The Valentines’ Day did not bring in a happy message of divine love and affection for India; instead the nation was pushed into a state of sorry, grief, agony and anger as a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy travelling from the valley of southern Kashmir was attacked at Pulwama by a suicide bomber and 40 Jawans were martyred in no time.
A Tsunami of protest was witnessed through the length and breadth of the nation and all senior leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh squarely blamed Pakistan for the covertly act. However, there is no word from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on this issue yet. What does this mean? Does he accept the blame by keeping silence? Or is he not bothered about what India says and feels?
Big-wigs of national and regional political parties have been unanimously demanding to take apt revenge of the act. “Mere protests are not enough now. Over a billion Indians are expecting an action”, said political world. Here the action means nothing less than military action. Yes, that’s the feeling of the nation.
Now the question is, should India go for war against Pakistan? If yes, what would be its socio-political impact? Can India afford a war at this stage? This question assumes significance at this state as the Modi Government is on the verge of completing its first five-year term and the next Lok Sabha elections are due in the next three months.
US would stand by India
However, if a war really breaks out, it would invoke global reactions. Going by President Donald Trump’s recent utterances, it looks like the US would stand firmly with India. There is no love lost for India’s security and sovereignty but the US Government does not want China to become active and move its army closer to the West Asia ostensibly to help Pakistan. The US also wishes to keep the Russian forces at arm’s distance from India. In short, India would be held in a cross fire, if it opens war front against Pakistan in near future.
As Modi and his government mull its retaliatory options against Pakistan’s dastardly attack in Pulwama, it needs to look back in history and make a note of what works and what doesn’t. Whenever India has enjoyed a degree of military success against Pakistan, it has had to do with two common attributes: an element of surprise and a willingness to escalate. Unfortunately, surgical strikes no longer carry the surprise element. After 2016, the Pakistani army will be prepared for it. Also, unlike last time, there would most probably be no terrorist launch pads to be found in areas close to the Line of Control (LoC).
Since the Pulwama attack is bigger than Uri but much less ambitious than Kargil. One would expect an Indian military response, if any, to be between the two strata of surgical strikes and the use of air power. This is a narrow window, and then there are the low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons that Pakistan regularly flaunts. It is increasingly becoming difficult for India to impose costs on Pakistan that will instil some level of deterrence while, at the same time, not breaching any nuclear red lines.
Any significant response will either breach those red lines or demolish the Pakistani nuclear bluster for good. Once the immediate needs have been taken care of, India should think of a long-term strategy. Everything from covert operations to counterforce strikes should be on the table. Having said this, one must also take into account the mass feelings of the population. Pakistan-trained- terrorists have been regularly attacking Indian civilian territory and killing innocent people. India, apart from sending protest notes and fiery speeches, has not been doing anything worth noting.
As a result, India has become a ‘barking dog’ for the international diplomacy as well as the Indian population. In this situation, without much bothering about Pakistan’s possible protests and threats to get international sanctions against India, the Indian government needs to act firmly and quickly to retaliate. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan would not do anything without the clear mandate from Pakistan Army. This is because he has been installed in the saddle by none other than the army.
If he loses confidence of the Uniform force, he would not survive even for a day. Pakistan has earlier seen such army coups more than half a dozen times in the near past. Therefore, Imran would have to be prepared for war with or without his own wish.
Pakistan’s another handicap is that the Islamic nation is weakened due to internal rebellions. Baluchistan is on the verge of declaring independence and the region of Swart has been mainly occupied by Taliban militants. Politically, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) now led by Zardari and Benazir Bhutto’s son are waiting in the wings to see the exit of Imran Khan.
On the other hand, if India directly or indirectly declares war and enters Pakistan territory, it would have a great positive impact for Modi. Let’s recall here when 1999 Kargil action took place, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government that had lost vote of confidence on the floor of Lok Sabha, came out with a handsome majority for NDA after the ‘Operation Vijay’.
Will Modi, who considers himself the follower and disciple of Vajpayee, follow the same path? Let’s wait and watch.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).