Saturday, January 03, 2009, The News International
Samson Simon Sharaf
India has carried out a revaluation of its strategic options with Pakistan, and the coming years could witness an all-out strategy of coercion by it, a strategy so effectively applied by Israel in the Middle East. India's biggest advantage in conceptual and technical military cooperation with Israel lies in the fact that its technology is largely indigenous and facilitates material transfer with no end-user problems. Pakistan is already engaged in a war of attrition and the future will be a serious test of its strategy of defiance and ability to ride out the crises as a cohesive nation state.
India's quest for security and response to perceived external threats is shaped and complicated by its past. India desires to exist as a great power with a capability of bullying its neighbours and turning them into vassal states. Pakistan has been the major impediment towards this India's quest for great-power status. Wary of the freedom struggle in Kashmir, an exaggerated threat of Islamic militants and fear of another Two Nation Theory from within, Indian strategists have been toying with the idea of using a small but lethal rapid-reaction force for a limited duration inside Pakistan. However, India cannot accomplish what it has failed to do in the past six decades, unless the breeze blows in its favour.
In the post-9/11 scenario, India sees an opportunity and is acting as a neo-realist to minimise the importance of Pakistan through high-profile coercion in line with international perceptions. In this India is even ready to forego its traditional mantra of keeping the great powers out of the region and to align with them for short-term gains. In the final analysis, India wishes to frame a politically discredited, ethnically fragmented, economically fragile and morally weak Pakistan. This can only happen if the role of the armed forces in Pakistan's policymaking is reduced, Punjab divided and the rallying call of Kashmir taken care of for good.
The Indian military structure is geared towards such a capability with active assistance from Russia and Israel, and now the USA and UK. Having allied itself closely with Israel, India will now seek a continuous harassment through heightened military coercion, control of river waters, diplomatic isolation and covert interference. Mumbai and any such incidents in future will continue to provide reason for such intimidation, all in concert with the US and western strategic objectives in the region.
Interestingly, much of the blame for having landed in the box and then pushed into a vulnerable position must also be shared by the Pakistani establishments of the past decade. Pakistan's declared nuclear capability was meant to deter all types of conflicts and pave the way for sustained economic growth, international stature, and a political solution of the Kashmir dispute, Through Kargil, Pakistan led India and the world to believe that notwithstanding a nuclear shadow, a limited military conflict in an existing conflict zone was still possible. Kargil, and later 9/11, changed international perceptions on an armed freedom struggle in Kashmir as well as Pakistan's relevance to the new form of threat: non-state actors. Seen in the backdrop of 9/11, it was the second effect that finally resulted in disownership of the freedom fighters in Kashmir by Pakistan while also resigning the Kashmir question to the impossibility of backdoor diplomacy.
The nuclear capability of Pakistan provides a very small window of opportunity to India to carry out a physical offensive action across the LoC or the international border. This action could be a raid in the form of hot pursuit through ground or helicopter-borne troops, precision air strikes with or without stand-off; remote-controlled targeting through a guided-missile attack, and in the worst case, an attempt to seize objectives close to the international border with little military but considerable political significance. India had a fully developed chemical weapons programme even before it signed the chemical weapons convention as a country not possessing chemical weapons. But it declared its arsenal soon after signing the convention and is not averse to using quickly diffusing chemical weapons. After 9/11, India has held war games and fine-tuned these concepts and implemented some in a very limited manner during the escalation on the LoC.
Hot pursuit, as the name suggests, is only possible in an already hot theatre like the LoC. These are launched through ground troops or heliborne forces. Such an option has little probability because of the bilateral ceasefire. But such an option, however remote, cannot be ruled out.
With the active assistance of Israel, some Indian aircrafts have acquired a beyond-visual-range, precision stand-off capability, something witnessed during the Kargil conflict. India may use its air force remaining inside its own territory and launch laser-guided munitions diagonally inside Pakistan. However, the selected targets should be within 20 kilometres of the LoC or the international border.
Precision strikes imply that Indian aircrafts will physically violate Pakistan's airspace and launch precision surgical strikes against selected targets from a very high altitude, or conventional bombing runs, or use heliborne troops. In such a situation, these aircrafts will be vulnerable to Pakistani air defence and the PAF.
In the cold start strategy, India positions forces with offensive capabilities in military garrisons close to the international border, equipped, trained and tasked to capture some nodal points along the international border, before the Pakistani forces can react. India may not succeed in such an operation without a massive air cover. In Indian strategic calculus, the timing and lightening speed of such operations will solicit immense international pressure on Pakistan so as to curtail Pakistan's conventional and nuclear response.
Notwithstanding such options hinging on military and diplomatic brinkmanship, India will benefit from the use of Israeli armed and surveillance drones operated by Israeli crews from inside India. Historical precedents for such cooperation already exist.
The whole body of war fighting reasoning in such limited conflicts warrants a level of rationality and comprehension of a common strategic language between the belligerents. This is technically impossible. Different actors would draw varying conclusions from an animated Graduated Escalation Ladder (GEL) always vulnerable to a Fire Break Point that could result in uncontrolled conventional and nuclear escalation. It is, therefore, most important that the decision to graduate a conflict rest solely with the political leaders of the country, wherein a common strategic parlance could be evolved with more ease.
Taking a leaf from the Israeli opaqueness in its nuclear doctrine, India over time has applied a conceptual innovation in her nuclear strategy. The Indian revision in the nuclear doctrine implies the ambiguity in the "no first use clause" through a declared no first use and pre-emptive retaliation to create a perception that it is making a coercive transaction from doctrine of limited conventional war to an opaque level of conflict in which the nuclear weapons remain in a very high state of alert. The implication is that India may flirt with the concept of a limited strategic coercion in the shadow of a very high non-degradable nuclear alert beyond Pakistan's capability to neutralise. It is also my opinion that, as of now, after having signed the Nuclear Deal with USA, India benefits from an extended US nuclear umbrella, and strategic and diplomatic support.
There are reliable reports from Afghanistan that Indian contractors are busy building billets and accommodation in Kabul and Bagram to station two Indian divisions in the area. At the same time, bids have been invited by the US Corps of Engineers to construct a divisional size cantonment in Kandahar. Hypothetically, troops in the garb of protection for Indian investments will actually seal off Afghanistan's Pakhtun regions from the North. Then the US, NATO and Indian troops will go for an all-out counter insurgency operation in the cordoned off Pakhtun areas. The effects of spill-over into Pakistan would be pronounced and the Durand Line would become a figment of imagination. Premised on the romantic notion of Pakhtun nationalism, the doors to Pakhtunkhwa would be opened. The USA would then select the shortest route to Afghanistan through the Arabian Sea and Balochistan.
Whatever the concept, scope and objective of such limited escalations, India, with its newfound allies, has decided to maintain a constant vigil and coercion of Pakistan over a prolonged period of time but well below a Fire Break Point. The obvious targets, in tandem, with its allies, will be addressed through diverse instruments like control of rivers, economics, diplomacy, international pressure, internal law and order, military intimidation and even insurgency. A trillion-dollar question is: will the USA be ready to occupy Balochistan for a secure supply corridor?
The war has already begun. The question is. When did it begin?