26 November 2016


Hiranmay Karlekar

An India-Pakistan war is a terrible thing. New Delhi must do its best to avoid it, but what if efforts fail? We must be ready with a comprehensive geostrategic plan, encompassing diplomatic and military operations

As the skirmishes with Pakistani troops along the Line of Control in Kashmir and the International Border in Jammu gets more frequent and intense, the possibility of the situation escalating into a conventional war between India and Pakistan can hardly be ruled out. Of course, a war is a terrible thing and India should do everything it can to avoid one. But what happens if India’s best efforts to do that fail? The answer is simple: It should be ready with a comprehensive geo-strategic plan, encompassing both diplomatic and military operations and worked out in detail, to win.

Diplomacy is as important as military action because the gains of the latter can be lost on diplomatic table. This happened to us in the Tashkent agreement of January 1966 after the 1965 war with Pakistan, when we gave back to the latter the Haji Pir Pass which we had won at great cost. It again happened in the Shimla agreement of July 1972, when we returned the over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war we held without extracting a Kashmir settlement from Islamabad.

One part of our diplomatic planning would be to have a clear idea of what we would hope to get at the end of the war and what is the minimum that we can accept, and how we should navigate our actions to secure the best we can between these two extremities. Having done this, we should have a clear idea of what we can expect from which country, identifying those that will support us to the hilt and to the last, those that will confine themselves to providing verbal and diplomatic support, those that will speak from all sides of their mouths, and those that can be expected to be outright hostile. The Ministry of External Affairs should have a good idea as to which country belongs to which category.

What it must now do is to formulate a course of action to mobilise each of them to perform a task which it can be reasonably expected to do. For example, India should ensure that, those that one knows would not provide anything more than verbal support, do at least provide that and outspokenly and at fora where they can be active.

The diplomatic aspect needs to be emphasised because Pakistan, which is militarily weaker, will step up its efforts to have a ceasefire clamped by the Security Council before things become too hot for it. Equally, it would want the Council to brand India as the aggressor irrespective of the facts of the case. Such attempts had failed during the 1965 and 1971 wars. In both these cases, India had the Soviet Union’s solid support behind it. In the Kargil War of 1999, Pakistan was so blatantly the aggressor that even the United States asked it to withdraw.

Can we get Russia’s support in the same measure in which we received in 1965 and 1971? The question should be addressed most seriously given India’s increasingly close ties with the United States and Russia’s more than mild flirtation with Pakistan. This in turn gives a sharp edge to the question: How much support can we expect from the US in a war with Pakistan? Despite recent bursts of euphoria over the extremely cordial ties between the world’s richest and largest democracies, past record is by no means reassuring. The US has continued to pour huge amounts into Pakistan as aid despite the latter’s growing support to the Afghan Taliban and organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba which are attacking the Government in Kabul that Washington supports, and killing US servicemen in Afghanistan. There is unlikely to be any change in this situation.

Clearly, India needs to work pretty hard on its foreign policy vis-à-vis Pakistan while preparing at the military level to foil its aggressive thrust. No war should be taken lightly, and certainly not one with Pakistan which has a good, professional Army and, over the last 15 years, built up a huge and sophisticated arsenal, with weapons mainly for us against India, with vast funds received from the US. Unfortunately, India’s defence purchases were negligible during the 10 years of the United Progressive Alliance’s Government from 2004 to 2014. As a result, the National Democratic Alliance that came into power in the latter year, found itself forced to go on a crash course of defence acquisition. While it has made some progress, much remains to be done particularly since the delivery of items for which a number of agreements been signed will take several years.

The point is that we must be prepared in every respect to win in case a war becomes unavoidable. One reason why we could wrap up the Bangladesh campaign in 1971 is that we waited till the conditions were right. A war during the monsoon when Bangladesh’s formidable rivers were in full spate and all tributaries and canals brimming, would have been very slow and international pressure may have forced us to a halt before we had occupied Dhaka. Equally, we had to ensure that we had the right kind of military hardware and in full measure. Thus, while we had to conserve as much ammunition as we could during the 1965 war, we were under no such constraint in 1971.

Being ready means not only having the military hardware and the strategic and tactical planning in place, but being prepared for operations behind the enemy’s lines, utilising to the full Pakistan’s political and societal faultines. This in turn underlines the importance of our providing material, and not just moral, support to Balochistan’s struggle for justice and the struggle by Shias in Pakistan to live with dignity and security. There can be no under-estimation of the need for this. Pakistan will certainly utilise the widespread network its Directorate-General of Inter-Services Intelligence has built up in India.

That this is not pointless fear-mongering becomes clear on recalling the blast in the New Jalpaiguri railway station on June 22, 1999, which killed nine persons, including three Kargil-bound jawans, and injured 80. The act, which the then chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee unambiguously attributed to the ISI, was a part of Pakistan’s efforts to interdict the movement of goods and supplies from north-eastern India to Kargil.

Any plan to cope with a war with Pakistan must include both a plan to ensure internal security and pay it back in its coin by lighting fires in its backyards. The sooner we are prepared to do this, the better.

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