(Seventh IISS-CISS Workshop in London South Asian Strategic Stability – Deterrence and Arms Control 6 February 2020)
1. Ladies and gentlemen. Good morning to all of you. I am indeed very grateful to the IISS London and CISS Islamabad for honouring me once again to deliver the keynote address at the annual joint workshop of the two prestigious think tanks. The focus in these workshops remains on the by now elusive ‘Strategic Stability in South Asia’. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of some of the best brains in the business, South Asia has remained on a slippery slope over the years lurching dangerously towards strategic instability rather than strategic stability.
2. At the outset, I would like to begin by stating what today is a South Asian reality; the reality is that it is Pakistan that must shoulder the responsibility of maintaining the vital strategic balance in the conventional and nuclear equation viz India as the critical determinant of the state of strategic stability in South Asia. If Pakistan were to allow imbalances to be introduced in the strategic equation, South Asia would list towards serious strategic instability. This in turn would lead to catastrophic consequences in view of India’s historically persistent and insatiable drive for regional domination especially given India’s current irrational, unstable and belligerent internal and external policies. By default over the decades therefore, it has been a Pakistani responsibility not to allow the South Asian strategic stability to be disturbed to its disadvantage despite India’s repeated efforts to make it unstable. And here I would like to show with evidence that Pakistan has fulfilled its responsibility with appropriate strategic responses at every swing of the instability-stability pendulum in South Asia.
3. Amongst many others, I will briefly recount India’s seven major destabilizing strategic steps in the last fifty years, which on the average amount to one major destabilizing step every seven years, and the corresponding Pakistani response in each case to redress the instability.
a. Case 1. In the seventies, immediately after the 1971 War, India conducted its first nuclear test in May 1974 altering the tenuous strategic balance in South Asia to its advantage. While India played the farce of calling it a peaceful nuclear explosion, Pakistan responded by embarking on a nuclear weapons programme of its own as the only strategic way of redressing the induced strategic instability. Pakistan succeeded in its efforts and the rest is history.
b. Case 2. In the eighties, in 1986-87, without provocation, India massed its army and air force complete with weapons and ammunition on Pakistan’s borders under the garb of Exercise Brasstacks in an operational posture threatening mainland Pakistan’s north to south lines of communications in the desert sectors. In response, Pakistan not only counter mobilized its conventional forces strongly on the international borders but further, dropped hints of a nuclear capability coming into play, for the first time introducing the rudimentary concept of nuclear deterrence in South Asia as a balancing factor in a relatively asymmetrical operational environment. India blinked and strategic stability was restored.
c. Case 3. In the nineties India upped the ante and introduced in its strategic inventory ballistic missiles Prithvi and Agni as short and medium range nuclear delivery systems covering the length and breadth of Pakistan. The resultant instability compelled Pakistan to respond through the development of the Ghaznavi, Shaheen and Ghauri ballistic missiles ensuring that the vast geographical dimensions of the Indian peninsula came within the Pakistani strategic range. The Indian attempt to introduce strategic instability was adequately checked.
d. Case 4. More importantly, also in the nineties, India came out in to the open and transited from a so called peaceful nuclear state to an overt nuclear weapon state by conducting five nuclear tests in May 1998. These were followed immediately by immature political threats at responsible levels to drive home the point of the strategic balance having swung in India’s favour. Pakistan’s response is now part of the history of the South Asian strategic paradigm. Pakistan confidently responded by conducting six nuclear tests within two weeks of the Indian tests and restored the strategic balance
e. Case 5. In the first decade of this century, the Indian military, having lost the advantage of relative asymmetry in conventional forces because of Pakistan’s nuclear equalizer, and also having failed to coerce Pakistan in 2001-02 despite the ten months full scale military deployment of Operation Parakaram, conceived and operationalized the provocative Cold Start Doctrine between 2005 and 2010 as a possible solution to regain the strategic advantage in a limited war scenario. It formally admitted in 2014 to the existence of the Cold Start Doctrine after a ten years state of denial. This in an environment of a nuclear overhang in South Asia in an attempt to find space for limited conventional war against an established nuclear power. In the face of this destabilizing development, Pakistan took corresponding operational, doctrinal and force developmental measures both in the conventional as well as nuclear fields, including the establishment of a Full Spectrum Deterrence regime, in order to ensure that strategic stability in South Asia remained on an even keel. As a consequence, the Cold Start Doctrine stayed neutralized, nuclear deterrence holds, and informed strategists consider large scale wars on the international borders as a thing of the past.
f. Case 6. In February last year, as if to maintain the dubious track record of its consistent attempts to induce strategic instability, this time linked to seeking political and electoral advantage for the BJP, India embarrassed itself by undertaking an unsuccessful air strike at Balakot in mainland Pakistan, crossing the red line of the international boundary. In the process, there was much chest thumping in the Indian strategic circles about having called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, which in my judgment was a very poor conclusion. I’ll have more to say on that later. However, Pakistan Air Force responded the next day through a carefully calibrated
response in two ways. First, it struck with precision the unmanned flanks of three ground targets in the Rajauri Sector so as not to cause casualties and spared the senior hierarchy of the Indian military present at one of the targets. Second, the PAF humiliated the Indian Air Force by shooting down two IAF fighters and capturing one pilot, not to mention the IAF’s fratricide in shooting down one of its own helicopters resulting in seven deaths. The two actions drove home the point strongly that Pakistan would forever continue to disallow strategic instability to become a norm. Strategic stability was restored and no new normal was allowed to prevail.
g. Case 7. Finally, a point that runs as a scarlet thread through the last five decades as a constant is the fact of large scale budgetary allocations aimed at massive induction of equipment and technology and expansion in India’s three conventional armed services, its nuclear forces on land, air and sea, as also a dangerous reach in space. It would be accurate to conclude that these allocations and inductions keep South Asia in a perpetual state of strategic instability. However, because Pakistan consciously will not indulge in a conventional arms race except to seek qualitative upgrades, it is compelled to seek security and strategic stability by investing in appropriate nuclear weapons through quality, quantity, doctrines and the concept of Full Spectrum Deterrence. Pakistan’s response of strengthening its Full Spectrum Deterrence in an operational environment of relative conventional asymmetry is therefore apt and ensures that South Asia will remain strategically stable.
4. A very important ingredient in the need for retention of strategic stability in South Asia is that Pakistan has ensured seamless integration between nuclear strategy and conventional military strategy in order to achieve the desired outcomes in the realms of peacetime deterrence, pre-war deterrence as also in intra-war deterrence if the adversary, having drawn the wrong conclusions, challenges the very foundations of the deterrence theory. This is especially relevant today post Pulwama and Balakot because there are people in important places in India’s strategic circles who have drawn dangerously wrong conclusions about what they are referring to as Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.
5. I would like to caution that it would be a serious professional folly on their part to consider that a single air strike, that too conducted most unprofessionally, would render Pakistan’s robust nuclear deterrence a bluff. Pakistan’s nuclear capability operationalized under the well-articulated policy of Full Spectrum Deterrence comprises of a large variety of strategic, operational and tactical nuclear weapons, on land, air and sea, which are designed to comprehensively deter large scale aggression against mainland Pakistan.
6. As amply demonstrated during the February stand-off, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons continue to serve the purpose for which they were developed, on a daily and hourly basis by compelling India’s political and military leaders to craft a politico-military strategy taking into consideration Pakistan’s real time nuclear capability. While developing operational plans the Indian planners make deliberate effort to skirt around the Pakistani nuclear capability and nuclear thresholds. Official India I hope does not take Pakistan’s nuclear capability as a bluff. It is precisely the presence of these nuclear weapons that deters, and in this specific case, deterred India from expanding operations beyond a single unsuccessful air strike.
7. It is the Full Spectrum Deterrence capability of Pakistan that brings the international community rushing into South Asia to prevent a wider conflagration. That India chose not to proceed further in February is a testimony to not only the humiliation it suffered at the hands of the PAF, but also the cold calculation that nuclear weapons could come into play sooner rather than later. That, ladies and gentlemen, is nuclear deterrence at work and not nuclear bluff.
8. If India’s strategic planners consider Pakistan’s Full Spectrum Deterrence as a bluff, whether as a professional assessment or succumb to the irrational pressures of their political masters and proceed to undertake further military misadventures, as is being threatened at regular intervals by the highest levels of political and military leadership, South Asia, I am afraid is heading into a catastrophic uncharted territory. While hoping that the Indian strategic planners will retain their professional equilibrium and will not be swayed by irresponsible and unprofessional rhetoric of politics, I would like to state in very clear terms that nuclear Pakistan’s resolve to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity including Azad Jammu and Kashmir must never be tested. That might be the minimum lesson to take home from the Balakot-Rajauri skirmish.
9. Here, I would like to elaborate on a few more aspects of the February 2019 skirmish on the Kashmir Line of Control as these are pertinent to the larger strategic stability paradigm that we are discussing today. It has been established by independent international analysts that nuclear India’s conduct of an air strike against mainland nuclear Pakistan at Balakot, driven perhaps by delusions of Israeli style air power tactics against Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, but disconnected from the realities of the dominant air operational environment in which Israel operates, was poorly planned and executed by the Indian Air Force, almost Quixotic. It was playing with fire at the lower end of the nuclear spectrum and Armageddon at the upper end.
10. It is clear that the strategic and military consequences of an irresponsible political decision for achieving domestic political and electoral advantages supported by poor professional military advice were not thought through or war gamed to their logical conclusion. If they had been, which they ought to have been, not only in the 12 days between Pulwama and Balakot but indeed as a peacetime contingency planning for years earlier, nuclear India should have concluded that in an active military conflict situation, especially a limited one with nuclear armed Pakistan, while it may be easy to climb the first rung on the escalatory ladder, the second rung would always belong to Pakistan, and that India’s choice to move to the third rung would invariably be dangerously problematic in anticipation of the fourth rung response by Pakistan.
11. Also that the escalatory rung climbing could not be so neatly choreographed but could quickly get out of hand and morph into a major war which perhaps nobody wanted but whose outcomes would be disastrous for the region and the globe. This was muddled strategic thinking at its worst. In the process, it challenged the very foundation of strategic stability in South Asia which is premised on the time tested concept of restraint and responsibility. The strength of this foundation was put to test by India but it had to beat a hasty retreat in the face of a determined Pakistani response; status quo ante was restored and no new normal was established.
12. As opposed to India’s strategic recklessness, it was Pakistan’s measured response at the politico-military level deliberately avoiding blood and dead bodies and following up with mature statesmanship that saved the day for South Asia and by extension for the world. It is not difficult to imagine the political and military pressures on Pakistan if India, as it intended to, had actually killed 300-400 Pakistanis during its ill-conceived air strike at Balakot, or thereafter, as reports suggested, continued on a war widening trajectory on the third night and carried out missile strikes which the Indian Prime Minister termed colloquially as ‘Qatal Ki Raat’, meaning literally the night of the murder.
13. There are few parallels of a country possessing nuclear weapons conducting itself with greater irresponsibility than India did against another nuclear armed country. In an oblique way, one would like to thank the Indian Spice Missile targeting programmers and the IAF pilots for their timely incompetence that ensured that none of the intended targets at Balakot got hit as indeed the loss of nerve by the Indian leadership to carry on further.
14. Keeping in view Pakistan’s declared policy of ‘Quid pro Quo Plus’ against a limited Indian attack, it was surprising that India itself ended up with surprise on the quality of Pakistan’s measured and successful response. As professional planners, the Indians also should have understood that from there on, the rush to a nuclear crisis was but a few steps away and that there would be no choice for India but to step back and look for face saving options involving international players, highlighting yet again the centrality of the core issue of Kashmir in South Asia, precisely what India has sought to avoid for decades. Paradoxically, the entire episode has succeeded in bringing the Kashmir dispute as a nuclear flashpoint front and center on the international stage ever since. This focus has been compounded further by India’s inhumane lockdown in Occupied Kashmir since August 2019 and the political revocation of Articles 370 and 35-A.
15. Continuing further I would like to focus specifically on a few aspects of India’s nuclear conduct during the crisis which not only has direct bearing on the strategic stability-instability paradigm but also provides a guide to India’s strategic conduct in a future crisis.
16. First, Mr Modi said that he would not preserve India’s nuclear weapons for the fireworks night of the Hindu festival of Diwali, implying in the most casual of manners their first use against Pakistan. This statement alone turned India’s much trumpeted policy of No First Use on its head not that Pakistan has ever viewed with any degree of credibility India’s No First Use policy. Mr Modi’s pronouncement was not off the cuff. He knew exactly what he was saying in a single-minded focus to stir up an anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim nationalistic narrative to win elections. As a consequence, however, India’s formal nuclear strategy was upended single handedly within no time. The NFU policy was further put under strain by the later day pronouncements of India’s Defence Minister Mr Rajnath Singh.
17. Second, added to the misadventure was the operational reality that India not only deployed in the Arabian Sea its conventional Naval flotilla including an aircraft carrier, conventional submarine that got detected but spared by the Pakistan Navy, but more importantly, the nuclear submarine Arihant presumably to deter Pakistan from contemplating the use of nuclear weapons.
18. Arihant, which had earlier claimed running deterrence patrols in a fanfare ceremony presided over by the Prime Minister, was certainly carrying cannisterized ready to go nuclear missiles. Since there were no credible reports of India’s First Strike weapons based on land and air being readied, one wonders whether India contemplated the use of nuclear weapons from a Second Strike platform even before its First Strike options.
19. Third, with reference to the concept of institutionalized command and control of nuclear weapons, which institutional forum authorized the deployment of a Second Strike platform carrying nuclear weapons? Was there a debate in a secret meeting of India’s National Command Authority because none was announced formally as it was in Pakistan? Or was this too decided in a cavalier fashion between the Prime Minister and his Naval Chief? Or worse still, was the Indian Navy also given a free hand, as Prime Minister Modi claimed to have given to his other military commanders. With what sense of political responsibility would a Prime Minister of a nuclear state single handedly delegate authority to deploy nuclear platforms and nuclear weapons to military commanders?
20. Fourth, one wonders further whatever happened to the Cold Start Doctrine which seemed to have taken a back seat just when the operational situation suggested mobilization. Looking at the Indian Army’s deployment pattern throughout the crisis, it appears India itself did not place much faith in the Cold Start Doctrine as a credible response option.
21. It seems obvious that India’s strategic thinking stood considerably confused in a moment of crisis at the altar of a political party’s electoral strategy; it conceded professional space to the whims of a heavy weight Prime Minister. And that ought to be a cause of serious concern for Pakistan when faced with a nuclear adversary whose strategic thinking and actions get muddled up in a crisis. This was not only irresponsible conduct but also institutional failure in India raising serious questions about the future state of strategic stability in South Asia.
22. It is not difficult to conclude from the foregoing Indian strategic conduct in a real time crisis, as a case study as it were, that the Indian political leadership under the extremists of the BJP and RSS led in an unfortunate gung-ho style by the Chairman of India’s National Command Authority falls in the category of reckless nuclear custodians. And that the Indian military is either too meek, or equally reckless, to offer sound professional advice. Mr Modi’s infamous claim to have ordered the IAF to take advantage of the cloud cover to beat Pakistani radars shows the IAF as a professional force in poor light. The scenario is a chilling reflection on the functionality, or more appropriately, the disfunctionality of the Indian Command and Control system and the efficacy of its National Command Authority.
23. For years, the international community worried about the wrongly premised narrative of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of religious and extremist fanatics despite the fact that the militants remained confined to the fringes, and despite the fact that throughout the years of the militancy, the state of Pakistan continued to be ruled successively by moderate governments, at the Centre and in the Provinces. These were supported by a professionally designed command and control structure managed by professionals who ensured the highest levels of nuclear security and responsible nuclear conduct.
24. One finds it intriguing on the contrary that today in India and for the last six years, while extremists and religious fanatics of the RSS and BJP are the real time state and the government, at the Center and in a large number of provinces, and in firm control of India’s nuclear weapons, with a track record of strategic recklessness and irresponsibility, in words and in deed, and one doesn’t hear a word of concern from the same international community which had sleepless nights about an imagined extremist takeover in Pakistan.
25. Finally, before I end I would like to express my thoughts on the current state of strategic stability in South Asia and also how I see things unfolding in the future in the region.
26. Elections were held in Pakistan in 2008 and a duly elected civilian government came into being. The Government completed its 5 years term, Pakistan held the next election in 2013 and there was much celebration about the transfer of power from one civilian government to another civilian government through a democratic process. The nascent roots of democracy and democratic tradition it seemed were finally taking shape. This important milestone was reinforced in Pakistan in 2018 when yet another transition took place through the ballot box and it is clear that democracy and transition of political power through elections is becoming an established norm and one looks forward to 2023 for a similar democratic exercise.
27. It is important to recall that throughout this critical period of a decade and a half Pakistan simultaneously fought a raging militancy, terrorism and extremism through the sheer determination and sacrifices of the armed forces and the people of Pakistan, and won. On both accounts, that is, establishing a democratic tradition and fighting and defeating militancy, terrorism and extremism, Pakistan has come out with resounding success and has a good story to tell. Having put these demons behind it, Pakistan is now looking forward to getting its economic act together while consolidating the two successes. Making allowance for the inevitable rough and tumble of democracy and politics, Pakistan today is stable internally and seeks its rightful place in the comity of nations as a responsible international player.
28. Unfortunately for South Asia, when we contrast the history of India during the same period, we find that it is a story of complete reversal of the trajectory from which Pakistan has just emerged. In tourist terminology while Pakistan can say, “been there, done that,” India has placed itself most enthusiastically in a position where it can only say, “going there, doing that.” While Pakistan has moved away from the extremism and religious bigotry where fringe elements were trying to take it and the state fought and defeated it, the Indian state has embraced extremism and religious bigotry head-on as state policy. And when the state turns rogue, one can only hope that elements of the civil society and other saner institutions will resist, contain and reverse the obviously suicidal course.
29. The cautious optimism generated in India in the elections of 2014 which brought Mr Modi’s BJP and RSS into power revolved around economic growth as a takeoff from Mr Modi’s performance in Gujarat. While for some years it appeared that India might achieve the perceived economic miracle, however after the elections of 2019, the economic expectations have taken a nose dive. And what has emerged center stage in its place is the state policy of Hindutva encompassing in its many parts religious extremism, bigotry, ultra nationalism, anti-Pakistan, anti-Kashmiri, anti-Muslim, anti-minorities, and what have you. In short the complete anti-thesis of a modern progressive secular state that the Indian Constitution had envisaged.
30. I can identify four major drivers of Hindustan’s domestic Hindutva policies and by extension its policy towards Pakistan.
31. One, Hindutva philosophy has morphed into a movement to erase the negative psychological complexes and sense of humiliation of the Hindu nation of a thousand years of Muslim rule. The Hindutva movement led by the BJP therefore seeks to marginalize and delegitimize the Muslims of India.
32. Two, by doing so, Hindutva seeks the restoration of the perceived glory of Hindu India going back to the Vedas, Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka of 300 BC, and hence the claims that one hears of Hindustan in the past having invented or discovered any numbers of cutting edge technologies much before the modern era.
33. Three, the relentless pursuit of becoming a regional and global power, oblivious of its many vulnerabilities and weaknesses, drives Hindustan’s quest for regional domination particularly its relationship with Pakistan.
34. Four, a self-delusional one-way competition with China under the guise of standing up as a western bulwark with strategic over-reach now up to the Pacific.
35. In nutshell, the gloves are off, the mask is off, and the veneer of secularism is dead. India in 2020 is now well and truly Hindustan, of the Hindus, by the Hindus and for the Hindus. This has been validated by the landslide victory of the BJP/RSS and of the Hindutva philosophy twice in 5 years. The transformation from India to Hindustan, over a period of 72 years, now carries the duly stamped ownership of the vast multitudes of the Hindu population which voted for the BJP/RSS heavily. Most national institutions in Hindustan also seem to be in the process of succumbing to the national trend and have fallen in line.
36. As a conclusion, I would like to determine what these developments portend for strategic stability in South Asia. Much of what is happening inside India might be considered by many, in strict international terms, as India’s internal affair and something that is for the people of India to decide as to the national direction they wish to take. However, India’s conduct in Occupied Kashmir cannot be considered its internal affair from any perspective whatsoever: Pakistani, Kashmiri, or from the perspective of international law including the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. None of these entities recognize India’s right to bulldoze unilateral constitutional changes in internationally recognized disputed territory.
37. It is clear that India’s suppressive military and political actions in Kashmir have a direct bearing on strategic stability. The consequences invariably have the potential to spill over into Azad Jammu and Kashmir through direct and indirect actions by India. It is only a matter of time before Occupied Kashmir boils over. When that happens India is likely to apply even more suppressive military measures inside Occupied Kashmir and for desperate diversionary strategies on the Line of Control and perhaps against mainland Pakistan itself. The highest levels of India’s political and military leadership have now transited in their rhetoric from dropping hints to outright threats of invading Azad Jammu and Kashmir and defeating the Pakistani armed forces in 7-10 days. Yes, the Prime Minister of India and his services chiefs have actually said that forgetting in their desperation that they are talking about a robust nuclear armed Pakistan with strong and balanced conventional forces that only a year ago humiliated the Indian military.
38. As military professionals, we lookout for threat capabilities and intentions. In South Asia today, India’s capabilities and intentions both are visible in the clearest of terms. Pakistan therefore plans its responses on what India is capable of as well as what its intentions are. There is no ambiguity here. From here on we are in dangerously uncharted territory and strategic stability is giving way to strategic instability and that in the presence of strong conventional and nuclear forces on both sides does not portend well for South Asia and the world.
39. In my opinion, however much Pakistan may wish and call for sanity to prevail it will invariably get sucked into a conflict not of its making, a conflict that would have been thrust upon it. And as I showed in the beginning with examples from South Asia’s history, Pakistan will never hesitate in ensuring that strategic stability is not disturbed to its disadvantage.
40. With the emerging scenario quite visible on the horizon, one would expect the international community in all its wisdom to foresee the unfolding of a catastrophic sequence of events and prevent it from happening through stronger and timely intervention and diplomacy than we have seen so far.
41. I thank you.