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From Denial To Coercion

Yogesh Joshi

By Ali Ahmed
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xix 240, Rs. 695.00


Six years after India conducted a series of nuclear tests in 1998, strategy the Indian Army issued its conventional war fighting doctrine called the Indian Army Doctrine 2004. The doctrine, which later came to be known as ‘Cold Start’, drew a lot of attention in the strategic circles. Moving away from its decades old defensive posturing along the international border with Pakistan, the Army now adopted a more offensive approach. The shift was palpable: from deterrence via denial to coercion via offence. The shift is also puzzling because it occurred in a nuclear backdrop. If nuclear weapons bolster deterrence, then offensive conventional military doctrines, prima facie, appear anachronistic.  Ali Ahmed’s The Doctrine Puzzle: Limited Wars in South Asia attempts to explain the above-mentioned puzzle and does that exquisitely. For the author, causation behind the shift exists at three different levels of analysis. The first was India’s strategic environment in the aftermath of the nuclear tests. Under the shadow of nuclear weapons, Pakistan intensified  sub-conventional warfare against India, evident first in the 1999 Kargil war and the attack on the Indian Parliament, a couple of years later. Even when conventionally superior to its western neighbour, the presence of nuclear weapons ensured that India’s response remains limited. India faced a serious dilemma: the presence of nuclear weapons had actually decreased its deterrence potential vis-a-vis sub-conventional threats from Pakistan. To break out of this stranglehold, the need was to create space for limited conventional probes while avoiding a nuclear response. If the strategy of massive retaliation increased the threshold of nuclear use, a limited conventional war could, in theory, allow New Delhi to inflict punishment on Islamabad for its many subversions. The Indian Army Doctrine 2004, therefore, was a response to this strategic conundrum. However, the two operative conditions—nuclearization of South Asia and Pakistan’s support for sub-conventional warfare—were present since late 1980’s. By 1988, Pakistan’s nuclear capability was an open secret. Since then, it was also actively supporting terrorism in Kashmir. Structural reasons pertaining to strategic environment therefore cannot explain the delay in formulation of a limited war doctrine. As the author rightly contends, it is important to open the black box of the state and find reasons within. Here, domestic politics or the second of level analysis comes handy. Availing the analytical apparatus offered by theory of ‘strategic cultures’, Ahmed contends that the coming of the BJP marked a shift ...

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