Pakistan has decided that its security is dependent on a destabilized (and pliable) Afghanistan on its western border and an India tied up through covert warfare on its eastern border. Pakistan has had to fight Afghanistan, US and India to achieve this. Pakistan has relied on a three-pronged strategy: sub conventional warfare, denials and deterrence in this fight. Pakistan has fought
Sub conventional warfare through (a) the Taliban proxies in the west and (b) and in the east, through the various so-called “non-state actors” derived from groups such as Lashkar-e-tayyiba which enjoy state patronage. It has maintained
Deniability by disassociating itself from these armed proxies. Pakistan skillfully employs its diplomats, myriad media personalities and “analysts” who trot out denials ranging from the respectable to the bizarre. For example, in the Osama Bin Laden case, one has a variety of denials to choose: From ambassador Haqqani’s articulate denials of complicity, to Prime Minister Gilani’s ludicrous assertion that the failure belongs to the world, to the conspiratorial Mirza Aslam Beg’s theory that the operation was staged and a look alike was killed!!* The third prong is
Deterrence from retaliation for pursuing sub conventional warfare. To deter conventional retaliation from India, Pakistan uses a mixture of nuclear threats and conventional counter attacks and to deter retaliation from the US, Pakistan uses the threat of cutting off NATO supplies, ceasing co-operation and increased anti-Americanism among its population.
I wish to argue that this security posture is untenable. The current security posture seems to be based more on spite than on deliberate strategy and is likely to fail with disastrous consequences because Pakistan has failed to understand a simple fact: adversaries have options. Much has been written about the costs incurred by Pakistan in terms of human capital, security and economy. My argument is not along these lines and more along the structural aspects of this strategy. Using terror as a security strategy is flawed because:
1. There is no end-game: Due to the denials that Pakistan is indulging in covert warfare, negotiations cannot be a solution (which would require Pakistan to take responsibility for its proxies, either LeT vis-à-vis India or the Haqqani faction vis-à-vis Afghanistan). The only conclusion of this approach of subconventional warfare-deniability-deterrence is the defeat of the adversary through force. Be it US in Afghanistan or India in Kashmir and elsewhere. This is unlikely to happen. The adversaries have strong national will backed by a sense of morality, and no incentive to accept defeat. Surrendering Kashmir is not an option for India, since India will calculate the costs of losing access to its waters and a possibility that the conflict will not end with Kashmir. Surrendering Afghanistan is not an option for the US, since attacks originating from Afghanistan have a potential to shape domestic politics in the US. Under such a context, Pakistan will be forced to continue this indefinitely and forced to escalate, which it cannot because:
2. Escalation defeats the strategy: Any escalation, either of the form of spectacular attacks in Mumbai or arresting American operatives for example, leads to a breakdown of deniability and could invite retaliation. The Mumbai attacks trial in India have conclusively proven that Pakistani attackers were involved. The upcoming trial of Rana (involving Headley) in Chicago might uncover even more uncomfortable truths. A similar situation arose when it was revealed that Raymond Davis was accosted by armed intelligence agents and not a couple of random bystanders as was reported first. This breakdown in deniability can be used by the adversary to escalate, leaving Pakistan with no option because
3. The adversaries enjoy flexibility in their response: Pakistan seems to have forgotten that her adversaries are intelligent, adaptive and backed up enormous economic and military resources. India is fighting back by choosing not to fight. Without raising tensions, they have embarked on an arms build-up spree, developed a cold start strategy backed up by ballistic missile defense. This is aimed at eliciting arms build up by Pakistan and ultimately bankrupting Pakistan (one can notice parallels to Regan’s SDI approach).
The Americans are following an approach through technology and coercion. Pakistani declarations of its inability to fight in the tribal areas led to the Americans employing drones. Which has had a backlash inside Pakistan. Furthermore through the OBL raid, Americans have simultaneously struck at the credibility of the civilians and the myth of capability of the armed forces gavely injuring the deniability part of the strategy and demonstrating that Pakistani threat to shut down the NATO supply routes are hollow. This loss in credibility combined with the fact that keeping the economic lifeline of Pakistan alive requires negotiations and goodwill from the international community means that Pakistan has been boxed into a corner and American leverage over Pakistan has increased many fold. Make no mistake: the Americans are following a strategy of feigning friendship while indulging in warfare – as a reply to Pakistan’s strategy of feigning friendship while indulging in warfare**. While Pakistan measures its short-term success through body counts, India and US are charting a path to their successes by running Pakistan to the ground.
The same sub conventional warfare-deniability-deterrence approach was tried out in Kargil and failed spectacularly due to the same reasons of lack of endgame, asymmetric escalation by India and the flexibility of response that India enjoyed. Pakistan could not obtain a negotiated withdrawal (because that would imply that Pakistan would have accept responsibility for the intrusion) and counted on an Indian surrender (and were not prepared for their will to fight). Indian escalation could not be matched by Pakistani escalation, due to the danger of loss of deniability. Ultimately India prevailed through strength of arms through Artillery and Airforce and thoroughly discredited Pakistani denials by going on a diplomatic offensive***. Though the conflicts themselves were dissimilar, the current conflict is following the well-charted Kargil route. A bloody nose in the Kargil conflict**** led to a decade of military rule, erosion of Pakistan’s economic base, steeper economic divisions and radicalization. A bloody nose in the current conflict will prove to be much more costly and might very well be fatal to Pakistan.
* This despite Al-Qaeda’s acceptance that OBL is dead, the historic closed door briefing given by the armed forces to the Parliament and the possibility that US might find incriminating evidence from among the materials seized in the compound!
** Hence Pasha’s protestations about why US is not a reliable ally and noises about violation of sovereignty. Also, commentators seem to have missed the most significant aspect of the OBL raid: The fact that a successful operation would thoroughly humiliate and discredit Pakistani armed forces at home and abroad, could not have been overlooked by the US. In fact, this could have been one of the primary objectives of this raid.
*** People with long memories will recall that in the aftermath of the Kargil war, (and before 9/11) similar loss of credibility ruined Pakistan’s economy. 9/11 was a fortuitous windfall.
**** The defeat in Kagil was predictably sold off through stories ranging from a victory to denials that Pakistan was ever involved.