Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Highlights of Pakistan’s defensive preparations

BY ADMIN   24/12/13
Azm-e-Nau refined
Pakistan_ArmyPakistan continued to refine a military response to perceived Indian attack, with the Azm-e-Nau-4 exercise that took place in November. The Pakistani military claims that its forces can now be effectively deployed faster than their Indian counter-parts, and hold on against Indian advances for longer.
Tactically speaking, Pakistan is better suited for a defensive posture at the moment. Firstly because Pakistan does not, now or for the last decade, have the political traction required to stand against the international outcry of a pre-emptive strike, which India can easily present as an aggressive first move by Pakistan. The resulting damage to Pakistan’s reputation will not allow it to draw out favourable ceasefire conditions in the United Nations (as the plan envisions).
Secondly, Pakistan’s air force is outclassed by Indian inventory, especially as India moves to acquire modern aircraft like the Dassault Rafale and possibly the American F-35 which has a higher service ceiling than Pakistan’s latest JF-17 Thunder’s, and possibly the latest from the American technology (America is desperate for customers for its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter). In such an event, Pakistan will not be able to guarantee air superiority inside Indian Territory. However, using its advanced missile technology available, Pakistan will be able to create a shallow defensive umbrella (like Egypt in the Yom-Kippur War) where its armour and artillery can manoeuvre without the fear of attacks by enemy airforce. This will allow Pakistani forces to either blunt Indian advances or carry out their own limited thrusts into Indian Territory.
Having said that, in the current scenario, chances of drawing down India while Pakistan gathers international support for a ceasefire are sketchy because of (as previously mentioned) Pakistan’s lack of international support vis-à-vis India. This is especially damning given China’s relative lack of interest in Pakistan’s problems. As of late, Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’ has (for good reason) refused to reciprocate the overly joyous warm words that Pakistan offers it. Without strong support from China, even military mobilisation like it did in 1965, India will feel no need to step back. 
Afghanistan and NATO drawdown: Opportunities and threats
With the deadline for the Nato withdrawal getting closer, and Karzai’s rebuke of further US assistance until his demands are met, Afghanistan is placed at a precarious cross-roads that presents an opportunity for Pakistan.
Pakistan has so far failed to create strong institutional level relationships with its Afghan counterparts. But with the Nato drawdown, there one very acute shortage that the Pakistani military can help their Afghanistan in.
Currently the attrition rate for Afghan recruits in the Afghan National Army (ANA) is upto 50%. Almost half of this is due injuries sustained in the battlefield. Before the reduction in ISAF forces, the ANA had access to Blackhawk helicopters that could quickly airlift injured soldiers to hospitals. With the sustained drawdown, the ANA has seen a shortage of such facilities, even basic field hospitals, which has resulted in such a high attrition rate and great loss of life for the Afghan people.
The Pakistani military can fill this gap by offering to provide and train army doctors. The dividends of such a move, in Afghan goodwill and trust, will be enormous. So far Pakistan has concentrated too much on individuals when dealing with the Afghan government, instead of institutions like the Afghan military, intelligentsia, and diplomatic core; a fact that India has used to its advantage. This is an excellent opportunity for expanding the foundation of the relationship with Afghanistan to sustain regime change even as Indian presence shrinks along with Nato.
Without concrete overtures by Pakistan, the threat of a two-front war will become all the more real. Pakistan cannot afford to maintain troops in its northern province indefinitely, nor can it assume to control proxies in Afghanistan without spillover into Pakistan. The recent case of the Afghan intelligence wing trying to cultivate similar proxies against Pakistan should be a wakeup call for the Pakistani security agency: we do not have the resources to outlive an Indian-funded proxy war; our populations, national identity and federal unity will crack under the pressure.
The next election is likely to see a Karzai-backed candidate come to power again. Even if Karzai’s ambitions are not filled, Pakistan still has to overcome widespread distrust among the Afghan populations. Eitherway, it’s an uphill battle. But if Paksitan is able to create relations, and eventually treaties with in-built mechanisms that can accommodate political changes (much like the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan which has survived four wars), it can hope to create a list of goods and services it can offer the Afghan people which will eventually become an ‘off the table’ list in any future negotiation.
Economy, the ability to sustain total war, and the nuclear option
On December 6th, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves fell to an all-time low of $2.9 billion (enough for only one month of imports). In the next week however, Pakistan received an inflow $500 million from various multilateral organisations, bringing reserves up to $3.4 billion. After this rise, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar confidently advised citizens to ‘sell their dollars’ as he claimed the rupee would bounce back.
Realistically speaking, this is not possible. The minister’s positive sentiment and temporary cash inflows has managed to strengthen the rupee for the time being, but it is a temporary solution.
Basic economics- to strengthen reserves a country must increase exports (inflow of money) and decrease imports (outflow of money). The current government is putting its money on the GSP-Plus status with Europe and various Free-Trade-Agreements with smaller trade partners to increase exports. This might work, especially the GSP-Plus status which is expected to increase textile trade alone by at least $1 billion. However, keep in mind that a) Pakistan has to invest heavily in power projects, which will results in large import of machinery and construction material, b) even though Pakistan is switching from oil-fired power plants to coal-fired, which will result in a significant reduction in the import bill, it will still have to import coal for a while before its hydel-generation projects and nuclear power plants are online, c) and most importantly, Pakistan still has to payback previous IMF loans.
As a result, the current appreciation in the Pakistani is temporary and artificial, no more than a political stunt by the ruling party.
With such weak reserves, Pakistan will be unable to survive even up to a month during a war, as supplies run out and fuel is spent. Any offensive operations are out of the question, and the resulting sense of insecurity will lead to an increased reliance on the country’s nuclear arsenal to ward of threats (both Indian and others). In such a scenario, it is imperative that the nuclear option is in no way allowed to seen as a permanent solution.
Keep in mind that this solution was adopted out of a sense of insecurity. The basic premise of this option is that ‘only mutually assured destruction will guarantee our survival’. This does nothing for the sense of insecurity. Such an option must have very clear and clearly outlined parameters in policy and discourse. The Pakistani generals must know, up to the closest inch, the lines in the sand that have to be crossed before the nuclear option is warranted.
The sectarian schism
Azm-e-Nau notwithstanding, Pakistan’s ‘threat from within’ remains stronger. 2013 began with attacks on the Hazaara community in Balochistan. The attacks continued throughout the year and the army was called in several times to provide security to Shiite processions and pilgrims in sensitive locations. The focal centre of sectarian violence was seen to shift from Balochistan to the Punjab. The government bent over backwards trying to appease both sides to no avail. Despite the government’s ‘foolproof security plan’ for Ashura, the Rawalpindi Ashura massacre gave the nation a rude awakening call.
More than 7,000 army officials have been deployed in Rawalpindi to maintain peace today for the chehlum procession of Hazrat Imam Hussain.
The army, stretched between two borders and an internal security situation, has more challenges today than ever before. Hopefully, the government’s plan to create an Anti-Terrorism Force and absorb the Elite Force and Special Police Branch within the Home Department, will remove some of the burden for the army.
The creation of new institutions must of course be carried out so as to define clear parametres and boundaries so that there are no overlapping areas of duty.. That leads to confusion and conflict of interest within institutions.
The battle continues
2013 was a year of violence and political theatrics as far as the security situation is concerned. From talks with Taliban, to the aftermath of Mehsud’s death, lack of political consensus on counterinsurgencies, the drone strike dilemma and NATO supply blockades, the national security strategy has been on a turbulent roller coaster throughout the year.
The army saw a change of command this year and a new minister of defence. What with the government’s committment to the National Security Plan, restructuring of the police department and the constitution of the Anti-Terrorism Force, Pakistan is in a better place to combat security threats in the coming year than it was last year.
The challenges of this year have helped shape, streamline and focus the direction of peace keeping strategies.
One can only hope that the security challenges of the next year are well met by the government and the army. This can only happen if the well intentioned plans devised in collaboration with all peace keeping stakeholders are put into practice honestly and deftly. 2014 – The year of the end game- might as well be the year our security challenges end as well.
By: Taimour Khan and Sarah Eleazar

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