Green Herring

Why India’s political leadership is bragging about winning a war with Pakistan

In October 2022, Narendra Modi donned battle fatigues and boasted of military preparedness while spending a few hours with soldiers in Kargil, where India and Pakistan last fought a limited war in 1999. COURTESY PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU
25 December, 2022

The questions are about China. The answers are about Pakistan. That seems to be the case when it comes to the Narendra Modi government’s designs for India’s security challenges. Even as the Chinese army clashed with Indian soldiers at Tawang’s Yangtse Ridge, in December, the Modi government was more focussed on issuing diplomatic statements against Pakistan. The charge was led by the minister of external affairs, S Jaishankar, in New York, using India’s turn at the presidency of the UN Security Council to converge attention towards countries harbouring terrorism—a thinly guised euphemism for Pakistan. That terrorism is a priority when no major terror attack has taken place in India since the 2019 Pulwama suicide bombing while the Chinese continue to militarily threaten India along the border makes this direction incomprehensible. That too when the Modi government is robustly engaging with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a dispensation seen to be synonymous with terrorism.

The incessant focus on Pakistan has been on for a few months now. In October, Modi donned battle fatigues and boasted of military preparedness while spending a few hours with soldiers in Kargil, where India and Pakistan last fought a limited war in 1999. That same month, on Shaurya Diwas, commemorating the day the Indian Army landed in Kashmir in 1947, the defence minister, Rajnath Singh, said that the unfinished agenda of 5 August 2019—when Article 370 was abrogated—is to wrest back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit–Baltistan. In November, responding to a question during a media interaction, Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, the chief of the Northern Command, stated that the army was ready to take back PoK whenever such orders are given by the government. In fact, he did not go as far as the late Bipin Rawat who, as the army chief in September 2019, had said that, should the union government decide, the army would be ready to “retrieve PoK and making it a part of India.”

India’s claim over parts of Kashmir emanates from the instrument of accession signed by the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on 26 October 1947. At the peak of the Kashmir insurgency, in February 1994, parliament passed a unanimous resolution stating that PoK is an integral part of India and that “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.” That is not very different from the unanimous resolution on China passed on 14 November 1962, where the same parliament affirmed “the firm resolve of the Indian people to drive out the aggressor from the sacred soil of India, however long and hard the struggle may be.” Any such resolve on China today is unlikely to be invoked by the current dispensation. Pakistan, caught in its own whirlpool of economic disaster, political turmoil and social strife, is a much more convenient target for Hindutva ideologues. However, such noise may be pushing India towards a dangerous precipice.

It is easy to ignore the hyper-nationalistic rhetoric of political leaders, but harder to disregard the claims of senior commanders indicating their intent to take back PoK. According to a survey by the Stimson Center, ninety percent of Indians believe that India “probably or definitely would” defeat Pakistan in a war, and now the Indian media is reporting claims of taking back PoK with great sincerity. These claims must, therefore, be clinically examined. Senior military officers, serving and retired, have told me that there are no actual plans to start a war with Pakistan to take back PoK. It is not a military aim that has been given any serious consideration within the armed forces. The terrain is very tough and, as the military dictum goes, “mountains eat troops.” Further, the current force levels would rule out any such endeavour.