India has developed several air defence system apart from the new Quick-Reaction defence system

by Zamir Akram

Pakistan’s offer to India for resumption of the stalled bilateral dialogue was at first accepted but within hours rejected on flimsy and contrived grounds. This was accompanied by a surge in Indian vitriol by their Foreign Minister and Army Chief among others which has derailed the prospects for any bilateral talks in the foreseeable future. Pakistan needs to determine the motivation for such Indian belligerence in order to conduct a realistic policy towards India while protecting its national interests.

The commonly accepted view is that this Indian belligerence is motivated by the need of the Modi government to appear tough towards Pakistan in the build-up to the general elections next year. Beset with a multitude of domestic problems, using the Pakistan bogey is seen as a rallying point to galvanise public support, especially in the BJP’s core support base of the chauvinist Hindutva hordes. This assessment is correct, but it is only part of the problem. There are other serious causes for Indian belligerence.

The failure to control the situation in occupied Kashmir, despite Modi’s resort to unprecedented levels of violence and repression, is also a motivation for hostility towards Pakistan. Using Pakistan as a scapegoat by accusing it of promoting “terrorism” in Kashmir serves as a convenient cover-up of the popular indigenous Kashmiri freedom movement. Repeated firing across the LoC and claims of conducting “surgical strikes” are meant to demonstrate a “robust” Indian response that diverts and satisfies Indian public opinion. In such a situation any dialogue with Pakistan would be contrary to Modi’s rationale for his aggressive policy in occupied Kashmir and generally towards Pakistan.

But the most important motivation for Indian belligerence is a curious combination of both arrogance and frustration. The arrogance stems from the (mistaken) belief that India has now become the preeminent regional power if not a global power. Such self-aggrandisement has largely been encouraged by US policies that are building up India as a counter-weight to China. Due to these geo-political circumstances, Indian hubris has reached a point where they are now even dismissive of their American benefactors — proceeding with the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system and Iranian oil despite threat of US sanctions.

By playing the “China Card”, India has used American largesse to qualitatively and quantitatively upgrade its conventional and strategic military capabilities. This has encouraged India to pursue aggressive military doctrines such as “Cold Start” against Pakistan, envisaging a limited conventional war despite the prevalence of nuclear deterrence between the two sides. Some Indians have also advocated a “Splendid First Strike” against Pakistan that theoretically would destroy all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Some have even boasted of India being able to fight simultaneously on two fronts against Pakistan and China. Such a belligerent posture has been articulated on several occasions by the Indian Army Chief and other defence officials. These statements are undoubtedly encouraged by the Indian leadership because they are politically beneficial. Therefore, the growth in Indian military power is generating a more belligerent Indian policy towards Pakistan. This may not necessarily end even if Modi loses the next election.

Despite the veneer of Indian arrogance and bluster, the reality is not too far from the surface. This generates India’s frustration with China and Pakistan since they have not succumbed to Indian intimidation. Militarily, India is no match for China whose capabilities are now challenging even American military power, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. China is also moving faster than the US in some areas of high-tech and Artificial Intelligence weaponry, leaving India even further behind.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Modi quickly backed down from the potential military confrontation with China in Doklam last year and has since tried to mend fences with Beijing such as during the meeting with Chinese President Xi in Wuhan in April 2018. While still benefiting from American assistance, India has also become far less vocal in endorsing US policies against China as was clear from Modi’s address at the Shangri-La Conference in Singapore earlier this year as compared to the strident criticism of China expressed by American Defence Secretary Mattis. Backing down against China without any tangible Chinese concessions to India, is the underlying reason for Indian frustration vis-à-vis China.

Such frustration is compounded by the reality that even a much smaller power like Pakistan has acquired the capability to neutralise India’s military preponderance, and has succeed to ensure the continuing viability of strategic deterrence. As a result, Indian numerical superiority in conventional forces, its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, triad of delivery systems and development of Ballistic Missile Defence capability, are unable to change the strategic balance in India’s favour. This is due to Pakistan’s policy of Full Spectrum deterrence that deters India at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, by employing strategic and low-yield nuclear weapons, short, medium, cruise and long-range ballistic missiles based on air, land and sea platforms, along with the MIRV capability. Therefore, India’s Cold Start doctrines using its conventional weapons, numerical superiority or its threat of massive retaliation are no longer viable options against Pakistan. Even India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 system together with other American and Israeli systems, which are incompatible in any case, will not prove to be a reliable ballistic missile defence system, especially against Pakistan’s cruise and MIRVed missiles.

In such circumstances, threats emanating from the Indian political and military leadership are not just irresponsible but empty. There is no reason for Pakistan to be intimidated by Indian belligerence born out of arrogance and frustration. While we remain ready for a dialogue to resolve disputes, we need to realise that this is not going to happen any time soon — not until better sense based on realism emerges in India. Even so we must continue to ensure the continuing credibility of our deterrence and not lower our guard.