8 October 2016

*****Creating space for a limited conventional response – Part 2


Constructing a conflict escalation framework 

Indian Border Security Force soldiers patrol near the India-Pakistan international border area at Gakhrial boder post in Akhnoor sector, about 48 kilometers from Jammu, India, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. India said Thursday it carried out "surgical strikes" against militants across the highly militarized frontier that divides the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, in an exchange that escalated tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

The first step of constructing an India—Pakistan conflict escalation framework is to understand the conventional and nuclear thresholds for both states. This step will result in identifying the levels at which an eventual conflict might play out. 
Different nuclear thresholds of India and Pakistan 

1.1 Many researchers have previously noted the differences in the nuclear doctrines of India and Pakistan. Though Pakistan has never announced a formal nuclear doctrine, it is believed to have four central tenets: First, Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent is India-specific. Second, Pakistan has embraced a doctrine of credible, minimum deterrence. Third, the requirements for credible, minimal deterrence are not fixed; instead, they are determined by a dynamic threat environment. And fourth, given India’s conventional military advantages, Pakistan reserves the option to use nuclear weapons first._

This strategy of potential first use of nuclear weapons — on the battlefield, is in direct contrast to India’s doctrine. India’s nuclear doctrine_ articulates a No First Use (NFU)position, but commits to massive retaliation in the event that a nuclear weapon is used against it (referred to as “punitive retaliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor”). Thus, in the event that Pakistan were to target India with nuclear weapons, it will likely invite a response commensurate with India’s nuclear doctrine, regardless of Pakistan’s strategy around the type of nuclear weapon in question.

As a result, a conflict escalation framework that represents the two states’ nuclear doctrine will assign a lower threshold for Pakistan in comparison to that of the Indian threshold because Pakistan is more likely to use a nuclear weapon earlier in a conflict.

1.2 Pakistan has invested in battlefield nuclear weapons_, while India does not plan to develop such nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has maintained that its low-intensity nuclear weapon arsenal is meant to offset India’s conventional force advantage. Thus, Pakistan aims to deter India by posing that it will be free to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield against an Indian Army on Indian territory or even Indian Army formations on the Pakistani territory. _ This approach means that Pakistan threatens to push its nuclear threshold further down through the threat of employing tactical nuclear weapons. This threat serves two purposes. One, it draws international attention even during minor skirmishes on the India—Pakistan border. Two, Pakistan hopes to deter any militarised Indian response either to territorial incursions by regular or irregular Pakistani troops or significant activity against Indian interests by Pakistan-supported or Pakistan-based terrorists. Pakistan assumes that given its possession of nuclear weapons and, increasingly, tactical nuclear weapons, India is simply likely to “tolerate” these nuisances rather than risk a full-scale war._

On the other hand, India’s perspective has been that any nuclear exchange will result in horrendous consequences to both countries, and the eventuality that Pakistan may suffer much more damage than India will, is no consolation._ Considering that any such nuclear exchange will be a big dent in India’s larger growth narrative, it has been India’s approach to keep pushing its nuclear threshold higher.

By combining 1.1 and 1.2, the observations regarding nuclear thresholds of the two countries are: one, Pakistan’s nuclear threshold is lower than that of India’s nuclear threshold. Two, it is Pakistan’s endeavour to keep pushing this threshold lower while it is in India’s interests to push its own nuclear threshold higher. 
Different conventional war thresholds of India and Pakistan 

2.1 Apart from these differences in the nuclear doctrines, significant differences exist in lower levels of conflict as well. India maintains a conventional military advantage vis-a-vis Pakistan. Though the purported military advantage is itself minor, Islamabad has projected it as a springboard to pursue a wide range of military strategies. As Christine Fair notes in her book Fighting to the End, as the weaker power in the India–Pakistan dyad, Pakistan believes that it must have “escalation dominance at all rungs of the military ladder—from low-intensity conflict to conventional war and all the way to nuclear war” to ensure survivability. This perspective manifests itself in conventional and sub-conventional warfare methods which are significantly different from those employed by India.

Another reason for the difference in strategies is due to the existence of a Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex_: a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance.

The existence of this complex means two things: First, it allows Pakistan to employ violent non-state actors (VNSAs) as tools for meeting its foreign policy objectives. This means that the sub conventional conflict level for Pakistan involves employment of various jihadist elements while retaining plausible deniability.

Second, it allows the Pakistani army, in some cases, to provide overt support to these elements in their anti-India operations. This was illustrated in the 1948 and 1999 attacks in Kashmir, which were clearly a result of collaboration between the Pakistan Army and the non-state agents of the Pakistani state.

In sharp contrast, India’s reactions to such acts of terror by the Military—Jihadi complex have been restricted to retaliatory acts on India’s own territory (1999) or by moving a large number of military personnel on the border in combat mode (2002).

Based on these two distinct approaches, it can be said that Pakistan’s conventional threshold is lower than India’s in the conflict escalation ladder.

2.2 Pakistan wants to push its conventional threshold upwards while India’s effort is to push its own downwards. The conventional threshold for Pakistan is effectively its threshold for plausible deniability. If the conflict moves above this level, Pakistan owns up to the usage of conventional forces against India. If the conflict scenario remains below this level, it continues to employ terrorism and insurgency that cannot be directly attributed to the Pakistan Army. The optimum strategy for Pakistan is to push this threshold of plausible deniability higher, so that it can achieve its aims without inviting international criticism or a full-scale war with India.

India, in contrast, wants to push its conventional threshold downwards in order to send a political message that any action against its people — either by terrorists or by uniformed Pakistani soldiers will not be tolerated. A ground campaign by the Indian army, characterised by a sharp armoured and infantry thrust into Pakistani Punjab in order to punish the Pakistan military and hold territory, a maritime exclusion of Pakistan’s major port at Karachi to pressure Pakistan’s economy or limited air strikes against terrorist-linked facilities and perhaps also Pakistani military or intelligence targets believed to support terrorist operations_, are all capabilities aimed at pushing the Indian conventional threshold downwards.

By combining 2.1 and 2.2, the observations that can be made regarding the conventional thresholds of the two countries are: one, Pakistan’s conventional threshold is lower than that of India’s conventional threshold. Two, it is Pakistan’s endeavour to keep pushing this threshold higher while it is in India’s interests to push its own conventional threshold lower.

The second step in developing the framework is to put together these significant differences in one escalation dyad. When done, the differential thresholds in the India—Pakistan context give rise to five levels of conflicts as shown in Figure 1.

(This is the second artice in the two part series on recent Indo-pak conflict around the LoC.Click here to read the first part)

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