Tuesday April 23, 2024

Fatal attraction

By Raashid Wali Janjua
December 01, 2016

India and Pakistan have again begun a familiarly deadly minuet of violent movements across a hitherto silent Line of Control. The two conjoined twins that were mid-wifed through Partition’s violence have started revisiting their sanguinary past on the disputed barricades of the LoC in Kashmir.

The current standoff, begotten out of the embers of long-simmering Kashmiri grievances, is a consequence of a rabidly communalist Indian political outlook personified by Narendra Modi. That the inherent violence and prejudice of Hindutva’s particularistic message would sooner or later get directed externally against India’s favourite bête noire – Pakistan – was a reality not lost on saner elements in both the countries who hoped, nevertheless, that a new beginning could be made between India and Pakistan and usher in an era of peace and development in the Subcontinent.

The latest release of anger by a petulant India on the LoC is symptomatic of a new disease that may not be amenable to old nostrums. This time the disease inducing bacillus contains two deadly strains of pathology, one visceral and the other strategic. The visceral is the irrational hatred emanating out of Hindutva creed and the strategic being the instability emanating out of role assigned to her to contain China. The latter has been appropriated and interpreted as a carte blanche by India to impose a final solution in Kashmir.

The incendiary statements by Modi to choke Pakistan’s river flows, guaranteed under the Indus Waters Treaty, and upping the ante on the LoC are manifestations of the same malady. Can India be cured of that malady so as to give peace a chance? Is a conventional war possible even for limited objectives between these two nuclear adversaries? What would be the impact of such a war on India and Pakistan?

India will only see the light of reason through a realistic appraisal of its gains and losses while pursuing a war path against a nuclear-armed adversary. The reality of a nuclear war needs to be brought home to a vast majority of Indians who are being kept in the dark by a jingoistic media and a government in the grip of hubris. The space for conventional conflict has been squeezed out of the reach of the two conventional armies due to nuclear overhang.

The Cold Start folly of India’s military strategists has been exposed by rational analysts who have pointed out organisational shortcomings, equipment shortages, early tactical responses and dangerously lowered nuclear thresholds of Pakistan as the effective bulwarks to the Cold Start Doctrine. So, any conventional war between India and Pakistan will not remain conventional beyond two weeks because of the growing superiority of India’s conventional forces.

According to Martin Van Creveld, the 200-year old Clausewitzian strategic wisdom describes war as a rational activity undertaken by rational actors. The non-Trinitarian warfare of the 21st century is where the trinity of people, army and government gets diffused and indistinguishable as war-like actions are increasingly performed by people to the exclusion of armies or the governments. The sway of non-state actors and terrorism symbolises that new way of warfare.

The jettisoning of rationality in warfare has dangerous portents. An irrational adversary driven by primal atavistic instincts and an international system encouraging revanchism is a fatal combination, engendering a fatal attraction for lemming-like suicidal warfare. Modi in India and a global power egging him on to act as a regional hegemon personify that fatal attraction. A small miscalculation between India and Pakistan can trigger a nuclear war through use of tactical nuclear weapons even in a shot-across-the-bow mode.

Indian renunciation of ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons has been on their wish list just as the blocking of Pakistan’s river flows in the three western rivers has been on their planning radar as a decapitating weapon of war. What is the purpose of this war-mongering and nuclear posturing in tandem if there is no space for conventional conflicts? The answer may lie in some Indian strategic calculations of involving Pakistan in a costly arms race at the cost of its economic and human security.

The objective may be to force Pakistan to spend itself into a Soviet-style economic meltdown. A rational cost-benefit analysis of the militarised course would show Indians the folly of their approach towards Pakistan. If their intention is to fight, the war promenade leads towards a nuclear armageddon, and if the intention is to cause economic haemorrhage, they stand to lose an economic bonanza awaiting all countries of South Asia that connect to the CPEC. What is the reason behind India’s deliberate refusal to see the benefits of a peace dividend in South Asia?

The answer to the above conundrum may lie in a non-rational hatred towards Pakistan and a hubris begotten out of growing economic asymmetry between India and the rest of the South Asian countries. The world has nothing to lose except India and Pakistan in case of either a nuclear showdown or a mutually debilitating military standoff. India is losing international prestige as well as economic relevance due to its self-imposed insularity in South Asia.

The question that Indian policy planners need to ask themselves is whether it is possible to attain global clout without regional prestige. What would the world lose if India and Pakistan burnt each other to a cinder in a nuclear exchange? Global powers would shed some crocodile tears and then readily occupy the ruins of the two countries in the garb of reconstruction and humanitarian intervention. How long that enslavement would last is anybody’s guess.

Pakistan at this stage needs a political and military leadership that rises above any discords to confront the challenge emerging on the external front. Confronting India with a Hobson’s choice of a suicidal nuclear showdown in case of a war and a costly economic war in case of the present no war-no peace should be one plank of our policy. Engaging it with the prospects of a politico-economic bonanza in case of peace engagement should be another plank. One thing is certain, however: the fatal attraction to war or the attraction to peace will determine the future of one-fifth of humanity in South Asia.


The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.