is indeed something that the article referred to by Varun also mentions.

    @Shiju: crazy suicidal commanders/soldiers have existed since times immemorial, and I don't think the Pakistani Nukes are controlled by a single physical switch. There are proper protocols on how to activate such systems, and I believe they are in place on both sides. Let's not get paranoid.

    @All: New post on this issue coming up. Please hold your commenting horses :).

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