Any attempt at de-escalation and diffusion of tension between two countries needs to look into the existing perceptions of the security concerns of the two. It is generally perceived in India that Pakistan continues to pose a threat to India’s security and its hegemonic role by engaging in cross-border terrorism and destabilizing internal peace through its intelligence agency. Are such strong threats a product of conflicting misperceptions in the two countries regarding their role in the region'
After months of belligerent statements, militant diplomacy, rhetorical media interviews and deployment of massive troops along the line of control, there are clear indications that the danger of a full-scale war has receded. The challenge before the governments and political processes of the two countries is no longer averting war. Despite the present impasse, there are reasons to believe that India will not go to war with Pakistan, either limited or full-scale.
Not on the warpath
First, Indian policies are deliberately ambiguous about the course of action and the goal. Neither are they clear about the threats that have emerged in the recent past. The main reason is that there are no defined vital interests involved, except such abstractions as safeguarding the sovereignty of the country.
Second, the absence of an institutionalized structure in India to define the strategic interest and security scenario has resulted in the lack of planned decisions, leading to confusion and contradictory statements from the cabinet and the army.
Third, the war cry of the Bharatiya Janata Party is mere rhetoric, politically motivated to exploit popular sentiments.
Fourth, agencies like the national security council and the national security advisory board have harmful overlaps with the government of the day. These bodies have little accountability and responsibility, and do not have any decision-making powers.
Fifth, India is not in a position to wage a decisive war as far as defence preparedness is concerned. It is common knowledge that there has been no major acquisition by any wing of the armed forces throughout the Nineties. The technological shortcomings were quite evident in Kargil.
Sixth, the Indian army has developed some fatigue owing to its deployment along the border for a long time under adverse climatic conditions. This, and the resultant low morale, is likely to affect its capacity to perform in a war.
Seventh, the Indian leadership, from Jawaharlal Nehru to P.V. Narasimha Rao to A.B. Vajpayee, has hardly ever undertaken any move which could be termed aggression by the international community, even at the cost of loss of territory to neighbours. Indian history is replete with such examples as the loss of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Pakistan and Aksai Chin to China. Notably, the Indian forces were not allowed to cross LoC during the Kargil war.
Eighth, Pervez Musharraf has his own reasons to try and pressure India in every possible way to de-escalate the situation. Every time Pakistan has gone to war with India, there has been a change of leadership in Pakistan.
Ninth, the presence of American troops in Pakistan as part of the war on global terrorism would create serious bottlenecks for Indian defence policy-makers, since it would jeopardize the current Indo-American bonhomie.
Tenth, Indian strategy planners also fear that a war would strengthen terrorist and fundamentalist forces in the two countries as both would be rendered economically and militarily vulnerable. Putting internal stability at stake is something neither country can contemplate.
Finally, the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides of the border would prove to be a major deterrent factor. Neither country can risk repeating Hiroshima.
It is crucial to immediately engage in sensible dialogue and political negotiation, given that conflict preparation involves diversion of precious resources from development to defence sectors. The role of the civil society in both countries would be to change political mindsets and pressure the political leadership.