Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pakistan May Wake a Sleeping Giant

Will India strike Pakistan to inflict direct pain on the Pakistanis for supporting terrorists who kill Indians?

India said on Monday it had the right to respond when and where it chose to a deadly attack on an army base in Kashmir, after blaming Pakistan for the raid that killed 18 soldiers.

The assault, in which four gunmen burst into a brigade headquarters in the town of Uri before dawn on Sunday, was among the deadliest in the disputed Himalayan region and has sharply raised tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Army officials said the critically wounded had been flown to New Delhi and one had died in hospital. Most of dead and wounded suffered severe burns after their tents and temporary shelters caught fire from incendiary ammunition while they were sleeping.

Senior Indian politicians, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh who called Pakistan "a terrorist state", were quick to warn of action against Islamabad, putting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a tough line.

The head of military operations of the Indian army, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, said India had the desired capability to respond, without elaborating.

I thought the 2008 Mumbai slaughter by Pakistan-supported terrorists brought the region close to war.

The article notes that India refrained from retaliating in the wake of the 2008 attack because of the risk of escalation, in order to let diplomatic means work.

The risk of escalation may or may not be greater now, but after 8 years diplomatic means have not worked to stop Pakistan (or at least parts of the Pakistani government that are semi-freelancing) from supporting terrorism against India.

Of course, Pakistan is increasing their ability to escalate to nuclear levels:

Airbus Defence and Space imagery captured on 28 September 2015 and on 18 April 2016 shows new construction at Pakistan's Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) site in Kahuta that is consistent with that of a uranium enrichment facility.

Let's set aside whether this is for Pakistani nukes or whether Pakistan might want to sell enriched uranium to Iran, for example.

Indian military retaliation isn't ruled out by fear of escalation. But it is constrained. India and Pakistan would be back to Cold War rules where a military advantage had to be cemented fairly quickly before threats of superpower escalation pushed a ceasefire in place. So you want to have the edge when the ceasefire is declared or face the prospect of a new status quo where you have lost ground.

India seems to have been building that capability to quickly gain ground with their Cold Start Doctrine initiative.

The problem is that while I saw the doctrine as a means to gain limited objectives before the logic of nuclear balance compelled an end to conventional hostilities, India seems to view the doctrine as a means to crush the Pakistani military.

On the bright side, I don't think India has the capability to crush Pakistan's military quickly while it does have the ability to make quick gains before both sides feel compelled from fear and external cries of near-panic to end the shooting in place.

Of course, does Pakistan fear being crushed or just losing a little ground as punishment for supporting terrorism against India?

Despite the early talk hinting at military responses, the Indian government seems to want to continue that diplomatic track in the face of a murderous assault:

For all the shrill rhetoric immediately following Sunday's attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan, the threat of a sudden escalation in hostilities between the nuclear-armed rivals has receded for now.

Two days after 18 Indian soldiers were killed, in the biggest blow to security forces in the disputed Himalayan region for 14 years, some officials called for a measured response and plotted a diplomatic offensive to increase pressure on Pakistan.

Yet another war between the two nuclear-armed countries is possible notwithstanding the apparent lack of imagination at CNN:

Could India and Pakistan really go to war? It almost seems an absurd question to ask.

Why is it absurd? They've gone to war before. From big wars to the very limited Kargil War. Pakistan sends in terrorists to kill Indians. Pakistan fears India because of the power imbalance even if India has no desire to rule the mess to the west.

And as you read the CNN article, you see a problem with saying both sides have nukes--they may not have enough nuclear weapons to reach the "assured destruction" part of mutually assured destruction that can provide (a dangerous) deterrence.

Indians can surely believe that in a nuclear exchange, Pakistan would be destroyed while enough of India to rebuild would survive. Or either side could believe that a first strike could disarm the enemy of enough nukes to keep their home country safe. That's scary dangerous thinking, to be sure, but it does show that even with nukes it is not absurd to ask whether India and Pakistan could go to war (again).

One day, Indian public opinion--and India is a democracy, remember--may compel the Indian government to use military force as diplomatic initiatives fail to get Pakistan to even admit that they are sponsoring terrorism let alone stop it.

This isn't something Americans think a lot about, but it sure raises my pucker factor considerably.

UPDATE: This article says Indian conventional military action is unlikely because India's military is not proficient enough to mount an air-supported ground campaign.

Apparently, Cold Start isn't more than an aspiration. And given that China and not Pakistan is now recognized as India's primary military challenge, it is pretty damning that India is deemed incapable of carrying out offensive action likely to achieve any reasonable objective against Pakistan.

Of course, given the long time India has taken to agree to purchase a mere 36 French Rafale fighters, I shouldn't be shocked.