Indian SubcontinentRegion Wise

How will the Modi Doctrine Pan Out?

by Indranil Banerji

The “surgical strike” by the Indian Army against terrorist camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir earlier will not be the real test of the Modi Doctrine or whatever else we choose to call the strategy that gave birth to the robust response against Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

We might have finally scored a goal but let us not forget for a moment that the match is far from over.

The celebratory drum beating that followed the strike was expected given that terrorist attacks on India over the years have all gone unchallenged.

Despite damning evidence pointing invariably to Pakistan, the risk averse Indian leadership never retaliated against its nuclear capable neighbour.

India’s reprisal therefore came as a paradigm change; and with change comes uncertainty.

Central to any prognosis arising from this counter-terrorism strike is the likely response of Pakistan’s ruling elite.

Two fundamental forces are responsible for the Pakistani establishment’s intrinsically offensive strategic mode: its Timurid mindset and the necessity of the smaller combatant to adopt an offensive posture.

In military theory, the defensive side over time loses through attrition and a smaller power thus will theoretically always lose in such a situation.

The Pakistani elite appear to have founded their national goals on founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s belief that they had been given a “moth eaten” country.

Forming a country deserving of the Pakistan dream meant annexing Kashmir, Balochistan and parts of Afghanistan. It is this dream that the Pakistani elite has been pursuing ever since their independence.

They have been spurred on by a mindset that was formed centuries ago in the steppes of the Asian continent by Timur, the Lame. He and his successors saw themselves as the natural rulers of Asia, particularly its south and central regions.

This thinking was responsible for the near total exodus of the Muslim elite from India at the time of Partition leaving the masses of poor and nationalist Muslims to their fate in what they believed to be a “Hindu India”.

Conflict thus became a part of the Pakistani ethos at the moment of its creation and the direct fallout of this reality is the unrelenting terrorist and military assaults inflicted on India over the decades.

Will this dynamic change? The short answer is: unlikely.

Therefore, India must prepare for more bloodletting. Sadly, our weakness is not so much at the borders as it is in the chaotic cities of the heartland.

India’s internal security pillars undermined by decades of political interference, systemic callousness and the rise of anti-national subcultures makes for a vulnerability that a determined enemy can exploit at will.

Another event like the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the 2001 Parliament attack or even the Pathankot terror strike will create enormous domestic pressures on the Modi government and compel it to retaliate.

The extent of retaliation and its form will determine the success of the Modi doctrine. For, the total war option would prove disastrous not just because of the nuclear arsenals both nations possess but also because of its economic impact.

A full-fledged war will inevitably drain India’s economic resources and set the development process back by decades, especially now that the economy is poised for a dramatic transformation.

Pakistan would be weakened more than India, perhaps terminally even, but we would fall way behind China in terms of economic power and resilience. This would spell long term disaster for our global ambitions.

Retaliation can take many forms other than war, including covert action to de-stabilise Pakistan internally and economic warfare to undermine its economy. These actions cannot, however, be publicised in the same manner as a “surgical strike” and therefore will not yield similar political dividends.

The Modi doctrine could perhaps take a leaf from the United States’ secret but unrelenting war against the Soviet Union waged over at least three decades. At no point did the militaries of the two superpowers confront each other eyeball to eyeball; yet the Soviet Union ultimately gave way.

The true character of the Modi doctrine will be apparent only as events unfold in the subcontinent. Will its priority be domestic public opinion or the eventual erosion of Pakistani national power?

Will tomorrow’s battles be fought over media headlines or in the backrooms of undercover operations?

Will New Delhi be able to absorb the many cuts that its neighbour will continue to inflict or will it lash out in an all-out military assault?

The possibilities are finite but whichever way it pans out, the biggest danger of any long term doctrine is the danger of strategic overreach. Not matching aims with capabilities has historically been the Achilles’ heel of many a grandiose strategy.

Much is at stake here, indeed the entire future of South Asia.

Military historians often cite the example of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) of ancient Greece when democratic Athens was defeated by the militarised state of Sparta to illustrate the concept of strategic overreach.

A disastrous military expedition on distant Sicily by the Athenians, which clearly constituted an act of military overreach, paved the way for the eventual defeat of liberal Athens and began the rule of tyrants. This was a turning point in Greek history and proved that a more evolved civilisation does not always win.

On the other hand, the United States forced into World War II by the Japanese knockout attack on Pearl Harbour that virtually destroyed the American Pacific Fleet, recovered and successfully struck back.

National resilience was the secret of the US success. This allowed the creation of a huge military force capable of fighting half way across the world. Unlike in ancient Greece, US overreach in WW II succeeded.

The enabling factors included a massive industrial base and relatively vast human resources.

A strategy that will ultimately force the Timurids in Islamabad to give up and change course will depend entirely on how we emerge: as the Athenians in ancient Greece or the Americans in the Second World War.

(Indranil Banerjie is a security and political analyst and is based in New Delhi)