Syed Ali Zia JAFFERY – Islamabad- TDO- Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of the Pakistan Army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa ratified the death sentence given to Kulbhushan Jadhav, the R&AW agent who was arrested last year and tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952. The agent was a serving officer of the Indian Navy and as per his confessional statement, he was the architect of espionage in Balochistan and Karachi on behest of R&AW.
This episode is just another one that will add to the acrimony between arch-rivals India and Pakistan. History bears testimony to hostilities, mistrust and simmering conflicts marring peace between both these nuclear-armed neighbors. Besides, tensions have been flaring up since last year. The freedom movement in Kashmir had an impact on the situation at the Line of Control (LoC) throughout 2016. Indian claims of carrying out a surgical strike on terrorist camps last year further ramped up the rancor between the two countries.
The verdict on Jadhav’s trial will affect India’s “Compellance” drive against Pakistan in more ways than one. The state of India aims to compel Pakistan to clamp down on the alleged terrorist infrastructure that the latter is accused of using as a sub conventional tool of war against the former. It is important to discern between compellance and deterrence before taking our discussion forward. Thomas Schelling coined the term “compellance” alluding to threats to make the adversary do something. India thus intends to compel Pakistan to clamp-down on militant groups which are believed to be given state patronage by the latter. Deterrence on the contrary aims to dissuade and discourage an adversary from taking inimical actions. It is often said that it is harder to compel than to deter. This becomes all the more difficult and obfuscating when the conflict spectrum and the escalation ladder has a nuclear rung in it. India has various options to compel Pakistan to change its behavior, however all of them have limitations attached due to a host of reasons.
The military options revolve around airstrikes and the highly-touted “Cold Start” doctrine. Both policy options are risky and incendiary. Obsolescence of technology puts question marks on the ability to go ahead with airstrikes from the very outset. Moreover, there are operational challenges in conducting such strikes against Pakistan. Most importantly, the possible retaliations from Pakistan will exert pressures on the escalation ladder. Strikes ostensibly intended to satisfy limited aims could very well lead to an increase in scope and intensity of direct combat, something which could bring the nuclear threshold down. The strategic implications of conducting airstrikes will most likely not achieve compellance as Pakistan’s long-held notions of the need for the “look east” security policy will be vindicated. Pakistan could easily rally support by rightly considering themselves defenders of their sovereignty.
The application of the Cold Start doctrine within India’s compellance mix is a challenge at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The recent statements of the newly-appointed Indian Army Chief is an attempt to resuscitate a concept which many believe was discarded by the military long ago. It is therefore important to shed light on this limited war concept.
With rapid mobility lying at its heart, Cold Start calls for a reorganization of the old Holding and Strike corps. The former would create shallow bridgeheads into Pakistani territory. The holding corps would be followed by Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) attacking along various axes to further penetrate inside Pakistan. Thereafter, in conjunction with air succor the 3 strike corps would concentrate firepower. In order to avoid a nuclear retaliation, forces will bite and hold territory upto 25 kilometres inside Pakistani territory. How effective could this much-highlighted doctrine imply for India’s compellance strategy ?
Compellance relies upon a credible and punitive military option which would encourage the enemy to take a different course than before. Under the nuclear umbrella, it is rather difficult to punish and frighten without aggravating the engagement to the highest end of the conflict spectrum. Given the aims of Cold Start, holding territory is a compellant threat. However, the efficacy of this in compelling Pakistan is less. One that it could do exactly the opposite: Indian invasion may very well be repelled by the Pakistani military and alleged militants in unison. Besides, it will give credence to Pakistan's long-held views about India being the aggressor. Major Pakistani cities like Lahore and Sialkot are well within 25 kilometers distance mandated in the proactive strategy. Indian annexation of these cities would exert pressure on the escalation ladder and hence compellance would not be achieved. The second threat is elicited from Clausewitzian theory, for he also focused on impeding the enemy’s war waging capabilities. Attrition through escalation may actually be a blow to Indian compellance drive. A weakened army will be bolstered by invaluable support from irregulars. It could invoke a “nation in arms “response. Even otherwise an enfeebled military will then have no means to rein –in anti Indian elements and sentiments.
Thus it is evident that flexing and using military might will do little to galvanize Pakistan into changing its course in regards India. The nuclear shadow forces people at the helm to adopt a very calculated and calibrated approach in the realm of hard power. However, covert operations are less risky and have been used by both countries against each other. There are doubts on these operations having a compellant effect, but as long as deniability is maintained, such operations can be carried out. The Jadhav saga has dented the deniability ingredient of India’s espionage within Pakistan. In more ways than one, the narrative regarding India given out by Pakistan seems to be exonerated: A severe blow to compellance.
Pakistan can use Jadhav’s indictment as an instance to assert its views about India and take a hardline against their involvement in destabilizing the country India seemingly is set to lose the high moral ground that it tries to maintain regarding being a victim and not a perpetrator of subconventional war vis-à-vis Pakistan.
It could hence be concluded that India’s means of coercing the Pakistani state are less and ineffective. Should this episode make India revisit its overall orientation and outlook towards Pakistan? Should India look towards non coercive means of compellance ? The earlier India reassesses, the better it will be for South Asia.