Bottomline | Dangerous Game

The US needs to worry more about Pakistan’s penchant for proliferation

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

US President Barack Obama, US secretaries of state and defence Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, US Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Mike Mullen, Bruce Riedel in his new book: Deadly Embrace, and more recently US Governor Sarah Palin in New Delhi have all said that the biggest US fear is Pakistani nuclear weapons falling in the hands of Jihadis. Given Pakistan’s track record, the fear, instead should be nuclear proliferation.

Riedel has painted what he regards are plausible scenarios where a Zia-like army chief comes to office and installs an Islamist leadership, akin to the Taliban, in Pakistan. Or a powerful corps commander, with Lashkar connections, takes office in General Headquarters, Rawalpindi. In both possibilities, Riedel concludes that Jihadis (who should be called terrorists) will get access to nukes. Interestingly, the Indian leadership, which is most affected by Pakistani nukes ending up with terrorists, has discounted such possibility. All Indian military leaders since the nuclear weapons came out of the closet in May 1998 have rejected doubts about the safety of Pakistani nukes, and that the Pakistan Army (notwithstanding its silence on nuclear declaratory policy) will use them irresponsibly.

I too believe that Pakistani nukes are safe with its army, which while working with the Jihadi terrorists will ensure they are kept away from the ultimate weapons. A bit of history is needed to put the issue in perspective. President Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto and not A.Q. Khan is really the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. After the 1971 war, when the Pakistan Army stood defeated, discredited and demoralised, Bhutto took charge of his nation and managed to hoodwink Prime Minister Indira Gandhi into postponing the settlement of the Kashmir issue with a mere verbal commitment, which was never meant to be kept. After India’s 1974 peaceful nuclear explosion, the wily Bhutto started negotiations with China for acquiring the bomb design, and nominated A.Q. Khan to steal Uranium enrichment technology from across the globe to set up bomb-making facilities in Pakistan.

The challenge for Bhutto’s assassin and successor, General Zia-ul-Haq who came to power in 1977 was how to establish bomb-making facilities in Pakistan without getting noticed. The perfect providential cover was provided by the US’ proxy war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the US gave finances and arms worth billions of dollars to Zia who was solely responsible to channel those to Mujahids fighting the Red Army. This saw the spectacular rise of the ISI, whose closeness with Mujahids was facilitated by Zia’s Islamisation of the Pakistan Army. The army after all could no longer openly drink liquor and be removed from religiosity when it was recruiting, training and indoctrinating Mujahids to fight in the name of Allah. On the other hand, the US agreed to wink at Pakistan’s nascent nuclear facilities until 1990 when a year after the Red Army decided to leave Afghanistan, the US President H.W. Bush had difficulty signing the Pressler Amendment to say that Pakistan did not have the bomb. Known to the US, but unknown to India, Pakistan acquired the bomb in 1987 coinciding with the Indian initiated military exercise Brass-Tacks, which took both nations to the brink of war.

Zia’s challenge, which he successfully negotiated was to compartmentalise the functioning of his two senior-most officials responsible for the conventional and unconventional warfare; the vice chief of army staff, General Khalid Muhammad Arif and the director general ISI, Lt General Akhtar Abdur Rahman. If Brass-Tacks showed the brilliance of General Arif who brought his offensive forces opposite Amritsar just when the Indian offensive forces were elsewhere, the 1990 crisis between India and Pakistan was General Akhtar’s defining moment. General Akhtar had clandestinely diverted the US resources and Saudi money from the covert war against the Red Army to build credible Mujahideen force for the Indian front; the ISI had finally come of age. Zia’s military strategy against India was still in three distinct phases: political subversion, an attack by infiltration, leading to a limited, high intensity conventional war, a pattern witnessed in the 1948 and 1965 wars. Pakistan’s nuclear facilities were under Zia’s command. He was however uneasy about using his own air force (the only vector available) for delivery means as this meant co-ownership of the bomb. This changed with his sudden death in August 1988.




The twin-hatter Zia’s successors were the Chairman, Pakistan Senate, Ghulam Ishaq Khan who in accordance with the constitutional rules of succession became the nation’s President, and the vice-chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg who took command of the Pakistan Army. Given Khan’s proximity to the army and his inherited presidential powers to dismiss the prime minister, the command of nuclear weapons was shared jointly by the President and the army chief. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was not in the nuclear weapons loop, and neither was the fundamentalist director general, ISI, Hamid Gul. This was the only time in Pakistan’s history (from August 1988 till Khan’s retirement in July 1993) when its nuclear weapons facilities control could have passed from the army wholly or partially to the civilian leadership or the Jihadi officers within the army, scenarios now feared by the US. It goes to the credit of Khan that he overruled Gul’s appointment to succeed Beg, and instead installed the progressive and moderate General Asif Nawaz Janjua as the next army chief in August 1991.

Khan after all could not be oblivious to the jostling for supremacy between Gul and Beg; once again the first and only time in Pakistan Army’s history when an ISI chief sought not only to become an independent power centre but also desired the chief of army staff’s office to be occupied by a Jihad-oriented officer. (In hindsight, had Gul succeeded, the Pakistan Army would not have had the capability to fight at two levels, conventional and sub-conventional simultaneously. It would have instead transformed completely into a Jihadi force). However, at that moment, Beg was so enamoured with Gul’s profile that he sought to back him; the case of indistinguishable pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. With insurgency at its zenith in Kashmir in 1990, Gul sought to divert thousands of jobless Mujahids of the Afghan war to Kashmir. As this would have led to a conventional war, according to Benazir, she overruled Gul and allowed him to stoke the insurgency just enough for it not to boil over. With the US and Saudi funding drying up in 1990, Beg suggested that nuclear weapons technology from the Khan National Laboratories (KNL) be sold to countries willing to give hefty amounts in return which could then be used for the Kashmir insurgency. Successive Pakistan army chiefs did take on Beg’s proliferation idea, but it was used primarily to surreptitiously acquire ballistic missiles to match India’s indigenous missile programme launched in 1983.

India had acquired a new weapon system and it was necessary for the Pakistan Army to match it in order to maintain operational level parity for a conventional war. Rest as they say is history. The extent of nuclear technology proliferation done by A.Q. Khan is still unknown to the world. What is known is that the Pakistan Army supported these deals for acquiring ballistic missiles. Another reason why the army sought these missiles was that it would become the perfect nuclear weapons vector; thereby the dependence on the Pakistan Air Force would not be there.

General Janjua died in harness and was succeeded by General Abdul Waheed in January 1993. With the retirement of President Khan the same year, the ownership of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities came firmly under the army chief. Not regarded as a cerebral army chief, Waheed let the cat out of the bag by publicly overruling the nation’s Prime Minister on nuclear weapons. In April 1995, when Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her second term in office was visiting Washington to resurrect soured bilateral relations, it was in the air that the US would offer to release the already paid for F-16 aircraft in return for Pakistan rolling back its nuclear weapons programme. With his Prime Minister in the US, General Waheed made the famous statement in Pakistan: “F-16s or no F-16s, Pakistan will not compromise on its national security”, (read, nuclear weapons). The ownership of Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities was no longer a secret.

Waheed was succeeded by the cerebral General Jehangir Karamat (he wrote a few thought provoking articles for FORCE in 2003). It fell on Karamat to take the call whether to follow the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998 with tests of their own. For him, it was an easy decision: considering that the Pakistan Army had over the years maintained an operational parity with the Indian Army, it was critical that strategic parity be maintained as well. This is the time that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was riding the national popularity wave in his second term in office. What irked Sharif was that when senior US officials (including Strobe Talbot and Bruce Riedel) bargained with him with attractive largesse if Pakistan would desist from doing nuclear tests, he had to look up to his army chief for the answer.

As expected, Pakistan did the nuclear tests, but little known to people, Sharif was working on civilian leadership role regarding nuclear weapons now that they were out in the open. The excuse for the civil-military leadership showdown was provided by Karamat who sought a formal role for the army in the nation’s governance. While it will remain a mystery why the Pakistan Army senior brass could not persuade Karamat to not resign when asked by the Prime Minister as the ownership issue of nuclear weapons was still unresolved. Earlier the ownership of nuclear weapon facilities was decided during Waheed’s tenure, the issue now was about the role of civilian leadership for use of nuclear weapons. Before Sharif could lay his hands on the ultimate weapons, providence played truant and he was banished by his commando army chief, General Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf’s tenure was an extraordinary one. The ownership issue of nuclear facilities, nuclear weapons, and nuclear declaratory and employment policies were finally decided in February 2000, by the creation of formal institutions; National Command Authority, Strategic Plans Division, and the Strategic Command. All strategic organisations are firmly under the General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, with the army chief having the final say. As the army chief consults his nine corps commanders on all strategic and national security matters, he has ensured that their powers to unseat him remain weak. The proof is that despite wanting an organisation akin to Indian Army’s command formations, it has never been formed under some pretext. It was General Beg who during his grand exercise Zerb-e-Momin in 1989 first felt the need to have command organisation; for a limited high intensity conventional war, good command and control can be achieved if three or more corps are under a single commander.

The Indian army follows this concept of theatre commands where an army commander has three or more corps commanders under him. In the Pakistan army, such an organisation could spell trouble for the army chief, who at present finds it convenient to balance his corps commanders individually. It was thus officially notified by the Pakistan Army after Zerb-e-Momin that the army did not have adequate funds to raise army commands. Instead, the army adopted the concept of Army Reserves North (ARN) and Army Reserve South (ARS) structured around the armour formations, 1 and 6 armoured divisions. Thus while administratively, the corps is the highest army formation, for operational purposes, loose ARS and ARN controlling tactical headquarters were formed.

Another reason why all army chiefs have found it dangerous to create army commands is that the theatre commanders may desire a role in nuclear weapons. At present, all corps commanders train to fight the conventional war alone; the strategic weapons are not controlled by them. Thus, even if a corps commander has a Jihadi leaning, he will not have access to nuclear weapons. This is especially true for the 10 corps commander based in Rawalpindi who is responsible for the Kashmir theatre. (Most Pakistani defence advisors in their High Commission in Delhi are ISI officers. As the defence journalist with a mainline Indian newspaper, I met one such officer, Brigadier Jamshed Gulzar in 1992, who rose to become the 10 corps commander during the 1999 Kargil conflict).

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will not reach Jihadis because these symbolise the ultimate power of its custodian: the Pakistan Army Chief. The unsaid reality of Pakistan is that whoever controls nukes would also have the final authority on Pakistan’s external policies related to national security. What Karamat failed to accomplish formally, the Pakistan Army chief as the custodian of nuclear weapons would de facto have. Yet, the challenge for the Pakistan Army chief, especially after the 1999 Kargil conflict, is how to fight the two levels of war simultaneously with due importance given to both, the DG, ISI and the vice-chief of army staff. Musharraf became the first chief to use the irregulars (Mujahids) alongside the regulars in a conflict with India dispensing with the pattern of three distinct stages of war. The 1999 Kargil conflict, called Operation Badr in Pakistan, was planned in two parts. In part one, Northern Light Infantry troops (regular army, but called paramilitary forces at the time of the conflict. Later, Musharraf designated them as regular forces and made them a regiment of the Pakistan Army) in civilian clothes were to make deep intrusions and occupy Indian territories in the sparsely-held Kargil sector of Jammu and Kashmir. The Mujahids were given a supporting role to ferry logistics and help in preparing forward defences and ammunition stocking. Their presence in the area was meant to mislead the international community into believing that the intrusions were a part of the Kashmiri people’s indigenous freedom struggle and the Pakistan Army had no role to play. The second part of the plan was a reversal of roles for the two: large numbers of Mujahids as vanguard were to be infiltrated into Kashmir with regular troops keeping the Line of Control live with fire to keep the Indian Army engaged and provide cover for infiltration. Prime Minister Sharif ordered stoppage of Operation Badr before its phase two could be implemented. But, the Mujahids did not accept Islamabad’s diktat; the Kashmir valley saw massive infiltration of both Mujahids and terrorists after the Kargil conflict. The terrorists (Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba) attacked the Jammu and Kashmir assembly on 1 October 2001, and finally the Indian Parliament (in session) on 13 December 2001. India immediately launched Operation Parakram, the 10-month long military stand-off with Pakistan when on two occasions, January and May 2002, India nearly went to war. The officer who planned the war for Pakistan was its Director General Military Operations, Lt General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan won the battle of nerves as India blinked on 16 October 2002 with little in return. The Musharraf-Kayani team was established.

Once Musharraf declared ceasefire on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir on 26 November 2003, which was necessary to take the Kashmir resolution forward, he moderated the infiltration levels; it would increase or decrease depending upon how bilateral back-channel talks were progressing. With guns silent on the LC, the Pakistan Army felt the need to develop a few pressure points outside Kashmir to ensure steady Indian progress on Kashmir resolution. The answer lay in exporting terrorism to mainland India. The requirement was to activate sleeper cells in Indian cities which would support Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba-induced mayhem whenever the ISI would deem it necessary. The years 2004 to 2007 witnessed bomb blasts and other acts of terrorism across Indian cities.

Meanwhile, new developments were occurring on the Afghanistan front. After the fall of the Taliban regime post 9/11, instead of consolidating gains for a permanent solution, the US in 2003 pulled out its forces prematurely from Afghanistan to support the new war in Iraq. This provided Musharraf with the opportunity to re-establish Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan; the Afghan Taliban which would eventually retake Kabul had to be revived with ISI’s pivotal role in arming and training them. At that time, India was seen to be increasing its own influence in Afghanistan piggy-backing on President Hamid Karzai’s presence through the development route. This had to be stopped. The answer was more ISI and Lashkar involvement in Afghanistan to both attack Indian installations there and to keep the Taliban ambitions in check. It may be recalled that the Taliban which was ISI creation in 1993 had stopped listening to its Pakistan Army mentors by the time it captured Kabul in 1996. In a sense, the US-led war in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a God-sent opportunity for Musharraf; the decision to support the US war not a hard one for Musharraf as he made it out to be. The truth is that he was already fed up with the Talibans who had come of age. It was time they were cut to size and the US did the job for him.

Learning this lesson, in 2003, there was the need for more ISI and Lashkar involvement in Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network revival. The man chosen by Musharraf to tackle the twin fronts of Kashmir and Afghanistan was Kayani who was the DG, ISI for three years starting October 2004. Kayani was to have the unique distinction of being the only Pakistan chief of army staff who had served as the DG, ISI. If the rule of keeping the heads of irregular and regular wars separately was violated in Kayani’s case, it had to do with his years of close association with and loyalty towards Musharraf. For this reason, it will be premature to write-off Musharraf during his forced retirement in London; what appears like Kayani abandoning his mentor may be a tactical manoeuvre. It is incorrectly believed in India that Kayani has rejected Musharraf’s Kashmir resolution formula which made steady progress during 2004 to 2007 through bilateral secret talks. If this were indeed so, the ceasefire on the LC in Jammu and Kashmir would no longer hold. This is proof of Kayani’s commitment to Kashmir resolution; he simply does not want the civilian government to take credit for what he believes is the Pakistan Army’s due.

Why does the Pakistan Army require nukes and Jihadi terrorists at the same time knowing well that they must co-exist in tight compartments? The nukes give it the power within Pakistan and provide strategic parity with India. The Jihadi terrorists are needed to provide an added advantage while retaining operational level parity with the Indian military, and to maintain influence (not strategic depth) in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army has always sought to maintain operational level parity with the Indian Army. While tactical level refers to a single battle, the operational level refers to a theatre with a series of battles. The operational level can be successful because of good firepower, co-ordination, training, surprise and initiative despite fewer overall numbers in terms of manpower and equipment. In military terminology, these levels refer to an ‘offensive’ and an ‘attack.’ While an attack is advocated to be launched with a numerical superiority of 3:1, successful ‘offensives’ have been launched with parity. The overall success in a conventional war between India and Pakistan depends on the operational level of war. Even after the nukes have come out of hiding, the Pakistan Army still works to maintain the operational level parity. This is proof that it does not intend to use nukes irresponsibly or early in a war. Not much ought to be read in lack of declaratory policy by the Pakistan Army. During various crises since May 1998 when nukes were unveiled, no serving Pakistan Army officer had spoken of an early use of nukes in a war. While the Pakistan Army has indicated its red lines, each side is certain to give repeated warnings before using nuclear weapons.

Now that Jihadi terrorists have worked alongside the regular Pakistan Army for the Indian front, they will have an important operational role in a conventional war. In the J&K theatre where at any time the Indian Army has one third of its strength on the twin traditional roles on the LC and counter-insurgency in the Valley, Pakistani terrorists will be used to offset the Indian numerical superiority. In a war, the Indian Army will want to employ maximum numbers of its CI troops, about five divisions or 63 battalions with about 65,000 soldiers, for conventional war. The terrorists will make this difficult as they would target the army’s internal operational logistics lines. Mindful of this terrorists’ role, the Indian Army feels that the paramilitary forces and the state police will be able to secure army’s logistics in war. This may not be easy as no peacetime training for such tasking have been done. Similarly, on the Indian mainland, Pakistan-sponsored terrorists will seek to disrupt and delay trains and convoys being used for operational logistics. Consequently, the army’s so-called Cold Start doctrine would suffer serious setbacks. This is not all. There will be a sudden spurt in terrorist violence across Indian major cities, which will imbalance Delhi with the twin vulnerable external and internal fronts.

In Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army needs a friendly and pliable regime both for its own stability and to increase its strategic influence beyond its geographical borders. It does not desire strategic depth against India as is commonly believed. Given its elongated geography, the Pakistan Army had the need for friendly depth where it could move its long range and heavy equipment in a war with India. With the arrival of nuclear weapons, this operational requirement ended as the Pakistan Army has indicated its red lines which cannot be crossed. Instead, the ISI and Jihadi terrorists are meant for the stability of the region around the unsettled Durand Line, and for strategic influence to reach Central Asian Republics, provide safe land corridors to its strategic ally, China, and to improve relations with neighbouring Iran and Russia, with the proviso that India be kept out from Afghanistan. Given such importance of terrorism in the name of Jihad, it is unrealistic to expect the Pakistan Army to focus on counter-terrorism operations; it is like asking them to shoot themselves in the foot.

Given the requirement of both nukes and Jihadi terrorists, while the Pakistan Army Chief will ensure that the top leadership of both is carefully chosen and is always under the scanner, what about the thousands of low level scientists and troops working at nuclear establishments? Estimates suggest that over 10,000 Pakistanis of various hues could be involved with the nuclear weapons establishment. It is nigh impossible to know each individual’s religious leaning or proclivity for compromise. The US, especially after 9/11 has provided assistance to Pakistan to better secure its nuclear sites and security related procedures. There are even reports that the US has given Permissive Action Links (PALs) technology to the Pakistan Army. PALs are activation codes with two or three authorised individual; unless these are not entered simultaneously, the nuclear weapon will not work. It is difficult to believe that Pakistan would have accepted US’ PALs out of fear that the US may end up controlling its nuclear weapons. The Pakistan Army would rather have acquired a similar technology from China, if at all it is being used. Moreover, given its conventional war fighting doctrine against India, the Pakistan Army does have the need for mated and ready nuclear weapons. It would have its nuclear cores, non-nuclear equipment and delivery systems (ballistic missiles) kept separately within easy distance for mating, if needed, in case of a serious crisis.

The real worry is not Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, but its fast growing fissile material and the fact that it has tasted blood; the temptation for a repeat of A.Q. Khan-type proliferation racket in case of paucity of funds cannot be ruled out. For this reason, it was essential for the US to interrogate A.Q. Khan to know both the extent of proliferation and the involvement of the Pakistan Army. Unfortunately, this has not happened. The Pakistan Army would have made this its red line for relations with the US fearing this would expose China’s shabby non-proliferation record. Yet, this is one issue where the US should dig its heels. To ensure that Pakistan has not proliferated nuclear weapons or capabilities to shadowy terrorist groups, the US must interrogate A.Q. Khan who curiously has been pardoned by the Pakistan government. This itself is a red herring.

Given these realities, the US is not funding Pakistan, as it claims, to ensure its democracy flourishes and its nuclear weapons remain safe; as otherwise terrorists would lay hands on them. It is actually giving billions of dollars to Pakistan, most of which will be siphoned off by its army, as an insurance for good behaviour. On the one hand, it is ironic that the Pakistan Army is enhancing its fissile material and nuclear weapons stocks with US money. On the other hand, it has the option to exercise proliferation for finances (time-tested formula since General Beg days) should its relations with the US sour once again. Kayani understands the mercurial dynamics of relations with the US. This is where Pakistan’s China card comes in.

By not understanding the China card, the US is making itself irrelevant not only for Pakistan, but for India as well. By inviting Chinese physical presence in its Northern Areas, Kayani has made Beijing a stakeholder in its dispute with India over Kashmir. What is more, the US is calling for Chinese role in South Asian stability; and its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy seems to unwittingly once again hyphenate India, Pakistan relations. Probably, the sense in Washington is that the Kashmir resolution (by US or Chinese mediation) would bring permanent peace between India and Pakistan, and stability in Afghanistan, as the ISI will no longer need the Jihadis. Such an understanding is misplaced. A Kashmir agreement under coercion by China-Pakistan axis will not bring peace, but will become a simmering volcano. What is certain is that the US will have no role left to play in South Asia; especially in Pakistan, which it says in the most dangerous place in the world.

Calling Kayani

The good news is that New Delhi has finally woken up to the need for a communication channel with the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The bad news is that the Indian establishment is ignorant of the protocol and the new diplomacy: how to do business with the Pakistan Army when a civilian dispensation sits in Islamabad. By tucking this 27 March 2011 breaking news, what was a front page story, in an inside page, editors of India’s leading newspaper, The Times of India have also betrayed ignorance of the importance of the Pakistan’s Army Chief, and especially Kayani — in July 2010, he gave himself (though US is taking credit for this) an unprecedented three-year extension starting November 2010 — who will outlast both his President and Prime Minister to oversee Pakistan’s next general elections, leads his country’s strategic dialogue with the United States at the time when President Obama’s next term in office depends on Afghanistan, and controls Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The media report quoting external affairs ministry officials said that the Indian High Commission in Islamabad has been told to establish contact with the Pakistan COAS. This means that the Indian defence advisor would go to the Pakistani Military Intelligence branch seeking an appointment for his boss with Kayani. This was on the day when having received the much-publicised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s invitation to witness the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final at Mohali (Chandigarh) on March 30, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was waiting for Kayani’s clearance before responding to Manmohan Singh’s missive. Having learnt the Zardari lesson, Gilani would not dare bypass his COAS. To recall, after 26/11 attacks, President Asif Ali Zardari, believing that he had inherited his predecessor’s powers, announced without checking with the General Headquarters, Rawalpindi that Pakistan would send its Director General, ISI to India to help investigate the attacks. Zardari was both oblivious of his own army’s involvement in 26/11, and surely out of his depth. Within months he was cut to size, so much so that the entire Pakistani civilian leadership is in disarray and lacks credibility .

For India, talking with Kayani is long overdue; it should have happened when he took over as the army chief in November 2007. The 26/11 attacks, one year after he took charge, perhaps were his reminder that Delhi needed to reach out to him. He even sent his DG, ISI, Lt General Shuja Pasha to the Indian High Commission under pretext of attending Iftar party in October 2009 to signal his growing impatience with the stalled Kashmir resolution dialogue. It has finally fallen on a lowly Indian brigadier (in the Indian High Commission) to invite Kayani to probable bilateral (backchannel) talks. This will be a naive and flawed move. Realpolitik demands that the Indian National Security Advisor (Kayani may disregard invitation from his Indian counterpart) invite the Pakistan Army Chief to visit India and maybe speak at the National Defence College in Delhi; the backchannel signal should be that the Indian Prime Minister would be pleased to meet him. This could be the beginning of a formalised strategic dialogue with Pakistan. Without this, the present bilateral and backchannel talks with Pakistani civilian leaders will continue to flounder with the possibility of more 26/11 attacks.

Were this to happen, it would slowly transform India’s conduct of its national security; a necessity considering that the military in both Pakistan and China is part and parcel of their national security policy-making. Hypothetically, if Kayani were indeed to visit India, as part of protocol, he would also meet with the Indian military leadership. This could be the moment of introspection for the three Indian service chiefs to assess glaring discrepancies in relative levels. In Pakistan, all corps commanders function at both operational and strategic levels; while preparing their command for war, they are key advisors to the COAS on national security matters. In India, even the service chiefs are operational players. For example, after 26/11 attacks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the three chiefs only once to know their views on conduct of war. It is another matter, that on their own initiative, they started preparing for a likely Indian retaliation with possibility of escalation. Instead of being members of the Cabinet Committee on National Security headed by the Prime Minister, the service chiefs remain content with being special invitees when called to attend. After the 1998 nuclear tests when India declared itself a nuclear weapon state, for service chiefs to remain operational players when they are responsible for the delivery of strategic (nuclear) weapons is a fatal national security shortcoming. The government knows what reforms and corrective measures need to be taken. It is however afraid that they may make the military bold enough to seek a larger role. And hence the hesitation to invite General Kayani, Pakistan’s real power centre, to India.