Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prof. Rajaraman on deterring Pakistan

I had written earlier (most recently last month in Economic Times and earlier for CLAWS) about the need to have an adequate conventional deterrence strategy to deal with Pakistan's provocations either on the border or through its support for terrorist attacks in India.  These had mostly been in the context of India's default option of stopping the dialogue with Pakistan after every outrage.  My sense was that while cutting off dialogue might win some support from the TV talking heads, they are strategically foolish and have never worked.  (An equally serious problem is the unnecessary euphoria after every diplomatic breakthrough.  An essay I wrote in the Hindu immediately after Vajpayee Lahore bus trip in early 1999 makes the point about inflated hopes - and of course Pakistan already had its forces in Kargil by this time.  The Hindu's archives do not go that far back, but I found a cached copy of that essay here)

Prof. R. Rajaram has an essay in Times of India two days back that also calls for a conventional deterrence strategy against Pakistan.  His argument is slightly different from mine, though equally valid.  He argues that India's nuclear deterrence will not work if Pakistani leadership does not believe that India will hit back.  As he puts it "Many in Pakistan (and even in India) believe India is too soft a state to actually go through with a nuclear attack which would decimate cities and kill lakhs of people."  Therefore, he proposes that "If despite our restraint so far yet another major attack takes place on Indian soil, funded, organised or masterminded by elements in Pakistan, we must seriously consider a counter-attack."  

The problem though is that I doubt if the Indian political and military leadership do much in terms of sitting down together and planning carefully for such an eventuality.  If they did, they would need to consider what India's options are, taking into consideration what the safe limits for operations are to prevent escalation and what will represent punishment for the Pakistan army to convince them to desist from such actions in the future.  My choice is an attack on PoK, as suggested in my Economic Times article.  Attacking in PoK reduces the chances for escalation because Islamabad will not fear (and cannot claim) that their survival is under threat, thus reducing the potential for escalation. Because India officially claims PoK, we are also within our legitimate rights to take territory there  and hold on to it (the problem with taking territory in Pakistan proper would be that everybody knows that we will eventually have to return it, reducing its value as punishment).  It will punish the Pakistan army because any loss of PoK territory, even small amounts, will represent a bloody nose for them.  Finally, it will strengthen the civilian leadership over the Pak military because it will demonstrate to the average Pakistani citizen that the army is incompetent even in the military field.  

Of course, doing all this requires planning.  The Indian civilian and military leadership will have to consider whether the Indian forces have the needed capability to carry out such an operation and if not, what equipment, forces, planning and so on are needed to make up that deficiency.  Then they will have to wait for the next opportunity, another Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack or a serious incident along the LoC or the international border.  

And the chances that the Indian government is organized enough to do all this? Somewhere between nil and nothing.  My guess is that irrespective which party rules in New Delhi, we are destined to remain a soft state, with all that this implies for India's nuclear credibility.  

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