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Volume 1, No. 11 - April 2002

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Pre-empting a Violent Kashmir Summer: Exercising the War Option against Pakistan Printer-Friendly Page


Pre-empting a Violent Kashmir Summer: Exercising the War Option against Pakistan 
Subodh Atal, Ph. D. 

Diminishing Options

After September 11 last year, the thinly veiled Pakistani support for terror in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India stood exposed. The subsequent US all-out campaign in Afghanistan considerably lowered the threshold for India to take the war into Pakistan for the first time since 1971. In the last three months of 2001, as the Americans systematically dismantled the Al Qaida network and its Taliban and ISI support structure in Afghanistan, there was absolutely no indication that Pakistan would symmetrically reduce the level of its proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. On October 1, a suicide bombing targeted the Srinagar legislature building, killing dozens of people. The December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament came close to decimating Indiaís political leadership.

In response to this brazen attack, India responded hesitatingly. Military mobilization was ordered all along the border with Pakistan. These measures, in combination with half-hearted diplomatic moves, such as canceling the Delhi-Lahore bus, scaling down diplomatic staff and denying overflight rights, were supposed to be part of an aggressive strategy. For many countries around the globe, this would have been sufficient. But not so for Pakistan; for its five decades of existence, its entire polity has been focused on wresting Kashmir from India. Wars, jihad, terrorism have all been tried in this quest. The threat of war has never nudged Pakistan into peaceful coexistence. Its military, religious leadership and the ISI have too much invested in the grab-Kashmir-at-any-cost policy. Pakistan has also begun to believe firmly that its nuclear blackmail has beaten India into submitting to terrorism indefinitely.

Thus the response to Indiaís half measures has been a continued stonewalling by Pakistan. The terrorism continues, the infiltration continues, and the extradition of 20 top terrorists demanded by India is never going to happen. Essentially, the massive mobilization by India has failed completely in its objective. With the snows in the mountain passes likely to melt within the next few weeks, the infiltration will accelerate, bringing in large numbers of guerillas that escaped Afghanistan last year into Pakistan and are now regrouping. Due to the spotlight shifting to the Al Qaida being harbored in its territory, Pakistan needs a safety valve. One of Pakistanís primary aims is to disrupt the legislative elections slated for this fall in Jammu and Kashmir. Threats against participation in the polls have already been issued, and Hurriyatís Kashmiri Muslim leadership has hurriedly fallen in line. Pakistan may also be aiming at ratcheting up the violence in Kashmir to levels exhibited by Palestinians against Israel, hoping for similar pressure to build up on India, and possible US intervention.

At the Crossroads

Thus India now stands at the crossroads. It can continue the mobilization of troops at high cost with zero and even negative results, or it can finally take necessary steps to permanently remove the roots of terrorism export from Pakistan. Those roots lie in its military infrastructure, its ISI and its nuclear arsenal. Until these three spokes of the foundations of the terrorism remain intact and powerful, India can expect tens of thousands of more deaths in this decade, and perhaps September 11-like events.

Thus the need for examining the war option to dismantle the Pakistani military, intelligence agencies and its nuclear arsenal is imperative, and particularly significant before the summer months bring another violent reprise of the past several years. It is also necessary to head off a US intervention, if not this year certainly within the next several years.

The Nuclear Question

The knee-jerk reaction to any talk about an Indo-Pak war is that of raising the specter of a nuclear catastrophe. This is based upon Pakistanís oft-repeated threat of using its nuclear arsenal. But one needs to weigh the potential and dangers of such a conflagration against the interminable jehad being waged by Pakistan.

The exact size of each countryís nuclear arsenal is unclear. But it is commonly accepted that India has 50-100 warheads, while Pakistan may have 20-30. According to seismological evidence of the 1998 tests, Indiaís nuclear weapon yields were 20-40 kilotons, while Pakistani bombs ranged from 2-10 kilotons. An important aspect is the delivery systems, where Pakistan was considered to have an edge until recently. Its medium range Ghauri and Shaheen missiles, which would reach Indian targets in a matter of minutes, are based on solid fuel technology, while Indiaís short-range Prithvis are based on liquid fuel technology. That means that the Prithvis need to be positioned close to the border, and require several hours of fueling as opposed to the Pakistani missiles. India has remedied this asymmetry recently, with the testing and induction of the modified Agni missile. The Agni-II is solid-fuel based, and is medium range, thus it can be based deeper in India and would be an effective second-strike option.

The more relevant question is who would pull the nuclear trigger first? Most fear that it would be Pakistan, particularly if Indian forces make major gains, such as threatening to cut off Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Such an attack, if it did happen, would be missile-based. However, Pakistan must realize that if it did strike first, it would face massive retaliation from India. Such massive nuclear retaliation, possibly with a combination of Prithvis and Agni-IIs by India would undoubtedly end Pakistanís existence as a nation. Thus it is difficult to believe that a Pakistani first strike would happen. It is more likely that Pakistan will use ballistic missiles with non-nuclear warheads against Indian targets. The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s set a precedent for such an exchange. The missiles fired by each country were more of a nuisance, with few cases of mass casualties. In the case of South Asia, one can argue that use of ballistic missiles against population centers could be more deadly, however, the international community is likely to take a dim view of such attacks. It is roughly estimated that about 100,000-150,000 deaths may occur in a single nuclear attack on a large city in South Asia. With non-nuclear missiles, particularly Pakistani missiles of Chinese and North Korean origin that have suspect accuracy, the toll is likely to be several magnitudes lower, but may be more effective as a weapon of terror. Indiaís Prithvi and Agni are considered to be more accurate.

If a nuclear or ballistic missile exchange does occur, it is likely to be aimed at advancing armies to avoid international consequences. In this context, the Indian military has done recent exercises to train for a nuclear war. Thus the Indian military is likely to survive such an exchange more effectively than Pakistanís smaller and less-prepared forces.

Any preparation for a nuclear exchange would have to include protection of the central government and political officials. In this case, Pakistan, where the political system is already decimated and disrupted, may be at a rare advantage. A sudden attack on the Indian Parliament building when it is in session could potentially remove the entire democratic leadership of the country. India would have to take extraordinary preventive steps to ensure that its political system can continue to function in a war with potential for nuclear exchanges.

Conventional Warfare

The above discussion indicates that a nuclear war is unlikely, and thus conventional forces would decide the outcome of a war. Below is a comparison of the conventional strengths of the two nations.

Air Force
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has about 700-800 combat aircraft. A majority are the older MiG 21bis. There are several squadrons each of Sukhoi 30s, Mirage 2000s and MiG 29s. The Sukhois, the Mirages and the MiG 29s are some of the best multi-role fighters in the world, and could be used in gaining air superiority in a war with Pakistan. India is in the process of acquiring additional Mirage 2000s from France, and Sukhoi 30s from Russia. The Pakistani air force, with about half the numeric strength, relies mainly on Chinese F-7s (a modified version of the MiG 21), F-6s (modified MiG 19), the older Mirage III and V, and a squadron or so of F-16s. The latter are probably in disrepair due to denial of spare parts by the US. Most Pakistani planes would lack the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) and the Look Down capability. Due to these PAF drawbacks, and with sheer numbers, the IAF is likely to establish superiority very early in a war. Pakistanís limited advanced fighters are unlikely to be used in a strike role, thus the war would be fought mostly in Pakistani skies. IAF strikes are likely to happen at night with low flying deep strike aircraft attacking command and control centers and radar and transmission towers, and escort fighters dueling it out with Pakistani interceptors. In the 1971 war, the very first day saw dozens of Pakistani planes shot out of the sky with lighter IAF losses. This scenario is likely to repeat and Pakistan could lose half of its functioning combat aircraft within a week. With significant air superiority, India may have the flexibility of using deep strike aircraft to respond to a nuclear first strike.

The Indian Navy is equipped with one aircraft carrier, the Viraat, and an array of destroyers, frigates, submarines and other naval vessels. India has discussed the leasing of nuclear-powered submarines, which would complete the ďtriadĒ of nuclear arsenal necessary for second strikes, but it is not clear that the submarines would be inducted by this summer. A submarine-based cruise missile, Brahmos, in joint development with Russia, is likely to be available for induction within the next year.

The Pakistani Navy lacks an aircraft carrier, leaving its only port, Karachi vulnerable to air attacks from the Viraat, as well as to a naval siege that could put the economic squeeze on it during a war. The number of destroyers, frigates and submarines each in the Pakistan navy are approximately half that of India. During a war, the Pakistani navy would be hard-pressed to keep its supply lines open from allies, and as in the air campaign, most of the action would be in Pakistani waters.

India has numerical superiority in the number of tanks, with 4500 versus 2000 of Pakistan. While little qualitative difference exists between the two nationís tank forces, the numerical superiority of Indiaís tanks combined with its likely rapid gaining of air superiority will wear down Pakistanís ground defenses. Indiaís transport helicopter fleet far outnumbers that of Pakistan, thus enabling India to rapidly deploy troops behind enemy lines.

The ground war is likely to be the most closely fought, but if India concentrates its land campaign on retaking POK, it may very well be able to wrest control of most of that territory and thus render untenable future Pakistani incursions into Jammu and Kashmir. A siginficant destruction of Pakistani military would be a big aim of the campaign, rather than taking territory (except POK). India would also be looking to neutralize or wrest control of Pakistanís nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles. Success in these arenas would be a measure of how far the long-term goal of emasculating Pakistanís capacity to export terror is achieved.

Strategic Air Defense/and Air Theater Control

Phalcon AWACS
This is a theater in which India has gained the upper hand with timely acquisitions. After some uncertainly, it appears that the Phalcon AWACS system has been acquired from Israel. The Phalcon, which was denied to China after US intervention, is an integrated phased array system consisting of airborne sensors, radar, electronic intelligence and communications intelligence, that can provide complete coverage at large distances. The Indian military could control the air theater over Pakistan effectively using the Phalcon. The system detect launches of aircraft and missiles anywhere in enemy territory, and provide inputs to air commanders in real time, giving a strong edge in air battles and war strategy. The Phalcon probably increases by a magnitude Indiaís air advantage over Pakistan, making an early and overwhelming victory achievable. The Phalcon systems could be operated deep within India while tracking aircraft and even naval vessels.

Arrow Anti-Ballistic Missile System
Along with the Phalcon AWACS, India has also been negotiating the purchase of the Arrow ABM system. With the ever-increasing threat of Pakistani Ghauris and Shaheens, an ABM system may be a god send for the population centers of India in case of war. It is not clear if the complete Arrow ABM system has been inducted, with both India and Israel keeping the purchases and deployment of weapons systems out of public eye. The US had raised objections to the deal, citing the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR). The MCTR is aimed at offensive missiles, and the US objections may have been aimed at reducing tensions than at actually blocking the deal. It is now known that at least one component of the Arrow ABM system, the Green Pine radar, has already been inducted and deployed with Israeli technical assistance. It is possible that if the Arrow missile export was blocked, India could use the Russian anti-ballistic missile Antey 2500 in combination with the Green Pine radar. It is believed that India has acquired at least six battalions of Antey missiles, with each battalion capable of intercepting 16 ballistic missiles. The Antey 2500s are likely to be used close to the LOC and the IB to protect crucial Indian defense locations, as well as population centers in Indiaís largest cities. While the Antey 2500ís accuracy in conjunction with the Green Pine radar is unknown, its deployment is likely to further deter Pakistan from considering a nuclear first strike.

Wild Cards

Help from Pakistanís Arab allies
Saudi Arabia and perhaps United Arab Emirates may be tempted to help out Pakistan with military aid, including advanced AWACS planes and even MiG 25s. However, in all likelihood the UN Security Council would pass resolutions banning military aid to India and Pakistan at the outset of the conflict. Arab countries would be unlikely to defy such a ban. Futhermore, once India has established superiority in the air and in the Arabian Sea, supply links to such aid would be non-existent.

Chinese Intervention?
China is Pakistanís most faithful ally and benefactor. It has supplied over two dozen F-7s to Pakistan since January. However, during a conflict, it is unlikely to take sides, particularly in light recently improving relations with India. The biggest Chinese threat is the opening up of a second front for India. If India concentrates its forces on the western borders, the eastern sector would be vulnerable. However, China is unlikely to defy UN resolutions or take on India overtly, unless the existence of Pakistan was threatened, by which time it would be too late for outside intervention. Chinaís direct involvement would be deterred by the possibilities of a world war breaking out, with Russian and US involvement.

The US Decision: Which Ally to Support
The US would be faced with a tough decision. During the Afghanistan conflict last year, there were some US military officials who suggested the unthinkable, that it would support terrorist Pakistan in a conflict against the worldís largest democracy, India. However, the situation has changed now. The majority of the Al Qaida threat has dissipated, and only pockets are left now, mostly in Pakistan. An Indo-Pakistan conflict would likely result in the further elimination of Al Qaida elements remaining in Pakistan, thus the US is not likely to look at an Indian attack on Pakistan as critically.

The question remains of US personnel in Pakistan. Families of US diplomats have already been evacuated in the aftermath of the recent church attack in Islamabad. There are potentially thousands of FBI and CIA agents all over Pakistan, and the US military occupies air bases in western Pakistan. These personnel would need to be rapidly withdrawn, and some may get caught in the conflict. It is likely that the US has contingency plans since December, when the potential for war became serious. The US may introduce resolutions in the UN to stop military aid and oil to the two countries at the start of a war. Such a ban would more seriously affect Pakistan. India would have fuel reserves for 2-3 months, enough to complete its campaign, but Pakistan would fall short much earlier in both oil supplies and military hardware.

It is safe to conclude that Pakistan is unlikely to change its Kashmir terrorism policy without external armed intervention. The continued loss of lives and economic damage of this policy for India needs to be weighed against the consequences of a brief campaign to retake POK, which would removing infiltration paths for Pakistan, and dismantling its military strength and nuclear arsenal.

The nuclear threat, though real, has been overblown in western circles. The acquiring of an ABM system by India would significantly diminish the ability of Pakistan to incur unacceptable damage in a first strike, and leave the latter open to massive nuclear retaliation that would signal the end of the country.

A conventional war is thus the most likely scenario, with significant advantages to India, which would rapidly gain control in the air and sea. This campaign would likely result in wresting control of the crucial POK territory from Pakistan, which the latter uses for training and as a logistical base and staging area for terrorist infiltration into India. The war would provide an opportunity to significantly diminish Pakistanís military strength, and to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

India would do well to concentrate its ground thrusts to POK, with incursions into the rest of Pakistani territory limited to tactical gains and to air attacks or special forces raids on military command and control centers, communication facilities, ISI headquarters and jehadi bases such as the one in Muridke.

Before embarking on such a campaign, India needs to do the diplomatic groundwork to preempt any overt intervention by other countries.

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