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India’s Ascendant Power Trajectory Arrested by ‘Strategic Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ Policies

Paper No.  6175                                Dated 29-Sept-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

India in 2016 perceptionaly viewed globally as an ascendant power with potential to emerge as an independent power centre ironically stands weighed down miserably by its legacies of ‘Strategic Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ which perceptionaly emasculate its Pakistan policies

‘Strategic Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ in the formulation of India’s Pakistan policies and ripostes to its repeated provocations have been the distinctive signatures of every Indian Prime Minister from 1947 to 2014, irrespective whether they were from the Congress Party or the Bharatiya Janata Party.

‘Strategic Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ policies reached their lowest nadir during the period 2004-2014 which witnessed India’s war preparedness touch new lows and crippled the Government’s strong responses against Pakistan in the wake of Mumbai 26/11 massacres when the majesty and sovereignty of the Indian Republic was held in hostage for three days by a handful of Pakistan Army trained Islamic Jihadis in the full glare of global TV visuals.

 This malaise still persists in that India’s strike options after Uri should have been executed ruthlessly against Pakistan Army targets and its terrorism infrastructure.  But that calls for a high-level of India’s war-preparedness on which I have been lamenting for nearly two decades in my strategic writings.

How can India exercise an air-strikes option which in such circumstances is the first and decisive option on a conflict-prone enemy like Pakistan when the Indian Air Force has a glaring void of 130 fighter combat aircraft in its holdings of combat aircraft?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assumption of power in New Delhi in May 2014 sent shivers down the spine of the Pakistani military establishment which feared that India’s Pakistan policies would now emerge as more muscular and hat Pakistan’s proxy war and terrorism against India would be met forcefully.

The Indian Republic citizenry was also enthused that with PM Modi’s ascension to power in New Delhi , the asymmetric challenges from Pakistan would receive strong Indian responses reinforced by a more marked exercise of NATIONAL WILL and NATIONAL POWER to deter Pakistani onslaughts on Indian sovereignty and impinging India’s NATIONAL HONOUR.

Perceptionaly and regrettably, this has not happened so as the sequentiality of events in the wake of Pakistan Army’s nurtured Jaish-e -Mohammad terrorist  strikes on the Indian Army Base Camp at Uri  Kashmir  in September 2016 so illustrate.

After strong assertions by the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister that Pakistan would be “struck at the Indian Army’s place of choosing and choice of timing” nothing has yet emerged though two weeks have passed. Having served in the Indian Army for over three decades one is aware that the Indian Army is always ready with contingency plans for such Pakistani provocations but the decision for military strikes is a political call of the Prime Minister.

It would be therefore fair to assume that in the wake of the Uri Pakistani terrorist attacks, the Indian Army would have had a number of contingency plans for Indian deterrent strikes. If India’s strike options have been held back then logically the same arises from a number of reasons, but primarily because of (1) PM Modi’s relapse to ‘Strategic  Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ policies of previous Indian Prime  Ministers under flawed advice of his closest Pakistan policy advisers (2) PM Modi’s initial strong assertions to punish Pakistan with Indian military strikes having been made without substantial conferring with the Armed  Forces Chiefs on India’s war preparedness and voids in Indian military inventories. (3) External pressures from United States and China.

Before each of the above factors are analysed, the notable point that needs to be made is that India’s strategic dithering of not ordering military strikes in the first 48 hours after the Uri attacks, for which Indian Army would have contingency plans ready, has “Robbed India of the Strategic Window of Opportunity of Surprise” and consequently the use of the military strike option. Pakistan Army has regrettably been now given enough warning and time and space to meet head-on any Indian military strikes.

Perceptionaly, India having lost the window of opportunity against Pakistan has opened itself to reasonable and logical questioning as to whether India itself is ready to assume major power responsibilities and further that Indian in the pursuance of its great power aspirations has in its political leadership the attributes of strategic audaciousness, military boldness and the capability to take risks no only to protect its turf but also sledge –hammer military and terrorist attacks against India.

 Reverting back to the three factors stated above in holding back India’s strike options against Pakistan in the wake of the Uri attacks, the first one of PM Modi relapsing into Indian Prime Ministers traditional weakness of ‘Strategic Restraint’ and ‘Risk Aversion’ is most worrying as India hoped that PM Modi would steer the Indian Republic audaciously towards its aspirational goal of attaining the status of a major global power. If PM Modi has been held back from strike options against Pakistan in the instant case then the blame squarely has to be shouldered by the Prime Minister’s security advisers  and bureaucrats who not only have to provide  accurate inputs on the enemy but also not paint grim scenarios of Pakistan’s nuclear retaliation.

Blame in a major way has to be shouldered by India’s premier intelligence agencies’ in that despite the indignities inflicted by Pakistan Army’s Jihadi terrorists affiliates like the LeT and the JeM Indian intelligence agencies’ have not been able to penetrate these terrorist networks provide accurate intelligence of their impending plans and more notably inflicting damage on them by direct or indirect sabotage.

Perceptionaly, PM Modi’s strong assertions against Pakistan for the Uri strikes seem to have been made without instant discussions with the Indian Armed Forces Chiefs in terms of viability of India’s various strike options.  No Indian Prime Minister can afford to divorce the Indian military hierarchy from crisis decision-making especially on matters of wars with India’s enemies, India’s war-preparedness for military strike options and our enemies’ capabilities of conflict escalation process. This should have been an ongoing and regular process of PM Modi interacting with Services Chiefs on the subject of India’s war preparedness directly, without ‘fire-walls’ of civilian bureaucrats’ filters thrown-in in the name of civilian control of Armed Forces.

The last factor is of Indian Prime Ministers right from Nehru to Shastri to Indira Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee compulsively succumbing to external pressures, more notably from the United States for strategic restraint against Pakistan. This basically is an outcome of lack of culture of strategic culture in our political leadership, over-reliance on civilian adviser for matters professionally military and lack of self -confidence. It is sincerely hoped that PM Modi will break this debilitating cycle in India.

Global Powers in the run-up to 2016 have conferred on India the recognition of an ‘Emerging Power’ and consequently expects that India acts like one in reordering its neighbourhood To achieve this PM Modi has at the first instance needs to restructure India’s national security template and the out-dated civil-military relations template and equations.

No global major power has ever risen on the strength of its diplomatic finesse or on policies of transient diplomatic isolations of its enemies. India cannot be the exception. Global Powers emergence has always taken place when such Powers win the ‘Battle of Perceptions’ against those challenging their rise. India has to do so in relation to Pakistan instantly and China thereafter.

India must forthwith dispense with the words of ‘Strategic Restraint’ from its policy planning dictionary and learn to strategically gamble in the exercise of its options. National ambitions are made of sterner stuff and their realisation in case of India is possible only when India’s Prime Ministers are made of still sterner stuff with nerves of steel.

Concluding, it needs to be highlighted that Major Powers have attained the right to be recognised as such by use of muscular policies and the WILL TO EXERCISE POWER and a strong sense and sensitivity to NATIONAL HONOUR’. India expects the same of its Prime Ministers if the Indian Republic aspirational goals have to be successfully achieved.