Pulwama brought Kashmir, the world’s most sensitive nuclear flashpoint to the fore! This horrendous Indian faux pas will turn out to be a colossal watershed in the enigmatic geopolitical and geostrategic dimensions of this region. Where it emphatically crystallized the strategic balance between Pakistan and India, it also highlighted the realities of India’s actual and perceived powers. The international community too now has a more than realistic understanding of the strategic environment of the Indo-Pak subcontinent.

Two major strategic concepts, “compellence and deterrence” were fully in play during these eventful days; one by India and the other by Pakistan.

Nobel Laureate Thomas C Shelling described “compellence” as a direct action that persuades an opponent to give up something that is required. Robert Pape however contended that “compellence” depends upon making the enemies feel that their military forces are vulnerable. Other scholars feel that carefully targeted economic sanctions can influence the behavior of other states. In these cases, non-military tools of statecraft assist national objectives. (Wikipaedia).

Deterrence, on the other hand, is a military strategy under which one power uses the threat of reprisals effectively to preclude an attack from an adversary power. These deterrents can be conventional as well as nuclear in nature. An essential element of deterrence is uncertainty - ambiguity - on the part of a would-be aggressor about the time and place of his targets. Nuclear deterrence must demonstrate credible ability to retaliate after absorbing a surprise nuclear attack, in other words have a credible second-strike capability. Furthermore, the will to retaliate must be perceived as a possibility though not necessarily a certainty. (Wikipaedia).

Pulwama was another false flag operation (a la Uri, Pathankot, Mumbai etc) where India targeted Pakistan for international and diplomatic opprobrium, scorn and isolation. The aims and objectives of Pulwama were manifold including winning the elections for BJP and PM Modi. The rider clause however was to primarily establish Indian hegemony in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. They wanted to operationalize their “new normal” whereby they arrogated to themselves the authority to carry out “punitive strikes” against “presumed terrorist camps” anywhere in the region, at will. The Indians have still not realized the strategic connotations of their ill-considered (non) strike off Balakot. Taking the Indian sneak air attack off Balakot as a precedent, Pakistan actually reserves the right to attack and destroy the camps of Indian proxies like the TTP, JuA, IS, BLA, BRA etc who carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghanistan and Iran. Similarly, the various Indian Consulates and offices of RAW & NDS which handle them become legitimate targets for Pakistan! This could become a sordid precedent for other international players too!

Pakistan’s measured response to the ill-fated bombing run on the mountainsides off Balakot, however, put paid to this gross Indian miscalculation and delusional audacity. It was rather presumptuous of them to expect to compel Pakistan to do their bidding on the basis of a failed sneak air attack, loss of two aircraft and their pilots, overall strategic incompetence and a discredited media and diplomatic offensive.

The limits of India’s power were very vividly exposed post Pulwama. The land, air and naval confrontations established Pakistan’s conventional deterrent while the aborted Indian missile strikes on the night of 27/28 February confirmed Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent. Where India failed to compel Pakistan to follow its diktat, it was Pakistan who successfully deterred India from going up the escalation ladder. Where India failed to impose its will on Pakistan, it was Pakistan who got the upper hand and deterred war from a position of relative strength. The real strategic balance in the Indo-Pak subcontinent has thus been established. There can be no Indian compellence on Pakistan as long as it has the political and military will to exercise its more than viable and potent multidimensional deterrents. The validities of Pakistan’s conventional and nuclear deterrents have now been practically tested, verified and established beyond any doubt. The “new normal” at the strategic level in the subcontinent and South Asian regions has thus been laid down by Pakistan!

The world ought to take note!

Indian options are limited. It can either talk to Pakistan or take it to war, defeat it, subdue it, reduce it to rubble and compel it to accept it as the undisputed overlord and hegemon of the region. The first one is not acceptable to PM Modi’s India and the second one is not viable for it. India understands well that Pakistan can more than look after itself in a war fought in the conventional or even the nuclear domains. It also knows that if it were to go to war with Pakistan and even hypothetically speaking destroy its military might, it would itself suffer such humungous losses that all its national ambitions to becoming the regional/extra regional hegemon will be scuttled for good. Its geopolitical and geostrategic aspirations will be set back by numerous decades if not centuries. That is Pakistan’s deterrence at play. That is why India writhes in pain and frustration, irritation and desperation bordering on helplessness when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

Pakistan on the other hand has been able to deter Indian aggression by promising and delivering timely meaningful military and diplomatic responses. Pakistan, which is at the cusp of an economic boom, has successfully avoided war as a national policy!

India ought to follow a win-win, two-pronged approach with Pakistan. In the first instance it must resolve all outstanding issues with it, especially Kashmir. In the second instance it must create a mutual economic stake in maintaining good relations between themselves. That will pacify the subcontinent and the region and most importantly free India up to pursue its and its allies’ regional and global ambitions.

It is not in the interest of either country to go to war. A nuclear power cannot compel another nuclear power to follow its commands. However, one nuclear power can certainly deter an inimical nuclear power. The two can either work together in harmony or clash and mutually destroy one another. The choice is clear: war and a nuclear winter or peace and prosperity!