All warfare is based on deception. When Sun Tzu conceptualised this over 2,500 years ago, he could not have imagined the extent to which this deception would permeate from kinetic to non-kinetic and into the political realm. If he were therefore to rewrite this all over again, he would probably include politics as a significant factor in warfare and deception.
Put this in the context of India-Pakistan standoff and one is left wondering; deception against whom, and serving whom?
War has changed. So have its rules of engagement, its operators and the target audience. All wars are now essentially domestic. It provides a great distraction tool to the ruling elite to sway the domestic politics to reinforce their hegemony. War is what brings stability to the otherwise chaotic world of politics by shoving domestic opposition, dissent and rights movements under the rug through the ‘state of emergency’. It is also what keeps the people under check as subservient to hegemony garbed neatly as patriotism.
War does not suit the ruling elite and is therefore reduced to a rhetorical level. This is because the real war between nations has real consequences that then result in real changes in the domestic power structures. Therefore, it is not the war but the hysteria of war that allows the ruling elite to activate its domestic power politics. The real war is essentially against the domestic forces that pose a greater threat to the ruling elite.
Take for example the India-Pakistan crisis over Pulwama.
For the Modi government, the war hysteria against Pakistan has securitised the entire elections. Forget Modi’s corruption, foreign policy blunders and push towards right-wing extremism, the attack in Kashmir has conveniently reduced the Indian elections to a single-point agenda: how PM Modi will respond to Pakistan. For many observers this may seem to be a complicated situation that Modi finds himself in. It no doubt is, but politics is not about ideal opportunity, it is in fact about least terrible opportunity. This is because an ideal opportunity does not exist in this business and the ruling elite plays a hand that is least costly.
So does Pulwama help Modi? Absolutely, in terms of bringing the elections to his own pitch and being able to call shots through a securitised narrative in India that is controlled by a right-wing BJP-RSS nexus. How it really helps Modi is through a subtle crackdown on dissent and critique against his government. The ‘emergency’ like situation in India through an acceleration of war frenzy against Pakistan has created an atmosphere where any critique of the Modi government is a critique of India at a time of war.
The shrinking space of the Congress and its narrative is reflective of how the war hysteria against Pakistan may help the Modi government squeeze the election win. As for the war itself, Modi is unlikely to take that step. There is a fine line between an actual war and the perception of war. The Modi government is skilfully using the perception of war as a deception to influence elections and domestic politics. But Modi will never cross the fine line into a full-scale war because that reduces the probability of perceived political gains. What if Pakistan retaliates? What if Pakistan is able to cause more damage? What if the Indian jet is shot down in Pakistan’s territory? In the age of social media and media, it does not matter who wins the war. What matters more is whose story wins, and that is the risk Modi is unwilling to take. What then is the least terrible option? By now you would have guessed it: calculated escalation of war rhetoric!
The unfortunate aspect of war or hysteria of war is that it is the abstract concerns of state security that trumps the genuine concerns of human security. The question is the horrifying consequences of a war between two nuclear armed nations. By the time we figure out this politics of war, it will have already changed its face. War is the great deception, and we are its audience.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2019.