How much of a departure since Uri?
Both India and Pakistan have notched a point each from their showing in the Uri terror attack episode. While the Indian military true to form, executed a commendable military operation, following it up with an equally precise press statement by its military operations head, the Pakistani military was wily enough not to pick the bait.
If the story was to end on this note, with Pakistan being suitably impressed by Indian resolve and proceeding to wrap up the terror infrastructure, it would be game-set-and-match for the Modi-Doval duo and their supposed junking of the doctrine of strategy restraint in favour of strategic proactivism. However, it can be reckoned that consummate Pakistan-watcher Doval surely knows that this is not the case, at least not before much water flows down the River Jhelum, on the banks of which rests Uri.
If that be the case, it would be naïve to attribute the aim of the operation as being pressuring Pakistan to roll back terror. It at best perhaps heralds that the earlier perception of impunity of Pakistani terror handlers and perpetrators is on notice. Even this might be rather ambitious, since terror handlers are unlikely to be roughing it out in camps close to the Line of Control (LoC). Along the LoC, at best foot soldiers might be found, and even they if not well back, would here on be more alert.
Therefore, future such operations will unlikely be as surgical as this time round, and might on the contrary, end up rather messy, not excluding the targets hit who might well turn out to be civilians with no choice but to eke out an existence in dangerous places. If and since terror handlers, inciters and profiteers shall remain unscathed and foot soldiers incentivized by the promise of a befitting martyrdom, militarily strategic proactivism does not portend much by way of strategic dividend.
This begs the question of what then was the aim.
The advertised aim of conditioning Pakistan is only possible to pull off in case of follow through with more-of-the-same in case of future provocations. With the resolve having been demonstrated, it sets up a commitment trap of sorts that entails a progressive increase in violence of retaliation. However, from the very limited nature of the operation just concluded, it is evident that the Indian military is attuned to the escalatory dynamics more rigorous operations might entail. In effect, the operation was a one-off, and not replicable with like benefit. If it heralds a shift in strategic doctrine as vaunted, then the new doctrine is suspect, and to put it mildly in one famous phrase, is ‘un-implementable’.
There is one other dimension of a possible externally oriented aim. It could be influence the international community to pressure Pakistan. The efficacy of this is difficult to imagine in light of the problem external players have had in dissuading Pakistan from supporting insurgency in Afghanistan, where their aims were directly affected. They can lean on Pakistan to display restraint in reaction to such operations in future – as has been done on this occasion - but are unlikely to be able to go beyond their known remonstrations against Pakistani supping with terrorists. If India were to be more venturesome militarily, it would be left to fend for itself, with none to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. In case the situation does come to the crunch, not only will terror rollback figure, foregrounding international pressures on Pakistan, but so would ‘root causes’, implying India would not be left off the hook. Since alongside military operations, strategic proactivism entails obfuscating ‘core issues’, by diversionary references to PoK and other areas of erstwhile J&K, there is an inherent contradiction between the military and diplomatic prongs of the newly minted strategy. Unfolding of its military prong would impact negatively on the diplomatic prong.
Since all this could have been easily discernible from any strategic analysis preceding the trans-LC foray, the purported aims of the operation – as external oriented – come under question. In fact, the logic of the supposedly abandoned doctrine of strategic restraint was all along precisely this: that militarily little can be done; therefore, other ways to approach the twin problems of Pakistan and Kashmir, including by meaningful conflict resolution internally and externally, need being broached. In fact the timorous manner of the operation, that allowed Pakistan to pretend that it did not occur at all, indicates that the verities of strategic restraint remain sound. In fact, the strict limitations attending the military operation, including public mention that it is not being continued further, indicates a genuflection of the military operation to strategic restraint. This reveals the supposed shift to a new doctrine of strategic proactivism is more of an information war smokescreen.
This brings one back to the question as to the aim of the operation. The aim, not being externally oriented, can only then have been directed internally: towards the public. The somewhat decisive UP elections are nigh. The strongman image of the prime minister needed refurbishing, under the persistent challenge not only from Pakistani terror provocations but also from political opponents bent on calling the bluff. This implies a military operation has been undertaken with an eye on internal politics. In the event, all parties have jumped on the jingoistic bandwagon, even those that subscribed earlier to the doctrine of strategic restraint. Internal politics appears to have trumped strategy. While this is indeed an abiding possibility in democratic states, the fact needs acknowledging. Pointing this out helps clothe up timely.
In other words, the new Pakistan-centric doctrine of strategic proactivism has its impetus less in the external strategic environment, but more so in the internal politics of this country. The driver appears to be the need for democratically establishing an unassailable dominance of the right wing political formations, prerequisite for the wider cultural nationalist project. The external aspect of this project is to emerge as the regional hegemon, by vanquishing Pakistan. But the fact that strategic proactivism cannot bypass the parameters set by the nuclear age and relative strengths on the subcontinent, suggests strategic proactivism cannot but have an ideological pedigree. The discipline of Strategic Studies informs that ideology undercuts strategic rationality.
The problem with strategic proactivism lies in its success. The more successful it gets, the more the insecurity. For instance, the success of the recent military operation might suggest military options have efficacy. The next one might be less mindful of limitations, preventing Pakistan from playing deaf. Success could prove pyrrhic. This formed the intellectually sustainable basis of the strategic doctrine of strategic restraint. So long as strategic proactivism is yet another information war gimmick, directed not so much at Pakistan but a media-lulled electorate, it may not be particularly troubling. It would get to be so in case strategic minders in Sardar Patel Bhawan take it as seriously as its votaries in op-eds.