High on bombast, low on capability - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 1 January 2018

High on bombast, low on capability

Pakistan has worked with limited resources to maximise its defence. On the Indian side, there's mostly bluster

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Jan 2018

Last month in Islamabad, Lieutenant General (retired) Khalid Kidwai outlined a new Pakistani approach to defence strategy. Kidwai is someone worth listening to carefully, being uniquely qualified across the spectrum of Pakistani security and a trusted establishment spokesperson. An artillery officer with deep roots in conventional warfare planning, Kidwai saw battle in Bangladesh in 1971, ending up in an Indian prisoner-of-war camp. As a lieutenant general, Kidwai moved in 2000 into the realm of nuclear planning when he was appointed to head Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (SPD). During an unprecedented 15 years in SPD, Kidwai masterminded Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine of “full spectrum deterrence”. This included the deployment of “tactical nuclear weapons” (TNWs) – short-range, low-yield nuclear bombs that cause lesser damage, creating the illusion of “usability”. TNWs are meant to deter Indian retaliation against any major terrorist provocation from Pakistan, which would involve lightning Indian armoured attacks on multiple fronts to quickly overwhelm Pakistan’s smaller military. In deploying TNWs, Pakistan is following the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which planned to use TNWs in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid being overwhelmed by massive Soviet Union armoured offensives into Western Europe.

Pakistan has deployed Kidwai’s measured articulation on two occasions to rationalise Pakistan’s controversial TNW policy. In March 2015, at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington DC, Kidwai explained that TNWs were meant for “reinforcing deterrence, preventing war in South Asia [and] ensuring peace…” Naturally, he did not mention that this wish for peace was not so much for Indo-Pakistan relations to flower, but rather to provide Pakistan the leeway to pursue “sub-conventional operations” – the use of terrorist and armed militants in cross-border operations against India – without fearing military retaliation. Kidwai also dismissed as “bluster”, India’s doctrinal promise that any attack on Indian forces with weapons of mass destruction (including TNWs) would invoke “massive retaliation”. This is not described, but is assumed to mean the use of heavy nuclear weapons against Pakistani cities, killing tens of millions. Kidwai pointed out this would inevitably evoke a matching response by Pakistan against Indian targets, given the rough parity between the two nuclear arsenals (credible recent assessments say Pakistan’s arsenal is larger) and that numerous Pakistani nukes would survive Indian retaliatory strikes, howsoever massive.

Now Kidwai has been fielded again, this time as Advisor to Pakistan’s National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, to signal a new, less apologetic, international policy. Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad, Kidwai outlined a two-point argument. First, he said India had realised that conventional war was no longer possible, due to Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities – meaning TNWs for war-fighting, with the main arsenal deterring Indian retaliation. Second, without the option of conventional military force, India was now developing sub-conventional capabilities (read terrorist proxies). Said Kidwai: “Because of mutually assured destruction, there is unlikelihood (sic) of a hot war or conventional war and therefore the conflict has shifted towards sub-conventional level.” In essence, this involved a “cold war era for regional supremacy… [through the] creation of proxies.” Essentially, Kidwai dragged India down to Pakistan’s level, justifying Pakistan’s support for cross-border terror with his postulation that this was now the new cold war with India.

Pakistan’s allegations of “Indian terrorism” are rich in irony and could have been convincingly dismissed, coming from a government that has long used terrorism and armed militancy as instruments of state policy. India has dismissed such allegations in the past when Islamabad accused New Delhi of backing separatists in Balochistan, and destabilising its Pakhtoon (Pashtun) border belts from its consulates in Afghanistan. But this time Kidwai could point to “public pronouncements by Indian [political] leadership of using terrorism to destabilise Pakistan”. This reference was to Manohar Parrikar who, while serving as defence minister on May 22, 2015, told a gathering in New Delhi (to loud applause): “We have to use terrorists to neutralise terrorists”.

Pakistan has been presented the chance to take advantage of India’s jingoistic security narrative, in which political leaders regard the military as a handy prop for nationalistic grandstanding. In this, reality is second to posturing before the domestic audience. Much was made of the “surgical strikes” of September 2016, but figures tabled in Parliament hardly suggest that Pakistan has been taught a lesson. Ceasefire violations almost doubled in 2017, rising from 405 in 2015; and 449 in 2016, to well over 800 this year. Pakistani firing killed 10 Indian soldiers (including from the Border Security Force) in 2015; and 13 died in 2016, but India lost more than 30 soldiers on the border in 2017. Armed militants took a beating in encounters in the Valley in 2017, but the number of soldiers killed in those encounters also rose. An alert media and strategic community should be parsing these figures, but is not discharging its duty.

Nor is there much searching examination of India’s defence readiness. The army does without basic infantry weapons and soldiers fight without ballistic helmets, bulletproof jackets or fire- and water-retardant clothing. The army remains desperately short of artillery guns, air defence protection, tactical battlefield drones and high-mobility logistics vehicles. The navy commissions warships without sonars and anti-submarine helicopters. Last month, the prime minister presided over a farce while commissioning a new submarine that lacks critical combat capabilities – the Scorpene shares a tiny stock of 64 two-decade-old torpedoes with four old Shishumar-class submarines. The air force remains short of fighters; and the ones it has deliver such low serviceability rates that the 2016 contract for 36 Rafale fighters had to include a $350-million clause binding the vendor, Dassault, to deliver a serviceability rate of 75 per cent for five years – a rate that modern fighters, incorporating modular engineering and built-in test equipment should achieve as a matter of course.

Pakistan’s security establishment, despite its appallingly immoral approach to conflict, has worked with limited resources and money to maximise its national defence – integrating nuclear, conventional and sub-conventional resources to continue bleeding an apparently hapless India. Officials like Khalid Kidwai can stand before an international forum and detail a strategy for Pakistan to achieve its security interests.

In contrast, India’s approach to defence is best summed up by this simple fact: Over the preceding year, three separate defence ministers have occupied that hallowed corner office in South Block. Not one of them would be able to lucidly explain India’s defence strategy and how our military would fight the two-front war we claim to be ready for. Asked how we would match India’s expansive defence allocations with the shopping list of badly needed weaponry, not one would have a coherent answer. Will this change in 2018? Probably not. 


  1. Some astrologers have already predicted a Indo-China war in 2020 which India is destined to lose. This is supposed to cost the government of the day (read BJP) its job, paving way for Rahul Gandhi to assume office. Reading this article on India's war readiness makes me a firm believer in this astrological forecast.

  2. You have succinctly summed up India's approach to defence in the title itself. As that great soldier, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw said and I quote -" I wonder whether those of our political masters, who have been put in charge of the defence of the country, can distinguish a mortar from a motor, a gun from a howitzer, a guerrilla from a gorilla". Though this seems a tad exaggerated, the long line of honourable defence ministers, cutting across political spectrum, have worked overtime to neuter our defence preparedness, what to speak of a long term defence strategy. We don't have one - simple! It is appalling to hear people in responsible positions speaking of our ability to wage 'two and half' front wars. Clearly, there seems to be a disconnect between imagined capabilities and ground realities.

  3. We must augument our defence capabilities by buying 150 f16 and
    150 gripen. While the 80-100 tejas ordered recently would take time to ramp up prodution.

    Further the Germans have been totally sidelined from the fighter jet order and the sub deal

    While the HDW SUB was transfer of technology...we blacklisted them in 1990 with disastrous consequences for our sub strenth....

  4. what matters... unchained let out Tiger... maximize The kills... not ARTICULATED WORDS... not capitulate... winning 93,000 trophies...

  5. modi gov't is too preoccupied filling pockets of their corporate partners like Adani.. all at the expense of national interest. Congress is equally corrupt minus the hindutva angle.

  6. Well brought out. Pakistan, one fifth the size and resources of India, has managed India extremely efficiently. Quite shameful for India that it has to accept Pak as an equal power.

  7. The concern related to bluster is more pertinent in the Chinese case. Keep an eye on China. India is better prepared than 1962, but the gap between the two militaries is increasing. And China is irritated by the bluster. It dealt with Nehru’s bluster. By being unprepared, India is now inviting another tight slap. No one, Japan, US, Israel, will lift a finger to assist India. Be assured about that.

  8. We have a situation, where the political masters consider forces to be a tool to gather votes. The beureucrats fatten themselves on the power and pelf of office caring two hoots for the country they rule, while regularly degrading and demoralising the forces of whom they are jealous. The state now is so alarming that we have demoralised, ill-equipped soldiers guarding our borders. But an elephant lumbers along till the injuries are very grevious, when it just totters and crashes. The pity is both the politicians and the beureucrats are neither aware nor care. At the end when war is thrust upon us, the soldiers will be the sacrificial goats. The incompetent beureucrats and politicians will either claim victory or blame the forces without batting an eyelid. Such is the state of affairs that soon you'll have only a grandiose police force guarding the country. Pity is both BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin, one milks the forces for votes while the other belittles them in perpetual coup fear.

  9. India is searching for conventional war against Pakistan. Its Cold Start Doctrine is one element of India's long list ofanti-Pak plans.
    The tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) capability is instrumental in maintaining deterrence viz-a-viz a conventionally-superior India. Khalid Kidwai, adviser to Pakistan’s National Command Authority, has stated that TNWs would make war less likely between India and Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan sees its TNWs as weapons of peace not war.

  10. It is always a treat to read Ajai Shukla. This piece is an honest assessment on where we stand in our defence preparedness and higher direction, both of which are far from desirable courtesy the politico bureaucracy nexus. Sadly for the present moment it is jingo bells jingo bells jingo all the way!

  11. The government is just learning that Pakistanis are a different breed and why our ancestors suffered from theirs. You knock them down, they come back straight away. In the last year alone the number of incidents on the LOC have gone up from 200+ to 800+, such was their fearful reaction to SUR-JI-KAL strike. That is a poke in the eye for 56 INCH chest. Wonder what the 56 INCH chest will do next?

    His bakt army now prays for global action to dis-arm/de-nuke Pakistan. As if the world cares about the plight of India. The dimwits do not get that the world only cares about selling their goods and services. The ONLY thing the 56 INCH chest has been successful at is weakening our national cohesion.

    The sad thing is the Army's effectiveness is also going down hill at the moment. If you are not able to curry favor with the current ruling, you get hot assignments. Army is turning more tribal by the day. Pity.


  12. Mr Khalid Kidwai is no doubt a man of decorum and was capable enough to deliver what does he stand for. He is a man with wisdom and knows how to communicate with the people out there. His personality and clearly and plainly meet the expectations of the establishment. Pakistan is a responsible nuclear states and this responsibility definitely comes from the very these responsible people. Pakistan can defend itself from any aggressor or attacker thats because these very people had made Pakistan enough capable to defend itself and made it learn how to defend itself from aggressors. For a country to be defensive enough and make other countries realize the strength lies in the very these seasoned professionals. which obviously lacks in.

  13. Prasun ji, try not to turn a serious discussion into a political discourse and talk sense.


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