ALI AHMED | 19 AUGUST, 2019
No First Use - Escalating Scenarios
The nuclear threat
Manohar Parrikar having muddied the waters in venting his ‘personal’ thoughts on India’s signal pledge in the nuclear domain, of No First Use (NFU), it is now the turn of the latest incumbent in the game of musical chairs played with the defence minister portfolio, Rajnath Singh.
Elbowed out by a man from Gujarat from being number two in the Modi cabinet, he has not even made a trip to Kashmir where the military that supposedly reports to him is instead looking to the national security adviser camping out for orders.
Finally, Rajnath Singhh has got his foot into history’s door, with his bit on the NFU. Rajnath Singh had it that while currently NFU is the professed doctrine, it cannot be said that this would hold true in the future.
The timing of his intervention suggests this is part of the security orchestration surrounding the constitutional jiggery-pokery played by the ruling party over Kashmir. While there are prospects of an opening up of the nearly two week long lockdown in Kashmir, the situation may be about to unravel. If this happens, then it would open up space for Pakistani meddling. In order to deter Pakistan, India is baring its fangs.
The northern army commander chimed in timely on television screens warning of memorable retribution in case Pakistan fishes in troubled waters. From Pakistani reportage, the Line of Control (LC) appears at boiling point. Clearly, India, unconvinced by its own propaganda - that it has ridden out the storm in Kashmir - knows this was the lull before the storm. It therefore needs keeping Pakistan deterred.
Pakistani diplomacy has hit the high water mark in forcing a closed door informal session of the UN Security Council on Kashmir - the first in half century. It has decisively busted India’s aborted attempt at selling the line that Kashmir is an ‘internal matter’ and, therefore, there is nothing left to discuss.
Instead, Pakistani diplomatic agility has retrieved Kashmir’s status as a bilateral issue, best evidenced by India’s reiterating its usual line – ‘stop terror for talks’. Pakistan could carry its diplomatic offensive into the halls of the General Assembly that is to be addressed by both prime ministers, come September.
There is no need for Pakistan for reviving the proxy war just yet, when India has set alight a prospective civilian uprising and an insurgency on its very own. The civilian angst at being subject to constitutional violence upfront and undeclared Emergency measures will likely be registered on Kashmir’s streets in a replay of 1990 soon.
Under the circumstance there are two scenarios of escalation. One - more familiar - originates in Pakistan and the other - arguably more germane - in India.
The Pakistan-origin possibility of down-slide is one brought about by pressures within Pakistan from its ‘good terrorists’ to profit from India’s discomfiture. The army may not wish to sit out a tempting opportunity of turmoil across the LC. Not only would Pakistan’s army not want to be outflanked by its jihadi affiliates, it would also not want its civilian side stealing a march internally over it through an efficacious diplomatic showing. It has in any case to cast a lifeline to the insurgency, which is otherwise liable to whither without an influx of warlike material for the fresh set of youth who are likely to take to the gun.
General Bajwa, though identified with the quiescent Bajwa doctrine, has an extension coming up. Seeing lack of reciprocation on India’s part for his overtures over the past two years as a failure of his doctrine, he may have to reinvent himself. Depending on how the developments in Afghanistan shape up, he could take up cudgels. This would make him indispensable, enabling an extension for continuity and implementation.
This would be of a piece with Imran Khan’s framing of the Indian regime as fascist. The abiding lesson of history is that Nazism cannot be appeased. Pakistan may believe it needs preventive measures militarily, using the tried and tested proxy war strategy. Counter intuitively, a preventive war - otherwise unaffordable due to dire financial straits - has dividend. It will timely bring the Kashmir issue to a head, before the gap between India and Pakistan becomes unbridgeable.
In a second scenario, of triumphalism duly deflated by the onrush of events in Kashmir, India may look to scapegoat Pakistan. This is where Imran Khan’s apprehension of a ‘black operation’ and a Pulwama 2.0 kicks in. India needs a diversion from its predicament in Kashmir. Pakistan and its renewed interest in Kashmir would come handy. A war would enable Modi to kill yet another bird with one stone, enabling a projection onto Pakistan of blame for a mismanaged economy, reportedly heading south.
This explains the coincidence in timing of India’s creation of a chief of defence staff - to wage war jointly - and Rajnath Singh’s drawing attention to India’s nuclear options, since such a war can go nuclear.
Essentially, he has said that India is bound by NFU only in peace time. The draft nuclear doctrine, on which India’s official nuclear doctrine is based, first made the fine distinction of ‘peace time’, presumably from a contrasting time of war.
Its NFU has been downplayed ever since, with a national security adviser of a predecessor government, in a literal interpretation of the draft, holding that even the ‘initiation’ of a nuclear strike by an adversary could automatically result in India not being bound by the pledge.
Rajnath Singh is only being candid on the NFU being a bit of a subterfuge, to make Indians feel good as responsible custodians of the Bomb and to allow the nuclear bazaar a loosening up of controls on nuclear material and technology traffic to India.
A reference to the nuclear domain at this juncture then warns of India keeping a military-conventional route open to bail itself out in Kashmir. This makes for the plausibility of the latter scenario.
A deterrence rationale hardly serves to legitimise India’s signalling. Modi’s ‘New India’ may yet have war as its midwife.
Ali Ahmed is visiting professor at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia.