Implications of Pakistan Military Exercises; Azm-e-Nau

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Context

The Pakistan Army’s Azm-e-Nau III exercises, being held near the Indian border in the Cholistan desert, are conspicuous by their scale, especially with regard to the number of troops involved and the firepower being used. It is the first time since 1989, which marked the beginning of a new era for the region following the departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, that exercises of such level and size are being held. Interestingly, the venue of the exercises is the same location where the late president of Pakistan and the army chief General Ziaul Haq witnessed the demonstration of M1 Abram tanks hours before he died in a mysterious air crash in August 1988.

The global balance of power is in transition and Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are right at the epicenter of world attention. Iran, India and Pakistan have thus recently been conducting military exercises to demonstrate their readiness to known and potential adversaries.

Analysis

The Azme Nau exercises, under the Pakistan Army’s Southern Command and subsequently involving other commands also, have several dimensions, all of them significant in the present strategic scenario in the region.

The exercise signals to the Indians that there would be no element of strategic surprise for the application of the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD). The Indian doctrine envisions a limited conflict with Pakistan to achieve a set of defined objectives, while the Pakistani commanders consider CSD a major threat to strategic stability of the region considering both countries are nuclear powers. According to media reports, Pakistan has now developed two wings of forces to counter the Indian doctrine – one defensive, while the other would launch a counter offensive on the Indian territory following an attack from the west. Pakistani military strategists emphasize that in this era of advanced intelligence, the Indians do not have the luxury of the element of surprise and the battle indicators, especially mobilization, would be no secret. They say that Pakistani formations are positioned as such that they would require little time to counter the Indian offensive, which is apparently based on hit and mobilization concept – as opposed to mobilization and hit doctrine.

The exercises also seem to convey to the Indian military establishment that despite deployment of more than 100,000 troops on the country’s western borders to fight the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Pakistan Army retains the punch to take on the Indian military, if required. As it is, the Pakistan Army has assembled some 50,000 troops in the desert, which is a significant proportion of its total military strength on the Indian border. According to observers, the troops taking part in the exercise, which also involved live firing by Pakistan Air Force fighter jets, equaled the strength of three divisions of the army. While the Pakistan Army could always move additional troops from the western borders to the east in case of any contingency, that could put a dent in the ongoing war on terror, which the Army says it is successfully tackling.

The presence of foreign military attaches at the launching of the exercises puts in the picture another objective i.e. to demonstrate that the Pakistan Army is not cowed down in the face of the Indian Cold Start Doctrine. Additionally, the exercises show that while the Army battles al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the west, it is India that shapes the real threat perception of Pakistan.

Pakistani military believes the Indians may have misjudged the impact and effectiveness of the Cold Start Doctrine and that could have disastrous consequences for them. The Indian Cold Start Doctrine is based on certain assumptions, one of them being that reaction from Pakistan will not be equal in terms of mobilization of troops and firepower. That, however, may not be. And that is what makes the Cold Start Doctrine, in the era of unpredictable nuclear threshold, so dangerous.

India’s CSD is perhaps based on the lessons of the recent conflict in the region. These include the Kargil Conflict of 1999 and Drone Attacks conducted by US inside Pakistan’s tribal areas. In both cases Pakistan has demonstrated a tempered approach. During the Kargil Conflict, Pakistan was perceived widely as the aggressor and buckled under international pressure, as India was threatening to open a full scale war against Pakistan and the prospect of a nuclear showdown in the subcontinent appeared very real. Even past Indo-Pakistan conflicts have demonstrated that Pakistan cannot economically and geographically sustain a full scale war with India for long particularly without international support, and this resulted in the much criticized counter strategy of Strategic Depth adopted by Pakistan towards Afghanistan.

In the case of drone attacks, Pakistan has operated on a delicate PR management strategy. It has realized that the country lacked the (domestic and international) moral high ground needed to counter the drone tactics, which has proven to be very effective against asymmetric threats particularly emanating from non-state actors. Thus the drone tactic has had the effect of coercing Pakistan to cooperate with the US behind the scenes in acting against extremist threats originating from its territory, while saying very little publicly.

Other international players are liable to take their own message and lessons from these contemporary tactics and strategies. Since the Mumbai Incident in 2008, India has attempted to gain a similar moral imperative on the international perceptions theater. The CSD of India thus has to be evaluated keeping this context in mind. India believes it can achieves the same results as the US did, using these tactics. It is no wonder India is on a drone-buying binge lately!

On the contrary, the exercises have portrayed that Pakistan still maintains strategic equilibrium with India. More importantly, the exercises reiterated Pakistan’s stance that there will be no limited war with India, only total war. However, PoliTact believes that at the end of the day, it’s the actor which manages the dynamics of the war of perceptions, which will win the day.

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