As there is no military solution to the core ‘Kashmir issue’, it is possible and very much achievable to have peace between India and Pakistan and may even be a reality in the long run, according to Air Marshal S. Varthaman (retd.), formerly Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command, Indian Air Force (IAF).
Initiating a discussion on “Pakistan: Will sabre-rattling achieve peace?” at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on 24 June, Air Marshal Varthaman said both sides are well aware that war is not feasible and therefore peace is the only desirable solution to ending mutual hostilities.
He noted that military sabre-rattling has become a part of everyday discussions, especially in newspaper columns and TV talk-shows. Though it barely has any influence on governmental policy-making, it wrongly informs the public something imminently distressing though the ground reality is much different.
Air Marshal Varthaman pointed out in the 5,600 years since 3600 BC, the world has witnessed only 292 years of peace. In all, 14,500 major wars were fought during the period, and four billion people perished. Since World War II, 250 major wars have been fought, in which 50 million people died and tens of millions rendered homeless. Around three million people were killed by Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War. No part of the world has escaped the scourge of war, as modern weapons or armies have crept into every corner of the world. He noted that the 20th century was the most bloodiest and brutal of all.
Despite this, Air Marshal Varthaman noted that military power is essential for a nation’s survival. Denmark and Holland have spent heavily on their militaries despite the existence of extremely low threats. He also noted that 22 percent of the global military expenditure happens in Asia and Oceania and this goes up to 30 percent if West Asia is included. There has been a sizeable military hardware build-up in Asia. This has led to a huge debate on how countries fare in spending with regards to their health and defence sectors. India and Pakistan spend more on defence than on health, while for the rest of the world, it is usually the opposite. In India, the current year’s military budget as a percentage of GDP has gone up by six percent.
Air Marshal Varthaman said that India has a better reach and depth than Pakistan, and is a military superpower already. Despite this, in modern times, it is difficult to capture and hold on to territory. Afghanistan was invaded by many but later they fled. The only exception to this has been the Russian annexation of Crimea, for which they have had to pay a heavy price in the form of international sanctions. The focus therefore must be on capturing the hearts and minds of the people.
In case of a war with Pakistan, Air Marshal Varthaman stated that India enjoys conventional military superiority over the neighbour. He however quickly added that in case a war-like situation develops, India must prepare for a two-front war, as China may not stay quiet. Beyond this, a problem of sub-conventional warfare in the form of cross-border terrorism exists almost on a daily basis.
Elaborating on Indian armed forces’ ‘Cold Start’ doctrine and its origins, he pointed out how it took 21 days for the armed forces to mobilise after the 2001 Parliament attack. This necessitated the imperative for quick mobilisation and the need to catch the enemy by surprise. This is how the doctrine developed. A 48-hour response window was developed by the army in early 2004-05.
In response, Pakistan developed a strategy ‘to pour cold water’ over ‘Cold Start’. They brought in the tactical deployment of nuclear weapons which also put nuclear deterrence stability in place. It still allowed Pakistan to continue its sub-conventional war against India. Hence, the chances of a bilateral military engagement escalating into a nuclear war do not exist.
In this context, Air Marshal Varthaman clarified that tactical nukes can influence small battlefields and their area of impact is very low. Pakistan has stated that they will use NASR, their tactical nukes only in their territory. India, however, deemed it necessary to bring its own tactical nuke missile and the PRAHAAR came into being. The operational range of PRAHAAR is 150 km, double that of NASR. The biggest fear with regard to Pakistan’s tactical nukes is their safety.
Commenting briefly on India’s surgical strikes anti-terror initiative, the Air Marshal said that the tactic helped handle sub-conventional warfare and to eliminate future terror attacks. News reports have appeared on two successful ones in Myanmar and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in the recent times, but many others have been carried out quietly in the past, he pointed out.
Air Marshal Varthaman expressed concern over sections of the political class questioning the validity of the strikes and the need for the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) having to hold a news briefing on the same. The Government too could have stopped with a brief press statement on the surgical strikes, without letting out operational details and thus prevent the cacophonic questioning of the legitimacy of such strikes and the subsequent capitalisation on the issue on media space, he felt.
Air Marshal Varthaman also spoke on the issue of internet-enabled terrorism. The main advantage in this is distance. Terrorists in this case can be home-grown and are difficult to identify as they blend in their country’s culture. They can be given directions from a long distance or could simply be lone wolf terrorists.
He said India and Pakistan have had many cyber wars and in fact it was Pakistan which called for an online truce. However he also stated that such forms of terrorism could take place on the Kashmir front, and therefore cyber-security is an important aspect to pay attention to if India is to achieve comprehensive security. Already there is an information war between the two nations, with each side claiming that they would emerge victorious if a war were to happen today.
Air Marshal Varthaman also emphasised that limited wars are the best measure and that they are necessary to bring the adversary to the negotiation table. In the case of a war between the two South Asian neighbours, it cannot be looked at from a bilateral lens alone. One must factor in the prevailing geo-strategic environment and the great power equations, especially the China factor.
China has more business interests with India than Pakistan and hence a war is not something that they may desire. In the event of a war, the Chinese armed forces will be in Pakistan to protect its own assets. One also cannot rule out the fact that even though China may not choose to involve itself directly in a war, it may extend indirect support and assistance to Pakistan. Therefore, China is a big factor beyond the bilateral equation.
With regard to changes in Pakistan’s defence posture after the surgical strikes, the Air Marshal remarked that Pakistan has/will ensure that similar surgical strikes do not take place in the future. On whether India could take a leaf from Russian President Putin’s Chechen strategy to address the extremism in Kashmir, Air Marshal Varthaman said that it is possible if a strong leadership emerges and is bold and willing enough to take such an initiative.
In conclusion, Air Marshal Varthaman pointed out that peace depends not just on the military but also on the prevailing social and economic conditions. Pakistan cannot bear the economic costs of a war and their economy will collapse sooner than India’s. The world over, no armed forces is interested in fighting a war. This is equally applicable to India and Pakistan as well. All armed forces are ready and prepared for war and if need be will fight it, but entering into a war simply to fight is not their primary objective, he pointed out.
Air Marshal Varthaman also hoped that a responsible media will emerge and that the people will become discerning. Ultimately, both sides will come to the realisation that war is in nobody’s interest, he remarked.
This report was prepared by Arjun Sundar, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.