Saleem Akhtar Malik |
Indian Army releases a video showing the purported destruction, by artillery fire, of a Pakistani post along the LOC. Pakistan Army denies the Indian claim and counters it by issuing a video of its own, showing the destruction of an Indian post. Then, Pakistan’s air chief, after activating PAF’s forward air bases, carries out an aerial sweep of the contested Siachen Glacier in a Mirage fighter aircraft. IAF alerts its air bases.
Pakistan’s armed forces are fighting a war on terror for almost a decade. In this war, they have, particularly the army, suffered thousands of casualties. Then there is the LOC in Jammu & Kashmir, which keeps smoldering almost constantly, causing casualties on both the sides.
Indian and Pakistan armies are playing chicken over the LOC for the last many months. And now the air forces have joined in. Some weeks back the Indian Army claimed that it had carried out a “surgical strike” on militant jump off points in the Azad Kashmir territory. But the Indians had refrained from giving any details or video footage to support their claim. A surgical strike, as we know, is a physical attack on a target inside the enemy territory, aimed at the destruction of men and material. How the attackers had infiltrated, negotiated the heavily mined LOC, attacked the claimed “militant jump off points”, and ex-filtrated, without leaving any trace of their strike, are the aspects of which they have elected to remain quiet.
Pakistan’s armed forces are fighting a war on terror for almost a decade. In this war, they have, particularly the army, suffered thousands of casualties. Then there is the LOC in Jammu & Kashmir, which keeps smoldering almost constantly, causing casualties on both the sides. Whether it is the war on terror or the slogging matches across the LOC, Pakistan Army publicly announces its casualties – it cannot do otherwise. The funerals and last rites are shown on the electronic media and the general public is fully involved. Surprisingly, if Indians were telling the truth about their surgical strike, there were no casualties on the Pakistani side. As I said earlier, the armed forces cannot hide their casualties even if they try to. Despite its many handicaps, ours is the world’s most open society. When pressed by the Indian public, the Indian Army maintained that the surgical strike was, in fact, an “Assault by Fire”, a euphemism for engaging the enemy with artillery and long-range weapons fire. Now, artillery duels and fire with small arms and infantry heavy weapons are nothing new across the LOC. When this writer asked an Indian Twitter friend about this assault by fire thing, he replied that it was nothing more than an eyewash, or words to the effect.
Why is the LoC heating up?
Why this present heating up of the LOC, and huffing and puffing by the Indians? If we look at our neighborhood, we find that India, the aspiring policeman of South Asia, and the USA, Pakistan’s erstwhile ally during the Cold War, is not happy with us despite our pliant political leadership. This has been made amply clear to us during PM Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the enigmatic summit meeting that took place a few days back in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to pay homage to, and express solidarity with President Trump. Whatever his political bungling and personal failings, Nawaz Sharif represented Pakistan’s government at the Riyadh summit. The way he was sidelined, it was a collective insult to the people of Pakistan. By refraining from even giving a passing reference to Pakistan’s sacrifices in the war on terror, and by completely ignoring Indian army’s atrocities against the people of Jammu & Kashmir, Trump, and his Saudi hosts, made clear their displeasure to the prime minister.
If Pakistan Army is reduced to the status of an ineffective para-military or police force, India can emerge as the dominant regional power in South Asia.
Are the Americans and Indians angry with Pakistan’s political leadership? Far from it. They know that many Pakistani politicians prostrate before them and seek their help for coming into power. Since long, the American ambassador in Pakistan has been known as “The Viceroy”. Reportedly, a politician had once told the Ambassador that the parliamentarians belonging to his party were for sale. He had, then, requested the ambassador to help him become the prime minister. Another politician had promised the Americans that, if he were returned to power, will help them to defang Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Then there are the business interests across the border with India. The list is long.
It is the Pakistan Army which the politicians and the foreign powers want to neutralize and reduce to the status of police. The constitution of Pakistan, as it stands today, facilitates a loose federation where each political party has its own turf for wheeling and dealing. One can see it by having a glance at the present political set up where each political party has created its fief in one of the provinces. The fate of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is hanging in the balance because of yet another political party, an ally of Nawaz League, wants to turn FATA into its hunting ground and staging area to blackmail both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Interestingly, if a law and order situation is created in any one of the provinces, the center has no power to declare an emergency.
Why does a toothless army suit America and India? Since 9/11, US has a presence in Afghanistan. It knows that, like in Vietnam, it cannot win the war in Afghanistan. Yet, it continues to pump troops and material into this “graveyard of civilizations”, because it cannot get rid of its mania of reshaping the world in its own image. Whereas Pakistan Army has almost rooted out terrorism from the tribal areas under Pakistan’s jurisdiction, Afghanistan continues to burn. America thinks that Pakistan Army is the culprit. Nothing could be a greater compliment to the Pakistan Army.
To tame the Pakistan Army, and counter China in the Asia-Pacific region, America is propping up India as its regional satrap. But India has a psyche of always “sitting on the fence”, as it did during the Cold War. It has its own ax to grind. If Pakistan Army is reduced to the status of an ineffective para-military or police force, India can emerge as the dominant regional power in South Asia. Clipping the army’s wings will result in relegating Pakistan to Finland versus the erstwhile Soviet Union- a country whose national interests will be subordinated to the American and Indian strategic objectives. Such an arrangement will make it possible for the Pakistani politicians to rule, like the Indian Maharajas under the British Raj, their respective fiefs while playing second fiddle to India. India will have an overland route for its trade with Afghanistan and, thence to Central Asia and Europe, without any quid pro quo to Pakistan.
Except for the active army reserves, India nowhere enjoys a 3:1 superiority. Its superiority in critical forces is thus not enough for forcing a decision on the enemy.
What about China? India has its eyes on Gilgit-Baltistan. But any Indian attempt at capturing this strategically vital region, in case Pakistan Army is neutralized, will be fiercely contested by China.
The situation is ripe for a war. Let us see if America and India can remove the thorn in their flesh – the Pakistan Army.
How will the war hold out?
The writer has explained, in an earlier article, in detail, that India cannot win even a conventional war with Pakistan. After the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament, resulting in a year long and an inconclusive standoff between the two armies, the Indian Army had mulled over a new army doctrine – Cold Start. This doctrine calls for a quick punitive operation through a shallow penetration inside the enemy territory in response to enemy crossing a declared red line, causing destruction to enemy’s men and material, followed by a swift withdrawal, thus denying the enemy time and excuse to retaliate.
Apparently, it is a reactive doctrine and not one of pre-emption. However, like the 1971 War, it aims at creating conditions where Pakistan would be channeled into a situation to be used as an excuse for a military action. Pakistan responded to the challenge by developing tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs). It also repositioned its strike formations still closer to the border areas from where they could be launched with minimum reaction time. For example, 6 Armoured Division, Army’s reserve north, was moved from Kharian to Gujranwala. Likewise, the Corps reserves were also mechanized to deal more effectively with a surprise onslaught. This is the reason India has recoiled from the Cold Start doctrine and feels insecure with its policy of “No first use” of nuclear weapons. It is trying to put pressure on Pakistan through the United States either to abandon the Full Spectrum Deterrence (FSD) altogether or curtail its nuclear arsenal.
The Jammu & Kashmir dispute refuses to die. It has lingered on as a dysfunctional conflict, breeding frustrations and creating an overall hostile environment in the Subcontinent.
The entire debate revolves around bypassing Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence regime and striking it in a region where it is weakest- the conventional asymmetry. Let us investigate this myth. For the purpose of comparison, we will consider only those forces which will play a decisive offensive role in a future war, i.e., armored and mechanized formations, combat aviation, parachute forces, air forces, and navies. A comparison of the critical forces is given below: (Source: www.globalfirepower.com)
|Indep Armd Bde
|Indep Mech Bde
|Cbt Aviation Sqn
|2 (3rd bde under raising)
|1.6: 1 in India’s favor*
|* lowest ratio since 1947
|1.5:1 in India’s favour
|2.3:1 in India’s favour
|2.2:1 in India’s favour
Note: The ratios slip further against IAF when PLAAF is also taken into account.
|*Without ATAS and LRSAMS
|*25x frigates, destroyers, and corvettes are without ATAS. All surface combatants are without LRSAMs
|Mine Warfare Craft
Note: The avowed area of operations of IN stretches from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca. It also has ambitions to maintain a naval presence in the South China Sea. PN has to defend its shoreline and SLOCs only.
Read more: Why war with Pakistan — is not an option!
Except for the active army reserves, India nowhere enjoys a 3:1 superiority. Its superiority in critical forces is thus not enough for forcing a decision on the enemy. Indian superiority in armored divisions and RAPIDs has been matched by the combined combat power of Pakistan’s 2x armored divisions and 2x mechanized divisions. Pakistan Army also has more independent armored and mechanized brigades, SP artillery and parachute forces. There exists parity in attack helicopters. We also have to take into account Indian deployment against China. Do we really think that the Indian Army is capable of “slicing” Pakistan? It rather implies that the Pakistan Army can defeat an Indian armored onslaught without the use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs). However, Pakistan will still keep the tactical nuclear option open for three reasons-:
- To keep Indian political and military decision makers guessing.
- Pakistan considers India’s declared nuclear doctrine a hoax aimed at hoodwinking the world at large and portraying India as a peaceful country threatened by its belligerent neighbor. Notwithstanding India’s “no first use” declaration, Pakistan believes India will launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against Pakistan whenever it finds it feasible.
The Indians always come up with the excuse that had the 1965 war been allowed to prolong for, say, another two weeks, Pakistan Army would have been defeated. They give the same excuse in case of the first Kashmir war.
Talking of a nuclear war, discussion on a future nuclear war hovers between fact and fiction. We cannot make an accurate forecast about a post- nuclear exchange scenario in the context of India and Pakistan because such an exchange will not take place in a linear fashion but unfold in multiple dimensions. However, targeting the enemy with a single nuclear bomb will paralyze the decision-making apparatus of both these countries. Most likely, the central governments will cease to exist, or hide in their nuclear-hardened bunkers and, depending upon their staying power and the strength of their nerves; the military will continue fighting isolated battles. Then, before launching the second strike, both the sides would look for an excuse to draw in the U.N. and the world powers.
The writer draws his conclusion about a likely nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan from what General Sir John Hackett (1978), in his book “The Third World War”, had written about a conjectured nuclear war between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces which breaks out in 1985. The war is brought to its conclusion when the Soviet Union launches a nuclear missile strike against Birmingham, England. The U.S. and Royal navies retaliate with a joint nuclear strike on Minsk, which results in the unraveling of the Soviet Union. And that was when the belligerents were superpowers. So, cooler nerves are required before unleashing a mutual hara-kiri.
Having said that, the Jammu & Kashmir dispute refuses to die. It has lingered on as a dysfunctional conflict, breeding frustrations and creating an overall hostile environment in the Subcontinent. The problem with a dysfunctional conflict is that it creates inertia which sometimes needs to be broken through violent means. Breaking the inertia was the main motive for Pakistan to move forward in 1965.
The Indian Army, after its claims of launching surgical strikes, did not buy any takers even in India, is now spoiling for a limited conventional war with India, a la Cold Start. As explained earlier, Pakistan Army, over the years, has prepared itself for fighting such a war. Unlike the 1965 War, Kashmiris have risen in revolt. Pakistan need not send infiltrators in the Valley. The army will maintain a defensive posture all along the LOC, the Working Boundary, and the Radcliffe Line while holding the strategic defensive balance with its armored, mechanized, and airborne forces.
If India wants to wage a war against Pakistan, it should be prepared to pay the price in the form of men and material. The Indians claim that during the 1965 War they stopped short of Lahore because, by their own admission, they did not want to get embroiled with Pakistan Army and para-military forces in the city and its environs. But then you do not attack with a superior force, yet avoid suffering casualties. General Chaudhuri, Indian Army chief during 1965 War, claimed that during the war Indian Army’s aim was to destroy Pakistan’s war machine instead of capturing territory. We know that Chaudhuri was giving a lame excuse because the destruction of enemy forces and equipment requires superiority in the air, armor, and artillery. IAF possessed more aircraft than PAF but failed to translate this superiority in the air. It was because, according to Shukla (2014), PAF’s qualitative edge and superior training evenly matched IAF’s numerical superiority. Indian armor was quantitatively and, to some extent, qualitatively inferior to Pakistani armor, and during the war, only Pakistan had 155 mm heavy artillery. Yes, India had more infantry formations and we know that infantry is essentially employed not to destroy the enemy but to capture and hold ground. The situation is not much different this time.
In 1971, the outcome of the war in the eastern theater was foretold. A beleaguered eastern command of Pakistan Army, cut off from its logistics base in West Pakistan, devoid of air cover, with hostile population breathing down its neck, fought for more than a year.
The Indians always come up with the excuse that had the 1965 war been allowed to prolong for, say, another two weeks, Pakistan Army would have been defeated. They give the same excuse in case of the first Kashmir war. That both these wars ended in a stalemate was not due to India’s magnanimity or improper appreciation by their civil and military leadership. Nor were they pressurized by the external powers. It was because, like Pakistan, their military machine had also lost its steam. In 1965, Shastri had asked General Chaudhuri if he could continue the war for some more time. It was Chaudhuri, who buckled.
In 1971, the outcome of the war in the eastern theater was foretold. A beleaguered eastern command of Pakistan Army, cut off from its logistics base in West Pakistan, devoid of air cover, with hostile population breathing down its neck, fought for more than a year. The declared war did not start in December, but November 71, when Indian Army launched an all-out offensive against East Pakistan. Till it was the fighting in East Pakistan, it was fine with India. But they were not sure about the outcome of war in the western theater. In the west, Pakistan had held its hand and kept its powder dry. PAF was still a potent force, so was the army. And Pakistan Navy still had three submarines. Most of all, there was no friendly population and Mukti Bahini to augment the Indian war effort. Indians should think twice before launching aggression against Pakistan. Their army has been tied down in J&K.
The writer again advises India to take it cool.
Saleem Akhtar Malik was a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army. He holds an honors degree in War Studies, an MBA and an M.Phil in Management Sciences. He is the author of the book Borrowed Power. He is a senior analyst at Command Eleven. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.