Nhe writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.
We all know war is costly business. It takes a cruel toll on human beings and hauls back nations by decades. But if it must come then bring it on. No honourable nation can look the other way for long, the inevitable consequence of a big ambitious neighbour led by small ambitious men immersed in extremist ideology bent upon hegemonising their immediate neighbourhood.
India is not the first country to do be attempting this. Nor will it be the last. Any serious student of history can cite endless examples of economically empowered but internally agitated nations attempting to externalise their issues and seeking solace in building a sphere of influence beyond borders.
Early twentieth century Europe, Asia and Americas saw Germany, Japan and the US scramble for colonies and a network of sattelite states to enhance their power and prestige – besides of course sustaining their economic uptake through resource exploitation.
As is the case with India now, they sought excuses in ‘conspiratorial neighbourhoods’ and rebellious groups in their ‘strategic underbellies’ to gobble up land or bring under their heel non-cooperative rulers. They and others, like France, Italy and the UK, all always had someone or something to blame to start a conflict. This allowed them more ingress in closed areas and gave them strategic centrality against their bigger opponents who themselves followed exactly the same strategy to carve up chunks of land and absorb them in a system of protectorates dancing to their tunes.
Just as it is with India today, the colonial powers of that time required allies, which they either bought off or offered deals that they could not refuse. They all had their Bangladeshs or Afghanistans handy in giving vent to their desires for aggrandisement or for achieving plans of plain but ruthless trade interests. There were secret treaties with distant powers (and at times even with direct competitors) for temporary gains against more immediate ‘threats’. There were any number of diplomatic understandings of how a certain group or bloc of countries would stay quiet while another carried out its expansionism and in return the same favour would be granted to it when it was its turn to do the same.
India buying aircrafts from France or getting Washington to strike a cooperative pose over issues related to terrorism or peace in Afghanistan is really not a surprise. It is a continuity of the pattern of understandings that larger powers develop when they set sights on either retaining their influence (the US in this case) or expanding it (India) at the cost of collective strategic targets (China.)
So the fuss is not about Uri. Even if this incident had not happened (and we have no information of any credence to draw the conclusion that Delhi was able to pronounce hours after the incident) India would still be on the same track that it is now – albeit in a slightly less aggressive way. Its aims towards Pakistan would have remained what they have been for a long time: dilution of Islamabad’s resistance to Delhi’s persistence for dominance.
Long before terrorism became the standard allegation, Delhi had other reasons and paths to use and follow to justify its hard tackles of Pakistan. The 1971 war and its defence by Indian politicians and authors is ample evidence of how far back this policy of dilution and domination goes. Of course Narendra Modi has brought more vile content to this old contemplation and has been quite Hitler-like in his pursuit of a major power role on the word stage of which South Asia is the logical starting point. Unless he sorts out his ‘near abroad’ he cannot stake bigger claims across Asia–-the most vibrant and economically exploitable region in the decades ahead.
So India will do what it will do: it will engage Pakistan in a war of attrition at all levels: diplomatic, economic, military and culture. It will push forward and bring to bear on Islamabad the might of its economy, the weight of its international standing and the boulders of its propaganda. Four men attacking a brigade headquarter in an internationally recognised disputed area is really not the issue. Uri is not even the trigger of the hysteria that theatrical media characters like Goswami are now taking to the next level of insanity.
The context of much of what we see in the Subcontinent stems from Delhi’s rise as a major power and its deliberate efforts to fast track the achievement of its goals. (This context is better understood if you take Pakistan out of the equation and replace it with Nepal. Modi’s handling of this poor little country in the past two years provides you eye-opening evidence of the thesis that the drivers of India’s aggression are way different from what they are being portrayed to be).
With this in mind we have to change the question: it is not what India aims to do, but it is what we intend to do with India. How does a smaller neighbour build a resilient wall around itself to stay safe and on track against the constant pressure of a big pressing state? For now the answer to this real question does not hold up a hopeful situation. We don’t have a plan. We never had one and we certainly did not try to find one.
Our response to Delhi’s dynamic and forward leaning policy has been patchy and fractured into small pieces, which like a badly arranged jigsaw puzzle never portray a complete picture. In the best of times – as in the worst of times – we react to events that we either have no control over (the recent Occupied Kashmir uprising) or can only poorly control (groups associating themselves with Pakistan and running amock in India.) We don’t plan.
Domestically, India is a point of debate only with reference to the latest Bollywood movie or a singing contest or Delhi’s latest killing spree in Kashmir. Other than that no mental energy is spent in any way to discuss, debate and dissect the profound changes taking place in our immediate surroundings.
The latest example that captures this mental disassociation with India as a key factor in our strategic life comes from the assessment of the time politicians spent discussing the Raiwind march compared to the Kashmiris dying at the hands of Indian forces. You don’t want to know the ratios of focus on these two issues. It is 92:8. Delhi’s post Uri onslaught changed this ratio but the moment this crisis winds down, it will be back to the usual: trivia dominating national debate.
This fact of near zero interest in debating how to tackle India in the long run (or even short run) has created several default options in the national discourse: one is to follow what the army has to say on India. The army, like all armies of the world, does not say much other than what it says best: we are battle ready and we will fight to the very end.
This is hardly a keystone of policy. This is a statement of professional duty. To expect the army to deliver the parameter of realistic debate is to burden it with a responsibility that it is not capable of shouldering. It is a fighting institution, not the policy planning division. And if it has become one, then that only bears out the poverty of how ill-founded our outlook on India is.
The other default option is to imagine that China will stand with us in our final battle with Delhi. This option is as imaginary and foolish as the idea that we can simply bring out nuclear weapons, load them on planes (or mount them on missiles) and be done with this nagging neighbour. Neither will happen because neither can happen.
The long and short of it is that the recent spurt of tensions has given us yet another reminder to wake up to the need for debating India seriously and consistently. Delhi’s ambitions are known. Its strategy is writing on the wall. We must start thinking about what real options we have to keep Delhi at bay without getting derailed from our economic recovery and domestic stability. And the operative part of the previous sentence is ‘start thinking’.