By Rahul Bhatia,
email: rahul.bhatia@flame .edu.in
Strategic Stability in South Asia
South Asia is the second most unstable region in the word. The instability confounding the region can be attributed to radical extremism, economic backwardness, political instability, trafficking of narcotics and an incipient nuclear arms race.
The India-China relationship is stable at the strategic level and hence there is a low probability of nuclear conflict. This is because both India and China follow similar nuclear doctrines with a “no first use” posture. Thus despite border tensions, large-scale conflict with China is unlikely. However, given the growing conventional asymmetry and infrastructural ugradation and modernization of Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) in terms of theatre based combined network centric capability, and India’s own growth and growing strategic profile, there is a need to continuously evaluate ‘Nuclear Redlines’ and, more importantly, the efficacy of strategic deterrence vis a vis China.
Pakistan, however, poses serious and immediate challenges. Given its proclivity at developing full spectrum nuclear capability, it attempts to exploit the conventional space below India’s threshold through a proxy war aimed at destabilising India internally. A scenario of inherent escalation exists should India’s threshold be breeched and the Indian political establishment forced to contemplate use of military force. Thus a scenario of “ugly stability” exists and is exacerbated by Pakistan’s development and possible deployment of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) in an attempt to lower nuclear thresholds.
Pakistan’s Strategic Perspective and Doctrinal Thinking
In Pakistan’s strategic perspective, nuclear weapons are intended to maintain a strategic balance at all levels of conflict. This has led to the development of TNWs, medium and long range missiles and credible second strike capability. Pakistan through both posturing and explicit statements has sought to indicate that it has an India-centric nuclear deterrence which it will not hesitate to use in case of either conventional or strategic deterrence failure. According to Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai, former Strategic Plans Division (SPD) chief and current advisor to Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), there are four possible thresholds for nuclear use: space, military, economic and political. However a detailed analysis of Pakistani doctrinal and other writings seem to indicate that the primary threshold remains that of space. It has been observed through simulated scenarios/table top exercises, that despite heavy losses being inflicted on naval and air assets by India, Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds were not crossed. It is only when major thrusts are made into the Pakistani Punjab heartland a change in strategic posture occur’s leading to deployment of nuclear weapons. It was felt by the group that despite these inputs and discussions during various Track II engagements the understanding of Pakistan’s threshold thinking was inadequate. It was felt a detailed analysis must be carried out based on inputs from strategic gaming exercises, academic writings in Pakistan and statements of NCA/SPD to develop clarity on the matter.
The second issue that emerged was that of the role of sub-strategic weapons, i.e. TNWs or battlefield weapons. The assumptions being made by our analysts are based on mirror imaging of Indian thinking. Pakistani interlocutors both military and diplomats tend to provide a strategic rationale of weapons of last resort in an operationally adverse situation that threatens its heartland and which cannot be countered by conventional forces. Thus the rationale outlined is that Pakistan would be forced to use these weapons to safeguard core strategic interests which essentially lie in Punjabi heartland. Use of sub-strategic nuclear weapons in its own territory would result in a large impact on its population and hence such a use creates moral credibility.
Theoretically the use of TNWs would result in a breakdown of strategic deterrence, freeing India for massive retaliation as per its stated doctrine. The group felt that Indian response options post use of TNWs by Pakistan required deeper analysis, particularly in the context of the nuclear action and reaction cycle that it would initiate leading to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) kind of a scenario. The group felt that there is a critical need to analyse the circumstances and the nature of sub-strategic use by Pakistan and even more importantly India’s options following such a use. Is India’s massive retaliation doctrine hide bound? Or does it provide Indian political leadership flexibility in response in terms of massive retaliation only as an strategic last resort?
The credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine based on “First Strike” and “Nuclear war fighting” and not “dissuasive deterrence” to prevent India from exploiting conventional space remains a contentious issue. An associated issue although not discussed in detail was that of escalation dynamics, particularly the nature and credibility of Pakistan’s retaliatory response post Indian strikes following use of TNWs. Perceptions on this are based on rhetorical blustering by Pakistani interlocutors. Interestingly although Pakistan claims to have developed an assured second strike capability, the nature of its response remains unclear except for pronouncements related to certainty of response. This is another area that should become focus of deeper examination based on research and evidence from Track II discourses?
Terrorism as a Trigger
Pakistan continues to wage low cost proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and uses trans-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy to undermine Indian security. It ups the ante by lowering its nuclear threshold, together with nuancing the use of TNWs as a last resort in an operationally adverse situation that poses direct threat to its heartland. Consequences of so-called Pakistani policy pronouncements has been forced strategic restraint and extremely high threshold of tolerance in terms of cross border terror. The Group was of the opinion that India needs to play the brinkmanship card by testing so-called Pakistani policy pronouncements and posturing by developing credible means to “punish” Pakistan for its proclivity in waging terror and meddling in J&K. From discussions by the group, four options emerged:
• Retaliatory attacks on military targets along the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The aim should be to target both the Pakistani Army and terrorist infrastructure. As the army is deployed on the LoC, it can be directly targeted. Such an attack could be conducted using non-contact kinetic means, thereby minimising collateral damage.
• There was a feeling that Punjab was Pakistan’s national CG. An Indian deep thrust in semi/desert areas of Punjab and Sindh and capture of territory could be a useful punitive and bargaining option. Such operations it was felt are unlikely to cross Pakistan’s nuclear red line, although posturing and deployments of weapons could be resorted.
• Another option was punitive attacks to degrade Pakistan’s Air and Naval capabilities. Such operations will essentially be standoff operations with limited cross border attacks by Security Forces. Credible damage to both these assets will ensure major degradation of Pakistan’s war waging potential. Being high capital assets, the cost of recouping these losses would be high. However there was a danger as discerned in recent Table Top exercises of possible escalation that could force Pakistan to launch ground offensives. It was felt although a relatively more plausible option its full dynamics need to be examined in detail.
• Lastly an attack across Pakistani Punjab, being the heartland and the nation’s CG was seen as a most profitable option. There is no doubt with majority of its strike reserves poised for operations in Punjab and being an obstacle ridden terrain, going will be difficult. However reasonable depth of our offensives beyond first tear of defences will open its core areas to calibarted air and artillery attacks. Aim here is not so much capture of territory but to destroy war waging potential and lay bare its heartland in what will hurt Pakistan both militarily and politically. Use of tactical nuclear weapons in Punjab would be that much difficult for fear of large-scale civilian casualties and fear of making productive land useless owing to radioactivity. However it must be noted that this option is closest to its Redline and one that could force Pakistan to resort to massive nuclear retaliation rather than graduated nuclear response thru tactical weapons.
• While above are some of the retaliatory measures that India can adopt and there can be many more, the general consensus however was that India needs to adopt a long term strategy to counter the Pakistani threat.
Maintenance of Strategic Balance
In terms of maintaining sub continental strategic balance following issues emerged;
• There is a requirement to critically analyse Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and more importantly its overall employment philosophy including second-strike capability.
• Such an analysis will dictate efficacy of our doctrine in the backdrop of aforementioned analysis, also dictate force development priorities and our overall operational options with regard to use of nuclear weapons.
• Third aspect that emerged was the issue of signalling and perceptions. There is a view that we have an inadequate understanding of driving force behind Pakistan’s logic of rapid force development, operational posture and employment philosophy. This issue requires serious examination both in official and academic domains based on credible research and analysis.
• There is a need to signal credibility and resolve of both our conventional and strategic capabilities as also laying down Indian redlines. Ambiguities or misperceptions about political resolve, propensity to only leverage nuclear weapons as a political deterrence need to be thought through and appropriate signalling undertaken.
• Last and perhaps most importantly, there was a consensus to understand the nuance of “conventional operations under nuclear overhang”. A detailed understanding of our military options is imperative for force development and acquisition of future capabilities.
The ideal solution for India is to enhance its conventional military capability and infrastructure. If India’s conventional military is powerful, smart and more importantly full spectrum, general consensus was that Pakistan would be automatically deterred from waging proxy wars and promoting trans-border terrorism. This means synergistic development of military capabilities in all domains including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), cyber warfare and special operations.
[ This report was edited by Brig. Arun Sahgal]