Indo-Pak ties (or the lack of them in the prevailing circumstances) have the volatility of a stock market at the time of depression. Like members of an estranged family occasionally thrown together by weddings or funerals, short periods of blow hot have been interspersed with longer periods of blow cold -- and periodic outbreak of open hostilities.
So it isn’t much of a surprise that after two-odd years of what seemed to be an exciting détente powered by the personal chemistry between the two prime ministers, we are suddenly at a nadir yet again.
What is different this time around, in the familiar sine curve of relations, is that Indian strategic planners seem to be working according to a well thought out and calibrated design. So, despite the nationalistic chest thumping as part of his campaign speeches, one of the first moves after being elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi made was to invite his Pakistani counterpart for his swearing-in ceremony. This seemed a clear indication of his willingness to make a clean break from the past and give peace a chance.
Why ‘Tell It All’ Doesn’t Make Sense?
- Modi began his tenure on a high note by reaching out
to Pakistan, followed by some unprecedented initiatives.
- After Uri, the NDA govt seems to have taken a
leaf out of Chanakya neeti, resorting to ‘dand’ (punishment) and ‘bhed’
- The opposition and the media undermine the policy of
deception by questioning the government’s actions.
- While taking the opposition on board may seem a plausible
option, 24x7 presence of the media endangers issues related to national
- Raising questions on surgical strikes can undermine
national strategy as far as Pakistan is concerned.
The impact of this newfound bonhomie seemed to wane within a few months, with the needle plotting the relationship following familiar patterns – continuing provocations by Pakistan, such as ceasefire violations on the Line of Control, reaching out to Kashmiri separatists and no discernible progress on the prosecution of those accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Besides, of course, attacks by Pakistan-backed terrorists continued unabated.
There have been clear attempts by the Indian side at breaking the predictability by unprecedented initiatives to salvage the faltering ties. The impromptu Pakistan visit by Modi, allowing a Pakistani investigation team to visit Pathankot – these were nothing if not attempts at ‘out of the box’ diplomacy.
And when another terrorist attack with clear links from across the border resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, the cross-LoC strikes by the Indian army was yet another departure from previous responses. It was a bold statement that went beyond words to announce that while we are keen for peace, we are not averse to the use of force when compelled. And that the threat of nuclear escalation by Pakistan is not as real as they would have us believe.
As events are unfolding, elements of Indian design are becoming clearer. Having given saam (knowledge) and daam (money) a chance, it seems that the Indian side is now veering towards resorting to the dand and bhed components of Chanakya neeti. For successful forays down this path, we need to be prepared for a spectrum of military responses, a precursor of which we saw on 28 September.
Standing as One
One takeaway from the reactions from a section of politicians and the media to this action is that for the successful execution of policy along the line of dand and bhed, it is imperative for the nation to stand as one.
Let us assume, for the sake of illustration, that in pursuance of bhed, Indian planners need to undertake strategic deception – manipulation of perceptions (enemy, domestic and of third parties) – to elicit desired responses. To take a hypothetical example, suppose while undertaking limited military actions, the government announces a move to deploy its nuclear assets in a state of readiness at undisclosed launch pads with a view to deter any nuclear misadventure in response.
Any such deception needs to be credible for it to be effective. Under these circumstances, if Indian opposition parties and the media create a crisis of credibility by questioning the government’s assertions or actions, the very purpose of deception would be undermined.
Taking the principal opposition parties into confidence prior to any such move would probably be an essential step to prevent such a situation. However, the strict ‘need to know’ basis of sharing such information would mean that the knowledge would be restricted to the senior rungs of the leadership across the political spectrum.
And with the ubiquitous presence of social media and the compulsions of 24-hour TV news channels to continuously come up with sensational stories, the questioning and doubting of narratives would seem inevitable.
Confidence on Government
Rarely, if ever, would the motive of those raising such questions be unpatriotic, aimed towards undermining national strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan. However, they may inadvertently end up doing just that. So, whether it is political leaders or the media, it may be a sound policy to refrain from going out of the way to question the government’s stated stance of specific matters of national security. After all, there are hundreds of other issues on which the government can be questioned.
(The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian army and currently a research fellow at the Ministry of Defence, writing the official history of India’s participation in World War I. He can be reached at @ragarwal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)