Our national anger, of which we have an unusually large store, should be directed at clearer targets. Before working ourselves into a lather of excitement, which we do all too readily given the slightest provocation, we should be clear in our minds what we are getting angry about.
What did Indian army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor really say that has us so upset? His reported remarks were that India was modifying its military doctrine to include the possibility of a two-front war -- that is, against China and Pakistan. What's wrong with this?
From India's point of view -- and Gen Kapoor, after all, heads the Indian not the Pakistan army -- the possible threat India faces is from China and Pakistan, not the Maldives or Burma. Just as the possible threat we face is from India, not Uzbekistan or Sri Lanka.
If an Indian army chief were not to envisage the possibility of a two-front war, and mull over the means of waging it, he would deserve to be sacked. Just as Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani would be shirking his responsibility if under his watch the Mily Ops Directorate were to ignore the possibility of the Pakistan army being engaged simultaneously on both the eastern and western fronts.
Military planning is not about certainties -- for potential threats by definition lurk in the realm of the uncertain -- but contingencies, about situations that could arise. And one not forearmed, to state the obvious, is foredoomed. Whether India attacks us or not is beside the point. Given our history, and our history of distrust, it's only common sense, not strategic brilliance, to be prepared for the possibility, near or remote as it may be.
It was the Times of India which first reported Gen Kapoor as saying, "The plan now is to launch self-contained and highly mobile 'battle groups…adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours." General Heinz Guderian would have approved. This reads like something out of a Wehrmacht blitzkrieg manual.
And it would be highly surprisingly, and the highest dereliction of duty, if General Headquarters in Rawalpindi were similarly not programmed to take the fight into Indian territory, should hostilities break out, not just in 96 hours but perhaps a bit sooner.
This may be like trying to seize the stars or clutch at the moon but if our war planning is worth anything our sights should be on our mechanised columns, backed by the full might of the air force, to be across the border in fairly quick order should war break out. Armies plan for victory, and rapid victory at that, not attrition or picnic parties.
In any Indo-Pak conflict -- may there never be one again -- we will be the David, or should be the David, to India's Goliath. If we are to prevail -- although I hasten to repeat that may things never come to this pass -- David's path should be ours, boldness and decisiveness our weapons. This is the only way to counter a bigger enemy.
We live in a dangerous environment. Thanks to Afghanistan and the American presence there, and the assorted engines of terrorism brought into being by previous fixations and earlier follies, our region counts as one of the most dangerous flashpoints on the planet. So the luxury of taking anything for granted is not ours. But even as we go arming ourselves against the worst, the least we owe ourselves is to read the minds and words of our adversaries correctly.
After so many years of independent existence we should be able to see things dispassionately. Gen Kapoor was not flaming the fans of war. He was not indulging in war-mongering, which would be silly in the present circumstances. He was carrying out a risk-assessment of the threat that India, to his mind, faces. Yes, he has spoken of better coordination (better synergy, in his words) between the three Indian services. What's wrong with that? Our services could do with better synergy. He has spoken of enhancing India's strategic reach into the Indian Ocean. Had our economy been in better shape, and if we not shown such a talent for making a mess at home, we would have been talking of spreading our reach into the Persian Gulf and beyond. And no one would have blamed us. Now what we have is a nuke capability in jarring contrast to our iron begging bowl.
China is attaining superpower status because of its growing economic might. It became a nuclear power in 1964 but is emerging as a giant on the world stage only now. As India's economy grows so will its great-power ambitions. The answer to this is not to sulk or go red in the face but, to the exclusion of other things, concentrate on our economy. Balancing our accounts is our number one problem, greater even than the threat from the Taliban. If our economic base remains brittle and our begging bowl is the only thing that helps us survive, no amount of military muscle will do us any good or make us look strong.
Gen Kapoor is also being berated in the Pakistani media for having said in November last year, "The possibility of a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a possibility at least in the Indian sub-continent." There is nothing inaccurate about this, else why would we have such a large standing army? If there was no threat of a conventional war with India we would be well advised to disband half our forces and send them home. Sadly, the nuclear overhang has not made the threat of conventional war go away. Wisdom in any full measure has yet to dawn on the subcontinent.
Let's not forget, Kargil was not a full-fledged war engaging the bulk of the armies on both sides. But it was a serious conflict nonetheless which had every potential of getting out of hand, had not President Clinton eventually, at our urgent insistence, helped pull our chestnuts out of the fire.
For the foreseeable future we are doomed to have a touchy relationship with India, unless through vision and statesmanship, of which there are no early signs around the corner, we are able to transcend the dictates of geography and history.
But sixty years on the world stage is a long time to be around, at least enough to leave the apprenticeship of nationhood behind. As part of this growing-up it is high time we learnt to react with calmness to things coming from across the border, even if they happen to be blustery and provocative.
If we cast our minds back to the summer of 1998, India's nuclear tests were followed by some very provocative statements on the part of L K Advani and the like. As a result of those statements, our national morale was said to have been badly affected. Our response eventually, I am sure, was calibrated to the tests and not the statements. But the way this entire situation was played out in the media it almost seemed as if Pakistan was responding to the statements.
Gen Kapoor's two-front war assessment has been read in Pakistan almost as a declaration of war, and everyone responding to it has done so with a mixture of anger and heightened alarm. From Gen Kayani has come this warning: "Proponents of conventional application of military forces, in a nuclear overhang, are charting an adventurous path, the consequences of which could be both unintended and uncontrollable." The foreign minister has been livid as has been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen Tariq Majeed.
Has all this wordiness been necessary? Are we such an insecure nation that a single misinterpreted statement can so unsettle us? If a riposte was necessary, a one-liner from the Inter-Services Public Relations would have served the purpose. Something like, "Everyone is entitled to his fantasies", delivered with an ironic curl of the lips.
Philip, Alexander's father, sent Sparta a message: "If I enter Laconia, you shall be exterminated." He received just one word in answer: "If". When French marshals turned their backs on him in Paris, Wellington merely said, "I have seen their backs before." The cultivation of calm and brevity would improve our tone as a nation.