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Difficult Options

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A number of crises have emerged, possibly engineered, as the nation winds up for General Elections. This has put pressure on the Union Government as it has to keep, both, the long and short term perspectives in mind while responding to urgent challenges such as the security situation in Kashmir and the North-East. There are tough decisions that might be imminent, but these could face criticism from the opposition as attempts to influence public opinion in the run up to the polls. On the other hand, strategic measures taken against Pakistan will require getting the opposition on board for them to be credible. It should not be that the possibility of Modi’s ouster encourages the Pakistani establishment to take the initiatives less seriously in the belief that whoever emerges as the alternative will ease the pressure.
It is also important for the present government to have a clear understanding of the path forward. If it does not, it would be better to postpone long term initiatives till after the elections. It is quite a challenge for Prime Minister Modi and, if a strategy does evolve, it will be an indication of his capabilities, in which case the elections are bound to be impacted. The only way the opposition can avert perception damage is to be fully on board with the government on the response to Pakistan. In fact, it could offer some good suggestions in all sincerity. Such solidarity would also get Pakistan to view India’s concerns with the required seriousness.
Pollsters have already begun to predict how armed conflict with Pakistan would affect voting behaviour. This could encourage certain sections in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to pitch for some kind of war. It is expected that the government will be able to withstand such pressure, for war for the sake of war will not do. At the same time, there are a lot of imaginative ways in which Pakistan can be made to hurt, which also would have a positive impact on voters.
International concern over the prospect of war is building up because of the chances of its escalating maybe even to a full-blown nuclear conflict. Experts are fully aware that Pakistan’s war doctrine retains a first-use option, as its strategists believe this restrains India from taking the military option. There is also awareness of the support Pakistan receives from primarily China and the bigger game that is afoot in the region. The international community, thus, might feel compelled to take a harder line on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. If sanctions are imposed by the UN and other organisations, it is possible that it could assuage sentiment in India and harsher options might not be adopted. The picture in this regard should become clearer in the coming week.