Thursday, 4 April 2019

Will Pakistan be happy if Modi returns to power?

In a campaign speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi thundered that Pakistan would be happy in case he is removed by an electoral verdict from power. As is his wont, he was implying that those who vote against his party are doing the handiwork of Pakistan, an enemy state. They are Pakistani agents, who naturally deserve to ‘go to Pakistan’ for their ‘anti-national’ act of voting against his return to power.

His logic is that since he is strong on defence, Pakistan would not like to see him re-elected, preferring instead traditional pusillanimity in the Indian leadership. A strong man at the helm would deal them the required blows from time to time as Mr. Modi has done with his claim of three surgical strikes – on land, through the air and in space in the form of a deterring anti-satellite (A-Sat) test.

Displacing Modi would be music to Pakistani ears and that of its ‘deep state’ constituting the army and the intelligence agency, supported by jihadist formations. To Modi, those who vote against him would please the Pakistani establishment. The subtext is that doing the Pakistani bidding, even if unwarily, would amount to treason – dissent and sedition being synonyms these days – now that Modi has revealed Pakistani expectations.

Is Modi right? Would Pakistani minders be pleased with an election outcome that sees him banished from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg?

Absent a ‘wave’ as in 2014 - observed by the political leader from the Deccan, Asaduddin Owaisi - there are jitters in the ruling party, best evidenced by the two ‘surgical strikes’ – Balakot and the A-Sat test. It also is reason for the polarising rhetoric orchestrated by no less than the occupant of the high prime ministerial office, Narendra Modi. Therefore, it is quite unnecessary to dissect his invective while on the campaign trail, even if the campaign has nothing to do with it since he is a genuine believer in himself, the first bhakt so to speak.

Nevertheless, to fact check Modi is useful, first, to ascertain if his claim to being strong on defence is valid, and, second, if that makes Pakistan quake in its boots.

Modi’s claim to three surgical strikes serves as a starting point. The first one – conducted across the Line of Control in the wake of Uri - was based on two preceding trans-border raids in the north east into Myanmar in 2015 and the following year. The 2015 raid was hyped up and the commanding general was later elevated as army chief. A similar operation the following year was downplayed by the then commander in the east, who was summarily overlooked for the post of chief for his temerity to deny the ruling party an opportunity for grandstanding on security.

Of the operation post-Uri terror strike, it was unnecessary to begin with, since the number of casualties were not a direct result of terrorist action but inflated by a dozen unfortunate soldiers perishing in a resulting fire in their tent. As for the outcome in terms of deterrence for further such terror attacks, the subsequent terror attacks south of the Pir Panjal on military installations and the car bombing at Pulwama in February this year, are testimony of failure of deterrence, the advertised aim of the ‘surgical strikes’.

As for Balakot, whatever the actual result on ground, an Indian general, Ata Hasnain, has admitted in a speech at a London think tank that the Pakistani information warfare got the better of the Indians. Pakistan in any case virtually evened the score immediately thereafter with its aerial strike at Rajouri-Naushera, downing of an Indian plane and capture of its pilot. It also gained an upper hand in the optics by releasing the pilot soon thereafter. The deterrent effect of the Balakot strike will be known in the coming summer and whether India is able to hold the assembly elections in Kashmir without embarrassment on its democratic credentials from the numbers turning out to vote.

As for the third surgical strike, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency has criticized the A-Sat test for the creation of space debris that could impact the international space station. This implies that the A-Sat capability is not usable, in that it has a collateral damage potential that cannot be risked politically. India would end up losing potential supporters in war in case it damages their satellites by taking the war to space. As for usability, China being ahead of India by a dozen years can easily be expected to deter Indian resort to A-Sat warfare. Against Pakistan, it would be useful but Pakistan has no known prowess in space that India needs to take out in war. In any case, today’s technology does not rely on kinetic-kill for such action but on cyber war.

The list could go on and include the down-turn in Kashmir, the hold-up in India-Pakistan relations, the subservience to the Chinese on display in Wuhan, the stench of scandal in defence procurements from the Rafale scam, the status quo on the Nagaland ceasefire, subversion of institutions, the inability to integrate defence acquisitions revealed in the friendly-fire incident in which an Isreali weapon system allegedly brought down a Russian-made helicopter due to incompatible identification friend or foe systems, doing a hit-wicket on India’s position on terror by releasing Hindutva terrorists in many terror cases, and the inability to institutionalise the national security system owing to an over-focus on the personality of its head, Ajit Doval. The list is ended here for want of space.

This survey of the defence side does not indicate any particular merit in the Modi-Doval stewardship of security. This prima facie means that there is no reason for Pakistan to fear a return of Modi to power.

That said, the reverse is more likely truer. Though the diplomat I accosted at the book release function was too professional to let on the Pakistani mind on the issue, it can be hazarded here that the Pakistani deep state would like to see Modi back in saddle. Firstly, as seen, they are not over-impressed by the Indian showing on defence, as to be losing any sleep. Secondly, they are aware of the mess in national security, which even Modi’s famed troll army has been unable to sweep under the carpet.

Finally, and more importantly, another term of Modi at the helm would result in a backlash to the Hindutva project that he seeks to entrench. His resort to all manner of jumlas, surgical strikes, outright lies (that there are no Hindu terrorists (if so, as Siddharth Varadarajan wondered, who, pray, was Nathuram Godse?)) is under-gird by the logic that ends justify the means, the ends being the greater glory of Hinduism as defined by its Hindutva proponents.

Any backlash would not necessarily be from Muslims, who are largely socially ghettoized, politically marginalized and cowed down by micro-terrorism. The Indian liberals are the first line of defence of the Constitution. Then there are leftists, currently down but could reemerge as the corporate-politics nexus under Modi runs aground in rural neglect and farmers’ strife. The entrenching of Hindutva would not result in an imagined homogenous nation in a Vedic-brahmanical frame, but a ‘million mutinies’, to borrow Naipaul’s phrase. The ongoing one is in Kashmir and in the pipeline could well be what might result from the populating of the register of citizens exercise in Assam and sought by the ruling party to be started also in West Bengal. There is, of course, the temple at Ayodhya to be built and ever higher statues that could at best divert attention. The military may be put out by the politicizing attentions of the far-right and their work being put to domestic political utility by the Modi-Shah combine. India’s closer strategic embrace of the United States and Israel would likely end in the same internal effects on polity as witnessed in other states that have been subject to such attention, significantly Pakistan as a US-frontline state. The fallout of this relationship would be in increased pressure from China. A cumulative backlash and a Modi-Doval authoritarian counter would push India back.

This survey of national security as it stands at the end of Modi’s five years and the possibilities ahead in a possible second term suggests that Pakistan would be quite happy to see Modi return to power. It would turn India into a Hindu-Pakistan and a poor imitation at that, a prospect not unwelcome to India’s antagonists. This would also be at a time when Pakistan for its part imagines it is slowly coming out of the tunnel of obscurantism that it had entered three decades back. For India to rush into the tunnel voluntarily would – counter intuitively – place Pakistan a step ahead, courtesy Modi.