Of Chickens and Ostriches - Kargil and The Indo-Pak Nuclear Calculus

During the Kargil crisis the situation in Islamabad bore and uncanny resemblance to 1971. A weak army chief, with pathetic visions of Napoleonic glory was flattered and led by the nose into irrational adventure by aggressive corps commanders with tunnel vision. His rival was a political leader with vast electoral support. Both wished to be the saviours of the nation, pushing each other to suicidal risks against India. The winner in this bizarre game is the one who behaves more outrageously. There are also differences. In 1999, there is no East Pakistan to concede and thereby save the motherland. A war now would strike at the core of Pakistan's existence, bringing into play the nuclear arsenals of South Asia. The nuclear debate in Pakistan has polarised the participants into taking two sides. One believes that an India-Pakistan war will remain conventional (reasons given later) and India's conventional superiority will destroy Pakistan's Centre of Gravity - assume it to be where you will. They are either in a minority or they are silent about their misgivings. The other camp, the propagators of risk and misadventure believe that Pakistan's bomb now gives them 'parity' against India. The circumstances are right to misbehave with impunity.

The Kargil misadventure was probably put together by a set of unrelated circumstances, the first one of which was undoubtedly the resignation of Jehangir Karamat. Too professional and far-sighted a general not to see where the flow of events would lead to, he was unwilling to satisfy the urgings of the fundamentalist lobby in and outside the army. Squeezed from below by adventurous corps, commanders who are not accountable for the consequences of a defeat on the LOC, and the lunatic rantings of the fundamentalists, he probably chose the only option of a mature soldier and resigned. ... Of greater interest to India is the timing of the go-ahead to cross the LOC - probably August/September 1998. This decision arose out of the gravest misperception that Islamabad has made since 1971- that the greater conventional war fighting capability of India has been made irrelevant by the Pakistani bomb. That such misperceptions existed in Islamabad, mixed with glee that Pokhran and Chagai has given them parity were reported by US state department officials, the Pentagon, the American NSC, think - tanks like Brookings, Rand and the Stimson Centre and any number of foreign journalists who live in Delhi and cover Pakistan, as early as October 1998.

What has encouraged Pakistan to stick its head in the sand? The second lobby in Islamabad - the parity lobby- have undoubtedly recreated the quantitative analysis of the Korean and Vietnam wars where one side armed with nuclear weapons was fought with impunity by the other side, with conventional weapons only. The analysis runs thus. All wars are set off by actions taken by a Reactionary Power (R) who is dissatisfied with the existing status quo, a state of affairs which suits the status quo power (Q). If the destruction that R and Q can inflict on each other if they fight, are measurable on a scale of 1 to 10, and 10 represents nuclear holocaust, then, an aggression like Kargil represents say 2. If R, (Pakistan) can inflict damage on Q (India) to the tune of -2, will India respond massively, even with nuclear weapons? If it did, Pakistan would be destroyed-net loss to Pakistan (-10). In the return strike by Pakistan, India would also be unacceptably destroyed (-10). So, say the Pakistani ostriches, why would India want to trade a loss of -2, for a loss of -10 by resorting to Massive Retaliation for the satisfaction of imposing a loss of -10 on Pakistan? How does this improve India's exchange ratio? It doesn't. Ergo - Pakistan can needle India in small bursts of aggression (upto -2) and India will not retaliate massively. Hence parity. What has induced Pakistan to adopt this skewed logic? A whole range of faulty signals from New Delhi created by not so much poor nuclear strategy, but a total absence of any strategy - conventional or nuclear.

Nuclear deterrence, of any kind is always posited in a scenario. The new South Asian scenario was created in New Delhi and Islamabad as early as 1987, when the Pakistani bomb became operational. It ran thus. Pakistan (R) would attempt to internationalise Kashmir and escalate at the LOC. India (Q) would retaliate conventionally and Pakistan would respond. Eventually the weight of Indian conventional power would force the Pakistanis back from the LOC and the IBL until a mythical geographical line was reached called the 'nuclear threshold'. Defined first by Sundarji, nuclear decision making enters a gray area at the threshold. When India weaponised overtly in May 98, It should have had in place, a strategy to conduct what is called 'deterrence signalling'. This is done from the National command Post through the command and control system. By not articulating any strategy, by not setting up a C 3I system, by not promulgating the accuracy of the Indian missile system, by not defining minimum deterrence, Islamabad has had to make some wild guesses - all of them inaccurate. Not surprising, considering the intellectual standing of Pakistani fundamentalists, and generals like Musharraf. Their hope, wild and improbable, is that India understands that the nuclear threshold is the LOC!

India, with its conventional superiority should have long ago made it clear that it was prepared to fight 'through' a conventional war - that it had no belief in a nuclear threshold. The logic is clear. Pakistan needles India as in Kargil. Score Pak (O), India (-2). India ripostes, Pak -2, India -2. Indian conventional weight begins to bear and the nuclear threshold is reached, Pak (-6), India (-2). Now the shoe is on the other foot : why would Pakistan exchange an unfavourable situation, losing only (-6), to launch a nuclear attack on India (-10), when the return strike would raise Pakistan's loss from (-6) to (-10)? An Indian Nuclear strategy tailored for Pakistan should have been created for this scenario, transparently promulgated and signalled to Pakistan through the creation of a specific type of arsenal. But where are the Indian strategists? .
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- Rear Admiral K. Raja Menon (Retd.) in New Delhi

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