Michael KreponNo Peace and No War in South Asia?

George Perkovich and Toby Dalton have assessed the possibilities of conflict between India and Pakistan in a timely book, Not War, Not Peace? Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism (Oxford, 2016). Their bottom line is reflected in the title: India’s confrontation with Pakistan “is neither war nor peace, but rather a chronic contest of wills occasionally punctuated by bursts of violence.” Will the violence remain contained? Yes, if rational actors act on the basis of rational analysis. But there would have been no wars in 1965, 1971, and 1999, and no crises in 2001 and 2008, if rational actors and rational analysis had prevailed.

George and Toby’s book was not well received in Pakistan, where there is great sensitivity about being typecast as the instigator of tensions and conflict, without due regard for Indian misdeeds. Another complaint is that the authors have laid before India a menu of retaliatory choices against Pakistan – as if these options would not have occurred to New Delhi. This book was also not warmly welcomed in India, where advice from U.S. analysts can be viewed as condescending. Such are the hazards of Washington-based NGOs focusing on nuclear dangers on the subcontinent. George and Toby deal with this situation by not making final recommendations, but their inferences can be easily drawn.

India shares blame with Pakistan for the mess created since Partition. New Delhi has not been generous in its dealings with Pakistan, especially over the disputed and divided territory of Kashmir. Pakistan’s military and intelligence services will not let this issue rest. Since the late 1980s, payback usually has taken the form of strikes against Indian targets by extremist groups that have taken up residency in Pakistan. Consequently, war scares on the subcontinent begin with actions emanating from Pakistan; wars depend on how New Delhi reacts.

While George and Toby’s book has been caricatured as being anti-Pakistan, it is actually addressed to Indian decision makers. At the book’s core is a deeply cautionary assessment about the dangers of Indian military retaliation. In the event of another significant attack, this book’s message may well be drowned out by vitriolic social and television media. Strident voices in India carried out a practice run after the September attack on a military outpost at Uri by the usual suspects, to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded – to much national jubilation – with publicized commando raids across the Kashmir divide.

One of the book’s conclusions is that “the two states’ possession of survivable nuclear arsenals makes conventional war mutually suicidal.” Short of victory, what would constitute an advantageous outcome for India? One that, in George and Toby’s estimation, would “leave Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders and institutions with the motivation and sufficient capabilities necessary to control anti-Indian terror organizations.” (Italics in the original.)

Successful retaliation, would, in the authors’ view, accomplish the following objectives:

  • Satisfy a “domestic political-psychological need for punishment”;
  • Motivate Pakistani authorities to act against extremist anti-India groups;
  • Deter Pakistani authorities from escalating conflict in reaction to India’s punitive moves; and
  • Bring the conflict to a close in ways that do not leave India worse off than before it began.

For purposes of analysis, George and Toby posit five “ideal-type” options that Indian leaders might contemplate to achieve these objectives. (In reality, they understand that hybrid choices are available.) Option one is army-centric “Cold Start” operations. Option two is limited air strikes. Option three is a symmetrical response utilizing sub-conventional warfare and covert operations to foment insurgency in Pakistan. Option four is enhancing India’s nuclear capabilities and revising its nuclear doctrine to complement conventional options, thereby dissuading Pakistan from escalating across the nuclear threshold. The fifth option is a combination of Indian strategic restraint, as was the case after the 2001 Parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai attack, combined with a strategy of “non-violent compellence” via diplomatic means to “isolate and punish Pakistan economically, politically, and morally.”

George and Toby pour cold water on Cold Start, a doctrine to which the new Indian Army Chief has expressed fealty. In their view, army-centric warfare is a poor way to engineer the objective of giving civilian leaders in Pakistan a leg up in policy making over the Pakistan Army. (This objective would require a decisive win on the battlefield, which would, in turn, invite mushroom clouds.) Another limited conventional war – this time initiated by India – could well end in stalemate, which would be deemed a victory by Pakistan. It would also strengthen links between Pakistan’s military and intelligence services and extremist groups. Moreover, this option is conducive to escalation, leaving India worse off than before resorting to a clash of arms.

The authors are also skeptical about the net effects of the air-power option. Air power alone rarely accomplishes strategic gains, let alone the more modest tactical objectives against which success might be measured on the subcontinent. The air-power option also invites escalation. The authors’ bottom line is that, “the surface attraction of limited, precise airborne strikes is offset significantly, if not equally, by risks and [Indian Air Force] inadequacies.”

As for covert operations directed against Pakistan, the authors reason that they are “the most proportionate and least escalatory policy for India to pursue.” Employing this option would, however, forfeit India’s high ground as being the victim and not the perpetrator of terrorist acts – once plausible deniability has been lost. Moreover, Pakistan may have stronger cards to play than India in this domain. As with other options, applying significant pain would invite significant responses. And this option, like those before it, would bind Pakistani authorities even closer to extremist groups.

The authors also have their doubts about the utility of beefing up India’s capability for nuclear war-fighting options to complement conventional military operations, dissuade Pakistan from crossing the nuclear threshold, and to control escalation in the event this threshold is crossed. This option would require nothing less than a significant change in Indian strategic culture, followed by a far more effective and coherent strategy of military planning, procurement, and operational follow through than India has demonstrated to date. And if all of this could be overcome, the dilemma of escalation control would remain.

The fifth option, “non-violent compellence,” built upon UN Security Council Resolution 1373, also faces difficulties. UNSC 1373 was a Chapter VII initiative after 9/11, obligating all states to prevent their territory from being used by extremist groups to recruit, organize, train, fundraise, and carry out attacks. Pakistan is clearly in violation of this Resolution, but retains the protection of China to deflect penalties. Pakistani authorities are quite sensitive about being isolated, and creative ways are available to apply pressure, as noted in this book. To succeed, however, a campaign of non-violent compellence requires Washington’s support and New Delhi’s willingness to negotiate on Kashmir. The authors assess that the risks of non-violent compellence are low compared to other options, but their probable benefits are comparatively limited, as well. Nonetheless, there is untapped potential for New Delhi in this space.

One value of this important book lies in its interviews with experienced sources in both countries. Another is the high quality of the authors’ analysis. They note that, “Pakistan finds itself falling further behind India in all measures of well-being, security, and reputation.” But Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have measured national security in different ways, and pride themselves in being ahead of India in nuclear and sub-conventional warfare capabilities. Consequently, it will be hard to alter the prospects for an intensified nuclear arms competition and an unstable equilibrium on the subcontinent.

The authors anticipate that Modi would adopt a “Chinese menu” approach to the next significant provocation emanating from Pakistan, drawing from options two, three and five. That Modi retaliated to the Uri attack in a lesser fashion with commando raids suggests that he is mindful of escalatory pressures. But escalation will be hard to avoid, depending on the extent of future injuries incurred. The way out of the current mess therefore begins with demonstrable steps by Rawalpindi to prevent sparks that can lead to escalation and war. These steps will not be sustainable unless New Delhi responds with sustained and meaningful diplomatic engagement.


  1. Jonah Speaks (History)

    Nuclear war is a serious risk between these two nations. Options one and four are most likely to lead to nuclear war. Hence, it is wise for India to consider only options two, three, and five.

    Option three (foment more terrorism inside Pakistan) is unlikely to work and removes India from the moral high ground. This leaves options two and five. Option two (limited air strikes) should be used sparingly in response to glaring attacks. Option five appears to require diplomacy rather than unilateral action. Retaliatory commando raids sounds like a sixth option, but I don’t see it analyzed.

    Serious diplomacy by both sides (with outside help probably required) is needed to reduce the nuclear war risk between these two countries.

  2. Tariq Osman Hyder (History)

    In the original book by George Perkovich andToby Dalton , which I read with interest, the Authors, whom I know and like as family friends that we value although we have differences on policy ,had not given much credence to Pakistan’s firm belief that India was mounting a destabilisation campaign through Afghanistan ( and in concert with it allay the Afghan Intelligence Service) in Pakistan’s border regions.UNSC 1373 cuts both ways. This destabilisation has been a longstanding Indian policy dating back to 1947 and support for Afghan irredentist claims against Pakistan. In the first round of the Joint Anti Terrorism talks with India in 2006, I gave the Indian side chapter and verse of some of these then recent attempts and actions including the recruitment by an identified Indian official in Afghanistan of a Pakistani tribesman to mount a bomb attack on the USA Ambassador on Kabul or failing that the Defence Attache to provoke a USA reaction against Pakistan. One would have though that when the authors returned to the fray recently in updating their thesis, they would have mentioned as it probably occurred after they wrote the book of the uncovering in Pakistan of a senior Indian Intellegence operative from India, a serving Naval Officer based under cover in Iran in Charbehar whose task it was to further this destabalisation campaign by supporting certain insurgents and terrorist elements in Baluchistan.It is the prerogative of the authors to write a book on 101 ways to pressure Pakistan ostendibly for its own good and that of India but its relevance, credibility and acceptability would require a modicum of balance and recognition empirical evidence across both borders.Ambassador Tariq Osman Hyder

    • George Perkovich (History)

      Tariq, my dear friend, in the past, evidence presented by Pakistan regarding suspected Indian operatives/terrorists was difficult to substantiate. But let us accept that the Indian naval officer arrested for spying was in fact facilitating various misdeeds in Balochistan. Our analysis in the book indicates that this is/would be a natural tactic for India to pursue, and indeed one we expected. We also analyze how the tactic could be relatively less risky than other responses to Pakistan-based terrorism. At the same time, we suggest that the conduct of covert operations, especially violent ones that harm civilians, could have negative effects on Indian interests. The book also recounts what we could learn about the history of Indian conduct of covert operations in Pakistan. We recognize any empirical evidence we see, and have no qualms about saying that India would increase covert operations. It’s an obvious thing to do in response to subconventional campaigns by Pakistan. If Pakistan gets some satisfaction from saying, “see, the Indians do it too,” this also is to be expected. Yet, it doesn’t solve anything. That’s sort of our point, as you know. Take care!

  3. Raymond K (History)

    The late B.Raman noted that Pakistan quickly tuned down the flames in the Punjab when it was paid back in its own kind in Karachi and elsewhere. Until his death he repeatedly said that this is how one negotiates with Pakistan. Interesting that Hafiz Saeed was put under house arrest at the mere whiff of American sanctions, and the threat of infuriating Donald Trump. Amazing all these “experts” who dance around the obvious, and throw a sulk when they are ignored. If terrorism is a priority for India, it should look to how it has successfully dealt with Pakistan in the past. If making Pakistan behave within the norms of responsible nations is important to the US, stop bribing, and start hammering. The generals are rational actors, and are experts at the strategic retreat. Remember how quickly Musharaff folded in front of Armitage, and how well he behaved until the pressure was let off.

  4. Rabia (History)

    India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers in the region, keep alert to each other’s nuclear capabilities. India’s application for NSG membership and its potential consequences will inevitably touch a raw nerve in Pakistan, its traditional rival in the region. As Pakistan is not willing to see an enlarging gap in nuclear power with India, a nuclear race is a likely outcome. This will not only paralyze regional security, but also jeopardize China’s national interests.

  5. Sial (History)

    It is a difficult time for Pakistan to unilaterally go down the route of demonstrables vis-a-vis India when India is being indifferent to Pakistan. Recent attitude includes boycotting the SAARC and then the shutting up of Pakistan’s Advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs in Amritsar when he was there to attend the Heart of Asia Conference. Does that mean Pakistan doesn’t have an incentive in making peace with India? One can doubt it seriously. It would serve Pakistan’s interest to solve all contentious issues with India before India makes it to the bigger league, which will constrain Pakistan’s negotiating space further. Question that remains then is does India currently feel interested in meaningful diplomatic engagement; which is highly doubtful.
    On terrorism, Pakistan doesn’t lack resolve to take out terrorists operating within Pakistan or from Pakistan. It is highly questionable to say that Pakistan benefits from perpetrating terrorism inside India. When there is a genuine struggle for self-determination in the Kashmir valley inside India and serious human rights violations, it should serve Pakistan’s interest to diplomatically bring the issue to international light. So what purpose could it serve for Pakistan to sponsor or aid an attack on Indian military base just a day before its Prime Minister would raise the issue in the United Nations where it is agreed as a contested issue? Practically none! Undoubtedly, Pakistan would have a diplomatic advantage in raising the issue of Kashmir and human rights violations in Kashmir in the UN – an agenda that equally serves the Pakistan’s intelligence as well as government’s interest. Because if one looks at the results of where Pakistan stood after the Uri attacks on the Indian military base, it damaged Pakistan’s diplomatic/political campaign seriously. The whole debate shifted away from Kashmir to that of terrorism, which didn’t serve Pakistan’s interest at all.
    In terms of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, one feels it is a matter of time and not political will in fighting all factions holistically. Further issues that remain to be addressed include how to convince the political parties in committing to decisive action against perpetrators of terrorism in their domestic constituencies; which is one of the less discussed aspect of delayed operations in Punjab region. Would their be a distinction between the groups that are targeted? one feels not, as the armed forces have demonstrated their resolve in not distinguishing between terrorists. Also, one needs to ask if terrorism is a one-sided issue? Is the evidence against Pakistan well-established in perpetrating attacks in Indian territory? There is hardly any hard pressed evidence that came out of the last attacks, and so the debates about sponsorship are not established facts but conjectures made in lack of substantial evidence being made available in open sources. But the response that India made after the attacks has been concerning. This time the surgical strikes were contested in Pakistan as being a hoax, if they weren’t there would be been great public pressure for standing up to Indian actions, which would make crisis and conflict more likely.

  6. Abdullah (History)

    Both countries should try to focus on the core issue – Kashmir. Secondary or tertiary analysis is good but there is no solution without resolving Kashmir issue. Lets suppose India is able to teach Pakistan a lesson by any of the options mentioned in this article. Pakistan loses a war, loses its pride, gets isolated deplomatically, etc., while India incurs no serious damage of any kind. Haven’t we been there already? What next? Does anyone honestly believe that there will be lasting peace after that?

    Indians and Pakistanis will always live next to each other. Alliances, economic or military strength, public sentiment and opinion are variables that will change over short to medium term. Long term peace should be the ultimate goal and both countries should be ready to make hard choices.

  7. Roosh (History)

    The book no peace no war is no doubt a explanatory and thought provoking one but again the emphasis was much laid on Pakistan with respect to arms race, nuclear weapons , cross border tensions, terrorist activities and like wise factors and India was put aside. Though the descriptive book has urged again both states to go for revising the policies diplomacy and peaceful resolution of issues but that effort cannot be fruitful on part of one state only for that international actors like USA must have to play a positive role in bringing both states closer to each other.Whether a war is fought with conventional weapons or weapons of mass destruction, it is destructive.No doubt, nuclear warfare is far more dangerous than conventional war.