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BOTTOMLINE | Pravin Sawhney

Bluff Masters                                                                                                 
Pakistan’s nuclear spectre is a bargaining chip                                                                            
 
Two connected issues, one strategic and another operational making recent news need to be put into perspective. Given the uncertainty in India-Pakistan relations, a relevant question being asked is will India respond militarily in case of another 26/11 attack by Pakistan? The other question concerns the use of Pakistan’s recently test-fired NASR or Hatf-9 ballistic missile with a purported 60km range. It is being said by Indian and international experts that NASR will be used to deliver tactical nuclear weapons; low-yield nukes meant for a tactical battlefield to halt adversary’s conventional blitzkrieg.
Let’s take the second issue first. A US nuclear expert, Hans Kristensen, who is project director for the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information has been prominently quoted in India’s
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leading newspaper, The Times of India, holding the view that NASR, a tactical nuclear ballistic missile, is meant for battlefield use.  He argues that given the Indian Army’s Cold Start doctrine, which will be employed to make deep and precise incursions into Pakistan territory in the event of another Mumbai-like (26/11) attack, NASR will be used to thwart such attacks. Why else would Pakistan increase its stocks of fissile materials, warheads with differing yields, and variety of ballistic missiles? Hans’ assessment pre-supposes four operational imperatives: In case of another 26/11, India will retaliate with full military might; the Indian Army’s Cold Start doctrine will make deep incursions into Pakistani territory; the Pakistan military is incapable of fighting a conventional war with India; and the imbalanced Pakistan Army will use tactical nuclear weapons early in the war. All these assumptions are incorrect and need to be challenged as otherwise they would lead to (a) fallacious conclusions on the above mentioned strategic question, and (b) help Pakistan justify its fast growing nuclear arsenal against India’s destabilising factor in the shape of Cold Start doctrine.

For beginners, the Indian Army does not have a Cold Start doctrine, which implies that from the word go the Indian land-forces will cross the international border into Pakistan. Having learnt the lessons of Operation Parakram, the 10-month military stand-off between India and Pakistan beginning December 2001, what the Indian Army is devising is a pro-active war-fighting strategy meant to reduce both the mobilisation time of its offensive formations and the break-out of forces into Pakistan. This is meant to ameliorate the Indian Army’s disadvantage of longer lines of communications as compared with the Pakistan Army, and the fact that the next war will be short, swift and intense. This strategy is not fully conceptualised yet. Questions remain on the usefulness of offensive (strike) corps and battle groups or the need for both depending upon
                                                                               the theatre of war. Whether all offensive formations should be under

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  a single strategic command or be organic with holding (pivot) formations?
What committed operational support will the Indian Air Force provide to the land forces considering that early in the war, its main effort will be on counter-air operations. There is also the spectre of the activation of the second front by China. Will, how much, and in what ways will China militarily support Pakistan in a war with India, especially when the two militaries are working together in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir; a prominent war theatre? This prospect will severely constrain the Indian Army to move its forces deployed on the Chinese front for a war with Pakistan, unless of course additional formations get raised, which is a long process. This is not all. The capabilities needed for the pro-active strategy, especially land-based firepower and real-time communications within most theatre, do not exist. If anything, it is years away.
 
Liberal estimates place the Indian Army’s comparative advantage at 1.3. I personally, would not do that for three reasons. One, decision-making in the Pakistan military will be faster, and thus the early advantage will rest with them and not the Indian Army. Two, unlike the Indian Army, the Pakistan Army will operate with ease across the spectrum of war: conventional, sub-conventional or irregular and in the nuclear sphere, simply because it controls all domains. In the Indian military, while cooperation has increased at tactical levels, there is sufficient disconnect between the three defence services at the operational level; all three services are expected to fight their own wars. And three, for a conventional war, the Pakistan Army is overall matched at the operational level of war in all but one theatre for a short war with the Indian Army. The exception is the Jammu and Kashmir theatre where the presence of Chinese troops has added uncertainty to Indian advantage. Moreover, Pakistan is adjusting its operational requirements by practising switching of forces across theatres in the form of addition and detachments to match the Indian Army’s evolving pro-active strategy. Given this reality, the Pakistan Army has no need to use nuclear weapons early in a short all-out war. Hans’ contention that the Indian Army’s Cold Start strategy will make deep penetration into Pakistan is ignorance at best, and mischief at worst. All that the pro-active strategy desires to achieve is multiple and shallow penetrations below the perceived theatre-wise nuclear red lines.
 
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