How Narendra Modi took off India's cap of 'strategic restraint' and placed it on Pakistan

Modi has used military action and diplomatic overtures as complementary tools to coerce Pakistan and take away its bargaining chip. Onus is now on Islamabad.

Sreemoy Talukdar September 30, 2016 16:53:21 IST
How Narendra Modi took off India's cap of 'strategic restraint' and placed it on Pakistan

To fully understand the implications of India's surgical strikes carried out in the intervening hours of Wednesday night and Thursday morning, we need to first comprehend what Pakistan has been doing so far.

Nuclear armaments have a specific purpose. When two nuclear nations collide, indeterminate usage of atomic weapons brings a calamity so total that it undermines the very purpose of war. Modern nuclear doctrines, therefore, stress on nuclear warheads as a measure of deterrence.

What is nuclear deterrence, and how does it work?

Let's look at what Richard Ned Lebow, Professor of International Political Theory at the Department of War Studies, King's College London, wrote in 2008 on this subject.

"Deterrence is an attempt to influence another actor's assessment of its interests. It seeks to prevent an undesired behavior by convincing the party who may be contemplating such an action that its cost will exceed any possible gain. Deterrence pre-supposes that decisions are made in response to some kind of rational cost-benefit calculus, that this calculus can be successfully manipulated from the outside, and that the best way to do so is to increase the cost side of the ledger."

How Narendra Modi took off Indias cap of strategic restraint and placed it on Pakistan

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. AP

Now consider interpolating this theory into the India-Pakistan dynamic. By virtue of being the 'lesser power' vis-à-vis India in conventional military terms, Pakistan had positioned its nuclear arsenal as a deterrence against India. It pledged the nukes as a strategy to level the playing field and prevent a mightier Indian Army — which had won three conventional wars before nuclear proliferation — from marching into its cities and threatening its very survival.

But Pakistan being Pakistan, it went ahead and made nuclear arms a tool of its India-specific jihad.

How Pakistan cynically overturned nuclear pledge

"A credible nuclear deterrent," wrote American military strategist Bernard Brodie in 1959, "must be always at the ready, yet never used." (The Anatomy of Deterrence)

Post 1998, Pakistan adopted a new strategy. It began using the nuclear umbrella to export cross-border terror into India. The efficacy of this strategy was in its simplicity.

As Rajesh Rajagopalan writes in News18: "Pakistan has been attempting to use nuclear weapons to shield itself from any retaliation so that it could use terrorists to attack India. It has done this by claiming that any Indian military action will result in a nuclear escalation."

In other words, nuclear arsenal became the perfect cover for its subversive activities within the region. It could now create terror infrastructure with impunity, nurture terrorists within its borders and unleash these on India with little chance of retaliation because of its professed "low threshold" for tolerance. And this blackmail worked because Indian political establishment believed it worked.

Indian political leaders failed to understand that there exists a huge gap between Pakistan's professed nuclear threshold and a military operation beneath that line. Firstpost had argued in a piece post Uri attacks that India must call Pakistan's nuclear bluff and its weigh politico-military options.

The point is simple. Though India does not have a 'first use' policy, its nuclear doctrine promises massive retaliation. If Pakistan uses "tactical nuclear weapons" for any small, low threshold Indian operation, it stands to gain little and lose massively. However, while it would be in their interest to not actually use nukes, bragging about it serves the purpose.

This lack of understanding severely tied India's hands in the face of repeated and relentless terrorist attacks planned, funded and executed by the Pakistani Deep State. Every time New Delhi took a hit, it could do little beyond bleeding, threatening something vague, suspending talks and eventually moving on. This resulted in three things. One, it showed up India as a weak state unable to defend itself. Two, it massively sapped the national morale and made us into a defeatist nation. Three, it gave western powers huge leverage over us.

To the global powers, India is traditionally seen as a pacifist nation, far too invested in its own future to take credible action against enemies. World powers ended up paying Pakistan a premium for its continuous bad behavior and penalised India for its sense of responsibility and restraint. It's easy to reason with the good boy in class because you know he understands the weight of his actions. You have less influence over the delinquent. Principles of natural justice sadly has no bearing in strategic affairs.

Why surgical strike is a paradigm shift

By moving across the Line of Control (a line it did not cross even during the Kargil conflict) and dismantling some of the terror camps, the Indian Army and political establishment have triggered a tectonic shift in this dynamic. It has not only punched a huge hole in Pakistan's nuclear bluff, effectively proving that it is another of the axiomatic lies which the failed state is based on, it changed forever the complex interplay between nations following terror attacks.

How Narendra Modi took off Indias cap of strategic restraint and placed it on Pakistan

Representational image. PTI

Before I explain, let's remember that there is no reason to believe Pakistan will abandon its terror policy henceforth. For Pakistani generals, as Professor C Christine Fair writes so poignantly in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, defeat isn't a reverse in battle, which it anyway has suffered many times at the hands of India, but abandoning the offensive altogether. To the Pakistan Army, stopping attacks against India is defeat, and defeat is ignominious death. So attacks will continue.

But what will change irrevocably is the pressure. The onus, henceforth, will be on Pakistan not to act, which is a 180-degree shift from the reflexive force on India to show "restraint" each time Pakistan-sponsored terrorists breached our borders and killed our civilians and soldiers.

In one fell swoop, India took the "strategic restraint" crown off its own head and placed it on Pakistan's scalp. Wednesday night's action — crossing the LoC, dismantling terrorist launch pads, neutralising over 50 terrorists plus a couple of Pakistan Army jawans and returning without even a scratch and then talking openly about the covert operation — sends two significant messages.

One, India isn't a war-mongering nation but cannot be taken for granted any more by its adversaries. Now that the nuclear voodoo has been busted, any further misadventure from Pakistan will bear escalating costs. This sets the bar high for India in event of future attacks but Narendra Modi government would have factored it in.

Two, since India will give a befitting tit for each tat, it is incumbent on Pakistan not to provoke India further and risk escalating tension between two nuclear armed neighbours. Since it is in nobody's interest to create instability in South Asia, least of all US and China, pressure will be mounted on Pakistan to not do anything silly. See how the language of coercion has changed?

Pressure of coercion

Consider what the US has been doing since the attacks. While the operation was still going on had just ended, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice telephoned Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and what followed was one of the strongest condemnation of Pakistan from White House ever.

According to the statement released, "Ambassador Rice reiterated our (USA's) expectation that Pakistan take effective action to combat and delegitimise United Nations-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and their affiliates."

The timing of this message makes it clear that US was kept in loop, as Firstpost argued on Thursday.

As Seema Sirohi writes from Washington in The Wire: "The short statement gives enough indication of American perceptions on Pakistan and its jihad factories. India got the US to call it like it is on Pakistan even as the Indian army was in kinetic motion. In other words, the US took sides and didn’t condemn any violation of any sovereignty of any country."

If any doubt still remains, that should dispelled by what the US said on Thursday evening during the daily news briefing.

According a report in News18, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said: "What I can tell you is that we have seen some reports from the region. Those reports include that Indian and Pakistani militaries have been in communication with one another and we encourage continued discussions between India and Pakistan to avoid escalation," and added that Pakistan has been asked to "combat and delegitimise" UN-designated terrorist entities, including LeT and JeM.

Go through the responses carefully. India has carried out and advertised a surgical strike across the LoC and the US is condemning Pakistan's terror policy and calling for de-escalation of tension. A clearer endorsement of the Indian line and a more open urge to Pakistan to show restraint is hardly possible.

This of course hasn't been easy. Modi mounted a concerted diplomatic offensive, both pre and post the surgical strikes. Envoys of 25 countries including P5 nations have been briefed about India's strikes and why it was necessary.

Modi has used military action and diplomatic overtures as complementary tools to coerce Pakistan and take away its bargaining chip. Onus is now on Islamabad.

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