Thinking Through War

A book that helps you ask the right questions about the Indo-Pak conflict.

Written by Sushant Singh | Updated: October 8, 2016 1:03 am
india, pakistan, indo pak conflict, india pakistan conflict, not war not peace, book review, uri attack, baramulla attack, surgical strikes, indian express book review, india news Not War, Not Peace: Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism.

Book Name – Not War, Not Peace: Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism

Author – George Perkovich & Toby Dalton

Publisher – Oxford University Press

Pages– 695

The authors of Not War, Not Peace couldn’t have timed the India release of their book better. Perkovich was in India immediately after the Uri terror strike which led to the death of 19 soldiers, and even as he argued that there was a low probability of New Delhi ordering a ground-based military operation against a nuclear-armed Pakistan, the Indian army launched “surgical strikes” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

These events, however, do not take anything away from the value of the book which is analytical in nature and does not come with any definitive recommendations. For example, it identifies four objectives for any Indian military action: first, satisfy the domestic political-psychological need for punishing Pakistan; second, motivate Pakistan to act decisively against terrorists; third, deter Pakistan from escalating the conflict; and fourth, bring the conflict to a close that does not leave India worse off had it not chosen that military option.

In the case of the recent “surgical strikes”, India has met only the first of the four objectives. The domestic political constituency, particularly the core support base of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is satisfied. While it has not motivated Pakistan in any way to dismantle the infrastructure of terror, the fate of the other two objectives is in the realm of the future. The book understands the complexity and difficulty of meeting these objectives, more so when both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon states.

The authors run through the full gamut of options — from army-centric operations to limited airborne operations to covert operations — which can meet these objectives. After considering changes to India’s nuclear doctrine and non-military options to motivate Pakistan, the authors tentatively predict that India could respond to the next terror attack by launching largely symbolic air strikes in PoK, and undertake covert operations to target a top militant leader. The closure of airspace in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan after the Uri terror attack lends credence to the viability of the symbolic air strike option, an option seriously debated for over 15 years now.

While those seeking neat and easy solutions will be disappointed, anyone interested in creating a structural framework to think through the vexed problem will find the book helpful. What would be an Indian military action that forces Pakistan to act against terrorism without breaching its red lines for using a nuclear bomb? The Indian army going 10 kilometres into the deserts of Sindh would not be a strong enough incentive to force Pakistan to act against terrorists, but a similar incursion in the plains of Punjab, which threatens Lahore, is likely to cross the Pakistani red lines for using nuclear weapons. As India has learnt repeatedly after terror attacks in this millennium, if nuclear weapons prevent conventional wars, they also allow the weaker adversary to wage sub-conventional wars under the nuclear umbrella.

The alternative for India is to initiate limited military action under the nuclear umbrella, but it doesn’t coerce Pakistan to act to eradicate terror. Although it satisfies the domestic political constituency, the action carries a severe risk of Pakistani retaliation leading to an escalation which neither side can control.

Uri may soon be forgotten but the next terror attack will be a huge challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: does he act even more strongly to fulfill the expectations of his angry supporters? Or does he try and convince his supporters that without tools for full-spectrum escalation, dominance and war termination, India is better off playing a longer game — of economic growth without risking a war? Or does he choose to hit and talk at the same time, without losing control of the situation? Not War, Not Peace may not provide us the answers but it will help us frame the right questions.