Pakistan: Will Doctrinal Shifts Lead to Changes toward India?

According to new media reports (here and here), the Pakistani army has revised its doctrinal handbook to give priority to the country’s burgeoning internal security challenges.  The change appears, at least on the surface, to represent a fundamental shift away from the “India-centric” orientation that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the powerful army chief, has long used to deflect U.S. pressure for Pakistani action against jihadi groups operating from the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.

This would seem to be good news for those worried that the Pakistani military establishment’s fixation on the Indian threat has left it blind to the precarious conditions inside the country.  These domestic challenges include spiraling levels of violence in two of its major cities – Karachi and Peshawar, growing Sunni-Shia conflict, and a chronic electrical power crisis that some experts suggest is more of a threat to stability than is terrorism.

Still, a healthy skepticism about Pakistani pronouncements is always in order.  After all, even U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last summer seemed to be taken in by Kayani’s promises that a long-awaited offensive into North Waziristan was just around the corner.  This occurred despite the incredulity of other U.S. officials – the New York Times even quoted one as quipping that “This is the most delayed campaign in the history of modern warfare.”

So here are two litmus tests for assaying the value of the announced doctrinal change, both of which entail fundamental departures in entrenched security calculations vis-à-vis India.

The first test is whether the revision leads to Pakistan ending its strategy of supporting Taliban insurgents as a means of exerting influence in Afghanistan and instead playing a constructive role as NATO forces prepare to exit the country after 2014.  For two decades, Islamabad has backed the Taliban out of fears of Indian strategic encirclement.  Recent reports, however, suggest that the Pakistani military establishment has had an epiphany and now believes that prolonging the Afghan conflict would only blow back over the porous border, giving further energy to the domestic militants now waging war against the Pakistani state and perhaps even inflaming Pashtun separatism.   Evidence for this change of heart includes stepped up efforts to bring about reconciliation between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, including releasing a number of jailed Taliban leaders as a goodwill gesture, as well as a campaign to reach out to non-Pashtun leaders in Afghanistan who are suspicious of Pakistan’s intentions.

Ahmed Rashid, a keen observer of the AfPak scene, attributes this major shift to the army’s realization that Pakistan is in increasingly desperate straits.  He notes that General Kayani “is now banking on the hope that reconciliation among the Afghans will have a knock-on positive effect on the Pakistani Taliban also – depriving them of legitimacy and recruits.” A Reuters report carries the same message, quoting a senior Pakistani military officer as saying:

There was a time when we used to think we were the masters of Afghanistan. Now we just want them to be masters of themselves so we can concentrate on our own problems.

It obviously bears close watching whether Islamabad follows through with these promises to be a better neighbor.  (For a doubtful view, see here.)  The outcome will have significant implications not only for Afghanistan but the larger region as well.

The second test is whether the doctrinal revisions bring about a more relaxed nuclear posture toward India.  Pakistan is rapidly expanded its nuclear stockpile, especially in tactical nuclear weapons.  Indeed, many worry (see here and here) that South Asia is on the verge of a destabilizing nuclear arms competition.  General Kayani justifies the need for battlefield nuclear options by pointing to the threat posed by the Indian army’s “Cold Start” doctrine – which emphasizes the threat of large-scale but calibrated punitive actions in order to deter Pakistani adventurism.

In an earlier post I criticized the nuclear buildup as strategically unnecessary as well as a wasteful diversion of precious economic resources away from more pressing national priorities.  So far, there are no signs that the military establishment is reversing course, though civilian leaders are at least beginning to ask tougher questions about the direction of the nuclear program.  The coming year may also see a somewhat changed equilibrium in the country’s fraught civil-military dynamics, with the upcoming parliamentary elections establishing a new milestone in civilian governance coupled with Kayani’s scheduled retirement towards the end of 2013.  It’s also worth noting that the army’s new doctrine acknowledges the legitimacy of civilian input into national security decision-making.

And there might be an opportunity here for New Delhi to provide some strategic reassurance than can help nudge Pakistan’s security calculus onto a new path.  It could further encourage the informal but promising dialogue by retired senior military leaders from both countries that has produced good ideas about confidence-building measures.  It also can signal openness to convening an official dialogue about the posture and readiness levels of military units, including nuclear-capable missile forces, deployed along the common border.  Given their lack of strategic utility as well as the perils they pose for crisis stability, one idea might be for the two countries to agree on eliminating their shortest-range ballistic missiles.

2013 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for Pakistan and I’ll have more to say in a future post about things to watch for.  But one of the key items to monitor is whether the army’s doctrinal shift leads to substantive policy changes on Afghanistan and nuclear weapons.

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One thought on “Pakistan: Will Doctrinal Shifts Lead to Changes toward India?

  1. Lack of civilian control on military in Pakistan, frequent transitions from democracy to military rule and performance of civilian government below expectations of people has made military in Pakistan more revered and legitimate in the eyes of Pakistani public. Pakistan has taken advantage of India-centric fear psychosis and allied with some of the powerful countries across the globe who have funded Pakistan handsomely. Pakistan made use of these funds generously to strengthen its military capabilities and to nurture and experiment with religion based jihadi terrorism in Afghanistan during Soviet Afghan conflict instead of using the same for socio economic development. After retreat of Russians from Afghanistan, the hold of Pakistan military on this Talibani terror infrastructure created got loose in due course of time, and these Talibani terrorist first ravaged Afghanistan itself, and then inflicted their wrath on many countries including India and those who indirectly funded and supported these terror groups. Pakistan came under difficult situation when conflict between Talibani terror group and U S aggravated after 9/11. For funding, Pakistan was dependent on U S and for strategic military activity to keep hold in Afghanistan it was dependent on Talibani terror group who were active on both side of border. Pakistan tried to show its loyalties with both, but in this process it got exposed and lost the faith of both. However, due to its compelling circumstances it had to show its loyalty more towards U S that further alienated Talibani terror group. Now the energy of Talibani terror group is directed against Pakistan itself and Pakistan is bearing the brunt of Talibani terrorism. Now if Pakistan has to contain terrorism on its own land it has to shift its focus from India and direct its resources in containing terrorism. As far as India is concerned on issue of nuclear weapon, it is committed to its nuclear policy of “no first use”

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