Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prof. Rajaraman on deterring Pakistan

I had written earlier (most recently last month in Economic Times and earlier for CLAWS) about the need to have an adequate conventional deterrence strategy to deal with Pakistan's provocations either on the border or through its support for terrorist attacks in India.  These had mostly been in the context of India's default option of stopping the dialogue with Pakistan after every outrage.  My sense was that while cutting off dialogue might win some support from the TV talking heads, they are strategically foolish and have never worked.  (An equally serious problem is the unnecessary euphoria after every diplomatic breakthrough.  An essay I wrote in the Hindu immediately after Vajpayee Lahore bus trip in early 1999 makes the point about inflated hopes - and of course Pakistan already had its forces in Kargil by this time.  The Hindu's archives do not go that far back, but I found a cached copy of that essay here)

Prof. R. Rajaram has an essay in Times of India two days back that also calls for a conventional deterrence strategy against Pakistan.  His argument is slightly different from mine, though equally valid.  He argues that India's nuclear deterrence will not work if Pakistani leadership does not believe that India will hit back.  As he puts it "Many in Pakistan (and even in India) believe India is too soft a state to actually go through with a nuclear attack which would decimate cities and kill lakhs of people."  Therefore, he proposes that "If despite our restraint so far yet another major attack takes place on Indian soil, funded, organised or masterminded by elements in Pakistan, we must seriously consider a counter-attack."  

The problem though is that I doubt if the Indian political and military leadership do much in terms of sitting down together and planning carefully for such an eventuality.  If they did, they would need to consider what India's options are, taking into consideration what the safe limits for operations are to prevent escalation and what will represent punishment for the Pakistan army to convince them to desist from such actions in the future.  My choice is an attack on PoK, as suggested in my Economic Times article.  Attacking in PoK reduces the chances for escalation because Islamabad will not fear (and cannot claim) that their survival is under threat, thus reducing the potential for escalation. Because India officially claims PoK, we are also within our legitimate rights to take territory there  and hold on to it (the problem with taking territory in Pakistan proper would be that everybody knows that we will eventually have to return it, reducing its value as punishment).  It will punish the Pakistan army because any loss of PoK territory, even small amounts, will represent a bloody nose for them.  Finally, it will strengthen the civilian leadership over the Pak military because it will demonstrate to the average Pakistani citizen that the army is incompetent even in the military field.  

Of course, doing all this requires planning.  The Indian civilian and military leadership will have to consider whether the Indian forces have the needed capability to carry out such an operation and if not, what equipment, forces, planning and so on are needed to make up that deficiency.  Then they will have to wait for the next opportunity, another Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack or a serious incident along the LoC or the international border.  

And the chances that the Indian government is organized enough to do all this? Somewhere between nil and nothing.  My guess is that irrespective which party rules in New Delhi, we are destined to remain a soft state, with all that this implies for India's nuclear credibility.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Atul Mishra's comments on Pakistan and Syria

Atul Mishra, who teaches at Central University of Gujarat, (blogs here) responded by email to a couple of my essays in Economic Times which I had posted here.  [Full disclosure: We are academic collaborators and currently have a jointly-authored book manuscript under review].  With his permission, I am posting both his comments/questions and my responses.


About Pakistan. Don't our guys do the same thing across the LoC? They must be fools to not do it. And if they do, does it really matter whether our deterrence works or not? After all, we get our revenge. We can be seen to be doing more, having a strategy, but largely for domestic eyes; no? What is the point of going into PoK if not to recover it and cause Pakistan deep damage (read, break up)? 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Pragmatic Policy on Syria

I wrote this essay immediately after it became clear (I then thought) that President Obama had decided to hit Assad to punish him for his use of chemical weapons.  Now . . . who knows?  Maybe Obama will go ahead with his military plans but he increasingly looks like someone making things up as he goes along, a prisoner of circumstance and his mouth rather than someone who has any control over events.  Obama has been an enormously lucky politician and may be that will be enough still.

In an essay in the Economic Times, I argued that India should adopt a pragmatic policy on Syria because India does have an interest in ensuring that the taboo against chemical weapons use is not eroded.  Since then, the External Affairs Minister Khurshid as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have decided that it is the UN that should take the lead.  Apparently it is not just economic policy that smells of the 1970s around here.  I will have more on this later, but below is my take on the crisis.

India needs have pragmatic policy on Syria, not its traditional default option

It seems reasonably certain now that the US and its allies will launch a military assault on Syria to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. The strikes are likely to be limited with the objective of deterring further Syrian use of chemical weapons rather than to change the regime.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Dialogue-No Dialogue Tango with Pakistan

Most of the debate in the aftermath of the border clashes on the LoC have been on familiar lines, with one corner doubling down on 'dialogue' with Pakistan (without explaining why that has not worked over the last decade) while the other wanted dialogue to stop (without explaining why that has not worked over the last decade either).  There was a refreshing essay in the Times of India by Pavan Varma about India's lack of strategy on Pakistan.

My own take was published in the Economic Times, and reproduced below.

Fearing nuclear escalation, India limits its response to Pakistan’s provocations

In the aftermath of yet another Pakistani transgression, we are back to the tired old arguments about whether or not India should be talking to Pakistan. Proponents argue that nothing has been gained whenever India stopped talking to Pakistan, as it did after every major provocation. Their opponents argue that dialogue has not stopped Pakistan's provocations.

IDSA Discussion on India's Iran Options

I participated in a roundtable at IDSA on Iran's nuclear imbroglio and India's options along with a bunch of foreign office heavy-weights, which included five former Ambassadors, including the Chair Amb. Arundhati Ghose.  This seemed like a good time to discuss the issue since Rowhani is just about to take over in Iran and there are murmurs of movement on Iran's negotiations with the P5+1 about the nuclear issue.

We discussed various possible scenarios and what India's options were under different scenarios (status quo, a mutually acceptable solution, or Iran becoming a nuclear power).  Of these scenarios, I felt that the status quo was not really stable because it was constantly changing.  As Iran's enriched uranium stockpiles increase, something will have to give.  Moreover, both Iran's stockpile as well as Iran's capacity to increase the stockpile (new centrifuges as well as the number of centrifuges) was increasing with each passing month.  Iran has been careful to maintain its quantity of 20% enriched uranium below the Israeli redline of 240 kgs but it is quite close.  Iran appears to have deliberately taken steps to not cross that line, down-blending some additional 20% enriched fuel and converting some.  (Iran actually produced more than 300 kgs overall).  The six tons or so of 5% enriched uranium is probably sufficient for about two bombs, I think, assuming it is enriched further.  But that 5% stockpile is growing too, quite rapidly, as the May 2013 IAEA report makes clear.  So I sam not sure there is any such as a status quo currently.