Pakistan’s Nuclear Bluff?

An IDC Analysis on Mobilisation


New Delhi, 05 January 2003

The sporadic violence in Kashmir continues and news and evidence suggests that the ISI are still strong in supporting cross border terrorism. Hence we follow up on media articles by Lt Gen Ashok Mehta on 1 Jan in Pioneer and by Manoj Joshi on 2 Jan in Times of India dealing with India’s Military mobilisation –– read with President Musharraf’s statement that he had warned India that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons if Indian troops crossed the border.

Nuclear assets, their trigger and command and control in Pakistan are in military hands. The nuclear threat was Pakistan’s response to India’s mobilisation, which had definitely put Pakistan’s leadership in a quandary. In hindsight the entire exercise seems to have worked only partially and a war that could have been, was averted. USA and the West claim much credit for this. Interestingly, the provocative statements made by Musharraf, to warn India’s Prime Minister, have not been denied by the Indian side, or the leaders that Musharraf has named –– even though his spokesman mellowed the threat of use of nuclear weapons the very next day. This has been Musharraf’s forte in dealing with the concerns of the International community. On the one hand Musharraf claims he got his message of deterrence across and on the other the Indian leadership say their message to stop cross border terrorism held sway. Both claim victory, if keeping the peace can be so termed.

The Kashmir imbroglio has not moved forward and the PM has mused from his holiday resort at Goa –– that Kashmir, which includes POK one presumes, is an integral part of India. In both countries no one knows for sure which statements are for the world or for internal consumption. So the question that bogs is –– was it bluff by Musharraf? This deserves analysis.

In India there is no codified war planning or execution machinery and it is the Cabinet Control provided by Article 74 of the Constitution that empowers the Prime Minister to direct the war. PMs have done this personally or through their Defence Ministers and the three Chiefs of Staff, who in India are uniquely all equal in stature. Jointness has still to evolve. In UK direct access of the CDS and the Chiefs of Staff to the PM is codified. In India the Chairman Chiefs of Staff is the Chief who is the longest in office, who is nominated by rotation. He has no executive powers per se and in the present scheme of things is to be replaced by the CDS having similar authority with only Intelligence and Strategic assets added. Hence it is the personality of the PM, his military acumen and his relations with the Chiefs that have been the deciding factors in the execution of past wars and military operations.

Military Chiefs without good political direction are mere soldiers fighting it out. According to historians, Pandit Nehru handled the 1947 and 1962 wars poorly. Lal Bahadur Shastri handled the 1965 war reasonably well but Indira Gandhi handled the 1971 war superbly by close and direct contact with Gen S F Manekshaw. During those times there was no National Security Adviser but this new powerful bureaucratic addition has become another cog in the undefined wheel.

Mobilisation it must be underscored is a near war situation. One can therefore assume PM Vajpayee or his NSA shared Musharraf’s threat with the Service Chiefs. In the War Appreciation that threat, as taught in Staff Colleges, would have been factored in as the Course most likely to be taken by the enemy, to prepare the Operational Orders for war. Military planners must have argued it out whether it was bluff, blackmail or real, and Gen S Padmanabhan’s statement just before retiring that this potent threat was taken in to account, is reassuring.

Pakistan is the smaller nation, but India is not yet a super power to thrust its will. It is well argued by Military scholars that there are four main facets of coercive strategy when two powers are in conflict. War should be the last resort. The first two of these are –– to give tacit ultimatums for compliance, and then ultimatums by time –– while all the time engaging in dialogue for an ultimate solution of the problem. The aggressor nation thus resorts to coerce the latter, to comply. The ultimate solution in this case is Kashmir over which Pakistan has fought four wars –– but all India did was to ask for cessation of cross border terrorism by Pakistan.

The other two factors in coercive diplomacy are bargaining or negotiations. Pakistan was put in a position to accept some solutions short of war, but there was no vehicle to conduct this part of coercive diplomacy –– thus repeating that cross border terrorism must be stopped, became rhetoric. The world community echoed it but did nothing concrete. Indian application of border fencing and ground sensors by the Army, improvements in deployments and a new Government in Kashmir are contributory factors.

Hence if all this holds water, the next time India mobilises, the Government must be clear what its ultimate aim is –– on the territorial aspects of the entire Kashmir and on the LOC as the international border, which was articulated in the Simla Agreement. The Army was asked to delineate that line and to stick to it even during the Kargil war. There should be no doubt so that the Military knows what is required of it.

If coercive diplomacy with dialogue and negotiation does not work the next time around then the threat of war must be implemented, especially if Pakistan was only bluffing. There should be full introspection and analysis of what was achieved by India's costly mobilisation and full credit must be given to the Armed Forces for having remained in that state for 10 months without any overt ill effects.

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