Boasting numerical ascendency, India looks at Pakistan through the lens of ‘perpetuated grandiosity’, that is, reducing Pakistani military capability to an ‘incapacitated flutter’. This estimation is rooted deep in the Indian strategic community’s belief that India’s strategic interests lie in its becoming a dominant player. India always has been an existential threat to Pakistan, as most of its military doctrines and the operational orientation are against Pakistan. This leaves Pakistan with legitimate security concerns as India seeks regional hegemony. Ziba Moshaver, in Nuclear Weapons Proliferation in the Indian Subcontinent, notes that India’s first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, believed such a power was attainable through socio-economic development, whereas the succeeding leaders argued for a stronger military. The later thesis got enduring acceptance and is visible in the evolution of Indian military doctrine, from ‘Simultaneity and Deep Thrusts’ to ‘Cold Start’ and from ‘Proactive Operations’ to ‘Two Front War’.
India made two strategic mistakes, which made its conventional military irrelevant to the operational environment. And led to unmasking the myth Indian conventional superiority would checkmate Pakistan and influence the course of events. The first mistake was the overt nuclearisation of South Asia in 1998; the second is the most recent air strike, on 26 February, against alleged ‘terror hideouts’ deep inside Pakistan.
Soon after Nehru’s death, in 1964, deviating from his policies of restraint on use of nuclear technology for destructive purposes, Moshaver observes, India quickly embraced the idea of developing nuclear weapons. Regional rivalries intensified India’s desire. Calling it a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’, India tested a nuclear device, in 1974. This invited worldwide condemnation, and then the establishment of Nuclear Suppliers Group. The detonation forced Pakistan to recalibrate its security choices. India had set an irreversible and irreconcilable race towards the nuclearisation of South Asia. Maintaining restraint, Pakistan’s nuclear programme remained ambiguous. But not for long. India went nuclear, again, in 1998 overtly claiming to be a ‘nuclear weapons state’. Amit Gupta, an article in 2000, notes that L K Advani viewed that nuclear weapons “gave India the ability to engage in hot pursuit of Kashmiri insurgents across the border into Pakistan”. This provocative stance compelled Pakistan to follow suit, as Hassan Abbas, in Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb, argues that Pakistan’s nuclear response was substantially reactive and threat-based. India kept transforming its military potential from land-based strategic missiles to a nuclear triad whilst enlarging its conventional military potential. Pakistan had to bridge the power gaps across the levels of war and introduced nuclear weapons in the ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence’, to blunt India’s numerically superior conventional military might.
The Kargil War, in 1999, erupted between the two. India’s strategic mistake of 1998 had already set the wheel of nuclearisation in the region, which significantly truncated its conventional military’s options to escalate or define the clear notion of victory. The ensuing stalemate meant that India, with all its military strength, was unable to either prescribe or articulate the course of events in its favour. Losses were near symmetrical on both sides as a result of violence, but the occurrence led the strategic communities particularly on Indian side to postulate that ‘limited war was possible under the nuclear overhang’.
The postulate, nevertheless, could not stand the test on two occasions: firstly in 2001, after the attack on Indian Parliament and secondly in 2008, after the Mumbai attack; when India quickly blamed Pakistan for the terrorist incidents though choosing to restrain the use of military. In order to substantially invalidate this postulate, Pakistan had to figure something new, which was the reported development of low yield nuclear weapons. These could deter a powerful conventional military assault that India contemplated under its ‘Pro-Active Operations’ strategy that seeks “massive retaliation” against Pakistan. Pakistan’s policy of introduction of nuclear weapons across the levels of war, as approved by the National Command Authority in 2013, “reduced the chances of war”. This means, in simple terms, that with a powerful conventional military, India may sit eyeball to eyeball, without having the will to engage Pakistan militarily.
Encouraged by a completely farcical ‘surgical strike’ in 2016, after the Uri attack, India chose to ‘avenge’ the Pulwama attack of 14 February, through another. This was the second strategic mistake that shattered the myth of India’s conventional military being superior in deciding the course of events. India claimed to have sent a package of 12 fighter jets that bombed three targets deep inside Pakistan, across the LoC. Resultantly, says the Indian official version, nearly 300 ‘terrorists’ were eliminated. India, despite repeated calls at home and abroad, failed to provide evidence. The PAF clinically conducted an airstrike in a quid pro quo and additionally brought down two Indian fighters. Despite a strike by Pakistan, in a broad daylight, within Indian-occupied territory, the Indian conventional military potential failed to counter Pakistan’s deterrence.
Indian military leadership appeared clueless about options against Pakistan. India, thriving on ‘proactive reductionism’, coupled with an emotionally charged media went ballistic against Pakistan. A hastily executed air strike, on 26 February, and arbitrary deployment of naval vessels reflected outlandish operational thinking. PAF struck back immediately to re-establish deterrence. While on the Maritime front, one Indian Navy ship remained holed up in Oman, for nearly 2 weeks, fearing an interception by Pakistan Navy and Kalvari, Scorpène Class submarine, was humiliated when pushed back before it could be applied against Pakistan. Indian aircraft carrier along with other major combatants were also tracked throughout.
With a defence budget of well over $60 billion, the Indian military remains inert to operational challenges, whereas Pakistan with a meagre $9.8 billion has been successful keeping the Indian ‘perpetuated grandiosity’ in check. India’s supposedly algorithmic application of its numerically loftier conventional military capability remains sketchy. The myth of ‘numerical ascendency influencing the course of events’ is shattered. This necessitates introspection at India’s end and quintessential need to behave rationally the next time another terror incident occurs inside India.