India challenges Pakistan on new turfs

Syed Muhammad Ali

Last week witnessed profound changes to the complex and delicate South Asian strategic calculus, which despite the diplomatic niceties being exchanged between the foreign secretaries of New Delhi and Islamabad, clearly reflect the alarming direction of Indian strategic ambitions and warrant a thoughtful and thorough review of Pakistan’s national security doctrine. Firstly, in an unprecedented high-level effort to discover a common ground in Afghanistan with Saudi Arabia, Manmohan Singh paid a historic visit to Saudi Arabia and in return for isolating Pakistan in the hectic multi-lateral diplomatic efforts currently afoot, offered Riyadh large-scale Indian investment and oil contracts. Commenting audaciously on the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the Saudi Kingdom in 28 years, Shashi Tharoor, the Indian Minister of State for External affairs, publicly suggested that India should ask Saudi Arabia to pressurise Pakistan regarding its Afghan policy. Secondly, despite both overt and covert US prodding, the recent foreign secretary level Indo-Pak talks yielded only an unequivocal Indian refusal to restart the stalled composite dialogue and were conspicuous by the absence of both desire and effort on either side to go beyond reiteration of their historical positions. In addition, already the fourth largest military spender in the world, India raised its defence budget to an unprecedented level of 32 billion dollars, within a day of Pakistani Foreign Secretary’s criticism of Indian ambitious military modernisation programme as a threat to the stability of a ‘nuclearized South Asia’. Whilst the Indian Foreign Secretary was entertaining the Pakistani delegation at the Hyderabad House, the Indian Air Force was busy conducting a massive firepower demonstration (FPD) ahead of the ‘Vayu Shakti-2010’ at the Chandan Air-to-Air Range at Pokhran in Rajasthan, only miles away from the Pak-India border. One wonders if the Indo-Pak peace talks are anything to go by, who are these large-scale military deployments and exercises, held so close to the Pakistani border, aimed at. From the Pakistani perspective, a very interesting and significant component of these Indian Air Force exercises were the IAF’s Special Forces Para-drop operations, aimed at neutralising a terrorist camp inside enemy territory, watched by no less than 30 defence attaches of different countries, minus of course Pakistan and China. Other targets included mock radar sites, tanks, marshalling yards, terrorist camps, runways, infantry fighting vehicles, blast pens and convoys. This high-tech exercise constitutes day and night operations of the IAF frontline fighters, such as the Su-30 MK1, Mirage-2000, Jaguar, Mig-29 and Mig-21; the transport aircraft include AN-32, Embraer and IL-76, while Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters represent the rotary wing ingredient. Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is also deployed to monitor these exercises and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) provide a live stream of video images of the target identification, engagement and destruction. During his recent Indian visit, the Pakistani foreign secretary wisely took the opportunity to warn India that “New war doctrines, a tremendous boost to defence spending and the induction of new sophisticated weapons systems, are prejudicial to regional security and stability.” However, the world also needs to realise that Indian defence policy and mammoth military spending, do not add up with peaceful objectives and betray the ambitions of a regional hegemony, which is determined to waste the wealth of its poor majority not on their welfare but towards browbeating its smaller neighbours. Meanwhile, New Delhi is also forging close strategic ties with Washington and Riyadh, two of Islamabad’s vital allies, apparently at Pakistan’s expense. It seems that in the absence of a clear threat or provocation from any neighbouring state, Indian coercive diplomatic posturing, aggressive doctrinal orientation and large scale conventional and strategic military muscle flexing will force Pakistan to depart from its policy of ‘minimum credible deterrence’ towards developing a robust second strike capability, in the form of an elaborate triad of nuclear delivery systems, to foreclose all Indian conventional and strategic options. Moreover, Islamabad should use the forums of UN and SCO to consolidate its diplomatic position over Afghanistan. Pakistan desires a peaceful neighbourhood but if India understands only the language of power politics, then so be it. In the interest of regional peace and security, Pakistan must and will make it understand just that.


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