writings of ali ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab), with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. Twitter: @aliahd66
Also see blog-www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in. Former UN official, academic and infantryman. Author India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). All views are personal.
India-Pakistan and the tussle of escalation dominance
of a meeting of the two foreign ministers that was to be held on the sidelines
of the UN General Assembly session framed the Indian army chief’s statement
is a need for one more action
(surgical strike).’ He later added that surgical strikes are not the
only option for decisive action for India confronted with Pakistan provocation.
On cue, the Pakistani military
spokesperson claimed its military is ready for war, rationalizing that war
happens when either side is unprepared for
it. Pakistan’s information minister took care to remind India that Pakistan is
a nuclear power.
The annual war of words between
the two sides continued at the 73rd General Assembly session in New
York with the two foreign ministers using respective addresses to tradebarbs,
followed by officials exercising the right of reply.
This period of rhetoric,
brought on by the slide to brutalization in Kashmir in the killings of special
police officers and mutilation of a Border Security Force trooper, framed the
end-September Parakram Parv
(celebration of valour) exhibition commemorating the second anniversary of the
The singular aspect of the
surgical strikes episode missing in the valourisation was its cognizance of
Surgical strikes were deliberately
kept limited, a feature emphasized early in a press briefing by India’s
military operations chief. For its part, Pakistan, aware that the onus was on
it, wisely pretended that the trans-Line of Control (LC) raids never took
If the ratcheting up of
rhetoric now is any indicator, the subcontinent is closer, yet again, to
another crisis, especially since the buffer of meetings and talks - that could serve
as an intervening step in being called-off - is no longer there.
In case the lesson learnt from
the surgical strikes is to apply to the next round, then India shall likely keep
any substitute options to surgical strikes equally limited.
The problem is that the
Pakistani army cannot use its earlier alibi twice over. Once bitten, it has
surely war gamed its reaction. It follows then that there are two
The first is Pakistan - duly
prepared - drawing blood. The second is - caught flatfooted yet again - it is forced
In the first case, the onus of
upping-the-ante would be on India. Having milked the surgical strikes
anniversary for political dividend, the government would not like egg on its
face as it goes into elections. Irrespective of the military’s itch to get even
and goading by the long-compromised media, it will have its own political
compulsions to ‘do something’.
In the second case, to save
face with its domestic constituency, Pakistan’s army may make a retaliatory
move or two. India’s putting up its guard and warding the counter punches off,
constitute steps towards a slippery slope.
Both would edge towards a
slippery slope, with an eye to catalyzing intervention of the international
community. A worried United States, that has political heft with both
countries, and China, that can work better on Pakistan, will be on hand to help
This is a happy ending of a script
going from crisis to confrontation.
Its likelihood depends on validity
of each sides’ self-assessment of ‘escalation dominance’. Though usually
associated with nuclear
warfighting, the term can be used to imply the ability to prevail at a particular
level along the spectrum of conflict: subconventional, conventional and nuclear.
To illustrate, India’s effort over
the past decade andhalf has beenat honing its
conventional edge has been to signal that since it has the advantage at the
next higher level, Pakistan would be better advised not to test its tolerance
threshold in its proxy war at the subconventional level.
Pakistan’s turn to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ is an
effort to deny India escalation dominance at conventional level. Noticing
Pakistan obfuscation of the conventional-nuclear divide in its introduction of tactical
nuclear weapons (TNW) into the picture, India has lately broadened its
subconventional options. This explains surgical strikes and any variants up its
India is alongside embarked on
rekindling escalation dominance at the conventional level. It has an army restructuring
program afoot, reportedly to be signed off at the army commanders’ annual
Emphasising its necessity, the Indian
army chief confessed that the army is only prepared to fight previous
wars. Apart from the other
features of the reforms such as optimization of manpower
and equivalence of army ranks with civilian peers, the restructuring shall
enable the army to work its ‘cold
start’ doctrine better.
To recap, the doctrine is
informed by the limited war concept. The reported doing-away with divisional
headquarters of pivot corps in the reform will make for
sprightly and multiple limited thrusts, while remaining under even the TNW
This brings the conventional
level back into play, while preserving India’s punch in the form of strike
corps that are not subject to the restructuring. India’s
military restructuring promises to expand the scope for moving from crisis to
confrontation. Its deterrent value is in being able to take a step closer to
the slippery slope.
The tussle is between India
pulling up the window for military options below the nuclear level and Pakistan
thrusting down the nuclear awning over it. In the doctrinal tennis match, the
ball is now in Pakistan’s court.