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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Pakistan’s Power Dynamics

The doctrine owes its evolution partially to Pakistan's inability, as a lesser power, to militarily solve its territorial disputes with India, and partially to a shaky political and military leadership. There are valid arguments both in favor and against how Pakistan's leadership handled Pakistan’s relations with India, its stronger neighbor.

The First Kashmir War between India and Pakistan (October 1947 –April 1949) heralded the birth of Pakistan’s undeclared national doctrine of Borrowed Power. According to this doctrine, borrowed power, in asymmetric power dynamics, is the quantum of the additional power required by the weaker country to offset the superiority of the stronger of the two. This borrowed power will come from a third country if that country is willing to lend it to the weaker country. This implies that the power lender also needs to trade off its power with the weaker state to achieve its objectives.

Whereas no country is absolutely weak, there also is no omnipotent power on the planet. In the power calculus, every relatively strong power has its Achilles heel which if accurately identified by the weaker power, and exploited at the right time, can neutralize the power advantage enjoyed by the strong power. The instruments used to exploit the Achilles heel may be diplomacy, watchful waiting, and even war, in that order.

Read more: Pakistan Politics: Race to the bottom

The consequences of borrowed power

Manipulation of borrowed power by a weak power for the resolution of its dispute(s) with a stronger power can be likened to the “gravity assist maneuver” which, in orbital mechanics and aerospace engineering, is the use of relative movement and gravity of a planet, or any other heavenly object, to accelerate a spacecraft for saving propellant, time, and expense.

The doctrine owes its evolution partially to Pakistan’s inability, as a lesser power, to militarily solve its territorial disputes with India, and partially to a shaky political and military leadership. There are valid arguments both in favor and against how Pakistan’s leadership handled Pakistan’s relations with India, its stronger neighbor.

During the Cold War period, Pakistan borrowed power from the United States to seek parity with India, while India borrowed power from the Soviet Union (and also the United States) to seek parity with China. Pakistan sold its sovereignty cheap whereas the Indian leadership displayed better marketing skills through the enigmatic marketing tool of non-alignment. Pakistan’s membership in the American-sponsored military pacts is well known. That India was also aligned during the Cold War period is generally ignored. During the 1962 Sino-Indian War Nehru requested the United States to bomb China (Galbraith, 1969). China’s unilateral ceasefire was not an act of magnanimity. It feared direct American intervention in the Sino-Indian conflict. Again, the United States was not supporting India because of any moral reason.

There was a strong lobby, comprising both Hindu and Muslim officers of the British Indian Armed Forces, Congress leaders, and the British administration, which was vehemently opposed to the division of the British Indian Army into the Dominion Armies of India and Pakistan. The army officers were motivated to retain the integrity of the Indian Army due to their peculiar background which nurtures institutional loyalty, esprit-de-corps, and cohesion above everything else.

Read more: Senate Elections – Welcome to Pakistan Politics!

Some of them were of the view that an undivided army, at least for a transitional period, would be of great help in overseeing the peaceful and orderly transfer of population when the partition of Punjab and Bengal and demarcation of the boundaries of the undivided provinces were announced.

Mountbatten was also strongly in favor of keeping the Indian Army united, primarily because the Radcliffe Award was to be announced only after partition and he had planned to thoroughly engineer the delineation of the international boundaries in India’s favor. Mountbatten stressed his argument by stating that it would be a minimum of five years before the present Indian Army could be efficient and stand up on its feet without the help of the British officers.

These ideas were rebuffed by Jinnah

Did they owe allegiance to Pakistan Army or the Supreme Command (Under Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck)  was the question that agitated the minds of the senior Pakistan Army officers even when the war in Kashmir was proceeding with full speed? To clear the ambiguity Jinnah addressed the officers at the Command and Staff College on 14th June 1948. He said:

“I want you to remember, and if you have time enough you should study the Government of India Act, as adapted for use in Pakistan, which is our present constitution, that the executive authority flows from the head of the Government of Pakistan, who is the  Governor-General, and therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the executive head. This is the legal position……”

The confusion in the minds of senior Pakistan Army officers about the chain of command, combined with the constraint not to annoy the Supreme Commander lest he withdrew the British officers, were the main reasons the political leadership vacillated in employing the army in Jammu & Kashmir. Presumably, they lacked the self-confidence that the army, if led by Pakistani officers, could fight and win a war in Jammu & Kashmir. Hence the strategy to fight a covert war by relying on irregulars led by army officers ostensibly on leave. Fighting this way was a poor man’s choice which afforded an economy of effort and resources. But it failed to achieve Pakistan’s military and political objectives which were to launch a covert operation to liberate Jammu and Kashmir and integrate it with Pakistan.

Read more: Secret of prosperity of dynastic politics in Pakistan

The way forward

The irregular forces employed to achieve these objectives did not have the punch to exhaust the well-organized, disciplined, and trained Indian Army. The political leadership delegated the conduct of operations to a motley of local politicians from Poonch, hotheads like Qayyum Khan (Chief Minister of NWFP), and a few ex-Indian National Army (INA)  officers. INA was a volunteer force formed by Subhash Chander Bose during WWII. The members of this volunteer force did not cut much ice with each other, a factor that would result in major military setbacks throughout the war.

Despite its military weakness, Pakistan could have cobbled together, through bleeding the ten available infantry brigades, at least two brigades to invade Jammu

  • As for the threat of a likely Indian countermove, it was worth taking the gamble. In any case, the Indian Army was also in a state of flux. As the subsequent events proved, whichever army reached Srinagar first would have prevailed.

It is very difficult to dislodge a trained defender in mountainous terrain. At the end of the war when Pakistan had openly inducted the depleted 7 and 8 divisions, Indian attempts to dislodge Pakistani forces from the positions occupied by them failed and the Indian army had to call off its final offensive to recover Muzaffarabad, Domel, and Neelum Valley. Even if two brigades could not be spared, there was Messervy’s prescription of sending a battalion in plain clothes (why plain clothes? sic) who would have been there within hours – a battalion less two companies at the airfield in Srinagar and two companies at Banihal Pass.

Read more: Behind the façade in Pakistan’s politics

It was another matter to seek foreign assistance as a tactical measure to address Pakistan’s problems. However, successive leaders, both civilian and military, showed a great inclination towards the concept of borrowed power as a strategic instrument. Today’s Pakistan, despite slogging through the minefield of history for almost seven decades, is in much better shape than it was at the dawn of its independence. However, the propensity of its leaders to lean on outsiders does not show any sign of slackening.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.