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Opinion

September 23, 2016

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Will there be war?

Will there be a war between India and Pakistan due to attacks by non-state actors on an Indian Army installation at Uri? The question begs an answer due to the strident response of the Indian media.

The war clouds obscure the fact that the death knell of conventional wars between the nuclear armed adversaries has already been sounded due to two developments, the first being the annihilative power of nuclear weapons and the second the onset of Asymmetric Warfare. Both these developments have been technology driven yet retain some cardinal tenets of military strategy.

Let us get some facts straight. No two nuclear armed neighbours have gone to war ever since the advent of nuclear deterrence. Notionally speaking, nuclear war is an unwinnable proposition as nuclear capability is all about deterrence. The essence of the concept has been captured by Martin Van Creveld who stated that “nuclear strategy is no strategy as it leads to no winners and losers, just a big graveyard”. He also lampooned the concept of nuclear war fighting by recalling the evolution of the esoteric notions of Massive Retaliation, Mutually Assured Destruction, Flexible Response, and Graduated Response saying that “all such fancy notions of nuclear war fighting ultimately choked on their own absurdities.”

All nuclear theorists are unanimous in the view that nuclear weapons are meant to deter and not fight wars. Interestingly, however, the same technology that gave birth to that deterrence capability has enabled another stakeholder to wage a different kind of war with different tactics and weaponry – the non-state actor waging asymmetric warfare. While nuclear weapons can deter conventional armies there is no such fear for asymmetric warriors like guerrilla forces, terrorists and cyber attackers who revel in their incognito status.

Technological advancements in mobility, communication, portable weaponry and logistics have opened new vistas for terrorist cells that can operate globally as well as locally leveraging technologies like internet, telecommunications and air travel that have made life easy for common folks.

What is asymmetric warfare and how does it relate to the Uri incident? This kind of warfare is a conflict in which the relatively even strength of two conventional military forces is not evenly matched. It occurs when a weaker combatant uses non-traditional weapons and strategy to obtain a fighting advantage over a stronger opponent. Some very apt examples have been quoted by Professor T V Paul; these include the Spartan attack on a coalition of Athens, Corinth and Argos in 394 BD, Pyrrhus’ attack on Italy in 275 BC, and the Germanic tribes’ invasions of the Roman Empire in the third century AD.

Recent examples include the Chinese civil war, Vietnam conflict, Russo-Afghan conflict and Russo-Chechen conflict. A classic example is that of three Roman legions in 9 AD that were lured into forested terrain by Germanic tribes led by Arminius and exterminated as the terrain nullified the Roman legions’ tactical advantages vis-a-vis a lightly armed army.

India’s Uri moment therefore cannot be fructified into a winnable limited war on the Line of Control due to the above compulsions which are begotten out of nuclear deterrence that acts as a bulwark against mutually assured destruction. What it does not, however, deter is India’s asymmetric response.

The Uri attack hypotheses straddle two extremes. One extreme insinuates a false flag attack to divert attention from Indian atrocities in Kashmir while the other extreme points the finger at Pakistan-inspired non-state actors. The truth, as in most cases, probably lies in between. The attacks may well be the handiwork of an indigenous Kashmiri resistance movement that has probably graduated from an intifada to an armed uprising in response to a slew of innocent Kashmiri killings and maiming at the hands of Indian security agencies.

Now even if one assumes that the Indians would like to lay blame on a favourite whipping boy – Pakistan – to divert international attention away from the Kashmir uprising and that they would be encouraged in this endeavour by a global power that would like to see a Chinese ally pummelled militarily, the question that arises is of the response options.

Would a country like India, with economic stakes in its newfound multinational business partners’ presence on its soil, risk war? Would the war remain limited to Kashmir in case of Indian cross-border air or ground punitive actions across the Line of Control? Would India risk upending the nuclear deterrence paradigm to try to win an unwinnable war? Has India run out of options in the only arena of warfare left immune to nuclear threats – asymmetric warfare?

A careful analysis of the above realities would point out some likely Indian response options. The media hyped threats therefore might not mean a cross-border air or ground attack. What it signifies is something more sinister. It is in fact the threat of a matching asymmetric response. Pakistan is already bearing the brunt of such warfare in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Karachi.

The war now might be extended to Azad Jammu and Kashmir where Pakistani military installations might come under similar attack by terrorists funded and supported by RAW. The greatest threat is not in such thousand cuts but in the mutually enervating spiral of an asymmetric warfare that will keep the two countries embroiled in a costly arms race at the cost of economic development.

We must, therefore, brace ourselves for asymmetric warfare knowing full well that the best defence to asymmetric warfare lies in vigilance and national unity. Strong leadership, firm resolve and preparedness are the pearls of high price for facing the multi-dimensional asymmetric war being imposed on the country. The enemy would seek to exploit our vulnerabilities on the diplomatic, economic, media and military fronts. In the coming days attacks on military units, soft civilian targets and strategic installations, especially in the contiguous regions of Azad Kashmir, might test our resolve and vigilance.

With diplomacy as the vanguard of a national response, China, Russia, Iran and our Middle Eastern allies should be aggressively courted to reduce our diplomatic isolation while a national emergency be declared to drain the swamp of terrorism in which potential asymmetric warriors wish us to drown.

The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.

Email: [email protected]

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