SPEAKING FREELY Shocks to force Pakistan's hand on terror
By Anindya Batabyal
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Incidents of firing between Indian and Pakistan soldiers across the Line of Control (LOC) has increased dramatically in the past few months. While the two countries's prime ministers met on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly last month in New York, shots across the Keran sector of the LOC continued for over two weeks in October.
Since the killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistani forces on August 6, 2013 in Jammu and Kashmir, a series of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army have taken place along the LOC
and the international border. The violations came in the wake of reports that the infiltration across the LOC by anti-India terror groups based in Pakistan has increased significantly in the past few months.
Within and outside parliament, the Congress-led UPA government has of India has come under pressure from the BJP and other opposition parties for its handling of India's bilateral ties with Pakistan. The debate about whether or not India should continue the dialogue with Pakistan has resurfaced. Proponents of peace with Pakistan argue that nothing substantial has been achieved whenever India has stopped talking to Pakistan - as it did after every major provocation. Their opponents counter that dialogue has not stopped Pakistan's provocations.
While both sides may have merits in their respective arguments, the simple truth, which the present Indian government refuses to acknowledge, is that the dialogue or the lack thereof has little or no impact on Pakistan's policy towards India. The primary reason behind Pakistan's provocative acts is that India has eschewed military retaliation against Pakistan for the fear of nuclear escalation. And because Pakistan does not fear Indian retaliation, Indian deterrence against Pakistan is almost dead. To prevent Pakistan from indulging in provocative acts, India urgently requires to resurrect its deterrence against Pakistan, including the option of using force in a limited war.
Given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed states, is there strategic space for limited war between these two South Asian states in the near future? It is important to analyze in this context whether India can exercise the option of a limited war to safeguard its national interest instead of pursuing its present policy of putting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to desist from adopting military adventurism and end to its strategy of aiding and abetting the anti-India terror groups, which continue to operate from within Pakistan's territory even after the deadly 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
The concept of limited war originated during the Cold War and was based on the belief that a total and unlimited war between the two superpowers, the United States and the former Soviet Union, would never take place as it would be completely disastrous for both on every term. Limited war is defined as one in which the belligerents restrict the purpose for which they fight to concrete, well-defined objectives that do not demand the utmost military effort that the belligerents are capable of. A limited war is limited in terms of its duration, scope and objectives. The battle is confined to a local geographical area and is directed against selective targets, primarily those which are of direct military importance, thereby keeping the social, economic and political institutions of the defending state intact. Moreover, in a limited war, there have to be very clear and concrete political objectives; once the objectives are reached, the military operations must be stopped.
The very probability of a limited war between India and Pakistan gained importance after both the countries conducted the nuclear tests in May 1998 and declared themselves as states possessing nuclear arsenals. Many strategic analysts believed that nuclear weapons did not make war obsolete between states which possess those weapons; they simply imposed another dimension on the way warfare could be conducted. According to this view, conventional war between two nuclear weapon states remains feasible though with definite limitations if escalation across the nuclear threshold is to be avoided.
Since May 1998, India and Pakistan have mobilized forces more than twice along their border and there has continuously been talk of a limited war between the two states. During the Kargil conflict of 1999, which was a kind of a limited war, the Indian armed forces demonstrated their capability to fight and win a limited war with Pakistan without violating the sanctity of the LOC.
Moreover, India has lost the superiority it once enjoyed (as was demonstrated during the 1965 and 1971 wars) in terms of conventional military forces with Pakistan after the May 1998 nuclear tests. The very rationale of nuclear deterrence prevents India from mounting an all out conventional military assault on Pakistan because there always remains the danger of such a conflict crossing the nuclear threshold limit and resulting in a nuclear holocaust. The element of unpredictability in nuclear deterrence actually reinforces it between any two nuclear weapon states.
For many years, Pakistan followed the strategy of bleeding India through supporting a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. The May 1998 nuclear tests in South Asia further encouraged it, as Pakistan calculated that stability at the nuclear level makes sub-conventional or low intensity conflicts safer without the risk of escalation. The Kargil conflict of 1999 clearly demonstrated that Pakistan could be recklessly adventurist and capable of behaving irrationally at times of its own choosing.
The possession of nuclear arsenals has raised the threshold for Pakistan to take strategic risks against India, its main adversary. This was further proved by the suicide terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, the terror attacks at Mumbai in November 2008, and several other terrorist strikes in different locations across India, all of which were carried out by anti-India terrorist groups operating from Pakistan territory. Pakistan has provided unprecedented levels of support to various anti-India terrorist groups, including for not only terrorist attacks within India, but also attacks against Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan.
After the 1998 nuclear tests and the Kargil conflict of 1999, incidents of cross-border terrorism have only increased with Pakistan-based terrorist groups carrying out attacks against military and civilian targets throughout India. There is little doubt that continuing the peace dialogue with Pakistan has not produced the desired result as the Pakistan government has not dismantled the infrastructure of the anti-India terror groups operating from within its territory and has also not done enough to bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26/11 terror attacks at Mumbai. Pakistan state agencies continue to view these anti-India terror outfits as strategic assets, which could be used to keep India under political and strategic pressure.
There are also credible intelligence reports to suggest that the Pakistan army and the ISI have chalked out a two-pronged strategy for after the departure of United States-led NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. It comprises using the Afghan Taliban to gain political influence and strategic depth in Afghanistan - thereby simultaneously reducing whatever influence India has gained in that country in the past decade - and using anti-India terrorist groups like Lashkari Taiba and Jaishe Mohammed to inflame Jammu and Kashmir and keep India under constant political and strategic pressure.
Therefore, if a limited war against Pakistan is waged by confining it within the Kashmir region, India's primary political objective could be to dismantle the various terrorist training camps located in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir region through short swift means of military operations across the LOC without escalating it further by opening other fronts across the international boundary with Pakistan. But there lies the possibility that many terror operatives might disperse into other parts of Pakistan and escape from the military onslaught.
India can also launch a punitive attack across the LOC to degrade Pakistan military's logistics and communication centers as these would lead to minimum collateral damage and inflict attrition without occupying any territory. While pursuing these strategies, India can simultaneously launch a diplomatic offensive to seek international support for restraining Pakistan from its military adventurism against India.
Given its present status as a safe haven for terror groups, including al-Qaeda, and dependence on external financial support, a judicious combination of political and economic pressure from the international community might induce Pakistan to behave responsibly and desist from taking steps to escalate a limited conflict with India. Pakistan's image as a safe hideout for dreaded terror groups and their leaders became even more exposed after the Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed by United States special operation forces in the Pakistani city of Abbotabad on May 02, 2011. So, if India launches a short swift punitive strike against the infrastructure of terror groups located inside territory under Pakistan's control without inflicting any large scale collateral damage and further escalation, the opinion of the international community is unlikely to be critical of such an action on part of India.
However, the biggest problem that confronts the protagonists of limited war is that of preventing the conflict from escalating. During the course of a limited war, aspects like domestic politics and public opinion within a state might raise the stakes, which could lead to spiraling of tensions. Also, in case of a limited war with Pakistan, even if India is ready and has geared up its forces for limiting the war, there will be no guarantee that Pakistan would do the same. Therefore, there always lies the risk of going into a limited war with the assumption that the adversary would play an equal part by keeping the war limited.
Although a limited war between two nuclear weapon states consists of risks, a country like India can prepare for it in order to deter Pakistan from acting provocatively against it. The possession of nuclear weapons has so far elevated the threshold of Pakistan to undertake calculated strategic risks against India. Simultaneously, the fear of nuclear escalation has prevented the Indian government to limit its responses to diplomatic protests and calling off talks after major provocations from Pakistan. Since 1998, it has been proved that these are ineffectual measures, which only demonstrate India's helplessness and signals to Pakistan that India has to eventually return to dialogue. From this perspective, India's overall security has deteriorated after it became an overt nuclear weapons state in 1998.
Unless India is able to threaten Pakistan with some form of military retaliation even if on a limited scale, Pakistan has little incentive to stop supporting terrorist groups operating against India from its soil. For initiating and successfully winning a limited war against Pakistan, India needs to develop at least a small set of rapid-response capabilities that includes special operations forces and use of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV) that can wage punitive strikes inside territories under Pakistan's control as there is little chance of this escalating into either a full-scale conventional war or a nuclear conflict.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Anindya Batabyal is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India. His areas of research interests include Theory Building and Empirical Issues in International Relations, Indian Foreign Policy, Environmental Politics and Political Theory.