Pakistan specific PRITHVI ballistic missile undergoing night trials by Strategic Force Command

Pakistan seems to be bracing itself for an Indian attack. In January 2017, the military declared that a new surface-to-surface ballistic missile, Ababeel, had been tested. With a range of 2,200 kilometres, Ababeel can deliver multiple nuclear warheads to the enemy, using MIRV technology.

The military said that the missile was designed to “defeat the enemy’s hostile radars,” and that its deployment will ensure “survivability of Pakistan’s ballistic missiles” and “further reinforce deterrence.”Just a few months before, the Navy had demonstrated Zarb, an anti-ship subsonic guided missile designed to take out Indian warships.

Besides developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, Pakistan continues to upgrade the panoply of weapons in its conventional arsenal by inducting main battle tanks such as the Russian T-80UD and the Al-Khalid (derived from the Chinese T-90 design in the 1990s) and warplanes like the JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat aircraft, being jointly produced with China.

All these investments beg the question: Is India about to attack Pakistan? History provides a clue. India has only attacked Pakistan when provoked.

In October 1947, Pakistan sent in raiders into the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir. India responded by flying in troops to Srinagar, and the conflict began in earnest. In August 1965, Pakistan sent irregular forces to make another attempt at seizing Jammu & Kashmir. India responded by attacking Lahore in September. In 1971, Pakistan launched attacks on Indian forces in the west on the December 3.India countered by attacking Pakistan formation in the west and the east, causing Pakistan’s eastern garrison to surrender. In the spring of 1999, Pakistan attacked Indian forces at Kargil in Kashmir. India counter-attacked, but the war stayed confined to Kashmir. In December 2001, terrorists believed to have been sponsored by Pakistan attacked the Indian parliament. India responded by deploying large numbers of its troops along the international border. Pakistan responded with a massive deployment of its troops on its side of the border. But the war did not ensue. In November 2007, terrorists alleged to have ties with Pakistan attacked hotels in Mumbai. India considered mounting a counter-attack against terrorist camps in Pakistan but exercised restraint.

The choice for the stewards of Pakistan’s national security is clear. Purge the nation’s strategic culture of India centric paranoia and focus on economic and social development. Otherwise we will continue to live in a self-imposed punishment and stay engaged in a fruitless, expensive and increasingly dangerous arms race

Writing in the “Journal of Strategic Studies,” Walter Ladwig III of King’s College, London analyses the reasons behind India’s restraint during the last two attacks listed above.

Firstly, he argues, while India’s military was bigger than Pakistan’s, the ratio of Indian forces to Pakistani forces was not sufficient to ensure victory. He cites the work of John Mearsheimer, an expert on offensive realism, who has shown that the attacker will need to outnumber the defender by a ratio of 3:1, all else equal.

For ground forces, while India had a 2:1 advantage, that number shrank to 1:1 along the international border since a large number of Indian forceswere deployed along the border with China.

The paper shows that the ratio of main battle tanks was1.1:1. It has been declining over time.

For the air forces, the ratio is around 2.5:1. The historical trend is shown below.

Of course, other factors besides the ratio of forces can influence the decision to launch an attack. First is surprise. Pakistan achieved surprise in 1947, 1965 and 1999 but failed to do so in 1971. It is unlikely that India will be able to achieve surprise if it is responding to a Pakistani incursion into Kashmir (Kargil II) or to a terrorist attack that is launched from Pakistan.

Another complicating factor for India is the deployment of its armoured divisions. They are deployed in central India and would be central to an attack.

In 2001, Ladwig reminds us, “five days elapsed between the 13 December attack on the Indian Parliament and the ‘general mobilisation’ of the armed forces for a confrontation with Pakistan. A further three weeks elapsed before the armoured columns of India’s strike corps were in a position to commence offensive operations against Pakistan. Similarly, during the 1999 Kargil War, it required approximately three weeks from the initial detection of the Pakistani incursion -which had proceeded undetected for up to five months -to move 200,000 troops into position to commence military operations in the Kargil sector.”

One can conclude from Ladwig’s analysis that an Indian attack on Pakistan, even a limited surgical strike, is unlikely. “The terrain in much of the border region is rough, favours the defender, and has a high potential to degrade the transparency promised by the advanced sensor and strike systems. The most likely triggers for future conflict are almost certain to preclude India from being able to achieve strategic surprise against its neighbour. [And] Indian strategic planners cannot have a high degree of confidence that their forces possess sufficient skill advantages over their opponents that they could leverage advanced military technology to overcome the disadvantages posed by the other two factors.”

In addition to these factors, there are others which make an Indian attack very unlikely. These include the quality of its man power and armaments, troop morale, and luck (the quality that Napoleon valued the most in his generals).

What if India wants to convert Pakistan into a West Bangladesh, to use a term coined by Stephen Cohen?Even that possibility is remote, given the force ratios cited above, and also given the difficulties that India would face in explaining its rationale to the world.

The world would be stunned by a unilateral attack by a bigger country on a smaller country. India would almost certainly face universal condemnation and possibly very stiff sanctions, even from its allies.

But let’s assume that India elects a brazen man schooled in Hindutva as its prime minister. Let’s further assume that he is willing to run afoul of the international community’s sentiments. And let’s theorise that he decides to order an unprovoked attack on Pakistan.

Pakistan’s population will join the army in fighting off the invading force. There will be no repeat of the 1971 debacle. Then, the Eastern Garrison was surrounded by a hostile population, demoralised after months of fighting an insurgency, without its normal complement of armour and artillery, was a thousand miles away from West Pakistan, ammunition was running low, and the single air base was out of action. To compound their miseries, they had to contend with a 5:1 ratio of opposing ground forces.

Today, any Indian force would have to contend with Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry. Pakistan has made it clear that it would carry out the first strike if pressed against the wall.

Thus, an Indian attack on Pakistan is a remote possibility. Why then does Pakistan continue to spend an inordinate amount of money on defence? The opportunity cost of these expenditures in terms of human and social development is enormous. Furthermore, the more money that is spent on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the closer the world gets to Armageddon.

The choice for the stewards of Pakistan’s national security is clear. Purge the nation’s strategic culture of Indian paranoia and focus on economic and social development. Or continue to live in a self-imposed punishment and stay engaged in a fruitless, expensive and increasingly dangerous arms race.

The author has written, “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan”