India continues to publicly disavow the premise of Cold Start, that its forward-deployed Integrated Battle Groups could move rapidly into Pakistani territory, capture key cities and territory and make Pakistan sue for terms. Pakistan continues to see this as an emerging threat and considers the 1980s thinking that led to the Brasstacks exercise as a testing of the idea of such rapid combined manoeuvres designed to hit Pakistan at multiple points of vulnerability in a modern version of the German blitzkrieg.
It countered with an offensive-defensive approach that was based on hitting India in response with a counter-strike and capturing key territory for itself. Its conventional riposte, based on a net-centric doctrine of well-planned counterattacks, was bolstered over time by the testing and development of a tactical nuclear capability by Pakistan (countered by India). This took the form of short-range so-called tactical weapons mounted on ballistic and cruise missiles, adding to the potential for a nuclear holocaust in the region with global consequences.
The Pakistani army chief, Gen Kayani, spelt out his view of the new strategy in January 2010 according to an official military press release: “COAS stated proponents of conventional application of military forces, in a ‘nuclear overhang’ are chartering an adventurous and dangerous path; the consequences of which could be both unintended and uncontrollable.”
The army tested its new doctrine through a series of exercises or war games called Azm-e-Nau (Fresh Resolve). The third one in the series was conducted in the Cholistan Desert from 10 April to 13 May 2010, involving up to 50,000 troops, and even included a final segment that showed anti-aircraft gunners shooting down a drone.
As mentioned earlier, Gen Kayani also introduced what he considers a suitable riposte or deterrent to Indian conventional plans by shifting control of his key armour division from its base in Kharian, facing Kashmir, to the Gujranwala corps. In his view, this would blunt any Indian armour thrust into the Ravi-Chenab corridor of the Punjab plains, the traditional tank battleground of Sialkot and its environs.
At the conventional level, despite the current disparity in size and growing disparity in the nature of conventional weaponry available to India that promises to give it overwhelming superiority over time, Pakistan operates on the assumption of “strategic equivalence”.
Loosely translated, this means that Pakistani forces can blunt any conventional Indian attack and respond effectively by undertaking its own offensive actions into Indian territory. All under a nuclear overhang.
Pakistan’s new army doctrine recognises a wider spectrum of conflict that includes sub-conventional warfare in addition to conventional warfare that, in turn, includes low-intensity operations, conventional war and nuclear warfare. The latter is aimed at complementing comprehensive deterrence and adding to the combat potential of the regular forces, leading to a potentially heavy cost for any aggressor. Nuclear war is seen “only as a last resort”.
Moreover, while conventional warfare is to be conducted under the devolved authority given by the National Command Authority to the military high command, the decision to go to nuclear war can only be initiated by the civilian authority under “the exclusive right of the NCA headed by the prime minister”. But no one has any doubts that should India launch a serious and deep conventional strike into Pakistan, the army would take the lead in deciding how to respond rapidly, with or without formal approval by the NCA.
Increasingly, Pakistan sees itself subject to potentially hostile activity from India, under the assumption that a sort of nuclear parity has led to maintenance of the status quo.
So, it expects India (the unnamed South Asian foe in its new Army doctrine) to synchronise activities at various levels to: “subtly erode [Pakistan’s]...national resilience and force compliance”. India’s willingness to bear the cost of war will help define the intensity, scale and nature of any future conflict, according to this view.
At the same time, Pakistan’s own calculations rest on the intensity of a nuclear exchange that would be Counter Value in nature rather than Counter Force. Potentially, ten major Indian urban centres and all seven of Pakistan’s major cities might be the targets in a nuclear exchange. The end result would be the destruction of large tracts of India and most of Pakistani territory, and the release of dust and debris into the atmosphere that would travel eastwards, eventually covering the entire Northern Hemisphere. In effect, Nuclear Winter could descend on the northern half of the globe for as much as six months. India’s own calculations may well mirror those of Pakistan.
Hence, a backward glance at previous crises shows a remarkable degree of restraint in the deployment of nuclear assets in times of tension between India and Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan, the smaller adversary, chose to flex its nuclear muscles via testing of delivery vehicles such as the Ghauri and Hatf missiles. In the 2002 crisis, following the attack by non-state actors on the Indian parliament, Pakistan chose to reduce the talk of nuclear weapons and continued to deny that it readied its nuclear arsenal when India moved conventional forces to its eastern border.
It maintains that it would only use nuclear weapons if India attacks and occupies large tracts of Pakistani territory and attempts to stifle Pakistan’s economy or weaken its polity by internal subversion. In essence, as Feroz Hassan Khan maintains: “The Pakistanis see no role for nuclear weapons than to deter India from waging a conventional war.”
The issue still remains that when the polity and economy become weak over time, nuclear deterrence may lose its viability, as in the implosion of the former Soviet Union.
At the same time, Pakistani experts continue to see the modest attempts to develop conventional confidence-building measures, with India being overshadowed by developments that may be inherently antithetical to Pakistani interests vis-à-vis India. They see the Indo-US nuclear agreement tilting the balance in India’s favour, posing a continuous challenge for Pakistan. By keeping India’s strategic nuclear weapons systems out of safeguards, India retains the right to improve and deploy its nuclear weapons without let or hindrance, according to this view.
In their calculation, the only way the balance could be maintained would be to offer a package approach that allowed Pakistan the same access to nuclear material that India gained from this agreement. The US and its allies have not been inclined to head in this direction.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, perhaps under the influence of its artillery-dominated leadership of the SPD, continues to develop longer-range delivery vehicles that might belie its claim of deterrence against neighbouring India. One reason for this may be, according to one leading US observer, the control of the SPD by artillery officers who are fixated on missile ranges and payloads! Even as the overall costs continue to mount. This fixation may well be one of the stumbling blocks in the path to Pakistan’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, in addition to opposition from the US.
Excerpted with permission from The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood, Shuja Nawaz, Vintage.