Modi will make a big mistake if he relies solely on 'diplomatic offensive' against Pakistan

Narendra Modi is not your regular Prime Minister. Unlike his predecessor who was an apologetic, unwilling occupant of the chair at 7 Race Course Road, Modi isn't a scholar but has a sense of history, a vision for the country he leads and aspires to be the very man who remains his antithesis and whose legacy he still shadow boxes with. I am talking about India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

One is reminded of a recent Business Standard column by journalist Shekhar Gupta where he observes that "Modi is our most Nehruvian PM since Nehru".

Modi couldn't, of course, be more different from the Harrow-educated, anglicized elite that Nehru was but one clearly sees his unstated wish to etch his name as the 'new maker of modern India'. He would love to have his pictures adorn the walls of venerated institutions long after he has vacated the chair and hopes, like Nehru, to leave behind an everlasting legacy. And that aspiration is under threat from a ghost of the Nehruvian past. How the Prime Minister tackles Pakistan-sponsored latest act of unprovoked terror will ultimately settle his legacy.

A day after the audacious fidayeen attack on Indian army base at Uri by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists that led to 18 soldiers laying down their lives, media reports indicate that India will settle for a calibrated diplomatic offensive against Pakistan rather than any sort of military operation.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the Modi government has decided to take "graded, sequenced and synchronised" steps instead of a "knee-jerk" retaliation against Pakistan's unprovoked, unilateral attack on Uri base. It does not mean that military ops have been ruled out but there will apparently be no "gung ho, hasty reaction".

"We will use all instruments of power available before the country. Military is just one of them," a senior official was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

It is pertinent to remember that the pivot of the overwhelming mandate that propelled Modi to power was his image as a "strong leader". That was his shtick. At the receiving end of Pakistan's 'thousand cuts', Indians voted in Modi to provide a more prudent response to Islamabad for its nefarious designs on Kashmir and for sponsoring terror strikes on India through its deep state or letting its soil be used by non-state actors. As UPA kept sending dossier after dossier to Pakistan following 26/11, BJP promised that voting it to power will put an end to the rogue neighbour's misadventures.

At an election rally in Uttar Pradesh just a month before the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, Amit Shah had declared that once Modi becomes the PM, "Pakistani intruders will not even dare to enter into Indian side."

Modi himself had taken countless potshots at former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over his perceived ineptitude.

The trouble with jumlas is that it may come back to bite you.

Now that Modi is in power and enjoys the overwhelming mandate to put his words into action, he has fallen back on India's time-tested impotent strategy of spewing hot air after each terrorist attack followed by inaction and suspension of talks, as if these measures act as a deterrent with Pakistan. Their army generals must be laughing their guts out in Rawalpindi.

According to the latest survey by Pew Research, a Washington-based think tank that conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and allied studies, Narendra Modi towers above all other Indian leaders. The survey, conducted among 2,464 respondents in India from 7 April to 24 May, 2016, also indicated that India is wary of China and longtime rival Pakistan and favour a militaristic stance against terrorism and support increased defence spending.

So if Modi tomorrow decides to launch a pin-pointed surgical ops against terror modules inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or any other military step, Indian public will extend its rock solid support to the PM. A show of controlled aggression against Pakistan might just end up doing what decades of pussyfooting has failed to achieve, convince Islamabad that the cost of launching terror attacks against India will be much steeper than containing its revisionary tactics.

There were other media reports, suggesting that India might lobby with global powers to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.

Ordinarily, as C Christine Fair, author of Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, and an associate professor in the Peace and Security Studies Programme at Georgetown University’s Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service pointed out in her blog 'A New Way of Engaging With Pakistan', "…declaring Pakistan to be a state sponsor of terror … will impose sweeping and devastating sanctions".

But Pakistan is a special case. Its strategy of asymmetric war against India has landed it in a sweet spot with zero fear of retaliation. It uses its pariah status to cross the moral threshold and uses nukes as the umbrella to neutralise India's superior military might. And in all this, they are helped by the US which lets itself be blackmailed into releasing funds. By sponsoring terror against India and using covert means to sponsor unrest in Kashmir, Pakistan forces global powers to focus on south Asia and uses that leverage to squeeze out more funds. Terrorism become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Under the circumstances, branding Pakistan a 'terrorist state' makes little sense because it actively works towards such a branding. By inverting the rules of the game, the more Pakistan appears unstable, the better for it. Hence declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terror, far from being a deterrent, will incentivise them more to export terror.

Which is why Modi will make a big mistake strategically and politically if he relies on diplomatic offensive alone to counter Pakistan's aggression against India. It has never worked in the past, and it won't work in the future. The only casualty will be Modi's legacy.

Updated Date: Sep 20, 2016 11:06 AM

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