Padmanabhan would be just shy of Sundarji in any hypothetical intellectual ranking of India’s brass. Even if his book India Checkmates America 2017 (New Delhi: Manas, 2004) does not make this explicit, it bears recall that his paper as a Lieutenant Colonel figured in the famous Sundarji postal seminar at the College of Combat.
Mr Gates’ mention of India running thin on restraint, his depiction of the 2010 Lohri Day massacre in Bakshi stadium makes a compelling read. He writes, “Every Indian gun able to bear on Pakistani frontline defences in POK began firing on one target after another with maximum number of guns concentrated on each target in turn.” The IAF quietens retaliation and takes out all Pakistani planes scrambled. This brings the Pakistani DGMO to the ‘hotline’ begging India to stop. In the General’s verdict, “We punished Pakistan for her misdeeds…We acted with firmness, maturity and decisiveness.”
Nevertheless, the situation is allowed to drift and come 2017, Pakistan launches a conventional attack on India. Within a day, the General, perhaps anticipating ‘Cold Start’, has Indian pincers virtually surrounding Lahore and penetrating 80 km into Sind while the PAF is ‘nearly finished’. This sets the stage for the nuclear ‘backdrop’ to come to the foreground. At this stage the second front is opened by the collusive power. Within three days Pakistan has ‘comprehensively lost’. And the Mullahs are at the gates of the ‘ageing general’. Indians move in consultation with their enemy of an hour ago, the US. The extremist threat to Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal is taken as a common foe bringing them together. Indian paratroopers on landing fight alongside the Pakistani troops warding off the Jihadist coup.
Though muted, the nuclear genie comes up twice in the book. Once in the discussion on how the good going in India’s ‘Cold Start’ raises possibility of a nuclear response, and second on the threat to Pakistani nuclear weapons from extremists taking over the state. The former does not materialize eventually in the book since the dictator, modelled on former President Musharraf, is taken as a realist. The latter sees the Americans mulling over taking over Pakistan’s nuclear assets while Indians save the Pakistani dictator and state. The aftermath of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan not having played out at the time of writing, the General painted a bright post-war future to his 48 hour long war. The danger is in reality usually being stranger than fiction.
The war ends on this note of Indian ‘magnanimity’. The crucial question is ‘Should it take a war?’ In his Epilogue, the General appears to think so writing, “We hope the blood letting of 70 long years has sated the appetite of the most jingoistic of our people.” The challenge for strategy is to avert the seeming necessity.
The strategy appears to be that in case this recurs, India could threaten realistically to replicate the response in the book. This along with US pressure would force Pakistan to finally act. Triggering off an internal conflict in Pakistan would make Pakistan’s establishment lean on India, as in the fictional scenario of India rescuing the beleaguered dictator. If successful, this would establish India as the central regional power. In case relations were to be resumed and this to recur, then to compensate for the internal political embarrassment, India may feel it necessary to act rather than merely threaten. In light of there being nothing to be gained by talking, since the Pakistani regime cannot deliver, India can afford to wait. With Kashmir on the mend through secret parlays with separatists, there is also no incentive to talk meaningfully even if talks are resumed.
Sensing that Obama’s December speech has given Pakistan room for manoeuvre it would likely manage its ‘two front’ problem by first seeing off developments on the western front. In this, rehabilitation of Taliban in a power sharing arrangement in Kabul would be aimed for. It expects the delicacy in NATO’s position to stay India’s hand. The terror attacks it had been subject to have ceased since the end of the Waziristan operations. No wonder Pakistan has indicated to visiting Mr Gates its unwillingness to undertake any further operations. Unlikely to end up a ‘failed state’ due to the Kerry-Lugar bailout, Pakistan will return.
Since coercion is not working and military means may prove counter-productive, India needs to move beyond the well worn realist paradigm for innovative approaches to Pakistan. Resuming the dialogue is not enough.