It may be possible to reduce escalatory pressure on the Pakistani government by strictly confining strikes to the disputed territory of Kashmir, avoiding a direct confrontation with Pakistani military assets and inflicting very limited civilian casualties.mNevertheless, the Pakistani government will likely face strong domestic pressure—from both the military, radical Islamist groups, and a nationalistic public—to mount a response to an Indian attack. The optimistic case is that confining the strikes to Pakistan administered Kashmir—rather than internationally recognized Pakistani territory—will prevent Pakistan from horizontally escalating the conflict beyond Kashmir, thus keeping the clash from escalating vertically into full-scale war.
Limited strikes on a limited number of targets in Kashmir may prevent a conflict from escalating but, for reasons described above, this is likely to result in military action that is of symbolic, rather than substantive, nature, designed to assuage the anger of the Indian public rather than inflict meaningful harm on terrorist networks. Ultimately Indian military leaders may have to accept, if they haven’t already, the very unpleasant reality that what is essentially a political problem—Pakistan’s continued desire to wrest Kashmir away from India and its army’s pathological hatred of “Hindustan”—may not be amenable to a strictly military solution.
The Indian government has demonstrated an increased willingness to use force in an environment where headline grabbing increases in the Indian defense budget and a high-profile military modernization program are already alarming observers who worry that this could undermine the conventional military balance maintaining South Asia’s “ugly stability.” While on their face these concerns have validity, upon deeper examination, it is clear that, modernizing or not, the Indian military is capable of bringing far less force to bear in a limited conflict with Pakistan than most people realize. As a result, it is unlikely that Indian policymakers would conclude that they can either achieve strategic surprise against Pakistan necessary for a successful ground incursion or carry out highly-effective air strikes with little escalatory risk, each of which is a necessary condition for military operations to be authorized. Consequently, claims that India’s growing military power justifies Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons, lack a firm foundation. South Asia remains an unstable region of the world, but the Indian military is not a source of that instability.
Walter C. Ladwig III is an Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. For a more detailed examination of this topic, see the author’s “ Indian Military Modernization and Conventional Deterrence in South Asia ,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 38, No. 4 (2015) .
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