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#937, 1 January 2003
The General Did Not Bite! Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security affairs
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That India is a status quo power is evident from the indubitable fact that it has Kashmir and has the strength to keep it indefinitely. Should there be any danger of losing Kashmir, India is unlikely to restrain itself from escalating the conflict from ‘proxy war’ to a war on its terms, currently labeled ‘limited war’. Its capabilities across the spectrum permit it to escalate at every level of conflict. The equation of relative strength has not escaped Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategy is therefore one of avoiding engaging India militarily on its terms. Therefore, if India wants a war, Pakistan is unlikely to oblige.
Over the past year, the mobilized state of India’s armed forces threatened war in as many words as Mr Advani’s invitation to a ‘fourth round’ while electioneering in Gujarat recently. Early in the year, an Indian General was supposedly removed from command for taking his mandate too literally in marching his tanks too close to the border for American comfort. When an equivalent tome to ‘Brasstacks and Beyond’ gets written of the year’s crisis, one aspect that could be explored is whether India was at its provocative best hoping that the General next door was either as fond of his drinks as Gen Yahya or would live up to his profile of inclining towards action rather than reflection. In the event, the General declined to provide India with its ‘Pearl Harbor’ to galvanise the democracy into what hawks term ‘all out’ war.
While the Dec 13 attack on Parliament was a grave atrocity demanding the sternest of responses, the link of the perpetrators to the Pakistani state, itself beleaguered by its Frankenstein creation, was tenuous at best. Therefore, while India could mobilize its armed forces menacingly, having them cross the border was another matter. At root of this is not entirely Indian respect for Charter era international law. It was only partially inspired by the need to keep from complicating the agenda of our new-found ‘natural ally’ pursuing its preventive war justified by an expansive definition of self-defence in the region. A reason for Indian restraint at the kick-off points of its forces was the conventional equation and the complicating probability of a low Pakistani nuclear ‘redline’.
India, being the major regional power having Great power ambitions, requires to ‘win decisively’ if it is not to be considered the loser. Pakistan has the capability to make a decisive win an iffy proposition at best. Indian strategy has also to contend with the likelihood that Pakistan would prefer to be first off the blocks in the hope that early gains can be traded at the table to which it is expected that both parties would be herded to earliest by their creditors forming the international community. Indian strength of greater depth to its national power can only come into play in a war of longer duration than what is presently deemed politically possible between two nuclear powers. Therefore the Indian game plan can be divined to be to blunt Pakistani preemption, and thereafter counter attack with its countervailing capability. For lesser stakes than ‘regime change’ (to borrow an Americanism) a mobilization should suffice. The crux of the strategy is in Pakistan initiating the war, in more convincing a manner than propaganda has it that it did on 3 December 1971.
In the event, the General kept his nerve. It was no doubt steadied by the knowledge that the US was fortuitously on his side. He also lived up to the measure of his peers at Kakul Military Academy who Time magazine’s hagiography quotes as having written in his pen picture in the Academy journal thus – ‘Quite a guy to be with, especially when in a fix’. He refused to provide the opening gambit to India’s war. Instead, in regard to Kashmir, by doing a poor imitation of his turn around with respect to the Taliban he proved that India was not quite the US. Eventually, India had to be content with a mobilization, gaining it a summer’s respite to conduct a widely appreciated electoral exercise in troubled Kashmir.
A retrospection of the year’s strategic picture would have to reckon with what Indian intentions were – coercive diplomacy as advertised or to entice Pakistan into over reacting as advanced here. That Gen Musharraf avoided testing Indian resolve or preparedness, owes not only to his predicament then, but is also an acknowledgement of Indian regional presence. It can be surmised that Pakistan will continue to service the asymmetric option along our periphery and underbelly, to build in some symmetry with India. India will not have the luxury of an expansionist definition of self-defence to serve as casus belli. Therefore, Indian military strength will continue to otiose, notwithstanding the reinforcement the nuclear backdrop provides this phenomenon. The writing on the wall is that it should not take a war to bring politics through non-military means back into the reckoning.

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