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Countering the Ghauris, Ghaznavis and
Abdalis: Where's the TMD Debate?
Subodh Atal, Ph. D.
The "Kashmir Issue" has several components. There is the local Kashmiri Muslim "disenchantment", the regional issues of Kashmir vs. Jammu vs. Ladakh, and the Hindu-Muslim incompatibility in the valley. Then there is the Pakistan/jehad factor. Many of these components are interconnected and overlapping, however for simplicity's sake we can consider them separately. If we do, one can attempt to assign solutions to each one of the issues (Fig. 1). For example, the "disenchantment", the regional issues and the question of Hindu rights in the valley could be tackled by some combination of devolution of powers and trifurcation/quadrification. However, we also then come upon the reality of the confounding of issues: the Pakistan/jehad factor will not allow any of these solutions to evolve. And it is now eminently clear that neither political nor diplomatic efforts are likely to eliminate that reticent factor.
In the last few years, and especially in the aftermath of the October 1 and December 13 attacks last year and the May 14th attack this year, the option of tackling the Pakistani jehadi infrastructure through military means has been seriously debated in India. These military options range from punitive strikes on terrorist camps, incursions into POK to capture strategic infiltration routes and terrorist staging areas, and a major war with Pakistan resulting in significant degradation of its military and intelligence bodies, which are the fountainheads for jehadi operations. Even the first option, which is least likely to significantly alter the Pakistan/jehad factor, may escalate into a full-scale war. The second option may be the best from a cost/benefit point of view. It may also be achievable militarily and in a timely manner before the inevitable western intervention. The third option is least feasible, given the military strengths of the two nations.
Since it is clear that "free and fair" elections as well as political/diplomatic efforts are not going to budge the Kashmir mountain, why has the military option not been exercised by India? The simple answer is Pakistani missiles. Delivery of nuclear weapons by PAF planes is unlikely, given the superiority of the Indian air force and its comprehensive air defense systems. However, the missile arsenal of Pakistan is another matter. Pakistani Ghauris, Ghaznavis and Abdalis, aptly named for Islamic invader-marauders of India, are not only a nuclear threat, but could potentially wipe out India's air superiority in hours. A 1999 RAND study commissioned by the US Air Force pointed out that a Chinese M-class missile hit could destroy 100 fighter planes parked in a 900 X 900 feet area at a US air base (Fig. 2). Pakistani missile design is partly based on illegal imports of this missile type. Nuclear missile attacks on Indian cities would extract unbearable human and economic costs, and even conventional missile attacks on cities would create immense psychological damage. There is also the possibility of a pre-emptive strike by Pakistan within the next few years, if it perceives J&K to be slipping out of its grasp.
Thus it becomes imperative that a missile defense system be rapidly deployed by India. Russian S-300/Antey 2500 anti-missile batteries are already in operation. However, not enough of these batteries have been procured to provide adequate protection to strategic, economic and population assets. India has been quietly trying to buy the Israeli Arrow theater missile defense (TMD) system. The hurdle is the US, which has veto power over Israel since the system was developed with heavy American financing. Colin Powell, who is headed to South Asia, plans to press India to shelve its plans for TMD deployment. US State Department objections to the Arrow deal conjure up missile proliferation scenarios - the same kind of objections raised by the anti-Star Wars crowd in the 80s and long since discarded. The Pentagon has not taken such an extreme line, and may favor India in this debate.
What is surprising is that there is almost no debate within India on how to deal with the Pakistan missile threat. When Scuds came crashing into Israeli cities in the Gulf War, that nation took it upon itself (with US help) to build the Arrow, one of the most advanced TMD systems in the world today. In the US, the Soviet ICBM threat during the Cold War had triggered the Star Wars debate, and the "rogue nation" fears of the 90s convinced even the Democrats to favor missile defense. Despite India's own rogue nation problem in its neighborhood, there is little public awareness or talk in the national media about how to counter the Pakistani missile threat.
India needs to convey to the US State Department that protecting millions of Indian citizens overrides any technical concerns about the Missile Technology Control Regime, just as the ABM was summarily shelved by the US to protect American lives. As the Israelis are saying, the Arrow deal makes strategic and economic sense to the western world. India is an important global player, and successful nuclear attacks on its cities would not only create a humanitarian catastrophe, but would reverberate economically and politically around the world. Can one imagine what effect such a scenario would have on the already shaky US economy?
If the Arrow procurement is blocked, India needs to examine options for expeditiously buying sufficient quantities of advanced versions of the Russian S-300 ABM system. While the S-300 is not as accurate as the Arrow, missile defense theory dictates that use of a higher number of interceptors can make up for inaccuracy. Population centers would need to be covered by a missile defense architecture that provides over 99% protection, while assets such as air bases could get by with fewer interceptors and a somewhat lower protection level.
The costs of adequate quantities of either the Arrow or the S-300 to provide a sufficient umbrella, that deters Pakistan from wielding the nuclear threat, would be high, running potentially in billions of dollars. However, one needs to weigh this against the cost of the forward deployment by India plus the continuing counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. These costs run into millions of dollars per month. As is becoming increasingly clear, these costs are likely to continue unless India is able to exercise the military option to capture infiltration routes and staging areas in POK, and this is not possible without first deploying a TMD system that can neutralize Pakistan's missile threat. Indian media needs to take the lead in this debate, and force the government to let its citizens know how it plans to protect them from missiles and bring about a comprehensive resolution to the Kashmir issue.