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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#2448, 23 December 2007
For a Return to Lahore Firdaus AhmedFreelancere-mail: firdyahmed@yahoo.com
Over the last decade there has been considerable doctrinal evolution in India culminating in the Cold Start and joint warfare doctrines. Similar activity has not been witnessed across the border. Pakistan has not spelt out its doctrine and it has to be inferred from statements and papers put out from time to time by concerned authorities. That this suits both states is why the situation remains as it is. India wishes to enhance deterrence, both conventional and nuclear; while Pakistan prefers a policy of ambiguity. However, the implications for crisis stability and conflict escalation control call for transparency and constructive engagement, which are sadly lacking.
Believing nuclear weapons deter nuclear weapons and not war itself, India has publicized both its conventional and nuclear doctrines. In effect, the declaratory policy, as evidenced by the doctrine, may conceal as much as it reveals and, on this account, could amount to a peacetime 'front' for an information war.
The impact on Pakistani thinking of this information war would require to be divined. That Pakistan prefers war avoidance is evident from the manner it has in the past manipulated the proxy war. In case war is thrust on it by a 'proactive' India, it has two options. One is to preserve the position of the Pakistani army post-conflict by avoiding decisive engagement. This has obvious implications for in-conflict escalation control, for it would foreground the nuclear factor. Its second option is preemptive attack. This has equally obvious implications for crisis stability, particularly because Cold Start implies a short fuse for India. Pakistan has apparently made recent moves in this direction by raising three command headquarters, to better control its 'strike corps.'
Pakistan's policy of ambiguity has not helped in dispelling the popular understanding that while it follows a nuclear policy of 'first use', such a first use would only be in the case of extreme threats to the four thresholds that were outlined by the head of its Strategic Plans Division: territorial, economic, military and internal stability. This could lead to India discounting a low nuclear threshold, below which it would then be tempted to flex its conventional muscle.
While a high threshold makes strategic sense for Pakistan, this has to be viewed in light of in-conflict compulsions on its leadership. First, there is the threat, much in evidence lately, of a third party interest in the control of its strategic assets. This would only magnify with the imminence and onset of war. This is an added dimension to Pakistan's 'use it or lose it' dilemma. Second, is the impact of the war itself. If India's air force and its missile capability under its Strategic Forces Command were to enact an Indian version of 'shock and awe,' then inadvertent escalation requires to be ruled in. Lastly, lack of credibility of India's version of 'massive retaliation' may lead to misperception in Pakistan that it could get away with 'first use.'
Current measures at strategic stability can only be described as meager especially in relation to the dangers to be addressed. An upgraded hotline exists between the two military operations rooms and the foreign ministries. There is the yearly exchange of lists of nuclear-related installations, presumably to prevent miscalculation in strategic targeting of the other side. A forgotten fallout of the need to prove themselves as responsible nuclear powers in the aftermath of Pokhran and Chagai has been the memorandum of understanding, signed by the two foreign secretaries alongside the more visible Lahore Declaration that was signed by the principals.
Unfortunately the wisdom of this document has languished, owing to the Lahore episode itself being reviled on both sides; this despite South Asia having weathered both a war and a near war in recent times. Its first paragraph states: "The two sides shall engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts, and nuclear doctrines, with a view to developing measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at avoidance of conflict." Despite being on the same side on the global war on terror, which has led to some strategic respite of late, no steps have been taken in this direction.
To believe that in the improved atmosphere this is not required to be pursued is mistaken. To hold this hostage to the resolution of Kashmir, currently placed on a backburner by both sides, is to be unmindful of an opportunity. The lack of impetus can, therefore, only be attributed to both states being busy building up their strategic assets, which may otherwise get constrained by the talks as it inevitably must. With Pakistani internal politics stabilizing by early next year, South Asia's strategic agenda for 2008 should be 'a return to Lahore.'

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