The recent killing of Indian soldiers near Poonch in J&K at the Line of Control, caused considerable anger against Pakistan in the Parliament and on the streets and consequently angry debates in the media about what India could do with Pakistan. Earlier on, Chinese intrusions in Ladakh had also met with a similar response. However they were both handled differently. With the Chinese, Delhi adopted the path of diplomatic efforts to cool tempers, and not a shot was fired by troops on either side of the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control (LAC). But against Pakistan, despite the 2004 ‘cease-fire’ agreement, there has been heavy exchanges of fire by both armies on the LoC. Firing on the LoC is often initiated by Pakistan, either to distract Indian troops when it pushes in ‘jehadi’ infiltrators, or to draw global attention to the Kashmir issue by escalating tensions. The Poonch attack in August, eventually led the defence minister AK Anthony, to make a rare announcement in Parliament that these attacks “will have consequences on our behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan.”, and that, “our restraint should not be taken for granted, nor should the capacity of our armed forces”. Since then, the Indian army has been hitting at Pakistani posts on the LoC with all the fire power available, short of artillery shelling. Pakistan has in turn retaliated at places on the LoC, where it has an advantage. But there is now a stalemate, so the political leadership needs to take charge. But sadly in the absence of a strategic culture amongst Indian politicians, they are at a loss, on what to do next! This is precisely what the radicals in Pakistan want, to scuttle any bi-lateral peace progress.
But unlike Indo-Pak ties, the Sino-Indian border dispute is the tightly guarded turf of the Ministry of External Affairs, and possibly even the Prime Minister. Thus the Sino-Indian border remains quiet, as New Delhi’s leaders still carry the psychological baggage of the 1962 military defeat. Moreover, rarely have aggressive Chinese moves been confronted by the army, except in 1967 at Nathu La and in 1986 in Somdrung Chu, when India’s generals pushed back the Chinese, as an alarmed political leadership watched nervously. The lesson learnt was that, until the Chinese agree on a settlement – and that could take forever – India must be firm in defending its frontlines. And even though China’s clout grows in world affairs, and Beijing appears increasingly willing to use its military and economic clout to further its aggressive agenda, the pacifist must understand that China cannot possibly confront India, Japan and Vietnam together, over territorial disputes.
In all the cacophony on what India’s options are – as alarmists warn of a two front war, and worse still, a nuclear confrontation – few understand that despite the nuclear arsenals of each side, nuclear weapons, essentially deter a full scale conventional war. However, nuclear weapons leave a window open for short and sharp border conflicts for a limited time, as we saw in Kargil, in 1999. But to achieve the full deterrent value that nukes provide, India’s political leaders cannot continue to vacillate with half measures towards nuclear weaponization. This is slowly eroding India’s deterrent value, not just against Pakistan but also China.
Above all, India’s civilian and military elites are still divided on the purpose of India’s nuclear arsenal. While India’s military commanders tend to address their organizational interests and want a stock piling of nuclear war material, having developed doctrines to reduce uncertainty in organizational performance, India’s civilian decision makers, are generalists and extremely cautious about co-opting nuclear weapons into military plans. This divergence in rival strategic attitudes is therefore, at the heart of India’s declared and operational nuclear policy gap and is a clear example of the competing strategic sub cultures that continue to coexist in India. This essay is courtesy THE WEEK. For more on Maroof Raza please visit: www.maroofraza.com