It is becoming clear every passing day that when it comes to Pakistan, the Narendra Modi government doesn't have any plan. From the very beginning of its tenure, Modi's Pakistan policy has been marked with twists, turns, U-turns, ad-hocism and leaps of faith. The government's response to the terror attack in Uri shows nothing has changed and that it is still hoping its policy of trial and error would lead to some solution, any solution.
A day after the Uri attack, the government and its war boys made so much noise that it seemed "a jaw for a tooth" was imminent. When its ministers argued that not retaliating now would be a sign of cowardice, it appeared Modi would live up to his pre-PM rhetoric of replying in a language that Pakistan understands.
Alas, we have come to a stage where the only response to the terror attack seems to be the pretence that a response is underway. From debating a quick counter strike inside LoC to targeting jihadist infrastructure in Muridke, the talk has quickly veered to hare-brained ideas like stopping Pakistan's water, withdrawing trade benefits and fighting against poverty and hunger.
Ten heads for every slain Indian soldiers has degenerated into ten drops of Indus for every slain soldier.
The entire rigmarole of retaliation the Modi government has gone through since Uri creates the impression that cross-border terrorism is a new challenge for India, something that has just been birthed by our neighbours to the astonishment of the Modi sarkar. Like a country shocked by an unexpected development, heads are being banged, old treaties are being reviewed, trade pacts are being reconsidered in search of a viable "defensive offence."
So, what policy did Modi have in his pocket when he walked into 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, promising to not write "love letters to Pakistan" or go "crying to Obama" like his predecessor? The answer is — none.
Don't be mislead by the heightened activity in power corridors in search of a fitting reply to Pakistan. All of it is purely for domestic consumption, to address the chorus for punitive action till it fades away. As Donald Trump argued in the first debate with Hillary Clinton: "All talk, no action. Typical politicians. Never going to happen."
The military option, as the frenzied debate on abrogation of the Indus Waters Treaty and withdrawal of Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan shows, is currently off the table. No surgical strikes, no Brahmos whistling into Muridke to take out Hafiz Sayeed, no Mig-29s flying into PoK to destroy training camps, all these are clearly off the table.
Stopping the Indus water from entering Pakistan, as many have argued, is just a farcical fancy, simply because where will India store all that aqua fina denied to the neighbour. We can, of course, build dams, start new hydel power projects to slight the enemy. But all this would take not months but years. And, what's the guarantee that during the interregnum, Modi may once again take a U-turn, well literally, and stop over at Nawaz Sharif's farm house for his grand daughter's birthday?
Denying Pakistan MFN status isn't likely to chasten Pakistan either. With China ready to pump billions in its backyard and use it as a transit point for trade through Gwadar, with Iran dying for a piece of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, withdrawing MFN status would be meaningless.
The fact is, India has no viable strategy to deal with Pakistan, a fact that the neighbour knows and gloats about. Writing in the Express Tribune, Fahd Husain calls India's response 'Dumb and Dumber-er.'
"Here’s why: First, it’s never a good idea to start the blame game without a peg to hang your rage on. Second, it’s even a worse idea to allow your ambition to start outweighing your capability. And third, it’s absolutely the worst idea to climb so high up a moral ladder that climbing down is only possible at the expense of your dignity. India’s done all three. That’s classic stupidity," Husain writes.
A similar sentiment is echoed by former chief of naval staff Arun Prakash in The Indian Express, who in scathing terms advises the Indian government to look before escalating. "Let us be quite clear that exaggerated posturing and jingoistic loud talk are unworthy of the great-power status that India aspires to; they only serve to erode our credibility," he argues.
Sometimes it is easier to live in the make-believe instead of accepting the reality. But, truth is far more liberating than the tyranny of a lie. So, here it is: It is clear that like his predecessors, Modi too has realised that there are no easy shortcuts to solving the problem of a rogue state bent on sending terrorists to India. The benefits of military options, surgical and air raids have to be carefully weighed against costs and fears of an uncontrolled escalation. Also, as George Perkovich and Toby Dalton argue in this paper, India might be a few years away from teaching Pakistan the desired lesson.
The realities of power have made Modi ignore his own pre-poll rhetoric. Like Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh before him, he too has gone back to the philosophy of time being the only solutions to the Pakistan problem.
Till then, there is always the option of trial and error.