Sunday, 23 August 2015

India-Pakistan: With NSA Talks Aborted, What Next?

Referring to a “whole history of unproductive dialogues with Pakistan,” Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, reflects negatively on whether a “more resolute government as that of Modi (should) get into the rut of sterile dialogues with Pakistan.” Sibal need not worry. Talks between the two countries’ respective national security advisers were aborted just a day prior to their scheduled start.

The talks were first mooted in the joint press statement of the two foreign secretaries at the Ufa meeting of the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers. The two NSAs were to meet in Delhi, potentially clearing the way for the Indian prime minister to travel to Pakistan for the SAARC summit next year.

Skeptical reports in the run-up had hinted that the Pakistan army was bearing down on Nawaz Sharif, pressuring him to halt the meeting. This gave a window for Indian skeptics to snipe at the idea. This positioning prior to the talks had more or less ensured that they would have been, at best, as the Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz put it, “ice-breaking.”

That the naysayers on both sides managed to scuttle the talks underscores their hold over their respective security establishments. This mirroring is unlikely to go away any time soon.

This answers the question “Why were the talks called off?” The more important question remains: “What next?” It is here that Kanwal Sibal’s policy recommendation comes to fore.

Sibal, miffed by the two attacks by Pakistani proxies – one in Indian Punjab bordering Jammu and Kashmir and the other within Jammu and Kashmir itself – in the run-up to the talks, argues that India should first develop “levers to modulate Pakistan’s conduct” and “then agree to a dialogue should Pakistan seek it.”

With the talks called off, this is the only option India is left with. For that reason, it bears scrutiny.

The problem with Kanwal’s thesis – and he speaks for India’s Pakistan skeptics – is that it is without an end date or exit strategy.

Even had the exploratory talks at NSA level gone on to reopen the dialogue, India would have developed the levers to modulate Pakistan’s conduct. This would have been done both as a measure to keep up the pressure on Pakistan to stick to the table, as well as an insurance should the talks have failed to moderate Pakistan.

These levers are military, intelligence and diplomatic.

Militarily, India has been at it, ramping up its defense budget. A statistic from Modi’s first year in office was that India fast tracked 40 defense projects worth over Rs. 1 trillion ($15.1 billion), intended in part to increase the gap in conventional armaments with Pakistan’s army.

Over the past year, it has given the army liberty to give a “befitting reply” to provocations along the Line of Control and International Border. Pakistan has over the last month made two references to the firing along what it considers the “working border” to the UNMOGIP, the UN mission overseeing the ceasefire since 1949. Both countries have used embassy channels to record their displeasure at the other side’s aggressive firing.

On the intelligence front, India’s defense minister has hinted at proactive intelligence operations in Pakistan. Understandably, the NSA subsequently watered down the defense minister’s remarks and India has denied any proxy action. However, a rare complaint at the Pakistani corps commanders’ conference suggests otherwise – although proof is obviously hard to come by. In preparing for the NSA talks, Pakistan had compiled a dossier with its complaints of Indian “interference.”

Diplomatically, the visits of Obama and Jiang Zemin to New Delhi, though intended by India to suitably isolate Pakistan over the latter’s support for terrorism, can only have limited effect. Pakistan’s strategic location buttresses its indispensability to the eventual outcome in Afghanistan. Pakistan is looking to play the Russian card if necessary.

The call in India will be more of the same and for longer. But this is not without underside.

Militarily, the “two front” problem has already kicked in, with reports of India diluting its Mountain Strike Corps due to lack of finances.

Doctrinally, there is dissonance. While at the conventional level India intends to be on the offensive, its nuclear doctrine has not been able to come to terms with the problem posed by Pakistani nuclear first use in the form of tactical nuclear weapons. The devastating response that the current nuclear doctrine posits can hardly be risked in the face of Pakistan’s vertical proliferation of nuclear warhead numbers into the three digits.

On the subconventional front, Jammu and Kashmir, which has been relatively stable for more than a decade, could slide back into turmoil, offering a fertile ground for penetration of more radical ideologies, such as those of the ISIS. Indian responses and Pakistani reactions would then flirt with the nuclear threshold. Under the circumstances, it would not do to up the military ante.

The intelligence game of using proxies has an unremarked downside, in its impact on the domestic politics of both countries. Using Pakistani extremists against their own state – as Pakistan accuses India of doing – can only strengthen their hand.

The more significant effect is in India’s domestic politics. India’s Muslim minority will come under pressure as a potential conduit through which Pakistan could be expected to strike back. India’s majoritarian extremists, arguably already rampant, will use the canard of a Muslim fifth column to further raise their profile.

Diplomatically, it would be difficult for India to sell a zero-tolerance for terrorism strategy with India letting off “saffron terrorists,” even as it takes Pakistan to the UN sanctions committee. India’s inability to isolate Pakistan will make it more reliant on its military and intelligence cards, accentuating the risks.

Finally, eventually, as Sibal says, these levers will need to be exercised to bring Pakistan round. This will down the line be at an even higher level of risk and cost. Indeed, the NSAs would then have much to discuss but no forum in which to do so, the first ever NSA talks having been aborted at their very inception

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Nuclear Battlefield Preparedness

It is well known that in May 1998 India conducted five nuclear tests. One was reportedly of a nuclear weapon based on the 1974 test already in stock. The second was of a thermonuclear device with a fusion-boosted fission trigger with a potential yield of 200Kt. The other three were sub-kiloton fission devices.[i] Of the latter, writing ten years on in 2008, Dr. Chidambaram, the architect of the tests, wrote:
‘The sub-kiloton devices tested again had all the features needed for integration with delivery vehicles and were tested from the point of view of developing low-yield weapons and of validating new weapon-related ideas and sub-systems. Thus the carefully-planned series of tests carried out in May 1998 gave us the capability to build nuclear weapons from low yields up to around 200 kt. A great deal of further scientific and technical development work has taken place since then.’[ii]
Whereas the 15Kt and 45Kt yield tests attracted due attention, the three tests that confer on India a tactical nuclear capability have been largely overshadowed. This perhaps owes to the principle that under-grids the declaratory nuclear doctrine of 2003, that for India there is nothing known as TNW. However, it is not possible that three of five tests were without appropriate doctrinal pedigree. Consequently, the three have a rational basis that needs resurrecting.
Clearly, another seven years since Dr. Chidambaram’s assessment, it can be plausibly assumed that India has the low yield weapons mentioned in stock. From declaratory doctrine it is not certain that these are TNWs. Since all nuclear weapons are for strategic use, and not military use, these weapons, even if of low yield, may have strategic utility alone.
Good health of deterrence calls for reinforcing this line of argument. The nuclear enemy could erroneously assume that since India has low yield weapons it may undertake lower order retaliation. Such thinking may then tempt him to go first with TNW. Since Pakistan has proliferated vertically, it may reckon that it has in-conflict deterrence against higher order nuclear retaliation, thereby giving it confidence to use TNW. Pakistan therefore needs being constantly disabused of such thinking. The notion of TNW applicability in nuclear war has to be dispelled. For this reason India has abjured discussing TNWs.
By this yardstick, even if low yield weapons exist, these are for strategic targets, such as nuclear command and control facilities or for counter force strikes. Their low yields can prevent escalatory collateral damage, particularly since the Indus Valley is densely populated. Since these low yield weapons have strategic utility, they are not meant as TNW for battle field use.
That said, the fact is that the western adversary tacitly promises to ‘go first’ with TNW. Professional answer-seeking involves a look at the proverbial ‘worst case scenario’ of introduction of TNW into a conflict by the adversary. The military would then be able to focus on what to do and have the adversary in question know that it can follow through in a nuclear environment. Nuclear battlefield preparedness therefore has a two-fold logic.
Firstly, battlefield nuclear preparedness enhances deterrence Whereas India has no intention of viewing nuclear weapons as having military utility even in the circumstance of nuclear first use by Pakistan, Pakistan will be skeptical of this. As has always been reiterated by India that its troops will not fight at a disadvantage, Pakistan in its assessment cannot rule out Indian TNW use, in addition to the strategic retribution involving higher order retaliation it promises. Consequently, knowing that any prospective gains will be denied and at a cost, an adversary, suitably impressed, will then hesitate with TNW first use. The bonus for India is that it raises the nuclear threshold for optimum use of its conventional advantage.
Secondly, in any case, since the adversary tacitly promises to go first with TNW, a look at operational and tactical level implications is warranted as the battlefield could go nuclear.
At the strategic level this implies the Strategic Planning Staff considering whether India’s strategic response needs an operational supplement. The contours of this are not dwelt on here as the declaratory nuclear doctrine already rules this out.
At the operational level, there are three aspects. First, the initiative of TNW use being with the enemy, degradation through conventional means could prove preventive. To be sure, this runs the risk of occasioning nuclear first use by the enemy, triggering the ‘use them-lose them’ phenomenon. This risk may be inescapable since the enemy could employ the TNW more fruitfully later, such as on a bridgehead, if left unmolested.
Second, is building in conventional responses, such as through having at hand reserves and their appropriate use; an example is forcing through another bridgehead thereby denying the enemy any gain from TNW use. If in a defensive mode, this entails sidestepping reserves to plug any nuclear hole the adversary may punch.
The third is input for a nuclear response. Bottom-up options for this have to feed into considerations in the Strategic Planning Staff. In any case, operational fallout of any nuclear response options chosen need to be factored in. So that the nuclear dimension of conflict is not lost sight of in the melee of war, the operations staff corps level upwards can do with a nuclear operations cognizant adjunct.
At the tactical level, the impact will be more psychological. Ongoing commentary from the centenary commemorations of the Great War invariably covers the impact chemical weapons had on the battlefield. A similar effect can be imagined, if in greater magnitude.
Extant pamphlets no doubt cover decontamination and survival drills, and equipment is possibly stocked to a degree. Nevertheless, aspects such as cohesion, discipline, morale supports and perception management of troops need attention alongside. Defence lines and spearheads will be sorely tested, particularly horizontal subunit cohesion and vertical cohesion of command chains. An aspect warranting a closer look may be to have on hand military police and military law capabilities for speedy battlefield justice.
Communication zone nuclear strikes could have front line effects, such as in case cantonments are targeted for their command and control and logistics facilities, with collateral damage on resident families. This may entail mobilization schemes from front line military stations also undertaking speedy vacation by troop families. This is a foreseeable measure to prevent inadvertent escalation.
War games to simulate the complexity of the nuclear environment must include such non-kinetic effects. ‘A’ matters need a review in light of the tactical effects of nuclear impacts. Finally, incorporation into training needs moving from pamphlets and lecture halls to squad posts and exercise areas.
Nuclear preparedness cannot be left to the Strategic Planning Staff, charged with serving the Nuclear Command Authority, and the Strategic Forces Command for executing nuclear retaliation. Operationalization of the deterrent involves the wider army too.
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Friday, 7 August 2015

India: Dissecting The Doval Doctrine – OpEd
Friday, August 7th, 2015
Ajit Doval’s appointment as India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) was among the first appointments made by Mr. Modi on becoming prime minister. That Doval was perhaps tipped off by Modi of post-election possibilities is evident form a lecture Doval delivered at the Sastra University in Tamil Nadu early last year in which he outlined his strategic world view. That he is now India’s NSA makes this speech consequential.
The speech has become infamous since for the wrong reason. Excerpts of the lecture having been uploaded on YouTube early this year, it has erroneously been reckoned that Doval as NSA has threatened Pakistan with losing Balochistan in case it triggers another Mumbai 26/11. While Doval did threaten as much, it was in his capacity then as head of the conservative think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation.
Nevertheless, Doval perhaps anticipating his next assignment used the opportunity of his lecture on ‘India’s Strategic Response to Terrorism’ to lay out his worldview. Since he has been India’s leading spook, with a penchant for the tactical, it is not unlikely that his strategic worldview goes no further than the intelligence domain covered in the lecture. This makes the lecture more important then merely yet another lecture by a think tank head.
That India’s current day strategy appears to be unfolding along the lines he laid out makes the lecture virtually a key statement of India’s strategic doctrine. Since Pakistan is taken as a state sponsor of terror, the lecture also goes some way in also explaining India’s Pakistan strategy. The lecture consequently bears critical scrutiny.
Doval restricted his counter terror strategy discussion only to terror incidents attributed to India’s largest minority, its Muslims. As he was head of IB when a spate of terrorism broke out in the Indian hinterland, dated by him to March 2005, he would know that not all incidents attributable to the minority have been perpetrated by Muslim terrorists.
The manner India’s current regime is covering its tracks in letting off majoritarian terrorists lately is suggestive of something to hide. In case the terror incidents Hindutva elements are responsible for is subtracted from the volume of terror India has been subject to, minority terrorism emerges as a bogey. No wonder the home minister has made a show of taking offence to the term ‘saffron terrorism’, hoping to marginalize such allegations and obscure any truth behind them.
This becomes clearer by dissecting Doval’s prescription. His strategic response to terrorism is, firstly, ‘smothering’ terrorist outfits; pitching nationalist Indian Muslims against the anti-national Islamists within their community; and making Pakistan hurt through a strategic doctrine of ‘defensive offense’.
Of the first, the smothering of terrorists by denial of arms, money and support, superficially, there is little to complain. The problem is when a distinction is not made between terrorists and common folk. Security forces are apt to see potential terrorists everywhere in Muslim ghettos.
Under the circumstance of right wing prejudice now mainstream, resulting impunity can only multiply this tendency. With tall tales of Daesh making a South Asian debut, rushing the home ministry into thinking up a counter radicalisation doctrine, surveillance of the community is not unlikely.
The second – ‘divide and rule’ by using the pro-national and anti-national Muslim against each other – smacks of Chanakyan cunning. Strategy is mistaken for cunning in light of the iconic status of home grown strategist Chanakya.
The association of cultural nationalists with the pro-national Muslims can only serve to marginalize them, leading to non-secular alternatives. Take for instance, Zafar Sereshwala, a Modi acolyte, hardly has a constituency. Instead, ever since mainstream parties were sidelined in the last elections, a firebrand party, the Hyderabad-based Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), appears to be filling the vacuum.
Equally disturbing is Doval’s intent to buy terrorists: by paying out ‘one and a half times’ more of their price! His experience teaches him that since they are mercenaries, they can be bought and turned against theirs sponsors. Is it that this strategy is already in play?
If so it may account for some of the terror Pakistan is subject to and perhaps explains the defence minister’s cryptic remark of fighting terror with terror (‘removing thorns with thorns’). The rare complaint of Pakistan being subject to terror by proxy by India coming as a corps commanders’ conference outcome makes this a compelling possibility.
However, more disturbingly, terrorist turncoats can also be used for questionable strategic purposes. For instance, they can be used to attack Indian targets to project that such attacks are Pakistan perpetrated. The commentary in Pakistan questioning the antecedents of the Dinanager terror attack of last month is a case.
Terror attacks so engineered can enhance the case against Pakistan, enabling that state to be subject to Indian pressures with greater vigour. They can also be used to push India’s minority further into tis corner through manipulation of guilt by association.
Clearly, there is a case for political control of the intelligence apparatus. This cannot be entrusted to Mr. Doval, himself an intelligence czar. With a right wing regime in power, democratic control would instead of implying restraint, may imply quite the opposite.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly on account of the nuclear overhang, is Doval’s assertion that India can prise loose Balochistan. His assumption is that there would be no nuclear fallout, as this would not involve military engagement and the consequent need to be wary of nuclear thresholds
As current custodian of India’s nuclear doctrine in his capacity as head of the Executive Council, he is by now surely better briefed. He would know that Pakistan in an uncharacteristic fit of transparency had in 2002 let on that in case it is faced with internal destabilization on a large scale, it would resort to the nuclear weapon, implying it would up the ante perhaps by first going conventional. This puts paid to Doval’s notion that the military would not come into the equation.
Clearly, the Doval doctrine is problematic with cultural nationalism contaminating strategic rationality. And, worse, remedy is four years away.