PM Modi’s ‘strategic restraint’ choice: A virtue or a necessity?

With Uri, has Pakistan crossed that thick red line for India to exercise its military options?

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi | Updated: September 25, 2016 3:06 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI Photo) With Uri, has Pakistan crossed that thick red line for India to exercise its military options? Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this file photo. (PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to his party workers, on Saturday, called for India and Pakistan to wage a war on poverty and literacy to see who wins first. It is an encouraging development, particularly when it comes after the demands for “a jaw for a tooth” from senior leaders of the ruling party following the death of 19 Indian soldiers at the hands of Pakistani terrorists in Uri last Sunday.

War between any two countries, especially when they are both nuclear-armed like India and Pakistan, has to be avoided to the extent possible. But in some exceptional cases, war is truly unavoidable whatever be the consequences. Can anyone argue against the Second World War against Nazi Germany? That would be morally reprehensible, to say the least. Some lines are really thick red lines, and Nazi Germany had crossed one such line.

With Uri, has Pakistan crossed that thick red line for India to exercise its military options? That is a decision the government has to take, and the Prime Minister, as many commentators have pointed out today, has chosen to exercise “strategic restraint”. But was it really a choice? Are we making a virtue out of a necessity?

“Strategic restraint” would be a valid choice if India had a menu of viable military options available to it to choose from and exercise. Realistically speaking, with the risks of conflict escalation between two nuclear neighbours, there are hardly any viable military options available to India. From 2001, when Indian armed forces were mobilised following the terror attack on Parliament, to 2008, when India considered but discarded the option of surgical strikes after the Mumbai terror strikes, the attendant risks of a military response to Pakistan outweigh the benefits.

All Indian political leaders have come to the same conclusion and Mr Modi has been no different. It looks different because of his pre-PM days rhetoric, but like his predecessors, Mr Modi really did not have a choice but to exercise “strategic restraint”. As former R&AW chief Vikram Sood said on Twitter, strategic restraint “is a cover-up” when no “option for strategic action exists”.

Also Read: In PM Modi Kozhikode speech, a powerful case for strategic restraint

The issue at the heart of this dilemma is the political aim of any military action by India. Bodies of a few score dead Pakistani soldiers are fine to satisfy the blood-thirst for revenge in some minds, but they will not stop terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Even a clear victory in the 1971 War, when India facilitated the liberation of Bangladesh, did not change the strategic calculus of Pakistani establishment against India. Prime Minister ZA Bhutto assiduously pursued the nuclear bomb and General Zia pioneered the art of cross-border terrorism — in Punjab, and eventually in Kashmir — under the threat of the nuclear umbrella. It has continued since.

The starting point of any discussion has to be the political aim and the desired end-state of a military response by India. As long as we don’t have clarity on our political aims, we will have to hide behind the jargon of choosing “strategic restraint”. This restraint after Uri is neither strategic nor a matter of choice. It is a burden of necessity.

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  1. F
    Firoz Alam
    Sep 25, 2016 at 9:50 pm
    The best strategic option for PM Modi would be to delete the old tweets of CM Modi aimed at the then UPA govt. Since domestragy is more important to him than diplomatic strategy. stan will not change, so India's strategic restraint will also not change. Does he know the fact now or this was in his knowledge when he was CM of Gujarat. His boastings on India TV and public meetings and rallies all were his strategies to bring the mes round his tall claims. Now he turns apologetic that such things are said unintentionally, should not be taken seriously.
    1. O
      Ordinary Indian
      Sep 25, 2016 at 8:10 am
      Pak leadership is all about absolute exploitation of its people ... it embezzles all the money on name of development and keeps india as a political agenda inside and with finding countries: usa china and s. Arabia. Pathetic!!
      1. K
        Sep 25, 2016 at 1:32 pm
        The reason for Indians tolerance is its religion teaches tolerance.Its religious leaders never speak of spreading their religion.contrary to this,islam teaches how to spread its religion.It has access to every village through masjid.each masjid has religious head.His duty day and night is how to spread Islam.The missage reaches to every Muslim on Friday where they attend;br/gt;lt;br/gt;.Muslim clerics inject poison in to every Muslims mind there.Actually terrorists are being prepared every day in Masjids and Madrasas.
        1. M
          Sep 25, 2016 at 10:25 am
          Sir MODIJI is very mindful and very accurate and very careful when giving public speeches to prevent from escalating violence,----for sure covert operation is all ready in operation,--remember it's going to be a silent,---well calculated and a cold blooded retaliation which will caught s UN aware.
          1. R
            Sep 25, 2016 at 2:41 pm
            A Necessity I suppose.
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