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Back to the drawing board

Despite the clamour for military retribution (“for a tooth, the entire jaw”) from influential sections of his party, Modi has made clear that the desire for war is not on his agenda. He sought to single out Pakistan for being the source of terror in Asia and called on its people to recognise how this policy was hurting them. 

"I would like to speak to the people of Pakistan, to tell you that your leaders are misleading you by talking of Kashmir," Modi said, at a public rally. "Both our countries got freedom in the same year. You should ask: why is India known world over for exporting software, while Pakistan is known to export terror?"  He stated that his strategic goal is an India “free from poverty, full of prosperity”, and that this objective is linked to “peace and good thoughts”. 

In other words, less than a week after the Prime Minister’s point man in Jammu and Kashmir called on the Indian military to claim “for a tooth, the entire jaw”, Modi has gone back to the drawing board and sought a return to New Delhi’s original security policy of strategic restraint. 

The speech was delivered just hours after his meeting with top officers of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, where preparedness for any future crisis was discussed. Although the aim was to address the Pakistani public, there is little doubt that this was also a message to hawks within his government.  

As noted journalist and strategic expert Praveen Swami wrote in his latest column: “The speech marked a tacit acknowledgement of the long-standing doctrine of strategic restraint, which privileged growth and investment over military gains. Prime Minister Modi, in his speech, invited Pakistan’s people to participate in this vision, too.” 

The Prime Minister was quick to point out that the sacrifice of the soldiers killed in Uri would not be forgotten. But as experts have observed over the past few days, his threat only extended to New Delhi’s “diplomatic offensive”, which seeks to isolate Pakistan across global forums. “Key to the Prime Minister’s argument for restraint was an acknowledgement of cold reality: in the midst of a war of attrition, he appeared to suggest, Indians have to accept that there will be some reverses,” Swamy goes on to add.

The real challenge in front of the NDA government is to tighten security across sensitive military installations and reduce infiltration so that militants do not take advantage of the massive unrest in the Valley. For all the tough talk against Pakistan on the campaign trail, Modi has realised that escalating military tensions are bad for the economy.  

It is imperative to establish some context to the options that New Delhi is seriously considering. When the Pakistan Army attempted to capture territory during the 1999 Kargil War, India decided not to make headway into Pakistani territory. When 164 people were killed, after Pakistan-backed militants launched an audacious strike on Mumbai in 2008, India did not respond with military action.

After the 26/11 attack, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had considered air strikes against terrorist camps in Pakistan. But the then Air Force Chief reportedly told Singh that India did not have accurate digital data on terrorist camps in Pakistan. 

The Army Chief, meanwhile, informed the Prime Minister that the Indian Army was not prepared for a surgical strike across the border. Are they really prepared to conduct these operations? Experts maintain that it takes years to develop the requisite capability for cross-border operations.  Moreover, all of Modi’s posturing against Pakistan during the 2014 trailer has come to nought.  

Standing in his way is Pakistan and the US. India must convince China that its decision to heavily invest in Pakistan, especially in the Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan region, comes at a significant cost to its own internal security. There have been reports of a growing tide of fighters from its troubled Xinjiang province to jihadist groups in the Middle East and Central Asia. Pakistan’s track record of using “non-state actors” to fulfil their strategic goals will come back to haunt the Chinese. They should ask the Americans. 

China will get the message when Uighur fighters in the Xinjiang province start arming themselves actively. Without boots on the ground, India could also open up a second front against Pakistan, from Afghanistan, using covert networks of the restive tribal populace against the Afghan Taliban, besides material and logistical support. 

This is where India also requires concrete commitments from the Americans, who continue to use their misfiring strategy for stability in Afghanistan, which hinges on Pakistan’s cooperation. 

In the past decade, American officials have sought to pressure Pakistan into denying safe havens for insurgent groups involved in destabilising Afghanistan, especially the Taliban and its brutal offshoot, the Haqqani network. But that has not created the requisite incentive for Pakistan to give up its terror apparatus.

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