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Modi Changes The Doctrine – His Statesmanship And That Of President Xi Will Determine The Final Outcome Now

The courage to use the Air Force in crossing the LOC and the international border in a limited retaliatory strike is what changes the paradigm of our engagement with Pakistan.

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PM Vajpayee changed the doctrine in 1998 with the nuclear blast at Pokhran. It is again the NDA government, albeit under a PM with a radically different mindset, who has changed the doctrine yet once again. To his advantage, he had 20 years of unqualified restraint demonstrated by India under different dispensations for repeated and increasingly belligerent moves by Pakistan sponsored terrorist outfits – Kargil, J&K assembly, Parliament, 26/11, Uri and finally the Pulwama attacks.

The courage to use the Air Force in crossing the LOC and the international border in a limited retaliatory strike is what changes the paradigm of our engagement with Pakistan. Conventional wisdom would indicate that use of the Air Force in crossing the border would invite a potential war with a nuclear-armed adversary – this bluff has now been firmly called by India.  This needed huge elements of political decisiveness and courage to unleash our highly disciplined and professional armed forces towards a focused objective. Game theory in a real world scenario!

The thoughtful and measured response in all its forms is what makes India’s action both responsible and reasonable. The choice of the target of the JeM to limit civilian casualties, isolating Pakistan diplomatically at all forums and hitting only non-state actors limit the ability of Pakistan’s response. We must remember that the unwritten policy of the JeM, through all its previous attacks from the J&K Assembly to Parliament to Uri and Pulwama, has been  consistently to provoke a war with Pakistan. Due to various fortuitous circumstances, this has not happened till date. This is quite different from what were the LeT ‘s objectives. This recognition has done wonders to our credibility in handling the present situation through a preemptive strike on its facilities.

Despite a state of full alert, demonstrating an Israeli type capability to strike deep into the neighboring state in a clinical strike, and return unharmed, is a huge message given to Pakistan and its self-acclaimed claims of being a “macho” state. Remember the “humne chooriyan nahin pahenein hain” assertion by President Musharaf!

However, in the ecstasy of the moment, we must not overlook that,  though the options before Pakistan for a military response are limited at this moment, there are significant options with the sleeper cells of JeM and other outfits to launch terror attacks in different parts of the country. The fact that Masood Azhar’s kin has been eliminated, and is thus a direct affront to him, will precipitate such actions. What would be our response then is not clear.  

On a long term basis will Pakistan and its proxies be tamed due to this action? Highly unlikely. Post the Uri surgical strikes terrorist activity actually multiplied and we lost many more martyrs since then.   Will this be our model of engagement going forward on a consistent basis after each terrorist strike?  Again unlikely.  And infeasible.

The current generation in India has seen a very long period of peace and prosperity and is simply unaware of the ravages of war at a personal level. Those of us who have experienced war from close quarters due to our immediate family being directly involved in frontline military operations of  1962, 1965 and 1971 will vouch that the ability to handle the adversity of the previous generation simply does not exist today. Now that this doctrine of retaliation has been created, it is this societal  “urge” to retaliate after each such terrorist attack which will put huge political pressure on subsequent governments to engage militarily within Pakistan territory. 

Statesmanship is, therefore, necessary both at home to resolve the Kashmir problem politically, and from  Chinese  President Xi Jinping to restrain Pakistan. Though US will continue to back efforts to combat terror, I am skeptical of the  Trump Administration’s willingness  to go the extra mile for us. The impending Afghanistan pullout necessitates a cooperative Pakistan and the US is unlikely to mortgage its interests for India’s benefit. In any case, the diminishing influence of the US on Pakistan has been apparent since 2016. China, though, is playing a much larger game to attain a global leadership role and President Xi is unlikely to jeopardize that by bankrolling and openly supporting what is well established as a terrorist harboring state. If India can diplomatically engage China it will be our greatest victory in restraining Pakistan and its proxy war against India.

We must view diplomacy as a malleable process as we cannot wish away geography in a geopolitical context. Meaningless clichés, thus, must make the way for a strategic framework and policy coherence in the context of the inherent hostility in our relationship construct. 

This is Game Theory in a real-life situation playing out. Our base case is that Pakistan is adventurist but not suicidal. There are many moving parts to this jigsaw puzzle. But two things are certain: India’s risk premium is bound to rise in the global financial markets; and PM Modi would need all the sagacity of a Vajpayee to steer India out of this intractable problem. 

If he can, history would remember him as the leader who demonstrated a phronetic ability to muster both courage and statesmanship in liberating future generations from this valley of despair.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Prabal Basu Roy

The author is a Sloan fellow of the London Business School and a chartered accountant. He has previously been a director/ Group CFO in various companies. He now manages a PE fund and advises startups / corporates.

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