In the wake of the terrible attack on CRPF personnel by a suicide car bomber affiliated to the Pakistan-based terrorist organization, Jaish-e-Muhammad, in Pulwama in Kashmir on 14 February, 2019, many people are raising the spectre of war against Pakistan as the correct response. However, this is motivated more by politics and emotions than hard realities. I discuss the reasons why war at any scale, whether a full-scale war or a “surgical strike,” is simply not a viable option.
This is the time for all Indians to be extremely vigilant. Think carefully about whatever you read or see.
What you, I, and most of the country feel about the Pulwama attack:
It is a terrible, tragic day that has resulted in 41 of our servicemen losing their lives.
What Modi and the BJP think about the Pulwama attack:
It is a golden opportunity that has fallen into their lap, considering how Modi has his back to the wall because of his failures in every aspect of governance — the economy, jobs, foreign affairs, corruption — nothing is going well for Modi, and people are losing their faith in him. So they will not hesitate to milk this tragedy for every drop of political advantage by pressing people’s buttons and appealing to their patriotic outrage. And your life and mine are the last things on their mind as they relentlessly exploit this. This is not unique to the Modi government — every government, anywhere in the world, has used this tactic when their backs are against the wall (think of Clinton’s attack on Bosnia and the Hollywood movie “Wag the Dog”.)
This incident offers them a great way to divert the people’s attention from the failures of Modi’s government. The display of the coffins on TV yesterday was very disturbing and will further inflame passions, which is probably what this government wants. So too talk by the PM about how “people’s blood is boiling.” Notice that no one is now talking about Rafale or demonetization. Instead, the Hindus of Jammu went into a violent frenzy yesterday and attacked Kashmiris who were living in Jammu. This can easily become a Hindu-Muslim fireball that will consume the country — unless we are extremely vigilant.
Understand that a war — even a limited one — even “surgical strikes” — are extremely destructive. They result in the death of innocents; they destroy our economy and set back economic growth. You or I will not lose our lives — our brave soldiers will die, and their families will grieve. We have no business asking them to die for us when we are not ready to die for the country ourselves. For the government, especially the PM, it offers a chance to posture as a “strong leader,” but the consequences for the country from any war can only be negative.
Let there be no illusions. We cannot win a war with Pakistan as long as China, the superpower in our area, is firmly backing them. Painful as it is, we cannot defeat them, and we cannot do anything to retaliate at a military level. And Pakistan has strong financial backing from the wealthy kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Realize also that we do not have the advantage of surprise now. The Pakistani armed forces will be on high alert, and they will be expecting an attack from us. No war can be won without the element of surprise.
We even have very limited leverage over them in a commercial sense because we do not trade very much with them. Our removal of MFN status of Pakistan, which Mr. Jaitley announced yesterday, will have negligible impact. We can stop their musicians and actors from working in India, and we can stop cricket matches. None of this will matter much. China is there to provide everything the Pakistanis need.
I know this is frustrating for us all, but the only thing we can do is prevent another incident like this by being alert — by focusing on our true enemies outside India than froth at the mouth about some imaginary “tukde tukde gang.” After 4.5 years, at least now the Modi Sarkar can focus on real national security than go after actors, writers, and intellectuals, and brand them as anti-nationals — people whose only crime was to criticize the government and the PM. Today we know who the real anti-nationals are — they sit outside our borders and plot our downfall. If we are alert to intelligence inputs; if we take the local population into confidence and try to build a positive relationship with them instead of constantly threatening them, then we will get useful ground-level intelligence that will prevent a recurrence of Pulwama.
War is never the answer.
Do not fall into the attempts of those who try to suck us into a vortex of hatred and a dangerous conflagration for political gains.
Be also aware of the propaganda being spread that in this hour of crisis, we should not disagree with or criticize the government. This is, of course, what the government would like. But should we agree to any decision? I have just explained why war of any kind would be catastrophic. We would lose lives; property worth tens of thousands of crores will be destroyed in cross-border bombing raids (and never discount the possibility that the other side might use a nuke when they are facing defeat); and the economic damage due to disruption of the economy will be huge.
So no, I do not agree with “whatever the government decides” - which some of my friends have said, and which Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President, has also said. In particular, I would disagree if the government’s decision is war of any kind. And that is what any patriot should do. It is not patriotic to root for a destructive war that will set us back in our growth.
We are a growing country with great ambitions for the future. We want to be a superpower someday. A war sets us back in this trajectory.
Pakistan is a failed state with no real ambitions. A war would make little difference to their terminal decline. They have nothing to lose in a war — in fact, their leaders would welcome it as a relief from having to answer their citizens on why their country is a failed state.
Some people are comparing our situation to that of America when it took out Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, or of Israel as it deals with Palestinian or Hezbollah terrorists with strong-arm tactics. But we do not have the same situation. America does not share a border with Pakistan, and Pakistan is dependent on American cash. Israel has overwhelming military superiority over the Palestinians. Our situation with Pakistan is very different. We are essentially at parity in every respect — in conventional as well as nuclear weapons. A war will only mean bloodshed and economic loss.
Let us not fall into this trap. Let us not agree to everything.
It is not patriotic to agree with bad decisions. It is patriotic to support what is right for the country.