|Appraising a Pakistani military response
|Appraising a Pakistani military response|
The difficulty of strategy is primarily the uncertainty that shrouds every parameter of its study. Since the pieces do not have set moves as in chess, anticipation of the enemy’s reactions and counter-moves makes strategy much more difficult. Having the ‘Red’ thinking cap on right is quite as important as thinking through one’s own moves.
Clearly, a prerequisite to operationalising any of India’s proactive options credibly is to second guess the adversary. What is Pakistan likely to do if India were to resort to military force under the gravest of terrorist provocations? This article attempts to outline possible Pakistani reactions in such scenario, not exactly implausible.
In general, Pakistan has four choices at the conventional level: inert, defensive, offensive or escalatory. It may begin with one and depending on circumstance move to another. Its response would also be manifest at the other two levels alongside – sub-conventional and nuclear. Thus for India’s three possible options – minimal, lower end and upper end – Pakistan has three choices, making for a complicated matrix and a dynamic one at that.
At the minimal level in case India resorts to force, India’s proactive options include surgical strikes and other sub-conventional military manoeuvres such as activation of the Line of Control. Pakistan can be expected to take the necessary action in self-defence, such as attempting to bring down our aircraft. However, whether it would in turn launch ‘tit for tat’ strikes or take the conflict to the next higher, conventional level may require thinking through by India. It is necessary to anticipate probable Pakistani response. In India, unlike our neighbour the military is responsible to explain its actions to the political class, who make the decisions.
Pakistan for its part would project an intent to respond vigorously, from point of view of deterring India. Degrading its will to follow through would require to be done not only by projection of Indian ability to withstand the counter move (escalation dominance), but also through diplomatic means such as US pressure. An inventory of Indian leverages in this needs to be done in order that India can ‘pull off’ the strikes without Pakistani escalation.
A notch above on the spectrum of conflict, is military action at the lower end of the conventional level. This is unlikely to be India’s preferred resort. It would likely be an outcome of Pakistani counter moves, moves that India is not able to stanch. Therefore, seizing the initiative through a proactive stance may appear sensible. In this again, India would attempt restraint in order to induce similar restraint in Pakistan. This implies that proactive stance could in one variant be restricted to operations by the Integrated Battle Groups, ‘Start and Stop’; and, in the second variant, be followed up by selective action at the level of strike corps ‘Start and Continue’. The latter would likely be pre-emptive, once again prompted by Pakistani escalatory moves.
Pakistani reaction to India’s proactive stance has been practiced in its Exercise Azm e Nau. If such a situation was to arise at the present time, Pakistan would have had to available its defenders and been required to redeploy its reserves embroiled in flood relief and counter insurgency. In the main, the reaction could be defensive and at a later time frame, where possible, offensive. However, the less remarked options has been the possibility ‘Wait Out’.
This is to ‘wait out’ India’s offensive without getting overly militarily embroiled. It may contest territory in the mountains sector, since territory gained here is territory retained. In the IB sector, it need not necessarily engage with Indian forces, knowing that these would eventually have to return to the start line. Instead, an asymmetric counter measure could be readied, especially in developed terrain. This way, the Pakistan Army would preserve itself from attrition, and be able to continue its hold over its state and society post-conflict. Alongside, there would be nuclear rhetoric and signalling, but more for consumption of a concerned international community. This suggests itself as an option of mutual advantage for both.
At the next higher level are strike corps operations. Here the nuclear dangers are more salient, requiring in-conflict nuclear deterrence to move into interactive gear. The twin thresholds of territory and attrition would impact Pakistan’s nuclear calculus. Pakistan would attempt to pose a credible first use threat. Yet, there would be a mutual interest to avoid nuclear dimension. How India manipulates these fears to its advantage is what needs to engage strategy in peace. Its strategic reserves may be forced into action by the joint action of land and air forces, with land forces threatening value objectives and the air force causing attrition. Pakistan would attempt to get even with an asymmetric counter culminating in an Iraq-style disruptive action.
The strategic problem is therefore one of how to induce Pakistan towards a ‘Wait Out’ option over an escalatory one. This needs to be the direction of Indian strategic thinking. Precedence exists of Pakistani strategic irrationality and rationality. Irrationality attends conflict outbreak but rationality informs conflict conduct. So even if it is irrational enough to launch a Kargil, it is rational enough to accept defeat. This means that the expectation of rationality is not unfounded. Yet the gains that conflict dynamics enables the right wing extremists to make in Pakistan have a ‘Wild Card’ potentiality during conflict.
Currently, the military dimension centred on ‘proactive stance’ has been adequately in evidence. The answer requires forming of a military-diplomatic-intelligence ‘Red’ team. Its suggestions would help reduce the uncertainty. Less uncertainty implies less self-deterrence, which by extension is greater deterrence. Answers that instead weigh on the side of self-deterrence, such as reflections on an in-conflict Pakistani tilt to the right, also have utility. They pose further questions that strategy needs to solve in peacetime.
Ali Ahmed is Research Fellow at the Institue of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)