After effectively “scuppering” the much-anticipated meeting between the Indian and Pakistani national security advisers in late August, observers noted that the Narendra Modi government had “abandoned” comprehensive talks for circumscribed dialogue. A number of pundits applauded the strong message to Pakistan as well as the patent disinterest in reviving links. The Indian Army followed with a statement that it was preparing for a short, swift war with Pakistan to retaliate if provoked and impose severe costs to bolster deterrence. Both the cold shoulder to talks and the re-brandishing of this “Cold Start” option are intended to signal toughness abroad and at home, but actually expose India to grave vulnerabilities
The danger of such posturing is that any crisis or limited confrontation carries some risk of nuclear escalation. And by severely constraining contacts between key officials, diplomats, and security forces in order to punish Pakistan, India limits channels of communication and institutional mechanisms of dialogue necessary to manage crises, or facilitate a climbdown from militarised standoffs. After all, hotlines offer little restraint without relationships built on direct and ongoing dialogue. It is one thing to talk about using a gun for the sake of deterrence, but quite another to brandish it while the safety is off.
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