Monday, 7 September 2015

India-Pakistan: Silver linings and band aids are not enough

India's army chief, using the occasion of commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the India-Pakistan War of 1965, has made clear that his army is on a short fuse. At a military seminar he said, "we are acutely aware that the swift, short nature of future wars is likely to offer limited warning time. This calls for maintaining very high levels of operational preparedness at all times. This is something that has now become inherent in our operational strategy."

Army sources indicate that 'it will now take just four-five days for the battle groups to get going'. This current state of readiness confirms the timeline given out by an earlier chief who in 2012 said that, 'What we did in 15 days, we now do in 7; and will do in 3 days in the future.'

It is clear that the army is well on its way to reaching its aim of moving from a 'cold start' to operations under a 'proactive strategy' within three days.

This would please its minister, who at the same tri-service commemorative seminar said,
 'A cursory analysis of the 1965 war highlights the fact that a nation's entire military
establishment must constantly refine its capabilities and processes in order to ensure
integrity and counter any hostile actions.'

This is to misread the lesson of the 1965 War. Such a misreading and action thereupon can
prove catastrophic in the next subcontinental crisis.

Indian army's preparedness indicates that the diplomats of the two states, the international
community and peaceniks within the both civil societies will have at best 72 hours of time for

The lesson from the war fifty years ago is that escalation can prove inexorable. This time round
escalation will be in double quick time.

To India, the take away from the 1965 War has been that Pakistan having failed to take
Kashmir by force - a measure of its choice - in launching the war, has no further stake. Its
attempt at wresting Kashmir by proxy war over the past two decades has also been thwarted.
It cannot be allowed to take it by any other means either, such as by talks.

Therefore if at all there is anything to talk about, it is minimally to get Pakistan to back off,
even if rhetorically it could include taking back the portion of Kashmir that Pakistan seized in 1947.

For its part, Pakistan believes that its resort to force was not so much to wrest Kashmir as to
coerce India to talks and catalyse international interest and pressure towards this end.

Whereas the two countries pledged to address the issue through bilateral talks in the Simla
Agreement of their 1971 War, it is clear that talks have made no headway. The latest instance
is in the talks between the National Security Advisers (NSA) being called off at the last minute
 late last month over divergence on the agenda.

That leaves the possibility of use of force open. India's position is that Pakistan must first give up
 this option - its support for terrorism. The two back-to-back attacks by terrorists in the run up
 to the NSA talks indicate that Pakistan's national security establishment is loath to give up such support.

The current nadir in the security situation is best illustrated in the Pakistani defence minister's
 reminding India that India stood to incur 'heavy losses' if it 'impose(d)' war on Pakistan.

The silver lining is that the two border security chiefs are slated to meet soon and a meeting between
 the military operations heads of both armies is still on the cards. The two prime ministers have yet
 another opportunity coming up for a meeting on the sidelines of the UN summit.

To India's defence minister, India's preparedness can help deter. Doing so can at best preserve the
 status quo, characterized by a close observer, Stephen Cohen, as 'shooting for a century'; and this, only if it impacts the mind of the Pakistani army favourably.

This can only serve as band aid against relatively autonomous jihadists out to put the two nuclear
 armed states at odds with another mega terror attack. A recent Brookings study has a scenario
 with the two states at war. This is not implausible since the two states not talking to each other
 but instead already firing at each other on the Line of Control lack a buffer.

The more that needs doing includes the NSAs talking to each other; reactivation of a 'back channel';
and international attention at levels that can be ratcheted up exponentially in short order. Also, if it is
 not to talk, India nevertheless would need to dispel the continuing alienation in Kashmir.

Under the circumstance that is likely to persist for a while - of an aggressive Indian government and
weak Pakistani civilian counterpart - this may prove just enough to lengthen the fuse.