In September 2016, we published Not War, Not Peace?, which examines the challenges that India confronts in formulating credible responses to terrorism that emanates from Pakistan. In the subsequent months, scholars and experts from South Asia, Europe, and the United States reviewed the book. Some took issue with particular parts of our analysis; a few questioned whether two Americans based in Washington have standing to perform this kind of scholarship. But mostly the reviews and the general reception the book received were positive and nuanced.1 Not so for Christine Fair’s review, published in the Journal of Politics, which was an unfair assessment of our work.2
Fair recognized that the book’s purpose is to “explore a variety of compellent options” that India might have to motivate Pakistani leaders to prevent terrorism against India, and she writes that “there is much to recommend in this book.” Yet, with one exception, instead of giving readers insight into the analyses and the policy implications for India (or Pakistan), more than half of the review is spent arguing that we underestimate the Pakistan army’s control over terrorist organizations. Indeed, Fair asserts that our “exculpatory language” on this issue is “reckless” and must therefore be part of an effort to “exonerate the state from using terrorism…” This is absurd on its face: the subtitle of the book is “Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism.” This declares with whom we think the problem lies.
Fair may be correct that the Pakistani state tightly controls militant groups conducting attacks in India – this is a point of sustained debate among South Asia watchers. But whether this is the case or not does not change the nature of the policy challenges that India faces and that our book analyzes: what options does India have to change the Pakistani establishment’s behavior? Suppose the government of Pakistan could readily demobilize Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other anti-India groups if it wanted to. The question for India still is whether an armored invasion (envisioned by the putative Cold Start doctrine), or limited air-borne strikes, or covert operations, or a revised nuclear posture and doctrine, or political-economic pressure would be more or less effective at compelling the Pakistani establishment to change, at tolerable levels of cost and escalatory risk to India.
Fair only once engages our lengthy analysis of India’s options, writing that our (widely shared) pessimism about the risk-reward equation for Cold Start fails to account for “the critical role of the international community in keeping this conflict limited.” We did think about this, as have our Indian interlocutors. Perhaps Fair has in mind that the United States would intercede to stop Pakistan from escalating in response to Indian ground operations. But this would not be the only or even the most likely scenario.
Given U.S. concerns about an Indo-Pak nuclear war, Washington’s first objective in this scenario would more likely be to induce Indian leaders to curtail military incursions into Pakistan before Pakistani leaders would be desperate enough to use nuclear weapons. So, a dramatically successful Cold Start campaign, itself unlikely, would still invite U.S. intervention before the Pakistani military was critically threatened. A less-splendid-than-planned ground campaign might also invite U.S. diplomatic pressure on India to stop. This would put New Delhi in a vice, as domestic politics would demand escalation to win a great victory. Fair is welcome to think that threat of Indian armored incursions will compel the Pakistani establishment to end terrorism, thanks in part to international intervention on India’s side, but we encountered no serious person in India who believes this. On the other hand, we did encounter people who contemplate a different international intervenor–namely, China. Both of these points were aptly made by former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran, for example, who argued in reflection on the recent Modi-Trump summit in Washington that “it has always been clear that neither the US nor the international community in general would go beyond rhetoric in punishing Pakistan for its addiction to terrorism. And now the Chinese shield protects Pakistan more effectively than before.”3 While we ultimately think Chinese intercession for Pakistan would be unlikely, it cannot be dismissed, especially in the cyber domain. And this is certainly a scenario that deeply worries Indian strategists.
Although it is difficult to plausibly describe how foreign powers would abet an Indian invasion of Pakistan (even following a big terror attack on India), we assess that many countries could more readily be mobilized to isolate and punish Pakistan politically and economically. Fair says that here we are choosing “arbitrarily” when “India is likely to act alone or in coalition.” But evidence abounds every year, including in South Asia, that states are much more willing to exert political-economic pressure on a nuclear-armed country than they are to join or facilitate war against it. Far from arbitrary, our chapters detail why we think India would be able to muster international support for non-violent compellence, unlike for major military operations in the Pakistani heartland.
These are the sorts of issues our book is about, whether our analysis is ultimately correct or not. Readers might have benefited from a substantial review of this material. Instead, Fair dilates on Pakistani state perfidy, on which she has a long record of scholarship, and then devotes another long paragraph of her review to detail what she writes are three factual errors. Except, she’s wrong in one instance, the second is the result of an omitted adjective, and the third is not a matter of fact but rather of judgment.
First, Fair argues that Pakistan began its nuclear weapon program in the mid-1960s, not directly after the 1971 war with India, as we write. Unless there is new evidence available, this claim is incorrect. She credits then-foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto for beginning Pakistan’s nuclear weapon “quest” in the mid-1960s. At that time, as a civilian foreign minister in a military government, Bhutto did argue for development of nuclear weapons – including his famous 1965 pronouncement that Pakistan would “eat grass” in order to have its own atomic bomb.4 But the generals did not heed his call. It wasn’t until he became president, after Pakistan had lost the 1971 war, that he convened Pakistan’s leading nuclear scientists and engineers and ordered them to produce nuclear weapons at any expense. If Bhutto (implausibly) began the program in the mid-1960s, as Fair accuses of us of failing to recognize, then why did he have to do it again in 1972?
The second factual “error” Fair cites – regarding the date when Pakistan began supporting jihadis in Afghanistan – is a result of narrative concision. We should have written that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted extensive Pakistani support for jihadis there, to denote that Pakistan began supporting these actors earlier.
The final claimed “factual error” is, instead, a matter of analytic judgment. We wrote that “the Pakistani military command recognizes that the state must impose a monopoly on violence perpetrated within and from Pakistani territory.” She argues this is merely a popular canard, belied by the facts. We see indications to the contrary, including in discussions with senior Pakistani military officers who said as much. In any case, if the Pakistan army is unwilling to prevent the LeT or other militant groups from exporting terror, then the Army deserves to be held accountable as the power in the state that is most capable of determining whether and how control over violence will be imposed.
There are legitimate and important debates to be had about how to decode the complex picture in South Asia. Constructive engagement in these debates is important to fostering greater understanding of the challenges posed to the states involved, as well as the risks and benefits of various courses of action. Scholars and analysts should be able to challenge and disagree with each other without resorting to questioning of motive and integrity.
1 We recount the reception our book received in the region in the wake of the September 2016 attack on the Indian Army base at Uri and India’s subsequent retaliatory “surgical strikes,” in an essay for the Herald, available here: http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/01/24/is-pakistan-india-war-just-one-terrorist-attack-away-pub-67783
4 Patrick Keatley, “The Brown Bomb,” Guardian (Manchester)1959-2003, March 11, 1965; p. 10