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Sunday, May 15, 2016

 A War at Hand
A press release on the 18th anniversary of the Pokhran II nuclear tests by the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) sounds the alarm on a possible future. The press release states: ‘The Modi government’s evident lack of professionalism in foreign policy and the ideological penchant for jingoism to divert public criticism on domestic issues has only worsened the situation and there are apprehensions that the BJP might promote war hysteria as we reach closer to the next elections.’
This is unusual pessimism when Modi is only set on his third year. He is looking towards the dividend from his several visits abroad. He is set to be off to Iran, Israel and the US soon. He has put the tweezers on Pakistan by holding out on talks until it proves responsive on terrorism. Internally, he is putting the Congress out to dry. The results from the recent provincial polls might embolden him to further corner the UP government in the run up to poll next year. The first salvo has been the televised entry of a water train to Bundelkhand. His heavy artillery, Subramanian Swamy, elevated to Rajya Sabha for the purpose, is busy setting the scene for a revival of the Ram Mandir issue. With UP in the kitty, Amit Shah no doubt already has his eyes set on the following national polls, perhaps heralded as was the case with Rajiv Gandhi’s shilanyas, with the ‘bhoomi poojan’ – in today’s parlance - for a Mandir.
So which of the two scenarios will shape up: the usual despondency of the marginalized naysayers or that of upbeat Hindutva plotters? Curiously, both can end up true. The only surety is that if it takes a war to help keep Modi in power, there could well be one.
Since Modi is merely two years in the chair, he has not yet been abandoned by his development supporters. He is deftly attempting to pin any blame for lack of the promised neo-liberal dividend on the Congress’ grandstanding in parliament. This is designed to evict them from the upper house, enabling a clear coast for his corporate backers. Having given them full play over the past two years, his saffron supporters can be expected to continue with him. His blind eye allowed them a succession of sticks to beat the minority with. He has left off their mascots – Messrs. Vanzara et al. In any case, he has his trump card – the mandir – up his sleeve in case their faith in him lags. Therefore, it is too early to write off Mr. Modi as the naysayers have done.
Nevertheless, the Modi wave does seem exhausted. It suffered two reverses too many: Delhi and Bihar. The students at JNU and elsewhere have severely embarrassed him, so much so that hagiography on social media and in the media is not at the earlier levels of din. Indeed, the Arun Shourie interview has put him on notice with his support base in the middle class. If the Congress was to pull out the ace up their sleeve – Priyanka Gandhi – then Mr. Modi’s inner worry will begin to show. This is where the scenario of the CNDP will kick in.
The tinder is already piled up. Pakistan is being squeezed. From diplomacy being on hold, it can be inferred that the game who-blinks-first is on. This may take a season or two to play out, interspersed with episodes of the by now familiar reaching out, such as a prospective Modi visit to Islamabad in autumn, and pauses thereafter in close succession. Depending on how ‘successful’ the intelligence and psy war game pans out, the closer Pakistani establishment will get to exasperation. Absent conflict resolution, with Kashmir on the usual edge, they will have an outlet.
India has kept its military honed for just such an eventuality. It has most recently practiced its moves involving both a strike corps and a pivot corps in Exercises Shatrujeet and Chakravyuh II respectively. While the former witnessed the drop of a whole para brigade; the latter too is advertised as having an element of air envelopment. This suggests that Special Forces would be speeding up operations, both for the pivot corps in the initial stages and for the strike corps in the penultimate stage. What speeding up means in face of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons, now a half decade old, is moot.
The expectation is that Pakistan will in the event be self-deterred on three counts. The first is easy to dismiss as has been competently done in the hallowed pages of International Security. The expectation is that the Pakistani civilian casualties from its own tactical nukes would be of such an order as to be prohibitive. This is predicated on the misconception that Pakistan would launch several strikes in order to stop India’s conventional ingress. This leads to the conclusion that since Pakistan would not be able to countenance such casualties, there would be no nuclear first use; thereby, enabling Indian attack. QED. However, this can be debunked as willfully misrepresenting the manner Pakistan would go nuclear and its aims in doing so. The most plausible such use would be to unmistakably signal crossing of a threshold by India troops who would thereby be best advised to back off. 
The second is that Indian troops would in a broad swathe hold Pakistani population centers hostage. This reading of India’s operational plans suggests that India will deliberately troop into developed terrain, in which its mechanized capability is most unsuited, in order to avoid giving Pakistan targets for tactical nuclear first use. This suggestion is in face of the in-your-face military history of this century in which even superior militaries have got bogged down in demographic terrain. Therefore, even if for argument sake it is granted that there is no nuclear first use – there are targets aplenty in the rear of such troops in a toe-to-toe mode – such troops can be likened to putting their hands into a beehive of irregular, jihad inspired fighters.
The third is that since Pakistan cannot be sure of not being ‘wiped off the map’ in any escalation and especially so if India keeps to its nuclear word of ‘massive’ retaliation, Pakistan would play conventional ball. All three arguments though easy to refute nevertheless serve to incentivize Indian use of its military power.
Such power would be at Mr. Modi’s beck and call if and when he gets into a tight internal political spot. As seen, politics is no longer what it used to be for a Modi used to referring to himself in third person. If the long standing observation of Ashis Nandy holds water, then Mr. Modi would unlikely follow Manmohan Singh in self-denial.  Mr. Singh modestly forewent using the military instrument in face of 26/11. The difference this time round is that Mr. Modi need not wait for a ‘provocation’. If the alleged Pakistani observation from their visit to Pathankot airfield is to be believed, Indian security minders could well trigger off a ‘provocation’. Even the famous parliament attack has drawn credible speculation as being a ‘curious case’. In fact, sound military strategy requires seizing the initiative and not leaving such onerous decisions as war to the whims of passing jihadis. War itself is seldom reactive; only its outbreak is often papered over with such spin. With an intelligence czar at the helm of national security, Chanakya niti of such an order cannot be entirely ruled out. 
To conclude, the naysayers in CNDP are only partially right. There would not only be war clouds, but also war to enable Modi’s emulation of Indira’s Goddess Durga act. It might be safer to wish Mr. Modi political good health over the balance of his tenure. May the Make-in-India tide lift all boats, including Pakistani ones.  Amen.


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