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High on bombast, low on capability

While there is not much searching examination of India’s defence readiness, Pakistan has worked with limited resources to maximize its national defense

By Ajai Shukla

Last month (Dec. 2017)  in Islamabad, Lieutenant General (retired) Khalid Kidwai outlined a new Pakistani approach to defence strategy. Kidwai is someone worth listening to carefully, being uniquely qualified across the spectrum of Pakistani security and a trusted establishment spokesperson. An artillery officer with deep roots in conventional warfare planning, Kidwai saw battle in Bangladesh in 1971, ending up in an Indian prisoner-of-war camp.

As a Lieutenant General, Kidwai moved in 2000 into the realm of nuclear planning when he was appointed to head Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD). During an unprecedented 15 years in SPD, Kidwai masterminded Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine of “full spectrum deterrence”. This included the deployment of “tactical nuclear weapons” (TNWs)  short-range, low-yield nuclear bombs that cause lesser damage, creating the illusion of “usability”.

TNWs are meant to deter Indian retaliation against any major terrorist provocation from Pakistan, which would involve lightning Indian armoured attacks on multiple fronts to quickly overwhelm Pakistan’s smaller military. In deploying TNWs, Pakistan is following the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which planned to use TNWs in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid being overwhelmed by massive Soviet Union armoured offensives into Western Europe.

Pakistan has deployed Kidwai’s measured articulation on two occasions to rationalise Pakistan’s controversial TNW policy. In March 2015, at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington DC, Kidwai explained that TNWs were meant for “reinforcing deterrence, preventing war in South Asia [and] ensuring peace…” Naturally, he did not mention that this wish for peace was not so much for Indo-Pakistan relations to flower, but rather to provide Pakistan the leeway to pursue “sub-conventional operations” the use of terrorist and armed militants in cross-border operations against India  without fearing military retaliation.

Kidwai also dismissed as “bluster”, India’s doctrinal promise that any attack on Indian forces with weapons of mass destruction (including TNWs) would invoke “massive retaliation”. This is not described, but is assumed to mean the use of heavy nuclear weapons against Pakistani cities, killing tens of millions. Kidwai pointed out this would inevitably evoke a matching response by Pakistan against Indian targets, given the rough parity between the two nuclear arsenals (credible recent assessments say Pakistan’s arsenal is larger) and that numerous Pakistani nukes would survive Indian retaliatory strikes, howsoever massive.

Now Kidwai has been fielded again, this time as Advisor to Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, to signal a new, less apologetic, international policy. Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, Kidwai outlined a two-point argument. First, he said India had realised that conventional war was no longer possible, due to Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities meaning TNWs for war-fighting, with the main arsenal deterring Indian retaliation. Second, without the option of conventional military force, India was now developing sub-conventional capabilities (read terrorist proxies).

Said Kidwai: “Because of mutually assured destruction, there is unlikelihood (sic) of a hot war or conventional war and therefore the conflict has shifted towards sub-conventional level.” In essence, this involved a “cold war era for regional supremacy… [through the] creation of proxies.” Essentially, Kidwai dragged India down to Pakistan’s level, justifying Pakistan’s support for cross-border terror with his postulation that this was now the new cold war. Pakistan’s allegations of “Indian terrorism” are rich in irony and could have been convincingly dismissed, coming from a government that has long used terrorism and armed militancy as instruments of state policy. India has done this in the past when Islamabad accused New Delhi of backing separatists in Balochistan, and destabilising its Pakhtoon (Pashtun) border belts from its consulates in Afghanistan.

But this time Kidwai could point to “public pronouncements by Indian [political] leadership of using terrorism to destabilise Pakistan”. This reference was to Manohar Parrikar who, while serving as defence minister on May 22, 2015, told a gathering in New Delhi (to loud applause): “We have to use terrorists to neutralise terrorists”.

Pakistan has been presented the chance to take advantage of India’s jingoistic security narrative, in which political leaders regard the military as a handy prop for nationalistic grandstanding. In this, reality is second to posturing before the domestic audience. Much was made of the “surgical strikes” of September 2016, but figures tabled in Parliament hardly suggest that Pakistan has been taught a lesson. Ceasefire violations almost doubled in 2017, rising from 405 in 2015; and 449 in 2016, to well over 800 this year. Pakistani firing killed 10 Indian soldiers (including from the Border Security Force) in 2015; and 13 died in 2016, but India lost more than 30 soldiers on the border in 2017. Armed militants took a beating in encounters in the Valley in 2017, but the number of soldiers killed in those encounters also rose. An alert media and strategic community should be parsing these figures, but is not discharging its duty.

Nor is there much searching examination of India’s defence readiness. The army does without basic infantry weapons and soldiers fight without ballistic helmets, bulletproof jackets or fire- and water-retardant clothing. The army remains desperately short of artillery guns, air defence protection, tactical battlefield drones and high-mobility logistics vehicles. The navy commissions warships without sonars and anti-submarine helicopters.

Last month, the prime minister presided over a farce while commissioning a new submarine that lacks critical combat capabilities  the Scorpène shares a tiny stock of 64 two-decade-old torpedoes with four old Shishumar-class submarines. The air force remains short of fighters; and the ones it has deliver such low serviceability rates that the 2016 contract for 36 Rafale fighters had to include a $350-million clause binding the vendor, Dassault, to deliver a serviceability rate of 75 per cent for five years  a rate that modern fighters, incorporating modular engineering and built-in test equipment should achieve as a matter of course.

Pakistan’s security establishment, despite its appallingly immoral approach to conflict, has worked with limited resources and money to maximise its national defence  integrating nuclear, conventional and sub-conventional resources to continue bleeding an apparently hapless India. Officials like Khalid Kidwai can stand before an international forum and detail a strategy for Pakistan to achieve its security interests. In contrast, India’s approach to defence is best summed up by this simple fact:

Over the preceding year, three separate defence ministers have occupied that hallowed corner office in South Block. Not one of them would be able to lucidly explain India’s defence strategy and how our military would fight the two-front war we claim to be ready for. Asked how we would match India’s expansive defence allocations with the shopping list of badly needed weaponry, not one would have a coherent answer. Will this change in 2018? Probably not.



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