India And Pakistan: Inching Toward Their Final War?

Sourced from an article by Mohammed Ayoob

india pakistan conflict
The forgotten nuclear powers, India and Pakistan are edging towards war (Image source: LA Times)

India and Pakistan are the nuclear powers mainstream media tends to forget as they focus on USA, Russia, China and North Korea, but both have between 120 and 140 nuclear warheads, probably not equipped with the latest guidance and stealth technology, but good enough to do a lot od damage according to the Arms Control Association. A report published in 2015 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center claims that Pakistan may be outpacing India in terms of its nuclear stockpile, and may possess 350 nuclear warheads within the next five to ten years. A 2016 SIPRI report also concluded that Pakistan now has more nuclear warheads than India.

However, what should most concern us about the nuclear-weapons policies of the neighbouring states is not the size of the stockpiles, but their radically different nuclear doctrines.

The major difference between the two countries’ nuclear doctrines is that while India has renounced first use of nuclear weapons, Pakistan has refused to do so by reserving its right to use nuclear weapons in the face of India’s conventional superiority.

So far aroundthe uncertainty Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities is preventing a major conflagration in South Asia. Pakistan’s refusal to reject first use, and its emphasis on building stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons and short-range missiles can be explained in light of its conventional-force inferiority. It is in fact a mirror image of the American nuclear doctrine as applied to central Europe during the Cold War. The United States refused to disavow first use of nuclear weapons, and deployed tactical nuclear weapons in central Europe on a large scale, because of NATO’s presumed inferiority in terms of conventional power against that deployed by the Warsaw Pact.

But for Pakistan, the uncertainty introduced by its nuclear doctrine has delivered a bonus. The nuclear threat provided Pakistan with the shield behind which terrorist groups armed and trained by Islamabad, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, can engage in casing havoc not only in Indian-administered Kashmir but also in other parts of India. The fear of provoking a nuclear response from Pakistan has prevented India from retaliating to these provocations, use of its superior conventional forces to inflict a crushing defeat on Pakistan.

India did not retaliate even when a massive terrorist operation launched from Pakistan targeted India’s financial capital, Mumbai, in November 2008. This attack lasted for more than sixty hours and left at least 174 people dead.

However, it seems that the logic of this deterrence is fast eroding. Attacks such as the one in Mumbai, and subsequent assaults on Indian military installations in Kashmir and elsewhere, have also provided justification for India’s hard-line Hindu nationalists to whip up support for a military response, thus putting pressure on the Indian government to abandon its policy of diplomatic responses. In the past few months, Indian retaliatory attacks have targeted not only terrorist bases but also Pakistani military facilities, causing significant casualties among Pakistani forces.

The escalation in the last two years in terror attacks, especially by Jaish-e-Muhammad, on Indian military targets in Kashmir and surrounding Indian states has made the situation very perilous. In the past several months, terrorist groups operating from Pakistan with the complicity of the government and military authorities have undertaken several major attacks, causing significant loss of life in India.

A major attack on the Uri camp in Jammu and Kashmir in September 2016, left seventeen military personnel dead and shocked the Indian government into reassessing its strategy in response to such attacks. On September 29, 2016, India launched a “surgical strike” against terrorist bases in Pakistan. Although there has been speculation that India conducted similar strikes before that, it was the first time Delhi indicated publicly that it was ready to launch major retaliatory attacks against targets in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

In the latest incident, in February 2018, Jaish terrorists attacked an Indian military camp in Jammu; five army personnel and four militants were killed. In retaliation, the Indian army destroyed a Pakistani army post with the help of rocket launchers, killing, according to Indian sources, twenty-two Pakistani personnel. This tit-for-tat exchange is reaching dangerous proportions.

The Pakistani military tends to downplay Indian incursions and retaliatory attacks, while bigging up their own, and true to form they refused to recognize the seriousness of the escalating cross border violence, mainly because it does not want to appear weak in the eyes of the Pakistani public which has a culture of honour and revenge, and is likely to clamor for retribution. However, as more and more Pakistanis get internet access the military cannot continue to downplay Indian attacks, or increasing fatalities. There is the danger that at some point, either by miscalculation or by design, an Indian surgical strike in Pakistani territory will push the Pakistani military to retaliate in force.

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