When push comes to shove, New Delhi has a reputation of always blinking first. No matter what the provocation—terror strikes or blatant attempts to erode India’s territorial integrity— the world, and more importantly, our neighbours, believe India would huff and puff, perhaps indulge in some sabre-rattling, and then offer an olive branch. Again and again.
The reason is simple. In its 70 years of existence, India is yet to draw up a strategic blueprint which clearly defines standard operating procedures to deal with its two clear and present threats: Pakistan, and of course its sugar daddy, China. Which is why despite being a nuclear weapons state, despite having a formidable—even if ill-equipped—military, and despite being a major economic power, India fails to evoke respect, let alone fear, among its neighbours. Which is why even surgical strikes like the one after the Uri terror strike last September failed to deter Pakistan’s constant attempts to keep Kashmir on the boil. The main reason for this lack of strategic vision is the deeply ingrained distrust of men in uniform among the political class. Which is why the Ministry of Defence is manned by bureaucrats who are clueless (and suspicious) about the need for a strategic doctrine. The Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, is manned by one of the three Service Chiefs in rotation, with brief, random tenures, again making it a toothless post incapable of providing strategic inputs when needed.
While this distrust is perhaps one of the reasons that India never had military rule, it also ensured that pesky neighbours kept probing and pushing the envelope. And of late, neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are using the China card to negotiate better deals from India. The standoff with China at Dokalam and the spiralling Kashmir unrest should be a wake-up call for India. After clearly and publicly defining our red lines, we need to be perceived as not just willing and able, but also capable of enforcing those lines.