Why playing madman can be an advantage with Pakistan

India must turn the tables now.

By Sanjeeb Baruah | Last Updated: Oct 31, 2016, 20:11 PM IST

A madman at the helm of a nation is terrifying, especially when it is also nuclear-armed. But consider this. What if it can be used as a tool to rein in bullies like Pakistan and China! The answer lies in the history books. You will be amazed to find that this trick was used before, and so well that it helped advance foreign-policy goals of nations. Like the game of chicken, the only deciding factor here is who gives in first, or who ‘chickens out’.

At the height of Cold War, Richard Nixon played that role with perfection. He pretended to become insane enough to be capable of doing anything, even dropping nuclear bombs on Kremlin! As the two nations eye-balled each other, the American president told his aide, "You know what I mean is, that shows you the extent to which I’m willing to go."

Nixon and his security advisor Henry Kissinger set the plan in motion in October 1968. They sent their B-52 nuclear bombers rushing towards the Soviet border. The bombers hovered on the boundary for several days, and before long, the Soviets yielded. Kissinger brilliantly essayed the good cop/bad cop routine to convince the Russians that they have a job in hand to stop the madman.

In the recent years, Russia too has played this game well and with fairly good results. For example, after annexing Crimea, even though Moscow didn’t require moving its nuclear arsenals, it made amply clear that any escalation by NATO will trigger a full-fledged military conflict, whose outcome can be far worse than any limited conflict in Crimea, effectively thwarting a NATO intervention.

The Pakistani generals and their cohorts have for long bled India with their persistent supply of cross-border terror – a proxy war which India can’t afford to ignore anymore. Horrific attacks like Mumbai, Pathankot, and more recently Uri have left an enduring scar on the Indian psyche. India, on the other hand, has always acted sensibly despite repeated provocation; hoping wisdom would prevail on Islamabad one day - a self-imposed strategic self-restraint which unmistakably sent out a wrong signal, that of a soft state.

India must turn the tables now. Here, Nixon’s Madman Theory gives an insight to the problem. What if the Pakistanis perceived us as crazy, unpredictable and willing to go to any length? The nuclear hyperbole that Islamabad used against us only very too often must be reciprocated equally, if not on a more magnified scale damaging rant. India can’t allow itself to held hostage by a bunch of illiterate Pakistani mullahs and maulvis.

India couldn’t have imagined playing that role during Manmohan Singh or Atal Behari Vajpayee’s era for reasons best known to it. Imagine Manmohan saying, ‘Will smoke them up’! But under Modi, who appears to be a no-nonsense person, it may very well be possible.