October 12, 2014

South Asia’s Nuclear Precipice


Since 1987, India has toyed with the idea of fighting a limited conventional conflict under a nuclear shadow. Evolving Indian Doctrines since the Brass Tacks to Cold Start have worked on this premise. Pakistan erred and showed the way in Kargil. Ex Indian Army Chief V.P Malik pointed to limited conflicts by confirming that “we were able to keep the Kargil War Limited primarily due to nuclear as well as conventional deterrence”. He went on to say, ““In the future there was greater likelihood of limited wars and they could take place without warning. It is axiomatic; therefore that we are better prepared and maintain a higher state of readiness than hither-to-fore. In the Indian context a limited war could range from the icy heights of Siachin, the world’s highest battlefield to Kargil and the kind of country where Indian and Pakistani troops have been regularly trading gunfire since the eighties.”

This forms the corner stone of Indian strategic thought on a conflict with Pakistan. Indian armed forces have ever since been structured to achieve these objectives. Even if Indians deny their ambitions, their convention and nuclear force structure, military exercises and strategic thinkers affirm to the contrary. With Narendra Modi and his fascist demeanour, it may not be out of character for India to embark on such an adventure.

Recent violations and escalations across the Line of Control and Working Boundary defy strategic logic. From the perspectives of the philosophy of war and conflict resolution, it is senseless. From Pakistan’s viewpoint, escalation is unwanted. It distracts the armed forces from its major purpose, ‘to destroy and dismantle terrorism in Pakistan’. At a time when Pakistan is engaged in a critical phase of War on Terror; while various non-state actors hit back at targets in mainland at will, the question that emerges is; why must Pakistan indulge in a reckless standoff with India it can ill afford? If Pakistan is not doing it, another question arises; whose interests are being served with the rising escalations? Not the least, Pakistan. This leaves a lingering question; who and why?

India thinks to the contrary. Armed to teeth with weapons and technology, a rejuvenated right, the Bharat Versha dream and leaders to can ride the crest of such desires, India sees an opportunity to tame a Pakistan torn by its internal strife. The roots, ebbs and flows of the ongoing violations can be traced back to December 2012. Though downplayed in Pakistan, the Indian politicians, commentators and media have escalated the rhetoric. War drums have reached a new crescendo with the advent of General Bikram Singh and Narendra Damodardas Modi. A new dimension of internally displaced Pakistanis has emerged.

Stability in Afghanistan for a peaceful transition to Ashraf Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah led government and withdrawal of US Forces is crucial to Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism. It is in Pakistan’s interest that all launching areas and sanctuaries in Afghanistan must be eliminated. This needs a strong political and diplomatic arm that works objectively with the Afghan Government and international forces. India has lost an ally in Hamid Karzai.  The international dynamics in the Middle East and rise of ISIS (Takfiri: The Arab sidewinder Nation 9 August 2014) and its likely ingress towards Pakistan warrant that the country must attain internal stability quickly. If not, it will leave gaping holes for exploitation. In strategic terms it translates to writ of the state along the Afghan Border and elimination of terrorist enclaves in the mainland. India eyes these instabilities.

Though the military operations in FATA have been swift and effective, the urge to handle militancy in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan is missing. Sporadic actions by terrorists are on rise and likely to peak in winters. The lack of civilian resolve continues to impose a criminal delay on the stability needed for pre-empting militant forays. One explanation that needs probing is the demi-ally status of certain terrorist out fits (Punjabi Taliban) with the ruling party and linkages of sub-nationalist outfits with a party from Balochistan that also enjoys very warm relations with the Afghan Intelligence. Very recently, a journalist from ARY was assassinated as reprisal for daring to expose these linkages. This situation is what the doctor orders for India.

There is also sufficient evidence that anti Pakistan groups are being supported by Indian Intelligence from Afghanistan.  Some international observers feel uncomfortable that Pakistani law enforcement agencies do not hound the morphing forms of Lashar e Tayyaba (Let, a banned outfit) seen as major supporter of freedom struggle in Kashmir.  India is vociferous in singling out this organisation. In the past, this organisation was accused of close linkages with Afghan Taliban. In Afghan parlance Punjabi Taliban means any organisation headed by Hafiz Saeed. Very recently, Pakistan under intense international pressure put Jamaat Ud Dawa, a welfare organisation headed by the cleric on the banned list. In a bizarre scenario of After Pakistan, these groups are the biggest threat to Indian and global objectives.

This is precisely why the line of control and working boundary figure in Indian calculus. India despite having fenced the entire line accuses Pakistan of infiltrating militants (LeT) into Indian Held Kashmir. Add the re-siting of posts, position for winters and sporadic violence and one has a live line of control vulnerable to escalations at slightest provocations. On the broader canvas, a larger scenario of Pakistan-India-Afghanistan emerges with keen international focus.

Hence the equation; while the Armed Forces of Pakistan seem to be in a rush for internal stability, there are actors that are bent otherwise.

As written earlier, Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani’s (the chief counter terrorism commander) talk at National Defence University brings clarity to the confusion and narratives. He stressed on the need to extend operations to the mainland. He hinted that political issues were impeding action against terror groups in Punjab and Balochistan. It seems that if internal stability is not the priority of the present government, what are its designs (Rigging to sustain democracy, Nation 27 September 2014)?

Internal stability is neither a priority with international actors who oversaw the sham democratic transition in May 2013. As repeatedly written by me, instability of Pakistan is an important plank of international policy to discredit and disarm Pakistan. This means the quadruple objectives of economic degradation, downsizing of armed forces, elimination of pro Kashmir groups and nukes. Though economic degradation is underway, Pakistan Army stands as an obstacle in the way of other three.

To facilitate infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan, India would wish to suck Pakistan Army into the conventional eastern deployment. Every year Karachi and Balochistan heat up in winters.  In Indian calculus, the civilian government is pliable but the army needs to be bloodied and disgraced for its firewall on the Kashmir issue. Loss of credibility and face on the line of control and working boundary would help erode military’s public image and ensure degradation. The media will be used to do the rest.

India is being tacitly approved to militarily escalate against Pakistan. Confronted with an indecisive and pliant political leadership, the intangible credibility of Pakistan’s deterrence built on political will becomes questionable. This raises India’s leeway to raise the ante. The standoff also allows Indian strategists to romance with their ideas of fast moving and manoeuvring tank formations across Pakistan (BrassTacks) and Cold Start Doctrine duly supported by BVR capable air and naval power. Given the Civil-Military Disconnect in Pakistan, Indians reckon they can engage and win a limited military escalation under a nuclear shadow due to strategic depth (South and Andaman Islands), beyond BVR long range high altitude nuclear armed bombers and superior missile defence. The hawks that include Bikram Singh and Modi feel it is ‘now or never’ and will like to keep the window open for the next few months.

For thinkers and readers, the present escalations are to be studied from this perspective. Pakistan is under multi-dimensional threats.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson. Email and twitter:


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