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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1683, 28 March 2005
Pakistan's Possible Nuclear Game Plan Firdaus AhmedStrategic Analyst
An observation by General Oberoi, a former Vice Chief and presently director of the Army think tank, Center for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), is that the recently released Army Doctrine makes no reference to the nuclear issue. The implication is that the Doctrine is predicated on keeping the war below the nuclear threshold. A clue as to how it intends to do this may be had from Bharat Karnad's 'Sialkot Grab' scenario painted in the inaugural publication of CLAWS, Army 2020.
Karnad visualizes India cutting off a thirty mile deep swathe of territory all along the border, threatening Pakistan's center of gravity located in the urban centers at around that depth. His assessment is that this would not entail a nuclear war since it would not threaten Pakistan's survival. Since Indian mechanized forces would be within fallout distance of urban concentrations and Pakistani forces, Pakistan would also be deprived of nuclear targets. Indian deterrence would preclude city busting as an option.
Karnad's thesis is that 'success in a nuclear confrontation lies precisely in confronting the adversary with impossibly difficult choices he cannot risk taking.' Two points favor the argument. One, that the most plausible 'first use' scenario for Pakistan i.e. defensive nuclear use on Indian troops in its own territory would be an 'impossibly difficult choice' due to the collateral damage it would suffer. Secondly, city busting would not be an option since there would be no reason to escalate to that level. Thus, in Karnad's view, India's nuclear deterrent will be vindicated and its conventional superiority will get space to prevail.
However, Karnad does not consider an option that Pakistan could still exercise to operationalize unstated nuclear doctrine of 'first use'. This could be engaging India's armored divisions within Indian territory, that would be forming up in the rear of its attacking forces.
The role of the armored divisions would possibly be to get into battle ready positions and bring pressure to bear on the Pakistani National Command Authority to achieve a favorable war termination. But these armored divisions could become potential nuclear targets. Pakistan has the requisite strength to stave off the attacking forces but not enough to tackle India's residual forces that may be brought into the battle later.
Nuclear counter force targeting by Pakistan could be sold as defensive employment against a threat to its national existence that would materialize at a later stage. The least collateral damage would ensue if the armored division forming up, say, in Rajasthan's desert, were to be targeted. Politically it would be a potent signal that could halt India in its tracks, therefore to discount this targeting option would be imprudent.
India's promised punitive retaliation would not have an equivalent target to attack on since its own forces would be engaged in a close confrontation with Pakistani forces as visualized by Karnad. City busting would not be an option for India if Pakistan keeps collateral damage limited. With the nuclear attack having cut India down to Pakistan's size in terms of numbers of armored divisions remaining i.e. two each, India would not have the needed superiority to force Pakistan to reach the negotiating table on its terms. Therefore, Pakistan could force a draw, which for an India on offensive would amount to a loss.
There are other problems with the 'Sialkot grab' scheme. The area encompassed in the thirty mile deep stretch would be as inhospitable as the US finds areas outside its 'green zones' in Iraq. Since it is densely populated, it could lead to several Fallujas. Collateral damage resulting from conventional battles would also be considerable, thereby providing the rationale for Pakistan to up the ante. Added to this is the Air Force's intention to play a strategic role in the next conflict. In the light of the two Gulf wars, this implies an infrastructure-destroying strategy. The Indian flirtation with Pakistan's nuclear threshold will thus push the conflict up the escalatory ladder.
The point is that nuclear war is not infeasible even if India's war strategy is based on its conventional war doctrine of not crossing Pakistani nuclear threshold. To launch a war without thinking through the nuclear targeting options available to Pakistan, induced by the self-serving logic of its hawks, may extract a heavy price from India. The nuclear question needs examination afresh lest the 'Sialkot grab' scenario prove tempting but found wanting in the next crisis.

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