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. Bush’s 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 America’s unilateralism in dealing with Pakistan’s 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 India’s 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 Qureishi’s obfuscation over President Musharraf’s 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 Wehrmacht’s 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, Pakistan’s 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.

Alternative security paradigms privileging individuals and fresh definitions of security require to be energetically brought into the public domain. Institutions of state have to be rescued from vested interests, and the definition of ‘national interest’ freed from contamination from institutional interest.
Lesson Six: Nail them lies! The propaganda war unleashed by the Coalition was unconvincing, even to its own population. Nonetheless, demonstrations in the US and UK against the war were not enough to reverse the decision of their governments, testifying to the relative power between societies and states in today’s world order. In South Asia as well, civil society has not adequately reined in states purporting to act on its behalf. Both states are nuclearised; have been engaged in an armed confrontation in Siachen, along the LC and through proxy wars in Kashmir; survived a major military crisis last year and routinely exchange toxic rhetoric at the highest levels of government. Clearly, civil society requires being sensitized to this, for there is potential catastrophe built in into this overly militarized relationship. Justifications trotted out by security ‘experts’ require to be routinely exposed and contested. Institutions of state have to be rescued from vested interests, and the definition of ‘national interest’ freed from contamination by institutional interest.

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.