Pakistan’s powerful Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has announced that he will retire after a six-year term in office on November 29. While plenty has been written about him in the Pakistani media, the Indian media has failed to assess his tenure, despite knowing that he singularly ran his country’s security policy for India. Most of what he did was, not surprisingly, to emasculate India, which he considered an existential threat. By default, however, he has contributed some good as well to the bilateral relationship.
There are five high points of his tenure, of which 26/11 stands out as unique in the annals of contemporary history. Ten Pakistani Army supported, sponsored, armed and trained terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008; killed 164 innocents; wounded 308 people; and held the city hostage for a full three days.
Only after the conclusion of their dastardly enterprise, did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summon his defense Service chiefs on the afternoon of November 29. The perfunctory conclave, according to an insider, was held to discuss the pros and cons of going to war. The Service chiefs were never called for a second meeting. Sensing that India had blinked yet again, Mr Kayani publicly challenged it to a war. But let alone a war, India was not even willing to consider available military options short of war. India’s political will to choose from the plethora of military options against Pakistan has repeatedly been tested and found wanting. In background briefings, senior Indian officials justified Prime Minister’s cowardice by theorizing that a war would have decimated India’s economic prosperity.
Next, starting 2009, Mr Kayani successfully brought together the militaries of Pakistan and China operationally against India in North Kashmir, moving their bilateral relationship beyond strategic sustenance and technical assistance. In March 2010, the Indian Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh, spoke of about 3,500 to 4,000 People’s Liberation Army troops being present in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (the territory is known as Azad Kashmir in Pakistan). The same year, in December 2010, on the eve of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India, Beijing announced that its border with India was a mere 2,000km, which excluded Ladakh. Now, how could India object to PLA forces in North Kashmir, if according to Beijing, China does not have a border with India there?
Thus, under the garb of building an economic corridor between Gwadar and Xinjiang, Pakistan and China have made significant military gains. A secure fibre optic cable for real time communications is planned to be laid between the two military headquarters, across PoK. Then, the two Air Forces recently did Shaheen-II exercise in PoK to demonstrate advanced joint air maneuvers in mountains. Exercise Shaheen-I, conducted in March 2011 in Pakistan, had been an introductory familiarizing maneuver. Simply put, for the first time ever, a possibility of a limited two-front war stares India in the face in North Kashmir.
If the numbers advantage of the Indian Army was nullified in Kashmir by physical marrying up of Pakistani and Chinese Armies, Mr Kayani blunted the Indian Army’s cold start doctrine for plains by bringing tactical nuclear weapons in his war inventory. Without an equivalent weapon system, the Indian Army will find itself hugely disadvantaged in a conventional war. Given that the deadly weapon can transform the shape of war, it is time for the Indian Army to deliberate upon its three strike corps against Pakistan’s two strike corps. The days of maneuver are probably over for the Indian land forces.
Having tested India’s pathetic political will and plugged his Army’s operational disadvantages in Kashmir and plains for a conventional war with India, Mr Kayani played another master-stroke by not ending the ceasefire on the Line of Control, held precariously since November 26, 2003. This has resulted in an operational confusion within the Indian Army. Is its role outwards against its adversary or inwards against terrorists? This unresolved dilemma has led the Indian Army to concoct the thesis of a hybrid war, leading to a totally defensive mindset, blunt in expertise in counter-insurgency operations, consistent lack of conventional capability and defunct training for war. To recall, in the 90s, when the ceasefire was not there and artillery was used freely by both sides, the Indian Army used to regularly smoke Pakistani bunkers and kill terrorists at the LoC itself with massive firepower pounding. Then, the hybrid war theory was non-existent.
While Mr Kayani was assiduously blunting the Indian Army’s conventional war capabilities, in 2009, he offered India the possibility of opening a second diplomatic track between the two Armies, which New Delhi rejected. India made it known that it would only deal with the Government in Pakistan, whatever its construct. Fully conscious about the self-defeating Musharraf years, Mr Kayani looked for a civilian Government in Islamabad with whom his Army could do business on its terms.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif probably is the man his Army can work with. Both are close to select terrorists or non-state actors, and a humbled Mr Sharif knows that he should not bite more than he can chew. The recent agreement between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers reached in New York, to have the two Directors- General of Military Operations discuss ways to bring peace and stability on the LoC, is a direct outcome of the Kayani-Sharif arrangement to work together.
The proof of changing civil-military relations in Pakistan was evident during the September Passing out Parade of the 120th Course cadets from the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. Presiding over the function, Mr Kayani exhorted the newly-commissioned officers to focus on two issues: Fighting terrorism and supporting democracy. How times have changed! Speaking with reporters, Mr Kayani, who belongs to the 45th Course, conceded that his generation was told only to focus on the India threat.
This narrative does not imply that the Pakistani Army will downgrade the Indian threat. What it means is that the Pakistani Army may be willing to work with its Government to meet the India challenge, especially the resolution of the Kashmir issue. This is a good development for New Delhi. What is required now is a dispensation in India which is willing to understand military power and then meet Pakistan from a position of relative strength.
(The writer is a former Indian Army officer and now Editor, FORCE, a newsmagazine on national security)
This article first appeared in The Pioneer, a leading Indian newspaper. Click here to go to the original.