Will Modi Stop Here?
Under the premiership of Narendra Modi, India hastily reacted to the Pulwama attack by intruding into Pakistan’s airspace on February 26. Not to mention, the incursion was ill-conceived, carelessly planned, unprofessionally executed, and falsely portrayed by warmongering Indian media. On the other hand, Pakistan’s response on February 27 that lead to shooting down of two Indian military aircraft and capturing of an Indian pilot was well thought out, and a measured one. To top it of, the return of the captured pilot by Prime Minister Imran Khan placed a more strategic pressure on India. But what next? One and a half billion people in both the countries are now in a state of uncertainty and fear, while international community continues to monitor actions of two nuclear rivals to accurately predict the most likely scenario.
PM Modi is now left with three options; first and least likely course of action for Modi would be to face the embarrassment of his mindless decisions in the wake of Pulwama attack and forget the whole episode. But if Modi chooses this option, the question remains: would he be able to win back the lost public support for the general elections?
There is no denying that Modi desperately and immediately needs public support to win the forthcoming elections and for that he could resort to propaganda. However, in today’s digitally synchronized world, propaganda campaigns wouldn’t have such momentum as there is a lot of information out in the open. People are already aware of events that transpired after Pulwama attack; be it the India’s alleged attack on ‘Jaish-e-Muhammed’ camp in Balakot or Pakistan’s efforts towards de-escalating tensions. In my opinion, this option has an inbuilt risk of seriously denting Modi’s credibility and can force Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power. In case Modi loses elections, then people would have given verdict in favour of diplomatic channels between Pakistan and India, which is against the very ideology of BJP. Hence, too risky and least likely to be a preferred option for Modi under the prevailing situation.
Second option and most preferably for Modi would be to opt for an operational pause. Under this option, Modi would have to face international pressure considering the blunders he made that lead to the escalation of tensions; however, it could diminish domestic negative impact. But for how long will this pause last? Modi faces serious time constraints as elections are just two months away. Even an incident of small intensity can push Modi to restart the escalation. In this case, India may then respond kinetically and shall inflict damage to an extent where an immediate and at least equal response from Pakistan becomes inevitable. Having evoked Pakistan’s response, India could then raise the escalation to an extent where there is a possibility of a high intensity conventional conflict and then even the international powers would be helpless. Modi can drag this till during the elections to asses whether he could win or not and then may choose to opt out. If Modi feels that tables could be turned in the favour of BJP, he would neither hesitate nor think of any international or domestic pressure and would choose this option.
Third option, which is also probable in view of India’s rash response to Pulwama attack, would be that Modi decides to create reasons for straight out high intensity conventional conflict in a desperate bid to win back public support. India may attempt to evoke a strong response from Pakistan by increasing aggression across the borders in next few days for a short duration of time period.
Whimsically, inconsiderately and unfortunately, Modi believes that India could win any future conventional war with Pakistan irrespective of its magnitude, duration, intensity or effects and this is where root cause of the problem lies. Based on this misfounded perception, Modi may attempt to gain domestic public support in order to win another five-year term for BJP in India using tool of aggression and devastation since his credibility is seriously at stake domestically. How will the situation unravel till India goes into the elections and future government takes charge is still unclear? Situation is likely to remain uncertain, hazy and complex where Pakistan cannot afford to lower its guard politically, diplomatically, militarily and even mentally. Pakistan! It’s not yet over.