By Syed Ali Zia Jaffery
War has been a recurrent phenomenon in the annals of history more than any other theme. It has been a veritable tool to advance, project and protect interests, no matter how they are defined. In his seminal work titled “On War”, celebrated military theorist Carl von Clausewitz referred to war as an “act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will”. Wars and conflicts are inherently related; acrimony is festered by using war as an instrument of state policy. This is not a mere assertion but a reality in the conduct of Indo-Pak ties over the last 7 decades. Both India and Pakistan physically locked horns. Enemies imposing war on each other is not an anomaly; it is a given and a constant occurrence. War always has a casus belli, where in this South Asian showdown, the reasons of animosity are well-documented. But even with these justifications, does South Asia – especially Pakistan and India – need military options in face of a sea of poverty that haunts the whole region?
Unfortunately, the future doesn’t look one where this ever-burgeoning dispute will fade away. There are many reasons to believe that the temperatures may increase. One of them is India’s will and resolve to “teach Pakistan a lesson”. Besides, now Indo-Pak rivalry will be embedded in the new “Great Game” in the region, something that merits another write-up. India perceives Pakistan to be a rogue state; one that is “exporting terrorism”. India also blames Pakistan for recent terror attacks on its territory. The aim of India is to “compel” and “deter” Pakistan. Despite being courted by Washington, Delhi is not mollified with Washington’s unwillingness and inability to pull the plug on Pakistan. After the end of Hafiz Saeed’s incarceration, defense analysts in India have once again started their rhetoric of taking out the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.
What can India do in a bid to teach its enemy a “lesson”? Last month, the Indian Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said: “The IAF has the ability to locate, fix and strike and that is not only for tactical nuclear weapons but also for other targets across the border.” However, it is prudent to analyze that airstrikes on alleged militant camps inside Pakistan will invite a stern response. Pakistan may not deem Indian airstrikes as limited, justified and a means to terminate conflict. Hence, a response will be well in order, and what India might aim to start as a limited war could turn into a full-scale war with the ever-increasing likelihood of the usage of nuclear weapons in the worst case scenario.
Such a threat was identified by Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), General Zubair Mehmood Hayat. He said that Pakistan, being a credible and responsible nuclear-armed state, rejects the aggressive Indian strategic posture – and considers that “irresponsible”. But the question still stands where India’s highly touted proactive war strategy, casually known as Cold Start Doctrine (CSD), can “rein in” Pakistan? India’s aim seems to use a credible military threat to cajole Pakistan to change its course. Indian political and military leadership has expressed its intention and resolve to carry out airstrikes and invoke the Cold Start Doctrine.
Two factors forced the Indian military to drive away from the Sundarji Doctrine and move towards a proactive doctrine of limited war: one was the overt nuclearization of South Asia and the other was the abysmally slow mobilization during Operation Parakram. Much to the chagrin, the slow mobilization in the operation launched after the Delhi attacks allowed not only Pakistan to counter mobilize but also invoke international pressure. The feeling was that Pakistan went “scot free “. The idea behind Parakram was to militarily respond to Pakistan due to its alleged involvement in the Parliament attack in India. The aim was to punish Pakistan before international pressure could “rescue” Pakistan. Parakram failed to achieve the objective, therefore CSD was launched.
With sharpness as its defining feature, Cold Start calls for reshuffling the old Holding and Strike corps. The former would create shallow bridgeheads into Pakistani territory. It would be followed by Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) attacking along various axes to further ingress inside Pakistan. Thereafter, in tandem with air support the 3-strike corps would concentrate on firepower. In order to avoid a nuclear retaliation, forces will bite and hold territory up to 25 kilometers inside Pakistan.
There are tactical and operational challenges in carrying out Cold Start that have thus far baulked the Indian Army from operationalizing this doctrine. A thorough assessment of exercises that were conducted to test the concept revealed that synergy (a prerequisite to CSD) was not achieved. This was the reason why the military leadership in India discarded it long ago. However, the resolve and the desire to invoke the doctrine was reiterated in the Army Day address by the Indian Army Chief, General Rawat earlier this year. What could this doctrine achieve is a matter of introspection.
India wants to compel Pakistan to rein-in so-called inimical forces. Thomas Schelling coined the term “compellance”, alluding to threats to make the adversary do something. It is often said that it is harder to compel than to deter. This becomes all the more difficult and obfuscating when the conflict spectrum and the escalation ladder has a nuclear rung in it. How could a limited war proactive strategy compel Pakistan to commensurate with India’s accord? What could be the implications on escalation of hostilities?
Compellance relies upon a credible military option which would encourage the enemy to take a different course. Under the nuclear umbrella, it is rather difficult to punish and frighten without pushing the engagement to the highest end of the conflict spectrum. Given the aims of Cold Start, holding territory is a compellant threat. However, the efficacy of this in compelling Pakistan is less and fraught with dangers. One that it could do exactly the opposite: Indian invasion may very well be repelled by the Pakistani military and alleged militants in unison. Besides, it will give credence to Pakistan’s long-held views about India being the aggressor.
A potentially debilitated army will be supported forcefully by the highly-touted irregulars. It could invoke a “nation in arms” response. Even otherwise a weakened military will then have no means to rein in anti-Indian elements and sentiments. If India manages to achieve this objective, it is logical to assume that Pakistan will have to take punitive retaliatory action to wrest back control. India would have the urge to press on but if they are unable to breakthrough, they would direct more firepower which would cause escalatory pressure. In such a scenario, Pakistan may invoke its tactical nuclear weapons and shift the burden of escalation on India as Indian inroads would not be deemed of as limited.
Therefore, on can conclude that if India uses any of its military options, the conflict will not remain limited and the region could be in for an all-out war with higher likelihood of a nuclear clash. But having said that, it is economic, and not military, options that both the countries need to exercise in order to tackle to demon of poverty in the region.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Analyst and Sub-editor at the Global Village Space. He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs for various national and international platforms. He tweets: @syedalizia1992