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Paper No. 463                                              22/05/2002

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

Imminence of War: War seems imminent in South Asia going by current indicators.  Short of a formal declaration of war, India seems determined and poised to take on directly by the horns, the strategic and military provocations thrown against her by Pakistan.

The imminence of war has also been spurred by the dynamics of Indian public opinion which is pressurising the Government of India to take the war option to put an end to an incessant campaign of proxy war launched by Pakistan.

That Pakistan has to be dealt with militarily, today, enjoys bi-partisan political support.  This once again has been brought about by the force of Indian public opinion – a point constantly under-scored in all my writings.

Two strong streams of  thought have emerged in India’s public opinion: (1) United States  and the international community have failed to restrain Pakistan from its military adventurism against India; (2) India therefore has to rely on its own military strengths and capabilities to impose restraint on Pakistan, by inflicting irreparable damage,  irrespective of costs.  In short, India’s public opinion today has reached a ‘zero tolerance’ level of Pakistan’s proxy war.  It has become over critical of its own Government of having over-relied on the United States to restrain the terrorist-state of Pakistan.

 South Asia War Foreseen: Strategic observers of the international community with a discerning eye should have foreseen that the imminence of war in South Asia was building up.  That they believed and continue to believe that their conflict-restraint initiatives would prevail upon Pakistan indicates their inadequate grasp of the dynamics of  the unholy mix of Pakistan’s militarism  and religious fundamentalism.

 In a paper  in end-December 2001(www.saag /papers 4/paper 385.html), this author had made the following observations:

 * South Asia is on a short fuse with war clouds hovering heavily, courtesy Pakistan’s irresponsible and immature political and strategic behaviour as a nation state

* The highly explosive and short fuse situation in South Asia has been generated by Pakistan’s misreading of India’s continued restraint as military weakness and encouraged by the over night American conversion of the terrorist and rogue state of Pakistan to an ally and frontline state.

* India reeling under incessant terrorism  inflicted by Pakistan based, sponsored  and trained Islamic Jehadi organizations  has waited so far for the international community to pressurize Pakistan to put brakes on such military adventurism, promotive of conflict.

* India can no longer be expected to exercise restraint when Pakistan is unable to restrain its intelligence agencies and their terrorist groups from directly challenging India’s nationhood and the citadels of its flourishing democracy.

* The calibrated and graduated Indian responses to the imminence of war in South Asia generated by Pakistan is to give time to Pakistan to draw back from the brink and meet India’s legitimate demands on cessation of Pakistani proxy war and terrorism.  It also gives time to the international community to restrain Pakistan.  

Five months hence, it is amply clear, that neither has Pakistan appreciated the gravity of its strategic miscalculations nor has the United States and the international community been able to restrain Pakistan.  There are no “ ifs” and “buts” in conflict  restraint.  United States should have been firm with Pakistan in these five months.  Pakistan’s proxy war continues unabated and Pakistani terrorists operations now have the temerity to attack Army camps increasingly. 

India  gave ample notice in a graduated manner from December 2001, beginning with its massive military moblization that  it perforce may have to resort to the military option. 

Pakistani Brinkmanship: Misperceptions of India’s Resolve: Pakistan under General Musharraf seems to have been emboldened towards brinkmanship policies due to a number of misperceptions regarding India’s resolve.  These are :

* Pakistan stands emboldened because of its nuclear weapons to challenge or deter India.

* Pakistan’s strategic perceptions misread that India’s traditional policies of restraint would not draw Indian military attacks in response to Pak provocations.

* Pakistan feels that with US military troops in Pakistan, and Pakistan being honoured as a frontline state, India dare not militarily  respond to Pakistan’s military adventurism against India. 

Evidently what buttresses Pakistan’s misperceptions and intransigence is the vast array of adulatory references beatifying General Musharraf emanating from American political leaders. 

Pakistan’s Nuclear Threat: Pakistan’s nuclear threat against India in any imminent war is being overplayed both internationally and by sections of the Indian media.

 It seems that for  want of  better and effective conflict-restraint measures this segment  invokes the spectre of a nuclear holocaust in South Asia.  India should be determined in facing and calling this Pakistani bluff.

 It is well maintained that even against nuclear weapons backdrop, there does exist sufficient space to undertake sizeable  conventional military operations.  The nuclear backdrop existed during the Kargil War too. The United States should not be taken in by General Musharraf’s holding out the threat of nuclear blackmail in South Asia.  With thousands of American troops in Pakistan located in vicinity of Pakistan’s  likely nuclear weapons storage sites, these can be physically taken over by US troops in an emergency.

 Limited War and the Indian  Military Aim Examined:  With the imminence of war in South Asia, ill-informed strategic debates have sprung up in the media and seminars of the option of a ‘Limited War’ or ‘Surgical Strikes’ against terrorist infrastructure. 

Terrorists infrastructure is not a lucrative military target for any form of  military strikes.  In the Pakistan context they are widespread and miniscule and have a shifting trend. They can spring up elsewhere again.  Military aims are not met by striking these.

 ‘Limited War' can be defined as limited either in terms of geographical area of operations or limited in terms of time, or limited in terms of level of military power used.

 India’s military aim or the end-game that it foresees in terms of putting an end to Pakistan’s proxy war, (no longer confined to Jammu and Kashmir only) would define the nature of India’s military operations.  If India’s overall military aim is to end the Pakistan proxy war and its enlargement, it should incorporate the following major military components:

* Destruction or crippling of  Pakistan’s war waging capabilities.

* Destruction of  Pakistan’s defence production  infra-structure.

* Destruction of facilities of terrorists organizations HQs and their leadership.

* Accord priority to destruction of Pakistan's economic and communications infrastructure.

In short, the will of the Pakistani Government and the Pakistan Army to wage  proxy war against India has to be broken. 

If the above be India’s military aim, then there can be no “Limited War.” India’s military planning has to incorporate strategic plans for an all-out war.

United States Options in a South Asia War: In terms of conflict-restraint in South Asia, it seems that the United States options have run out.  Pakistan is averse to heeding American advice and relent from its military adventurism.  India’s patience has run out and war seems to be the only feasible option.

 In terms of United States resorting to the option of the political and military coercion to avert war, the United States loses out heavily in terms of a long range strategic cooperation or partnership with India.  Indians would perceive the shades of 1971 US-tilt re-visiting and souring Indo-US relations. 

The option of direct US military intervention to stop a war that breaks out carries the same disadvantages  as above and more seriously damage Indo-US relations permanently. Further, an Indian buckle-down to a direct US military intervention is inconceivable. The India of 2002 is not the India of 1971.

The most attractive and low-cost United States option would be to let India and Pakistan go through a conventional war and fight it out.   In  such a process a “national equilibrium of power” would emerge in South Asia. 

In terms of United States fears of Pakistan’s prosperity to use its nuclear weapons, the United States,  military-placed in Pakistan presently. Would be in a position to take over control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. 

In terms of any external intrusive influences in a South Asia war, the United States as the unipolar power can restrain such influences.

 Parameters of the War: India should be very clear of the parameters of the imminent war.  This war is not going to be a war over Kashmir. Kashmir is no longer an issue. Even conflict resolution analysts like Holsti analyse it as an obsolescent issue.

 The strategic and political parameters of any imminent war should be to once and for all address the following questions with a decisive finality:

* Challenge to India’s pre eminence in the Indian  subcontinent is to be met squarely.

* Pakistan’s role as the “regional spoiler state” has to be neutralized. 

* Relationship with the external powers that promotes Pakistan’s ‘regional spoiler state’ status need to be redefined. 

The above formulations can be dismissed by many as unrealistic, unachievable and not desirable.  What however cannot be disputed by anyone is the strategic logic of these.  If strategic logic for the same exists then India has to find the ways, the means and the will to achieve these.

 Conclusion: India has never wanted or sought war, neither historically nor currently.  War has always been thrust on it, by Pakistan chiefly.

India’s ‘national honour’ is involved when a strategic- delinquent state like Pakistan  messes around with  India in terms of proxy war, sabotage, terrorism, hijackings and armed assault on India’s Parliament.  For far too long has India depended on  the conflict restraint measures of the international community to bring sense to Pakistan.  Pakistan has refused to pay heed to such attempts. India’s honour and security has to be protected by its own will to use power and its own muscle.

 The international community has been tolerant  towards Pakistan’s  strategic delinquency in South Asia.  The international community now needs to be far more tolerant towards India to bring about a modicum  of strategic order and stability in South Asia. 

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group..  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at