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When it comes to Pakistan, is it time to give war a chance?

There is a stultifying sameness to the Indian response after each terror attack launched by Pakistani elements.

Guests go berserk in TV studios and now, so do the anchors. A war hysteria is created and the government is urged to strike back.


Even as all this is going on, a very different mood prevails in the drawing rooms of India’s metropolitan cities. Well-educated individuals stare at their TV screens with mounting horror and worry that India is considering some kind of military response. Soon the worry gives way to scoffing: “Why don’t these anchors go to the front themselves?” Or, “It is easy to talk of war from air-conditioned TV studios.” And so on.


   I am as appalled by xenophobia and hysteria as the next man. But the time has come to ask if well-educated Indians have got it right. They can scoff all they want. But even as they sneer, the Pakistanis are laughing and clapping each other triumphantly on the back.


   The anti-war argument goes something like this. We cannot retaliate militarily because war is an expensive business that will set our economy back. Soldiers will lose their lives. Pakistan will retaliate and as it is a nuclear power, it could drop atom bombs on India. Foreign powers would intervene to prevent the conflict from escalating. And our military adventure would amount to nothing even if we are lucky enough not to get nuked.


   There are many flaws with this argument. The first is the suggestion that only jingoist buffoons suggest war in the aftermath of repeated terror strikes. The truth is that most strong nations always retaliate militarily. After 9/11, the US launched a full-fledged invasion of Afghanistan and unseated the Taliban regime that had hosted Al Qaeda. Several years later, it tracked down Osama Bin Laden and killed him. The French responded to the attacks of the last few months by sending war planes to bomb ISIS targets in the Middle-East. And the Americans are not done yet. Over the last couple of years there have been innumerable drone strikes over Pakistani territory that have killed hundreds of suspected terrorists.


   Nobody has called Barack Obama or Francois Hollande mad, jingoistic warmongers. They were leaders seeking to protect their own people.


   The second flaw with the anti-war argument is to imagine that any war will turn nuclear. Both sides had nuclear weapons during the Kargil conflict. And yet, nobody even considered using them. We know that if Pakistan nukes us we will retaliate. They might well fire another nuclear missile. We would respond. And so on.


   A nuclear war is in nobody’s interests. And the Pakistanis realize this just as much as us.


"Talk to military men and they will tell us that they have never had the political go-ahead to use the special forces properly." 

   In fact, they probably realize it much better than we do. When they plan terror attacks on India, whether in Bombay, Pathankot or Uri, they do not worry that India will respond with nuclear weapons. Only we seem to have that fear. And why are we so scared? Well, because we believe that Pakistani generals are mad and might use nukes despite the threat of total destruction on both side. In fact, there is no evidence that the generals are mad or unbalanced. They have shrewdly and consistently outsmarted India by keeping a low-intensity conflict going while we struggle to respond. These are not the actions of lunatics.


   So, what can India do?


   The diplomatic response which is supposed to lead to Pakistan’s global isolation has been tried so often over the last two decades that it has become a joke. Pakistan is never isolated. The Chinese will always stand by the Pakistanis. The Americans need Pakistan for their Afghan policy. And the Russians have just organized joint troop exercises with the Pakistanis.


   If diplomacy isn’t going to work, then there are only two solutions. The first, leaked by the government two days ago, is to abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty. This will never work. We can’t abrogate international treaties without serious consequences for India. Besides, we don’t even have the mechanism required to stop the water from going to Pakistan. Islamabad knows that this threat is hot air and does not take it seriously.


   That leaves us with only the military option – the option favoured by France, America, the UK and other Western countries.


   It is not necessary to mount a full-fledged invasion. The army’s special forces have the ability to enter Pakistan and attack terrorist headquarters. Our intelligence agencies have covert wings that are more than capable of taking out the likes of Hafeez Saeed or Masood Azhar. We have a little-known drone programme that affords us the opportunity to follow the lead of the Americans in blowing up terror bases and terrorists.


   So, why don’t we use them?


   Talk to military men and they will tell us that they have never had the political go-ahead to use the special forces properly. Though today’s R&AW is a shadow of its former self, its covert capabilities remain intact; it’s just that nobody uses them.


   Finally, it boils down to an essential crisis of character. Educated Indians are just too frightened by the idea of war. We are embarrassed by naked patriotism. And we think that diplomacy still holds answers even though it has failed again and again.


   Indira Gandhi had no time for peaceniks and cowardly intellectuals. She knew how to take decisive action. I am hoping that Narendra Modi will follow her example. But he needs to do so quickly because the window of opportunity for retaliation will soon close.




  • Nirav 07 Oct 2016

    Vir Sanghvi you just predicted the future. Big fan of your writing.

  • jay 03 Oct 2016

    The comparison with western countries sounds good on paper. However all these quote countries have their enemies far-far away and none of them as their neighbors. Only Israel has done something on these lines - but it is a never ending war. If Pakistan were a stable democracy the stakes would have been similar but that is not the case either. Full fledged war is an answer only if there is real declaration of war or else low-intensity covert operations are the only good way for this issue.

  • Desmond Tutu 01 Oct 2016

    Pakistan is a complexed neighbour. It's obsessed with being an equal to India. In reality, At $ 2.2 trillion, India is more than 7 times Pakistan's $ 200-300 billion economy. We are adding half a pakistan's economy to our economy every year. Pakistan's a joke for us. By indulging Pakistan, we are giving them an opportunity, an outlet for their jealousy, and jealousies can be very harmful. Our aim should be to not let Pakistan hurt us. Prevention is better than cure, specially when it's jealousy.

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