|Pakistan’s Military Strategy: A Best Case Scenario|
|Pakistan’s Military Strategy: A Best Case Scenario|
Pakistan’s future course as a nation depends on its military’s strategy. Being ‘a military with a state’, in Pakistan’s case the logic of a state’s grand strategy dictating military strategy stands reversed. Rather, in this country, military strategy is dictated by the need to preserve the military’s corporate interest into the future.
Pakistan’s military strategy can be studied and assessed over the near term in light of the end game unfolding in AfPak. In the AfPak arena, negotiations are on behind the scenes in respect of the US and Taliban, and upfront in the setting up of a joint commission between Pakistan and the Hamid Karzai government. The ‘surge’ having culminated and change in directional tier underway there could be a shift in military strategy. This will enable pull-out of troops, whether robust or symbolic is still in question. Talks provide cover for and enable the draw down.
The trajectory of Pakistan’s downhill course would be dependent on the choices its Army makes. Ensuring a turnaround can be the Army’s aim over time, but for the near term it can at best ensure that the descent is not abrupt. It can draw sustenance from the fact that it has a ready replacement of patron in China. Which grand strategic choice keeps Pakistan on even keel?
The route ahead that has had US backing so far is for the Army to undertake operations in North Waziristan to end the sanctuaries available to the Taliban. US aid and military support acts as incentive. Yet, considering that this would heighten the internal backlash, the Pakistan Army has been reluctant to follow through. It has used the traditional bogey of an Indian threat and the excuse of floods last year to ward off pressure. Pakistan would likely continue with its tested strategy of selective targeting of extremists.
It prefers a shift away from the military prong to a negotiated end to the war. In its view, this would defuse the jihadist energy currently busy destabilising Pakistan. Towards this end, it will exert to bring about moderation in the Taliban that alone can enable such a dénouement. For its services in enabling a dignified exit for the US, it would be kept afloat by the US with largesse more closely monitored and deployed in the social, as against the military, sector.
On the India front, the ‘Mohali spirit’ will be pushed to the furthest, if possible with the foreign minister’s July meeting being followed up, after due preparation, by a visit of the Indian PM to Pakistan. Reports of the PMO ascertaining the Pakistan Army’s position on talks (denied by both), indicate that the Army is on board this time. In case Pakistan was to make a symbolic gesture, such as ensuring that there is no summer trouble this time in Kashmir, positive movement on Pakistan’s western front is not impossible to visualise.
What does this imply for military strategy?
Firstly, it means avoiding taking the terrorists head-on so as to prevent fissures in military and society. The Pakistani Army is best positioned to appreciate that; even if desirable, this may not be feasible. The internal fissures that threaten military cohesion, evident repeatedly over the years beginning in the assassination attempts on Musharraf and ending in the Mehran base attack, deter the leadership.
Secondly, being prepared for contingencies and worst-case scenarios can be expected, such as a ‘black swan’ event, such as a successful Feisal Shahzad-like attack in the US or another anti-India Mumbai 26/11. Pakistan needs to take due care to keep the link between its jihadists and rogue elements under surveillance. In case a terror provocation was to take place, Pakistan could follow through with what it had promised but failed to deliver post 26/11: sending its ISI chief across to assure against official complicity.
The worst-case scenario is in jihadist free-lancing ending in an India-Pak conflict. Ending this at the lowest level of escalation, i.e. at the sub-conventional level, is counter intuitively even in the interest of the Pakistani military. The jihadists would attempt to capitalise on the nationalist impulse. This would push the center of gravity in polity towards the Right. This may not be in the corporate interest of the military, since it would create a rival right wing civilian power base, with its known penetration of the military.
The desirable Pakistani military strategy as envisaged here can be tacitly encouraged by India. Firstly, India must insist on verifiable moderation of the Taliban in case it is to be accommodated in a negotiated settlement. It may even forge independent contacts with the Taliban and in return for its continuing economic support for reconstruction extract a promise that the Taliban would not allow Afghan territory to be used for anti India purposes.
Second, India could consider not reacting militarily even when provoked by diversionary terrorist action, especially if the Pakistani Establishment appears more forthcoming in its response to India’s concerns unlike at 26/11. This does not need to be acceded to overtly, to keep the pressure on Pakistan for preventive action.
Lastly, in the event of such provocation, India should stick to its current position of distancing itself from ‘limited war’ in the ‘Cold Start’ mode as a response option in favour of ‘contingency operations’. The salience of the nuclear level, through measures such as increasing the arsenal size and going in for tactical warheads as suggested by the ‘Nasr’ test launch, is incidental to India’s move. The minister of state for defence, Mr. Pallam Raju, has indicated as much in his address at the IISS conference in Singapore this month, stating: ‘Military planners have recognised the need to develop the capability to fight asymmetric war against the terrorists. This has implied the need for special equipment and special training and a doctrinal shift from the previous preoccupation with conventional warfare alone.’
Imagining what the Pakistani military would rationally do in its circumstance as custodian of the state would help carve out policy choices. That it may not choose the rational path is well nigh possible. The test of India as a regional power is to induce the best case scenario in Pakistan.
Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi