On July 26, Indian Defense Rajnath Singh, during a visit to Drass in Indian-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K), haughtily claimed that if required India would cross the Line of Control (LoC) – a term used to describe the heavily militarized line that divides the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) between Pakistan and India.
Exactly a month ago on June 26th, Rajnath Singh had bragged that India wouldn’t have to do much to militarily seize Pakistan-administered Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K).
The two statements are part of the broader bellicose rhetoric that India’s top political leadership continues to peddle vis-à-vis Pakistan. Taking a cue from their civilian bosses, the Indian generals have also made tall claims about only waiting for political approval to execute a military operation breaching LoC. Although hollow bombast continues emanating from New Delhi year round, close to important polls in India, it becomes more recurrent and acrimoniously belligerent.
Claims to grab hold of GB & AJ&K using military might be hallucinatory, to say the least. Despite the obvious conventional edge, India lacks the offensive military capability to wrestle GB or AJ&K from Pakistan. To add is the redeployment of India’s ground forces along the border with China, which has eroded to some degree India’s military edge along the border with Pakistan. Given the unfavorable military environment, the lofty claim of seizing GB or AJ&K isn’t more than hollow chest-thumping. The false bravado is likely an appeal to the Hindu nationalist support base of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to stir jingoism at a time when national elections in India are just months ahead.
Nevertheless, dragging precarious foreign policy matters into domestic politics couldn’t be without foreign policy ramifications and if the unwarranted dragging is done by none other than the person holding the Defense Ministry, the ramifications are likely to be profound and lasting.
Rajnath Singh’s latest statement evoked a strong response from Pakistan, which reminded its Eastern neighbor that it is “fully capable of defending itself against any aggression” and urged Indian leadership to stop dragging Pakistan into India’s domestic discourse.
While the void claims to take GB or AJK significantly add to regional tensions, the Indian designs to cross LoC and hit some imaginary targets is a congenital recipe for disaster. Narendra Modi and his right-wing aides fail to acknowledge the risk of escalation intrinsic to militarily crossing into the territory of a nuclear-armed neighbor, even symbolically, let alone causing some significant damage. To add is the delusional mindset of Indian military leadership premised on the belief that military power can be used under the nuclear overhang without escalating into full-scale conflict. Alternatively, the calculations of Indian military planners are premised on the belief that attaining escalation control against Pakistan may be possible.
If the Pulwama crisis provides some clues, Pakistan displayed the political will and the military capability to respond to limited Indian attacks. In fact, via Operation Swift Retort, Pakistan Air Force established aerial supremacy over its Indian counterpart, which should be enough to scuttle the Indian military leadership’s misplaced belief about attaining escalation control against Pakistan. However, the electoral dividends for the Modi regime of nuclear brinkmanship vis-à-vis Pakistan outweigh the risks intrinsic to such a roguish stratagem. Ironically, the strategy worked for Modi in the 2019 national elections: despite the embarrassments of two of its aircraft getting shot down, a helicopter caught in the fratricide resulting in the death of six military personnel and a captured pilot taking sips of fantastic tea in the enemy’s custody, Modi’s BJP in connivance with notoriously warmongering Indian media was able to stir enough anti-Pakistan jingoism to sweep the polls winning a landslide victory.
The chest-thumping by Indian Defense Minister also appears to be the preparation of the ground to stir anti-Pakistan jingoism just a few months before the upcoming national elections in India.
In a replay of 2019, Modi has once again failed to deliver on his grandiose promises to bring economic turnaround, and faces a challenging electoral environment with more than two dozen opposition parties rallying to oust the divisive populist from power. Against the backdrop, stirring religious fervor and anti-Pakistan jingoism remain Modi’s two most viable refuges. It, however, remains to be seen whether the Modi regime would attempt a military venture across the LoC or would rely only on verbal bellicosity to woo voters.
Thanks to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-facilitated 2021 agreement to observe the 2003 ceasefire accord, a state of cold peace prevails between India and Pakistan along the long volatile LoC. However, the incendiary rhetoric from the Indian civilian and military leadership and the resulting war of words amidst an already precarious regional environment significantly add to the simmering tensions between the two countries and risk imperiling the cold peace with the ceasefire agreement potentially becoming the first casualty.
The Author works as Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad. He is an alumnus of the National Defence University Islamabad and has previously worked for the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the Pakistan Council on China (PCC). His areas of interest are Global Affairs, with a focus on Great-Power Politics, Programs & Policies of Nuclear Weapons States, Semiconductors’ Politics, and Emerging Military Technologies. He tweets @HamdanKhan08