Monday, February 25, 2019

Audience Costs in the Indo-Pak context

As both the BJP and the Pakistan Army are very keen to project an image of being super tough and hard line on security issues - we are now enmeshed in yet another high visibility drama where both these groups try to establish their dominance in their respective spaces.

For the Pakistan Army - the story is pretty clear. In the days of old when India only had fission weapons and rudimentary delivery systems, there was no cause for excessive fear. Pits were separate from packages and there was a two to three day lag before a sudden strike could materialize. As long as the Pakistan Army demonstrated a faster mating ritual (i.e pits to packages and packages to warheads) there was a meaningful sense of deterrence. But after 1998 it has changed. India's demonstration of FBF designs meant that if India decided to weaponize those designs, there could be no way to de-mate the pit from the package. The DAE was careful in 1998 to repeatedly signal that the Shakti-I device was simply a capability demonstration and not a fully weaponized configuration, but a lot of water has flown down the Indus since then. Today with Modiji announcing a "deterrent patrol" of the Arihant to the world, the Pakistan Army is left wondering what if any meaningful deterrence exists - for on a nuclear submarine where the entire platform is canisterized - there is no question of keeping the pit separate from the package even if it is a simple fission weapon. Then there is the deeper issue of India's growing capabilities in INS & Remote Sensing. That stuff has resulted in improvements in OAR for India's platforms. Can a small, technologically underdeveloped nation with serious problems of religious extremism be expected to lift such a heavy load? It stretches the imagination. So clearly the idea of a viable deterrence becomes shaky in its own right. (This is without getting into arrant nonsense about staged TN devices popular among India's Gigaboomer crowd). It will be hard to keep pretending that the Pakistan Army is still the big dog if they can't be seen to be holding back India.

For Modi again - it is clear - his whole rise to power was based on his Hindu Hitman image. He was the guy that everyone believed would kill all the Muslims and restore the purity of the Indian lands. Now granted that didn't quite turn out like that yet, but at least Hindu RW mobs can slaughter Muslims in the name of cow-protection and as long as the IT Cell keeps boosting violent behavior, it should all fly with "public" opinionv(i.e. upper caste) which is at best apathetic to the plight of the poor. But with all the money he took from his billionaire friends (and repaid thru demonetization and NPAs) - he was just barely able to win. Sure the numbers look big in the Lok Sabha but down at the constituency level, it tells a very different story and after the failed demonetization, a strong sense of anti-incumbency set in. Also Modi was never popular in Nagpur, they always like Gadkari more. Now if Modi cannot secure the same number of seats in 2019, he will have to step down and Nagpur will use Gadkari's strength to build a working alliance. This doesn't work for Modi - and even if he wants to resign and go to the Himalayas like he did when he was 10, Amit Shah and the "donors" don't want this. Not everyone wants the citizenship of Antigua. So without a major reinforcement of the Hindu Hitman image for Modi, it will be difficult to guarantee Prime Ministership.

So with this latest crisis over Lethpora, both groups - Pakistan Army and Modi face significant audience costs. Normally one could stage a little drama like Uri where Modi looks like he is a tough guy to his base and the Pakistan Army can act like it defended Pakistan from a big Indian threat. And then Doval's son and his Pakistani partner can keep doing business as usual. Even the ISI would play along with that.

But there is a problem, since the cost horizon is so close for Modi (he can't win elections without this), the ISI will be disinclined to be cooperative. And then there is that media situation where misinformation propagates very rapidly.

From an outsider perspective - one sees a runaway process where Modi keeps upping the ante hoping for electoral returns, and the ISI which can't tell the difference between a theatrical performance and the real thing reciprocates in hostile fashion.

The situation escalates and with each step the audience costs rise for both sides.


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