Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

An article that analyses the post-war (Indo-Pak) scenario from India's perspective

Clouds of war on the western borders of India - a scenario that is worrying the whole world. Will there be a war or will it be just sabre-rattling? Should India attack immediately or should Indian leadership avoid a war?

This is the first time after independence (and probably in the known history) of India that the people on the throne of Delhi are talking of invasion. For the past fifty five years, Indian policy has always been to fight a defensive war on its own soil. The 1948 and 1965 wars with Pakistan, and the 1962 war with China as well as the recent conflict at Kargil were purely defensive in nature. There can be some arguments about 1971 war when India helped in the liberation of Bangladesh. But the official Indian line about 1971 war is that India fought to defend itself against aggression by Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh was incidental.

The policy of non-aggression has been so engrained in the psyche of Indian ruling class that any war other than defensive seems to be a sin. Terrorist attack on Parliament Building has changed that to some degree. For the first time, Indian leaders are talking of hot pursuit, of teaching Pakistan a lesson, of war if necessary. After 1971, Pakistan had realized that she cannot defeat big brother in an open war so Pakistan adopted a policy of bleeding India by a low intensity covert war. This was the adaptation of guerrilla warfare tactics by a nation state. India watched a grim drama unfold first in India's Punjab and later in Kashmir. India's response was, as usual, defensive. The problem was treated as a law and order problem and not as an act of war against the Indian state. It is only in the past few weeks that the ruling class of India is coming to terms with this reality.

It is not only the political class, it is the Indian common man who has been increasingly talking of an all-out war against Pakistan to put an end to this menace. In fact the political class has been forced to echo the popular sentiment. Hard talk of hot Israel-style-hot-pursuit and do-this-or-war has surprised international community, but has gone very well with the crowds around 'pan' and tea shops. The hot words of leadership have added fuel to the raging fires in the minds of people and there are cries for action sooner rather than later.

As the cry for war become louder by the day, let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves the question - What if we win the war with Pakistan? That may seem an odd question. Possibly, one might want to ask the alternative question - What if we lose the war with Pakistan? But that is a question which seems hypothetical, since India has so far won every war with Pakistan. On the other hand, the first question is not hypothetical. It is an attempt to define the objective of a war with Pakistan.

When USA launched the attack on 7th October 2001, the objectives were very clear - (a) to capture Osama Bin Laden dead or alive and (b) to replace Taliban with a different set of rulers in Afghanistan. Ground operations in Afghanistan kept pace with the political initiatives to achieve the clear objectives that were outlined at the outset. In 1971, Indian army was given a clear objective in East Pakistan - creation of Bangladesh. The rest as they say is history. Contrast this with the directionless misadventure of IPKF in Sri Lanka, where India lost more than 1200 men and became the subject of hatred and ridicule. As India prepares for her first aggressive war against Pakistan - her objectives are not clear.

Elimination of terrorism seems to be the much-touted objective of the proposed war by India against Pakistan. We need to ask ourselves how exactly will terrorism be eliminated. At present the theory seems to be that if we can give a bloody nose to Pakistan, that will teach Pakistan a lesson and Pakistan will be transformed overnight from a serpent into a dove. The theory has never been articulated openly, but it is in the air. The first problem with this theory is that it is based on a wrong premise that bloody nose makes a nation more sensible. Unfortunately, religious fanaticism cannot be deterred by bloody nose. In fact, a bloody nose is more likely to fan the fires of fanaticism and terrorism. Second problem with bloody nose theory is that one does not know what is sufficiently bloody. Did USA manage to give Vietnam a bloody nose or was it the other way round?

There can be no doubt that bloody-nose-theory is the wrong way of getting into an aggressive war. A country needs to define its objectives and goals in more precise manner. The long term objective in the Pakistani mind is clear. Pakistan would like to rule the whole sub-continent. Pakistani dream is to have the Pakistani flag on top of Red Fort in Delhi. It is not a coincidence that Pakistan names its missiles after invaders who attacked and destroyed India. In contrast, India has no dreams of ruling over the land currently in possession of Pakistan.

Let us for a moment imagine that Indian forces are able to capture Islamabad and General Pervez Musharraf is forced to surrender in the same manner as General Niazi was forced at Dhaka in 1971. What would India do next? Will India rule over Pakistan or will she make West Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan parts of India with full democratic rights to the inhabitants? The first alternative does not seem likely since India has no history of colonialism. The second alternative, if adopted, may not solve any problems since this will mean opening up of borders and will lead to more freedom for Pak-based terrorists. Indian political class should also consider the impact of such a scenario in future elections. It is not improbable that the net result of such an integration may be to aid the Pakistani dream. If that happens, India as a secular democratic country will be the loser in spite of having won the war.

Even a limited victory like capture of Lahore or of Pak-occupied-Kashmir will pose the same dilemmas for India. India may talk of Israel-style-hot-pursuit but she cannot adopt the Zionist practices of Israel. Secular India cannot settle Hindus in Lahore or in any part of Kashmir, in the style of Jewish settlements on West Bank.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in 1513 in Chapter V of his famous book "The Prince" - "When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you." USA has chosen the third option in Afghanistan. Israel often chooses the second option. Invaders like Nadir Shah who are remembered in India for the massacres carried out by them, chose the first option. India must realize that there does not exist a fourth option.

Before India plunges herself into a war against Pakistan, India must learn the ways and means of governing the cities or regions which her armies will win. It must be understood that there can be no long-term peace for India as long as Pakistan continues in the groove that it has been in for the past five and a half decades. Complete elimination of terrorism is a nice slogan but it must be converted into achievable goals with the necessary blueprint for action.

To be fair to Indian leaders, it should be said that there may be existing such plans in some dust-laden files at Delhi or in the minds of a few top leaders. If it is indeed so, the objectives of the plans must be shared with the nation. A war is fought by the country as a whole and not just by its leaders or army. It is important that the country understands the strategic direction which it is heading into.

Sadly, the fact remains that Indian leadership has given no indications of such a strategic direction. There are signs that the leadership is shedding its old defensive mindset and is undergoing a metamorphosis. This may be a surface change forced by the exigencies of domestic politics or may be that the country is finally learning from history.

It is high time that Indian ruling class unlearns the ideals of peace and non-violence. It is high time that Indian ruling class learns by heart Chapter V of "The Prince", "The way to govern cities or dominions that, previous to being occupied, lived under their own laws". Till this is learnt any talk of an all-out-war is either plain rhetoric or worse a call for a misadventure. The question "What if we win the war with Pakistan?" must be answered before the war horns are sounded.


7 January 2002

The above article attracted some very interesting comments. Please click here to read the debate.

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ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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