With the Iraq War wrapped up in three weeks, the 'strategic community' can be expected to draw lessons along predictable lines. In sum, these will be along overly militarized themes dealing with an imitatively muscular line with respect to Pakistan and with acquiring the necessary military wherewithal, advertised real-time on CNN. It is necessary therefore to mount a preemptive offensive (to borrow Mr. Bushs contribution to the putative New World Order and echoed by our Honorable Foreign Minister) for deflating their imminent campaign at the starting blocks itself. Doing so will ensure that the already attenuated space available for the social sector to voice its demands on the national resource cake is not further constricted by the renewed offensive of the institutions and agencies dealing with national security.
Lesson One: India is not the USA : In the run up to the launch of the War against Terror in Afghanistan, hardliners in India pushed for India to emulate Americas unilateralism in dealing with Pakistans sponsorship of terrorism in Kashmir. But what a global hegemon can do and hope to get away with, a contested regional power, even one with a self-image as an aspiring Great Power, cannot. America's defense budget alone is two-thirds of Indias entire GDP, and for that reason what the US military can do, Indian military cannot, and should not ever hope to.
Lesson Two: Pakistan is not Iraq : Unlike in Indian hawks' imagination, Pakistan is a considerably robust state, not one debilitated by a decades-long sanctions regime as Iraq was. Further it has a proud and professional army that owes allegiance to the State. unlike the much-hyped Republican Guards. Assuredly the US would not easily pick on Pakistan as an adversary, even in the implausible scenario of a jehadi state with nuclear weapons. Secondly, the last time India had the liberty of working with the likes of the Peshmarga was with the Mukti Bahini. It is well known that contesting Indian hegemonic designs and Kashmir are two themes that serve to unite Pakistanis. There are credible reports of three million Kalashnikovs having leaked from the Afghanistan pipeline in the 1980s into Pakistani civil society, accounting partially for the instability that besets it. If Maj Gen Qureishis obfuscation over President Musharrafs usage of unconventional to mean guerrilla fighters, rather than nuclear weapons, is to be taken seriously, there is little doubt that suppressive firepower by an invading Indian army would lead to heightened collateral damage, thereby starting a vicious cycle. Lastly, while India can scarce run its own side of the LC competently, it is hardly likely its very own General Jay Garner will do any better a job on the other side.
Lesson Three: Limits of Geography Replication of the military campaign conducted in the Tigris-Euphrates basin in the Indus basin is unthinkable. The Iraq War involved a wholesale air campaign complemented by a ground offensive based on mechanized forces making sweeps reminiscent of the Wehrmachts Blitzkrieg of 1940 and 1941. A desert country with a mere 23 million people lends itself ideally to such tactics. However, Pakistan is 145 million strong, with its dense population zones abutting the Indian border. Also, there is the no small matter of Pakistani defenses along the Line of Control, under development even prior to the ink getting dry on the Karachi Agreement of 27 July 1949. To the South, grand sweeps for cutting off Karachi from the Punjabi heartland are possible only in the desert, which is shrinking from irrigation and population pressures. Conditions permissive of Sundarji acolytes indulging their fantasies of dramatic advances into enemy territory do not obtain in the subcontinent.
Lesson Four: Iraq did not have nukes That the aftermath has not revealed any Bomb-making factories of consequence nails the propaganda lie that served as justification of the war in Iraq. The fact is that in the subcontinental context there will be no equivalent objectives as Um Qasr, leave alone Basra and Baghdad, which are not covered by the Pakistani nuclear umbrella. While the US could race for these objectives fully knowing that Iraq has no WMD as deterrent, India would be foolhardy to do likewise. The argument for importing RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) technologies and Air Land Battle concepts is based on the understanding that there exists space for conventional war, euphemistically limited war, in the subcontinent. This has been disproved by the fact that the mobilization of last year was not converted into a military campaign from reportedly being at least twice on the cusp, in early January and early May. That rhetorical nonchalance is practiced by the two states as a coercive strategy indicates that the two states do factor in the post-Pokhran reality.
Lesson Five: Preemptive Strikes versus Preemptive War! The US resorted to preemptive war, in violation of the UN Charter Article 51 that envisages measures by members only in self-defense in face of an armed attack. India has indicated that it has a stronger case for preemptive strikes against Pakistan than the US had against Iraq. India was careful to use the term strikes that could range from use of Special Forces to the Air Force. While India can do this in order to forestall infiltration, it has resisted from doing so not on account of any exaggerated respect for the international order but from the prevailing military situation in the most heavily militarized region on earth. The fact is that India has been indulging in lower order and ineffectual preemptive strikes by its artille, which is more respectful of the status quo. Preemptive 'war' would not have been legally sustainable in the Indian case, since Pakistan is not about to launch an armed attack on India requiring pre-emption. Alternatively, Pakistans proxy war can be deemed an ongoing provocation amounting, cumulatively over the past dozen years, to an armed attack warranting measures in self-defense. Thus a better case would have been resort to armed force in self-defense, albeit exercised with armed attack being extensively defined and without exhausting the possibilities for peace furnished by the UN.
To bring about an enlightened public consciousness regarding security needs, present day naysayers and professional contrarians require being unapologetically voluble and visible. Tilting at the windmills is now a public duty. Alternative security paradigms privileging individuals, soft power and fresh definitions of security, its object and threats thereto, require to be energetically brought into the public domain from their present location in the academia, the all-too-few liberal think tanks, among activists and NGOs. All this will have to be done in defiance of votaries of CNN-hypnotized armchair strategists, arms lobbies and the armed forces themselves.