If the Pakistan Army was a corporation, its senior executives, the generals, would have got the boot decades ago. But in a dysfunctional ecosystem, things work differently. Despite getting whipped in four wars against India and in the process losing more than 50 per cent of its population, Pakistan is poised to reward its military with another hefty annual hike. On February 8, the country’s finance minister hinted at a rise in defence spending, citing multiple security threats. This follows last year’s 18 per cent increase in the defence budget which now stands at $9.6 billion, which is clearly disproportionate to the GDP of only $305 billion.
Desperately seeking Pakistan
Any way you look at it, the Pakistani economy is on life support. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sale of buffaloes in 2018 and his desperate appeal for donations from Pakistanis abroad has highlighted the sorry state of the Pakistani economy. The country is seeking its 13th bailout since the late 1980s as Pakistan’s central bank has only $7 billion left in foreign reserves. (In comparison, Bangladesh has forex reserves of $33 billion.) The GDP growth forecast has been revised downward to 4 per cent.
With Standard & Poor’s lowering the country’s credit rating to B-, Pakistan is now six steps below the AAA rating or investment grade. This makes it prohibitively expensive for Pakistan to raise capital in the overseas bond market.
Islamabad recently received bailout packages from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China, but that’s only the bare minimum cash required to keep Pakistan above water. A desperate Imran Khan has thus turned to the IMF. This comes with its own set of problems as the lending body is insisting on ending subsidies on food and fuel – measures that could break the proverbial camel’s back.
There is a section of Indians which believes “a weak Pakistan is not in India’s interests”. Some like former speech writer Sudheendhra Kulkarni have even suggested providing it a low interest loan of $4.5 billion because that is “padosi ka dharma” or the duty of a neighbour.
However, anyone who believes a stable Pakistan is good for India has merely internalised what liberal think tanks have been dishing out for decades. In fact, the contrary is true. Picture this: if India hadn’t intervened in East Pakistan in 1971, there would be no Bangladesh today and the Indian Army would have had to station half a million troops on the eastern border as well. The demilitarised Bangladesh border is therefore a huge dividend from the 1971 War.
With Pakistan showing no signs of backing down from its old policy of low-intensity, low-risk attacks – interspersed with full-on wars – against India, negotiations are a waste of time and effort. In fact, talks are a clever distraction ploy by Islamabad so India lowers its guard. Indians should never forget that in 1999 while late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was bussing across the international border to Lahore for a historic summit, the Pakistan Army was clambering up mountains in Kargil.
India must drop all niceties aside and treat Pakistan like a mortal enemy. For those with short memories or who believe the Pulwama attack is an isolated one, here’s a list of some major terror strikes by Pakistan: Mumbai 1993, Indian Parliament 2001, Delhi 2005, Mumbai 2008, Gurdaspur 2015, Pathankot Air Force Station 2016 and Uri 2016.
In this backdrop, here is what New Delhi can do to remove this existential threat to India’s security and a major roadblock towards its destiny as a great power.
Support freedom movements in Pakistan
The majority of Balochs and a large section of Sindhis are irreconcilably opposed to being part of Pakistan. Likewise, most Pathans would prefer to join up Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with Afghanistan. After the 1971 War and the emergence of Bangladesh, Sindhi leader G.M. Syed proposed a new homeland for the Sindhis named Sindhudesh. He founded the Jiye Sindh movement and said that in the next India-Pakistan war Sindhis must welcome the Indian Army as liberators.
After the horror of the November 2008 Mumbai raid, which resulted in the deaths of 158 people, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had famously said, “You do one more Mumbai, you lose Balochistan.” That time has come. Considering Pulwama and Uri are just as traumatic for Indians as the Mumbai attack, it’s time to start the process of breaking up Pakistan.
India has done this before brilliantly. In the build-up to the 1971 War, the country’s external intelligence agency RAW had started training Bengali freedom fighters in the former East Pakistan. India also successfully turned Bengali officers in the Pakistan Army, Pakistan Air Force and the Pakistan Foreign Service into double agents. Those multiple thrusts ultimately resulted in the defeat of the Pakistani military forces.
This time around, RAW should do a triple strike by massively arming rebels in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – the three provinces which are chafing under Punjabi domination. Because these provinces are losing their identity due to the influx of Punjabi settlers who are slowly changing the demography of the provinces, the local people are desperate for India’s support.
As Doval has said, India’s advantage is that it has the cash to pay off terrorists and turn them into double agents who will happily strike at Pakistan. The Pakistan Army claims it has lost more than 70,000 troops fighting just one set of terrorists – the Pakistan Taliban. Three simultaneous rebel movements bankrolled by India will simply overwhelm its armed forces. The resulting turmoil will quickly drive out both foreign and domestic investors, resulting in the collapse of the Pakistani economy.
For those who claim that Islamabad will also ramp up its terror operations in India, here’s news: because Pakistan is a much smaller country, it will suffer greater turmoil and devastation than India. Security analyst Amarjeet Singh explains inIndian Defence Review: “Whereas a proxy war by Pakistan in two Indian provinces merely affects less than 10 per cent of all Indian provinces, a proxy war by India in two Pakistani provinces can affect 40 per cent of Pakistan. By its sheer size, Pakistani resilience can be less, and Pakistani response to Indian proxy wars can be less effective. In addition, the effect of proxy wars on the Pakistani economy can be much more to Pakistan than a proxy war on India by Pakistan.”
The Pakistani generals will find out that two can play the game, and that India can play it far longer. They are used to a life of luxury, post-retirement corner plots and numerous flunkies at their beck and call; they have no stomach for a high-intensity conflict with India.
Double defence spending
India’s defence budget is $64 billion or just 2.5 per cent of GDP; Pakistan’s defence budget is $9.6 billion, which is 3.5 per cent of its GDP. While many will be aghast if India hikes its defence budget to, say, $128 billion, the reality is that securing the country is not a casual matter; it’s an existential issue which deserves to be dealt with seriously.
During wartime, virtually the entire resources of a country are diverted into war production. That is how Russia and the US defeated the German Army. All their consumer goods factories were turned into weapons plants; workers who put together refrigerators were trained to assemble tanks and fighter jets. Russian citizens survived more than five years on bread and water.
Since the mid 1990s, India has faced a low-intensity war waged by Pakistan with support from China. Like it or not, we are at war and our soldiers are dying every day. In this scenario, doubling of the defence budget to 5 per cent is just like taking out a large insurance on your home – it costs extra but if the house collapses, it is money well spent. Yes it will certainly impact some development projects but the massive impetus it will give to the military industrial complex will compensate for the losses. Plus, the peace dividend is incalculable. Millions of people will be able to lead peaceful lives and trade and industry will grow in places considered no-go areas.
The US is the best example of this – its economy has been proven to benefit from defence spending. In fact, a reason America is constantly at war is because war spending boosts its economy.
More significantly, a quantum leap in India’s defence budget will be a double whammy for Pakistan. Firstly, Islamabad can never match India’s spending power. Secondly, unlike India, every rupee it spends on the military goes down the sinkhole. Khurram Husain explains in The Dawn that “defence spending does not produce an economic boost because the ‘military industrial complex’ in Pakistan is very small”.
Bottom line: every rupee the Pakistan government spends on defence is a rupee denied for development. Since the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are surviving on minimal rations and also suffering massive power cuts and joblessness, large increases in defence spending will make their daily existence a living hell.
Warm up Cold Start
Cold Start is the colloquial term for the Indian Army’s Proactive Military Strategy for a blitzkrieg style strike into Pakistan. Although its operational details remain classified, the goal of Cold Start is broadly for Indian armour and infantry to launch lightning strikes into Pakistan and capture bite-sized (up to 80 km deep) chunks of enemy territory within 72 to 96 hours from the time the order to mobilise is issued.
The beauty of Cold Start is it may never have to be used. It distracts the Pakistani military’s mind and forces the generals to spend time and scarce resources on finding ways to stop an Indian blitzkrieg. As well as beefing up the military with billions of dollars worth of conventional weaponry sourced from China and Turkey, the Pakistani military is taking out another insurance policy – by cranking up the production of nuclear weapons.
Atomic bombs – plus the missiles required to launch them – don’t come cheap. In fact, the entire ecosystem required to develop, build, deploy, store and maintain them is so prohibitively expensive that even China, with an $8 trillion economy and $3 trillion in forex reserves, has built only 300 nuclear weapons. It knows that trying to catch up with its chief rival, the US, will only lead to a Cold War style arms race.
However, the Pakistani ruling elites blinded by notions of racial superiority vis-a-vis Indians and in their mad obsession to achieve parity with India are ramping up production of nuclear warheads. According to the Federation of American Scientists, in a few years Pakistan could overtake France to possess the fourth largest stockpile of nuclear warheads after Russia, the US and China.
Cold Start also works to undermine the much smaller Pakistani economy. According to the Pakistani media, the threat of the Indian Cold Start doctrine and increase in India’s defence budget has prompted the Pakistan government to sharply increase its defence budget, further increasing the strain on that country’s fragile economy.
Build an Iron Dome
Building a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system is not just expensive, it can bring down a country. Mikhail Gorbachev would agree. The former president of the Soviet Union got so spooked by the US Stars Wars project that he threw in the towel and disbanded the world’s second most powerful nation.
India has become the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to successfully test a BMD system that can shoot down enemy missiles. So how does this impact Pakistan? Pakistan has a limited number of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads so in order to make sure that enough of them get through India’s BMD shield, it’ll have to fire more of them. As India’s keeps improving its version of the Israeli Iron Dome, Pakistan will have to keep building more and more missiles and nuclear weapons.
Pakistan will also try and build a rudimentary BMD system which will cost billions to develop, manufacture and maintain. Runaway defence spending can quickly wreck the economy. During the Cold War, the Soviets got so paranoid about American advances in military technology that they stockpiled 40,000 nuclear warheads – a huge overkill. The overspend on the military wrecked the civilian economy, resulting in shortages of consumer goods and medicines. This made the regime unpopular, so that in the end the country self-destructed itself.
If the mighty Soviet Union, with all its technological advancements, military power and worldwide popularity could not survive its own people’s anger, what chance does Pakistan stand? The Pakistan Army is the glue that holds this disparate and deeply divided country together, but not even the generals can stop an idea whose time has come – the dissolution of Pakistan.
Economic and social strangulation
India should go for Pakistan’s economic jugular by turning it into a global pariah. Those who doubt this will be successful should look back at the boycott of the 19th Saarc Summit in Islamabad in 2016. Led by India, first Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan pulled out, quickly followed by Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives.
India’s economic and military heft needs to be leveraged to make individuals and countries keep away from Pakistan. This should involve:
- Ban on travel by people between the two countries.
- Anyone who has been to Pakistan cannot visit India. (Arab countries already practise this ban on Israel, and nobody’s protesting so if they protest this move, it’ll only expose their hypocrisy.)
- Any company that has business interests in Pakistan cannot undertake new projects in India.
- No overflights over India by any aircraft originating in Pakistani. Taking the long route to Bangladesh and SE Asia via Sri Lanka and to Nepal via Tibet will make airline operations from Pakistan expensive.
- Ships that visit Pakistani ports cannot enter Indian territorial waters.
- Revoke Indus Waters Treaty; Jawaharlal Nehru gave away 80 per cent of Himalayan rivers to Pakistan so India can walk out of it with justification.
- India will not take part in ICC cricket tournaments if Pakistan is invited.
Remember that the US managed to bring down its chief enemy, the Soviet Union, by slapping economic sanctions that ran for decades. Virtually everything from the transfer of advanced technology to the sale of wheat and sporting contacts with Russia were banned. In the end, Gorbachev decided he couldn’t keep in step with the West and dissolved the Soviet Union.
Some of the measures outlined above are currently being implemented by the Narendra Modi government. In 2015 India plugged a leak in the Indira Gandhi Canal in the Sri Ganganagar area in Rajasthan. For decades, Pakistani farmers had been taking free water via the leak, allowing them to grow all kinds of crops. In 2017, with India choking the free supply, Pakistani farmers in the border areas faced a crop failure.
In 2018 India declared it would fast-track three projects, including construction of two dams, to arrest the unutilised water of its share under the Indus Waters Treaty. This alone would kill an entire sowing season in Pakistan in the coming years. It’s incredible that while 300 million Indians are facing a water crisis, it has taken the political leadership 60 years to take this step.
India’s new water diplomacy is also in action in Afghanistan, where Indian engineers are building the Shahtoot Dam on the Kabul River. In Pakistan there is growing fear that the dam is the latest move in India’s grand plan to strangle Pakistan’s limited water supply. “It is not just one dam that is alarming for Pakistan,” says Foreign Policymagazine. “India has assisted Afghanistan with studies on the feasibility of a total of 12 dams to be built on the Kabul River, which could generate 1,177 megawatts of power and further reduce water flow into Pakistan.”
The revoking of the Most Favoured Nation to Pakistan is just the beginning of the pain for Pakistan. After decades of treating its dangerous neighbour with kid gloves, India is waking up to Chanakya’s famous aphorism: “The antidote of poison is poison, not nectar.”
(Rakesh Krishnan is a New Zealand-based defence and foreign affairs analyst)