This column was triggered by a Facebook post by Prashant Hosur Suhas, who teaches political science at the Eastern Connecticut State University. Using data from the democracy mapping think-tank Freedom House, he has made this graph.
What does it show?
It shows that not only does India beat Pakistan in ensuring democracy to its citizens, even the Indian part of Kashmir beats the Pakistani part of Kashmir and, in fact, Pakistan itself by a significant measure year after year, consistently, and without fail.
Then why does the conversation in the media and elsewhere seem overwhelming about lack of democracy in the Indian part of Kashmir?
I asked him that question, and he said this was happening “because of two things: biased media coverage and the confidence with which Pakistani politicians lecture India on atrocities in Indian Kashmir”.
“Data shows no erosion of democracy in India between 2014-2018,” he added.
So, what does this example show? Two things – on one side there is propaganda about Kashmir (the Indian side) that has many layers of psychological warfare that most Indians neither understand, nor counter, and on the other, a clownishly jingoistic bunch are trying to push messaging that has repulsed all but the most ardent rabble rouser. (To emphasise, none of this suggests that there isn’t a problem in the Indian side of Kashmir – it is to suggest that the understanding and messaging on that problem remain inadequate.)
As far as messaging on Kashmir, Pakistan and internal security threats go, Indians often find themselves underprepared and easily overwhelmed. This is why there is little understanding about what India attempted this week, which was, in fact a fairly successful operation of coercive diplomacy. There is also no understanding of this phrase or its meaning in the Indian public sphere.
Here are the facts: a clear timeline of supposed peace moves followed immediately by a terror attack have become a pattern in the India-Pakistan ties in the last twenty years. From Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus ride to Lahore to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif followed by the Kargil war, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement of the Kartarpur Corridor was followed by the Pulwama terror attack.
The facts are that what transpired this week was a case of coercive diplomacy on the part of India which is a theory far away from ‘war mongering’. India must be that rarest of rare countries in the world where almost every action against a perpetually attacking foe is instantly declared ‘war mongering’ in public discourse. This shallow punditry feeds off a debilitatingly raucous range of TV channels that seem to believe that every conflict is a movie set with a hero and a villain.
But in this tepid discourse the task of explaining the importance of coercive diplomacy remains incomplete. Coercive diplomacy is described by theorists Daniel Byman and Matthew Waxman in their influential 2002 book – The Dynamics of Coercion - American Foreign Policy and the Limits of Military Might, as "getting the adversary to act a certain way via anything short of brute force; the adversary must still have the capacity of organised violence but choose not to exercise it". The idea of coercive diplomacy is to act just enough to impact the opponent’s decision-making with a limited use of force.
Coercive diplomacy is neither blunt, nor about going in all guns blazing. It is a signal of intention that needs to be taken seriously. The coercive diplomacy strategy is based on the idea that a signal needs to be sent in the language that the opponent understands that one could influence the future actions of the opponent while using only a small amount of force.
This is exactly what India did – it crossed a significant psychological red line, as I have explained in my previous article.
For an army of its size, one of the largest in the world, India used a relatively small amount of force. It dealt effectively with a setback – a captured pilot – who was freed through international pressure in record time.
And, in the week when all of this was happening, India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj became the first from India to become a guest of honour at the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of Muslim countries where Pakistan is a founding member. The OIC used firm words to chastise India for its air strike on Pakistan after the terror attack – but refused to take back its invitation even though Pakistan boycotted the meet in protest.
All of this it did not by ‘war mongering’ but by coercive diplomacy. For a long time, India believed that some kind of deterrence would work with Pakistan, but it has faced a pattern of incorrigible behaviour for years.
So, it is only fair that India try something else – for instance, the ‘compellence theory’ espoused by Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling which is distinguished from deterrence. Deterrence is building a situation and waiting for someone not to do something (like drawing a psychological red line which, if crossed, there is retribution), whereas compellence is an active threat of punishment which ensures a behaviour change.
It is worth emphasing that none of this is thirsting for war. It is deliberately kept low-key with just enough firepower to affect the behaviour change – a bit like the Indian emphasis after the air strike that it was a ‘non-military pre-emptive’ designed to avoid civilian populations and even Pakistani military installations.
This kind of action is structured to avoid escalation – as far as possible because in a conflict there is always a risk of a misstep. But is the fear of a misstep enough to freeze any action? That is the choice to be made, and no action, or more of the old activities, would mean the usual status quo. This has not served India well – it has not stopped repeated terror attacks, and such attacks have prevented the two countries from expanding on peace negotiations.
It is time perhaps for a strategy to explain all this succinctly to – first and foremost – the Indian people. And no, it can’t be done through a hashtag.