Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India 5-6 Oct ’18. The visit is part of the 19th annual bilateral summit and is taking place when a considerable geo-economic and geo-political shift is taking place in a world with a fast changing international environment — an environment in which geo-economics guides and fashions the interstate relations more than anything else. Economic undoing thus puts a state in a very awkward position — a position that may take decades to repair and reverse. Reminded of this absolute reality one is forced to imagine that in statecraft today not the military but the political skills seems to be more important. During President Putin’s visit, high on the Indian agenda was the purchase of ‘Russian Triumph S400 Air Defence System’ at a cost of five billion dollars. Why India needs this defence system has obviously got everything to do with how air power is likely to play its role as a crucial enabler in any future conflict. Should India be indulging in such a purchase is not my concern. My concern today is not the increasing Indian defence capabilities but its political inability to evaluate ‘with honesty’ its internal as well as external environment. Why? Because it directly effects the creation and sustenance of a hostile environment between India and Pakistan — an environment that only facilitates the possibility of initiation of an all-out war between the two nuclear-armed states.
Let there be no doubt that both India and Pakistan are in a state of war (war by all other means). India continues to amass military capabilities at our eastern front and its military commander continues to threaten us with punitive military strikes but any ‘military strategist’ would know that the ‘Indians have already got the war wrong’. When Indian military assessment assumes that their ‘cold start’ will not be met by our ‘hot halt’ then there is something wrong with this military assessment? But is it the Indian military assessment that has gone wrong? Whether it is the defence purchase of S500 air defence system from Russia or the (corruption tainted) purchase of 36 Dassault Rafale strike aircraft from France, India can and will continue to grow as a military power. But will this acquisition of enlarged Indian military capability cover up the flesh on the bare bones of its internal insecurity and problems. For India, India- held Kashmir is a writing on the wall from which it shies away and does not seem interested to read.
The ability to evaluate with honesty both the internal as well as external environment is at the heart of any political culture of a strong and able state. India instead tries to imagine fashion and create a false environment that only suits its political needs. An environment which promotes its strategic narrative for the domestic Indian audience — but is it appealing and in the long term unifying them? The whole Indian society except for few voices here and there have quietly agreed to the Indian political and military claims of a surgical strike that took place in Pakistan for which it has failed to show any evidence — this is a very bad indicator on a society that prides itself on democratic values of openness and transparency. Twelve months on, the Indian government announces and celebrates the first anniversary of a surgical military strike that never took place. Should politics be guided by burst of pageantry and dash of pride or should it be guided by reason, moderation and enlightened statesmanship? True politics would only aim at creating an enabling environment in which politico-military ideas can be freely discussed as well as exchanged. How can they be if they are chained? Why even after one year the proclaimed Indian surgical strikes and their brilliant tactical and strategic effects have not been debated, published, circulated for study, evaluated or even commented? When politics (hard liner Hindutva BJP government) dominates military thinking it surely and adversely effects the ‘intellectual preparation’ for war. The immature statements of General Bipin Rawat are a reflection of the absence of such military intellectual thinking. Politics misguiding the military has a history. From the military reversal that ‘the King of Kings — Persian King Darius’ or his son Xerxes faced during the biggest amphibious operation carried out against the Greeks (480-479 BC) to the (2,500 years later) US acclamation of the famous President George Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’ victory against Saddam Husain’s Iraqi military, politics showed how it can and may continue to (mis)guide military. It is the job of the politics to make ‘correct political estimates’ to achieve the desired ends. But if those ends cannot be achieved at a reasonable cost as Xerxes doomed amphibious Persian army and the US military’s engagement in an unwinnable Iraq war suggests — then politics does no good service to the military.
The fundamental flaws of the political judgment once committed by the politicians can hardly ever be redeemed by military operations. The great lesson of history is that mistakes in operations (surgical strikes, Kargil incursion) and tactics can be corrected but political and strategic mistakes (Indian assumption of war fought with Pakistan will remain confined and limited, Pakistan’s loss of East Pakistan) live forever. For execution of every poor military strategy lurking in the background would always be poor and serious drawbacks in the politics and political system of a state. In the Indian-Pakistan context the ‘suddenness’ with which any harsh punitive military strike can be responded to necessitates a correct military assessment and military commanders’ advice to politics. Any military action that creates no follow-up advantage is not military but political in nature. Its political rewards can only be narrow and short term aimed at only targeting the domestic public passion. Conversely, the job of the politicians and politics is to restrain passion of the people and not to stir them up.
In this critical time of these adverse economic conditions and few resources, the Pakistani politics is confronted with an Indian problem — that politically disengages from dialogue and militarily threatens to conduct punitive military actions to divert its domestic audience attention from its ‘Kashmir policy blunder’. Indo-Pak politics has all the time in the world to turn around and someday instead of allowing the events it to control the events themselves — but that will take time.
In the meantime, for the Indian military — catch Pakistan military napping, they will not. For most part the Pakistan military will continue to fight a defensive war which means it will react rather than act. Isn’t ‘Hot halt’ a great deterrent against ‘cold start’? If anything Indian political and military frustrations prove it is.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2018.