National and International Issues

Defining the Nature of Future Conflict: India’s Perspective

The nuclearization of South Asia in 1998 was a defining moment set to change the course of future of this region. A lot has been written and said about this game changing event. From an apparent Indian standpoint, it ushered an opening to its desire of regional and world dominance. While on the other hand, Pakistan’s capability was seen as a balancing act and to deter aggression. Whether deterrence has been achieved or not will be the subject of analysis here. The brief analysis is intended to understand the real motives from India’s standpoint more so than Pakistan; for the latter’s intentions have been amply clear and apparent.

Looking back at the history of Indo-Pak relationship, it was evident to the Indian policymakers and planners that Pakistan with its chief strength lying in the centre of gravity – Armed Forces – would always pose grave challenges against its dream of becoming a regional and world power. How could this then be tackled? The answer to this must have witnessed thorough debates and lengthy discussions and pragmatic SWOT analysis. After all, a country aspirant to become a recognized power would not have wanted to be embarrassed at the hands of its smaller neighbours every now and then. The likely pros and cons of the evolving discussion must have focused on the following:

•  Could Pakistan be subjugated to a pliant state through a full-fledged conventional war, particularly under the nuclear hang when there would always be a possibility of this falling in to nuclear domain? The answer must have been a clear ‘No’.

• Where do the chief strengths and weaknesses of both countries lie? 

The answer could have been as follows:

•   Pakistan’s Strength: (i) Armed Forces; (ii)       Ability to gel in times of crisis; (iii) Religion, a binding factor (though the fragmentation on account of sectarian divide exposes it to exploitation).

•  Pakistan’s Weaknesses: (i) Weak and exposed inner front; (ii) Highly fragmented society on various accounts; (iii) Weak judicial system; (iv) Weak education base; (v) A prevalent feudal system; (vi) Vulnerable masses on account of political, ethnic, sectarian and linguistic divide; (vii) An exploitable proximity in a volatile region with prospects of hostile neighbours on its East and West; (ix) Weak international image and perception.

India’s Strength: (i) International clout on account of large population, a potential market, which is an attractive destination for world economies. In a nutshell, extremely conducive environment with the sole superpower standing alongside; (ii) Centre of oldest civilization; (iii) Democracy; (iv) Cultural clout; (v) Well-established institutional base; (vi) National will to analyze and read situations and also draw strengths from its ancestors, notably Chanakya and apply the strategies on ground; (vii) A very strong economic base which offers enormous capacity to invest in its defence related institutions and intelligence services.

•    India’s Weaknesses: (i) Her ambition of rising to dominance where it fears that the internal situation which is weak due to various reasons may become ugly if not exploited intelligently. Resultantly, this may derail the process of its rise; (ii) An exploitable proximity; (iii) The philosophy of imposing fear, failure of which induces a defensive mindset; (iv) Essentially Hindus are people of defensive mindset whose sole offensive effort lies in deterrence through other (non-conventional) means. This mindset can be defeated through a consolidated show of force and offensive mind set; (v) A large majority of low caste Hindus, who are mostly oppressed and can be exploited intelligently.             

•    International opinion will favor which nation during the crisis?

•   With the rise of China can India benefit from the alignment of its interest with that of the sole superpower and the world community at large?

•   Will her ambition to dominate the world through the domination of the region, to start with, could be actualized through direct confrontation mode or through use of her soft power (strength) and the active role of state and non-state actors? After all the nontraditional means and the strength of her exterior maneuver had already proved her might during the 1971 debacle and the Kargil episode.

Looking at the comparative data and analyzing the pros and cons, it must have been an easier approach drawing the due strength from the mindset of Indian policymakers. The strategy of strength versus strength was mutually destructive and therefore ought to be avoided. Thus looking at the dominant nature of military hierarchy within the policymaking processes in Pakistan, an easier approach was to let go the tit for tat in the military domain, both in the conventional and nuclear sense. This could save them from the horrendous effects of war and instead go on to make plans to use their strength to strike Pakistan’s weaknesses with prudence, relative freedom and ease. Events like 9/11 provided just the right kind of opportunity to go for such an approach.

The decision of ‘going nuclear’ was a calculated approach which had the obvious fallout in the shape of Pakistan following suit. However, this was exactly what must have been perceived by India. It provided the kind of deterrence which was essential against the conventional nature of conflict and opened doors for nontraditional use of force. It was the playing field India was hoping to draw Pakistan into and use the immense amount of potential that it had accumulated through the Chanakyan philosophy of statehood and the enabling environment. In simple words, working with strength against weakness was what could be said as a perfect dream for India.

The decision path may have evolved around the following cardinal pillars:

•  While having denied coercion of Pakistan on account of its chief strength – the Armed Forces, closing the doors for good of the conventional showdown, and opening the avenue for exploiting its main strengths against the notable weaknesses in Pakistan. This would include using maximum possible nontraditional means aimed at limiting Pakistan’s options in as many fields as possible. In this backdrop, it would also aim to take advantage of the ongoing war against terror, the soft image and the economic clout it enjoys.

•     Here, it may be important to note that Hinduism is essentially not a religion in the classic sense. It is a collection of stories, practiced rituals, myths, varying cultural practices and following the age old pattern of various traditions. Chanakya’s Arthashastra forms part of his mixed religious belief though stoutly followed. With its strong assertion to consider all neighbours as enemy and making them weak when they are in trouble, the hostility against Pakistan is not an option but part of the fulfillment of religious belief. Therefore, we should never be illusioned by the occasional display of friendship, as it goes against their nature. Secondly, the philosophy of Hinduism at its extreme, goes on to negate all the other religious beliefs. While it has absorbed the chosen teachings of some of the other religions notably, Buddhism and Jainism to its advantage, it went on to cruelly strike them strongly and made all possible efforts for its own mythology to prevail.

•    Coming back to the subject, the chief areas of their targeting strategy against Pakistan would include:

•   The psychological domain whereby the Pakistani nation is transformed into believing the futility of its creation and questioning its very ideology. It would also include the creation of fearful society whose mindset is inclined towards a defensive rather than a proactive approach. It would also look to create a feeling of loss of faith amongst masses in the governing mechanism and a general prevalence of an utter helplessness, desperation and disappointment. 

•   Targeting cultural, religious, economic, political and other social vulnerabilities. In this case, all possible measures could be used as were preached in Chanakya’s preaching of statehood as contained in Arthashastra. From the sportsground to cultural onslaught to the economic woes, and to the loss of faith in the political dispensation, the approach may follow even the cruelest pattern and force Pakistan to turn into a nation with a defensive mindset and ready to play to the tunes set by the Indians. This was to be an essentially ‘softening up’ phase to aid in negotiating deals from the position of strength, whenever the need is felt.

• Reinforce Pakistan Army’s belief about the possibility of a limited conventional war so that its focus would not shift to the real threat which had undergone major transformation and was in the sub-conventional domain. In this context the coining of the term “cold start strategy” was a perfect work. It is a setup for distraction and works as a revolving door; the more you believe in it the more you fall in to its trap. It has drawn the attention away from the real threat which is actually the main effort now. Indians must also have a greater conviction after the Kargil episode, and experienced the weaknesses of Pakistani exterior maneuver and fault lines within the state apparatus. Besides, it also opened the way for an obvious international sympathy for India against the perceived aggressive Pakistani mindset, which appeared to be disregarding the deterrent nature of nuclear balance.  Ironically, it is now Pakistan which tends to believe in the possibility of limited conventional war and the preparation thereof puts a greater strain on its dwindling economic resources.

•   Unleash the onslaught through aggressive media policy and the exterior maneuver and try to fabricate stories over Pakistan’s inability and irresponsibility in handling its internal issues and nuclear capability. This would result in putting increased caution on Pakistan and create a defensive mindset. The ongoing war against terrorism and the international environment have provided the ideal platform for exploitation.

•   Use the clear advantage of changed international environment and support of the sole superpower and other friendly players to its advantage and work with a classic set of harmony of its power pillars, the use of soft power with the aim to isolate Pakistan. 

Pakistan obviously faces grave challenges and must analyze the degree of threat in the nontraditional realm which has increased manifolds since 1998 after nuclearization. This lays down the guidelines for our approach which must evolve around the nature of threat and the prevalent environment with the vision to focus on a long-term policy. Therefore, the recommended strategy may unfold as follows:

Development of Consensus-based National Security Policy. Keeping the threat design and its interests both in the short and long term in mind, Pakistan will have to harness its various elements of national power into a well-knit unit and evolve an overall policy framework. This calls for development of a well-debated and consensus-based national security policy. The existing serious national security environment calls for an immediate attention. This unity in approach with an open mind deliberation has the inbuilt potential to put caution amongst the planners in the adversary camp.

Reorganizing the Force Structure. This will call for bold steps in reorganizing the force structure yet be cognizant of the economic crunch. The reorganization may be evolved on the following lines:

•  The threat essentially being nontraditional in nature will require the main focus of response to shift towards our intelligence resources. They will need to be modernized through maximum possible allocation of resources. Specialized intelligence commands based on territorial nature, environment and the type of threat may be required.  Importantly, they will not only need to be proactive through a harmonized arrangement among all the agencies but also work to exploit loopholes in the adversary’s system and define our own measures and actions (the opposite seems to be true at the moment). The analysis of the Indian design to wage itself against Pakistan must aim to study all the events where our soft image and the nontraditional areas have been targeted. To start with, the analysis process must not dispel issues which are otherwise relegated as falling in the realm of conspiracy theories. In essence, a more serious and pragmatic threat analysis will bring us closer to reality and enable us for an all-encompassing response.

•  Pakistan’s conventional forces will have to be reorganized in line with the type of threat. In due course certain cuts may be required and savings may be used on force modernization. The new force may be fully/largely mobile, mostly mechanized, and flexible, with a sizable chunk being helicopter borne. This will call for remodeling the organizational configuration to have more independent self-contained outfits within larger organizations which may be stationed carefully in line with the evolving threat and ready to respond on a short notice. Secondly, our war strategy must now conform to an overall offensive-defensive mode for both conventional and nuclear domain. India will never back down from their path and the only way to cause restraints and caution is through an offensive mindset. In any case, the offensive weapons are cheaper than the overall defensive response.

•     In the nuclear domain, all-out efforts may be made to attain a foolproof second strike capability. This will also require the effective development of an aerial surveillance system which should include a sound satellite capability. Additionally, a robust, reliable and a sound state-of-the-art foolproof communication network will be extremely vital. Our cyber capability will also need to be developed and young capable minds can be useful in the development of this expertise.

•   Our naval forces may get an increased attention and become capable to operate from multiple bases. Development of new ports is, therefore, not just an option but a necessity for the ultimate survival of the country. Secondly, the naval arm must be fully geared towards realizing the economic potential of the nation.

•     A well-balanced coastal command, duly represented by the three services should come up in line with the economic situation. In this regard, studies must begin now.

Expose the Threat to Humanity. Serious studies must be undertaken and the Hindu mindset exposed to the world at large. The thrust must be to make the others note the gravity of situation and the threat Hinduism, as preached by India, poses to the entire world. This is essential for breaking the myth of common belief of people about ‘shining India’.

Addressing the Existing Situation. Today we are facing a crisis situation which calls for radical measures as follows:

The chief responsibility of the enforcement of law and order should rest with police and second line forces. Its effectiveness will help against the early committal of armed forces. The Government, through a joint public-private effort, should undertake actions to modernize the law enforcement mechanism. This will enable citizen ownership and help in evolving an effective joint counter strategy. The enforcement mechanism will need to be proactive and ruthless.

•  In the realm of counterterrorism strategy, the foremost attention must be paid to deter and separate criminals from terrorists who are drawing maximum benefits from the ongoing situation and are blessed with ownership from the real terrorists. This can be done through framing of anti-terror laws and development of special courts with an authority to pass judgments for terror-related crimes with no privilege for referral to the superior courts. Alongside, the law enforcement agencies through a special privilege should be authorized to shoot on sight those who are seen indulging in the specific terror-related crimes.

•   Our intellectual community, think tanks and the media should aggressively work to expose the involvement of Indian intelligence in various domains. It will require extending necessary information in a controlled manner by the intelligence sources to the think tanks and the media houses. The intellectual community must also be involved in debating and suggesting strategies and counter strategies through an institutionalized mechanism. This effort should also help to proactively study the environment and consequently enable to change our approach from defensive to proactive.

•   The incidents like attack on Sri Lankan cricket team, the suicide bombing and terrorist incidents particularly when they indicate the attempt to interfere in the peace process and also target the economic interests and the ongoing disturbances in Balochistan, must be critically analyzed from the point of view of India’s attempt at limiting Pakistan’s options.

In a nutshell, we must not lose sight of the efforts of extreme nature aimed at tarnishing Pakistan’s image in virtually all spheres both in and outside Pakistan. The endeavor must, therefore, remain to investigate and expose India’s design. In this regard, the peace rhetoric coined every now and then must not defocus us or make us believe in the illusion of such attempts. These are attempts aimed at distraction and Pakistan must be capable of responding effectively.      

•    The Afghan refugees’ activities may be confined to the refugee camps only. Alongside, a strict headcount of those Afghans who have established themselves as Pakistani citizens through the connivance with the corrupt officials be done. The decision for their disposal be made through well thought out strategy. 

•   Modern surveillance techniques of drones may be used with the joint help of civil and military for keeping a close watch over the likely terrorist hideouts/suspected areas and border crossing points.

•  We must empower MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to engage with our diaspora and through a well-coordinated and planned strategy, and help in image and perception management. Week long national celebrations to be held coinciding with 14th August in all the important capitals in the world. During this week, cultural shows, bridal and fashion displays, seminars, and industrial exhibitions may be planned. Our diaspora can be geared towards making contributions for organizing such events. Our foreign missions’ performances may be gauged from this standpoint as well.

The seriousness of the situation Pakistan is confronted with, particularly under the extreme limits of financial crisis, calls for a sincere and joint approach with all stakeholders on-board. The Quaid’s vision, expressed in his historical three words: unity, faith, and discipline, is the best recipe for moving in the right direction. This approach will be able to lift Pakistan’s hope to survive with dignity and elevate its image as a responsible member of the nuclear club and of the international community. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speeches and sayings are a great beacon and recipe for unity and progress and should be studied at all the premier institutions as a separate leg.


The writer has held important staff, instructional and command assignments as instructor at Pakistan Military Academy, National Defence University and staff assignments at General Headquarters. He has been associated with think tanks for the past 7 years including four years at NUST since 2014.

E-mail: [email protected]

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