Geopolitics

Pakistan’s Strategic Dilemma
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 14 Apr , 2016

Pakistani threat of use of low yield nuclear weapon on its own territory against Indian spearheads is a big lie. Both in time and space, the Pakistani threat of use of these  nuclear weapons would mean destruction and devastation of its own heart land and cities like Lahore, Sialkot or Gujranwala! It is a pure bluff that has been perpetuated by the Pakistanis to frighten the world community and thereby pressure India from responding to a terror attack! 

For long time Pakistani strategy was dependent on three As, Army, America and Allah, in that order of priority. Since last three decades or so  ‘C’ is added denoting China, it’s all weather, sweeter than honey, higher than mountains and deeper than ocean friendship (I am only repeating the almost lyrical way diehard Pakis describe their relationship).

Peace with India is good for Pakistan and if the whole border gets activated and India also decided to employ a strategy of ‘thousand cuts’, the much smaller and economically anemic Pakistan will wither away even without a nuclear war.

What India must do, but seldom does, is to constantly remind Pak of its strategic vulnerability. Its crucial targets and ‘heart’ that is Punjab province, is a barely 150 km deep strip of land along Indian border. Virtually every major ‘strategic’ target of Pakistan is within the range of Prithvi tactical missile of which India has aplenty.  From Mendhar in J&K the Kahuta nuclear installations are within the extended range of Pinaka rockets of Indian artillery. Peace with India is good for Pakistan and if the whole border gets activated and India also decided to employ a strategy of ‘thousand cuts’, the much smaller and economically anemic Pakistan will wither away even without a nuclear war.

The GHQ in Rawalpindi, the real arbiter of Pakistan’s destiny, has been long aware of this problem. In the 1980s with the Russians in Afghanistan and Indians forever belligerent, the Pak army devised a ‘Mad Mullah’ strategy to cover its weakness. The argument was that it is true that Pakistan is weaker vis a vis India, but being an ‘irrational’ actor, it will resort to nuclear weapon use pre-emptively. After 1998 when both India and Pakistan went overtly nuclear, this has been the basis of its strategic thinking; ‘Calculated Irrationality’ in nuclear parlance so as to enhance its deterrence against India. India could live with it since as a territorial status quo power it had no interest in changing the territorial status quo.

But since the first Afghan war 1979-85, Pakistan has been saddled with terrorist groups and non-state actors that are out of control of the army and the state. Pakistan itself has suffered several devastating attacks on its schools and military establishments. The attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and later Mumbai attack of 26 November 2008, were a manifestation of that lack of control. In response to the lumbering mobilisation post the Parliament attack, India fashioned a ‘Cold Start’ doctrine whereby in response to a ‘serious’ terror attack from across the border, India will keep in readiness a hard hitting strike force to ‘punish’ Pakistan. It is obvious that to be effective as a punishment, this operation would be carried out against the strategic heartland of Pakistani Punjab. A limited attack opposite Rajasthan sector in desert would not be an option as it may fail to impact Pakistan and public opinion there.

The real problem for Pakistan is its lousy geography. Even a limited Indian offensive in the direction of Lahore or Sialkot or both will mean loss of home and hearth of Pakistani soldiers!

Military logic says that a side embarking on an offensive and that has the initiative will always make initial gains-whatever the strength of the defence. Since Indian aim to make only limited gains, this is perfectly feasible option. Pakistan used this very tactic in Kargil in 1999 when it conducted a conventional offensive campaign under nuclear overhang. It is ingenious on part of Pakistan that what she can do but India cannot?

The real problem for Pakistan is its lousy geography. Even a limited Indian offensive in the direction of Lahore or Sialkot or both will mean loss of home and hearth of Pakistani soldiers! Neither the three As and C can be of any help in this predicament.

It is at this stage some ‘bright’ mind in GHQ Rawlpindi conjured up the concept of ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ or small sub kiloton (low yield) nuclear weapons to be used against the Indian spearheads. The logic (?) is a throwback to the Cold War strategy of NATO forces. The US and its allies at that time, faced with a decisive conventional edge of USSR on mainland Europe had propagated this concept.

The Pakistani strategists who tried to ape this Cold War concept forget that the Soviets never accepted this and had vowed that any use of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise will invite full response from them. India has likewise not accepted the Pak proposition of use of low yield nuclear weapons in the tactical battle area and has promised full response. But having thus trapped India, Pakistan has now invoked world support to restrain India’s ‘cold start’ doctrine since it will lead to nuclear exchange in the subcontinent, a scenario that scares the world.

…the Pakistani threat of use of these  nuclear weapons would mean destruction and devastation of its own heart land and cities like Lahore, Sialkot or Gujranwala!

But Pakistani threat of use of low yield nuclear weapon on its own territory against Indian spearheads is a big lie. Both in time and space, the Pakistani threat of use of these  nuclear weapons would mean destruction and devastation of its own heart land and cities like Lahore, Sialkot or Gujranwala! Imagine a situation that there was no Atlantic ocean and Russian conventional forces were about to reach New York or Boston, would the Americans then have threatened use of ‘tactical nukes’? It is ridiculous beyond common sense to think that the Americans would destroy their own cities or kill their own citizens to stop Russians! Neither will the Pakistanis do it. It is a pure bluff that has been perpetuated by the Pakistanis to frighten the world community and thereby pressure India from responding to a terror attack!

This is where the recent Pathankot terror attack was a watershed moment. If that attack was to have been successful, India would have been forced to retaliate in kind and Pak’s bluff would have been called. It seems saner voices in both the countries have seen the danger and wish to co-ordinate their  response to such attacks. Ideally, both the countries should co-operate in dealing with terrorists. That is a much better option than ‘pie in the sky’ stratagems like ‘tactical nuclear weapons’.

Fear is the key to internal and external peace. It is fear of punishment that keeps the rule of law internally and fears of loss-territorial, economic or in terms of prestige that stops another nation from acting inimical to our interests. Unfortunately some in mushroomed ‘Dilli strategic Schools’ think otherwise. The basic Indian illusion is that peace begets peace, violence or use of force is evil and even retaliation to an attack is a sin.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

former Joint Director War History Division, Min of Defence. Currently co-ordinator of Pune based think tank 'Inpad' that is affiliated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.  Also military historian and Kashmir watcher for last 28 years. He has authored a book ‘Let the Jhelum Smile Again’ and ‘Nuclear Menace the Satyagraha Approach’ published in 1996.

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