An additional dish for the India-Pakistan platter
In a recent IDSA Comment, “Indo Pak Rapprochement: Unexplored Option of Military to Military Engagement,” the authors write: “Faced with a host of seemingly irreconcilable differences, it may be logical to probe the efficacy of possible military to military engagement. It might help assuage its insecurity about India’s intentions and even assist in developing a cordial and a less hostile atmosphere in our relationship.” They suggest measures to include “exchanges of military delegations, visits to premier training establishments, increased frequency of border meetings and conclaves, combined deployment of forces in UN missions, and non-military interactions at other levels.” Critics may attempt to kill the idea stating that it is ‘ahead of its time’; instead, it is an idea whose time has come. This article attempts to suggest a way ahead to operationalise the idea.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been held up by the persistence of the Pakistani military in stalling Indian initiatives reaching out to Pakistan. The sabotage of the Lahore process by the Kargil intrusion is an obvious example. Pakistan has a praetorian military that plays a ‘guardian’ role. Huntington’s observation on professional militaries being realists, and findings of organisational theory that institutional self-interest often as not trumps national interest, helps in understanding a military’s actions. Militaries when viewing threat perceptions typically take ‘capabilities’ as central, rather than ‘intentions’. Since the military in Pakistan has commandeered security policy, in particular Pakistan’s India, military, Afghanistan, Kashmir and nuclear policies, its interests have to be factored in separately and in addition to those of its state.
The Pakistani military, albeit self-servingly, reads the power asymmetry in India’s favour as a ‘threat’. The Pakistani military - being conservative and realist in the tradition of militaries in general - can be expected, in the realist paradigm, to react through internal and external balancing. This is in keeping with the ‘security dilemma’. The resulting Pakistani sense of insecurity - as perceived by its military - can be taken as the ‘core’ problem area. Understanding the mindset of the Pakistani military and attempting to address it is the recommended direction for India’s Pakistan policy. Addressing this one-among-other ‘root causes’ of strained relations, such as the Kashmir issue, would be an additional step towards easing India’s Pakistan problem. Towards this end a standing strategic dialogue mechanism for balancing of strategic doctrines has been voices on these pages (IDSA Comment, “For an Indo-Pak strategic dialogue forum,” 5 August 2009).
Strategic dialogue is not impossible to visualise at the current geopolitical juncture. It is apparent that the strategy of proxy war has exhausted its utility. Not only is India in control, but Pakistan is suffering blowback from its ‘strategic assets’. Further provocations are not without risks both from Indian action, but also from the Pakistan `Army losing space to Islamists domestically. The strategy of hostility to India also has a diminishing marginal utility. India has succeeded in de-hyphenating itself from Pakistan. India’s economic trajectory continues to show promise, making greater resources available for the Indian military. The power asymmetry is irreversible.
In such a circumstance, what are the dictates of political realism subscribed to by the Pakistani military? Realism is firstly about survival and thereafter about security. Offensive realism is in terms of maximising ‘power’; defensive realism is in terms of maximising ‘security’. Offensive realism has been tried by Pakistan and has not succeeded. The alternative - defensive realism - suggests itself. Tackling the security dilemma is not only by addressing the relative power balance. If benign intentions are mutual, the ‘security dilemma’ stands considerably mitigated. Pakistan has to be coaxed down this path. India has been able to, at best, manage problems posed by Pakistan. The challenge to India’s strategic thinking is to suggest innovative means to end these.
Presently India’s strategic doctrine is one professedly of deterrence. The contours of the 2004 ‘Cold Start’ doctrine involve limited offensives keeping below Pakistani nuclear thresholds. A nuclear doctrine positing ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation has been promulgated in 2003. The promise of ‘massive’ retribution exacting ‘unacceptable damage’ is to stay the Pakistani nuclear card from checkmating Indian proactive conventional offensives. Taken together, they are to refurbish the conventional deterrent. This is not without risks. India’s military and nuclear doctrines, complemented by actions on the diplomatic and intelligence fronts, are liable to interpretation in Pakistan as offensive and quasi-compellent. Pakistan can be expected to look at the business end of the stick in India’s ‘carrot and stick’ policy. Therefore, its military sees continuing utility for its ‘strategic assets’. Changing its perception can only begin by engaging with it.
While India has attempted reaching out to Pakistan several times earlier, the Pakistani military has succeeded in stalling most initiatives. If the aim is to cast off this millstone, then an efficacious strategy needs to be tried out. The current ‘trust deficit’ based impasse testifies that strategies like containment, coercion and deterrence have not worked as well as intended and have carried unrecognised dangers. A change of tack is warranted. Is getting Pakistan to bandwagon with India thus at all possible?
The benefits are obvious for Pakistan. Selling the idea to the Pakistani military would need highlighting benefits in terms of its corporate interests. Not only would the military commercial foundations find an enlarged market, but an expanding economy would enable access to a larger resource cake for the military. Reliance on external powers, such as the US - having proved a double-edged sword in the past – can be done away with. It would be more prudent to rely instead on an expanded domestic economic base. Future problems, such as over the emotive water issue and protection of Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and Baluchistan, would be subject to Indian goodwill. Building this may require reaching out reciprocally to India. Rethinking of its India policy is therefore necessary.
A nationalist and professional military can be expected to think this through for itself, particularly in the realist lens of its preference. Realist thinking implies being sensitive to power imbalances. Where balancing is not possible or is counter productive, then the alternative, bandwagoning, comes to fore. Seeing that it cannot keep pace, Pakistan – operating in the realist mode - could consider this. How can this be done?
A strategic dialogue mechanism with Pakistan that networks its military and addresses core questions like strategic balance is advocated. The discussions need to be at the level of respective National Security Advisers assisted by representatives of the national security establishment, including the military, on both sides. The theme would be to balance strategic doctrines. Pakistan is manifestly offensive at the subconventional level. India’s is seemingly offensive on the conventional level. A reciprocal pulling back from offensive doctrines needs to be arrived at. This would entail discussing threat perceptions and security positions in a mechanism created for the purpose. The ‘trust deficit’ can best be bridged in this way. Optimistically, the route is then cleared for eventual movement towards mutual and balanced forces reduction. Arriving at shared security perceptions for South Asia can follow; and, thereby, recreation of South Asia as a single strategic entity. At a minimum, the mechanism once set up would be available as a confidence building measure as envisaged in the first and sixth points of the Lahore MOU.
Certain actions of the Pakistan Army are suggestive as ‘feelers’. The ISI reportedly invited India’s defence attaches in Islamabad for a lunching out (“In rare move, ISI hosts Indian attaches at its officers mess,” Indian Express, 13 June 2010). The attaches had also been invited for a briefing as per a Stratfor report (“India, Pakistan: An ISI-Army Seat at the Negotiating Table?” 25 July 2009). Last year, The Hindu (16 September 2009) reported that the ISI chief had attended the Iftar at the Indian High Commission at Islamabad. This indicates the possible disposition of the Pakistani Army. It also suggests that the ‘strategic communication’ intrinsic in the move towards offensive doctrine by India – as observed by Arun Sehgal - has succeeded to an extent. Sehgal, writing in Force (“Summer Heat,” June 2010), notes that the recently concluded Azm-e-Nau exercise indicates that India’s doctrine has unsettled Pakistani calculations on the elasticity of India’s tolerance threshold. India is, therefore, in a position to capitalise on the gains the doctrinal movement made.
The forthcoming meeting of the two foreign ministers at Islamabad, mandated by their prime ministers at Thimpu to explore the ‘trust deficit’, could provide the forum for testing waters. The idea can then be taken forward within the respective security bureaucracies. It can be broached officially at the next round of composite dialogue if and when held, in case resumption of the peace process emerges from the mid July meeting.