War is neither a compulsion nor an option

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In the first 36 days of 2018, ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control and International Border in Jammu and Kashmir had already touched 241, leaving nine Indian soldiers dead. Last year, there were 881 ceasefire violations by Pakistan – near double of the 449 in 2016 – resulting in fatalities of 12 civilians and 18 security force personnel. In 2015, there were 405 such violations by Pakistan. Indeed, the ceasefire held essentially between 2003, when the pact was signed, and 2006 (there was a single violation in 2005 and three in 2006) but started unravelling thereafter. There were 23 violations in 2007, rising to 86 in 2008, and the numbers fluctuated thereafter till 2012, after which a surge is noticeable.
Significantly, while there has been a noticeable escalation under the present Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, ceasefire agreement violations had already spiked from 114 in 2012 to 347 in 2013, under the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance regime. In 2014, the year the BJP came to power, the Narendra Modi government made efforts to reach out to Pakistan. That year there were 583 violations, up 236 from the previous year.
It is clear then that escalating ceasefire violations by Pakistan are unrelated to particular events, regimes, peace initiatives (or their absence) or various other factors to which they have been attributed in popular discourse. They are indeed not even a consequence of the “retaliatory cycle” – a term used to refer to revenge killings by each side after the loss of their own soldiers.
Sober commentators have also sought to attribute the violations to “local dynamics on the frontlines”, including jostling for dominance along ambiguous borders, or providing cover to terrorist infiltration. These elements are essentially compounded by tactical and postural errors, fuelled by domestic politics on both sides of the border. Although each of these factors does play a part in the transient dynamic of ceasefire violations, these cannot collectively explain the arbitrary and sustained escalation over the years.
At the same time, terrorism-related fatalities within Jammu and Kashmir have also swelled continuously from a low of 117 in 2012 to 358 in 2017. (While this is disturbing, it is useful to recall that the state recorded a peak of 4,507 fatalities in 2001). Once again, the current upsurge commenced in 2013 (181 killed), well before the Modi government came to power.
It is abundantly clear, consequently, that the sustained escalation along the Line of Control and International Border, and within Jammu and Kashmir, is a policy decision on the part of the Pakistani state, particularly its military. It is fruitless to speculate on the motives for such a decision; no hard evidence exists to definitively identify specific intention. From an Indian perspective, what is certain is that strategic responses – not mere tit-for-tat tactics along the Line of Control and International Border – are necessary.
Speaking out of ideological cocoons and from the security and comfort of currently well-resourced institutions in Delhi, some Right-Wing thinkers now say that war is “a compulsion, not an option”. This argument suggests that since some Indian soldiers are being killed in ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks, many times more soldiers should be sent to their deaths in open war. Pakistan, after all, must be “taught a lesson”, they say.
To what end? In this, there is no strategic calculus of gain, leave alone decisive victory. There is only blind hatred and impotent rage.
The Right-Wing extremist argues that any suggestion that India is unprepared for war is a slur on the armed forces, an insult to the brave Indian soldier, and an “anti-national act”. But there is no connection between the courage and willingness of India’s soldiers to fight, or the willingness of our armed forces to go to war if so commanded, on one hand, and the country’s preparedness for war, on the other.
The armed forces have been starved of resources for decades. The Modi government has failed to match its belligerent rhetoric regarding Pakistan with any improvement in financial allocations, or any remarkable speeding up of the process of weapons and technology acquisition. Moreover, the Army remains substantially bogged down in multiple counter-insurgency deployments in the country, diverted from its principal task of defence against external enemies. Endemic weapon and equipment shortages cripple all three services. The Indian Air Force has just 32 operational squadrons against an authorised capacity of 45, and many of these are approaching obsolescence. There are shortages of battleships, submarines, fighter planes, helicopters, even down to mundane supplies such as ammunition, assault rifles and boots. Decades of neglect have also created a crisis of manpower, especially at leadership levels.
While the Right-Wing jingoist dreams up scenarios of limited war and even of limited nuclear strikes, the reality is that the next war is likely to be a two-front conflict, with China bearing in to support Pakistan. Critically, the kind of unstinting support India received from Russia in 1971, which prevented any Chinese mischief, is unlikely to be forthcoming in the current scenario, given a decade-and-a-half of ham-handed diplomacy at Raisina Hill, and the desperate wooing of an unreliable American power to the neglect of long-standing friendships. To enter into war without preparation is folly, and a guarantee of defeat. If indeed war is to be thought of as a realistic option, the strengthening of the armed forces must begin in earnest, and not be restricted to mere political bombast.
The reality is, that Right-Wing extremists are not really pushing for war despite the stridency of their demands. The killings along the border and within Kashmir, and their shrieking campaign for war, serve a more limited domestic agenda. Soldiers and civilians along the borders pay the price, but jingoists reap the political-electoral reward through a process of progressive polarisation.
History has no lessons for those who refuse to educate themselves. The rising chaos in country after country that has allowed itself to be enslaved by ideologies of hate and compulsive violence, the erosion and eventual collapse of governance and order under extremist and authoritarian ideologies, signify nothing to those who are so consumed by hatred that they retain no residual capacities for strategic assessment, planning or response.

 

 

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