DEBUNKING THE STABILITY –INSTABILITY PARADOX by Col Gururaj G Pamidi (Retd)@
The brutal attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF ) convoy on 14th February 27, 2019 by a car bomb in Pulwama in which more than 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives and many more were injured has deeply hurt the entire country. More than 2,500 CRPF personnel, many of them returning from leave to rejoin duty in the Valley, were travelling in the convoy of 78 vehicles when they were ambushed on the Srinagar-Jammu highway at Latoomode in Awantipora in south Kashmir around 3.15 pm.
The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack. JeM claimed the terrorist drove the SUV carrying 350 kg of explosives. This, by far, has been the worst ever attack on security personnel in the state and the number has been the highest since terrorism began in Kashmir 30 years ago.
Response to JeM : Crossing the Line of Control (LC)
This dastardly act of terror by JeM has not gone unpunished. India, on 26th February 19, struck the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot, which is on Pakistani soil and eliminated JeM terrorists, trainers, and senior commanders, taking care to avoid civilian deaths. The strike, as stated by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to the Cabinet Committee on Security, killed 25 top commanders of the JeM,. Twelve Mirage 2000 aircrafts carried out the pre-dawn strike on the training camp and returned back before daylight.
This is not the first time that India has gone into Pakistan. In 2016, when terrorists killed seventeen Army soldiers and injured nineteen in a suicide attack on an Army camp close to the headquarters of 12 Infantry Brigade at Uri in Baramulah district of Kashmir on 18 September 2016, India had launched a surgical strike. However, the depth of penetration into Pakistan was relatively less.
Altered Dynamics: Attack on JeM
India’s action by attacking the JeM terrorist camp on Pakistani soil, on mainland Pakistan, very close to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has altered conflict dynamics. With this action, India has sent out a clear message to the world that it will not hesitate to attack terrorist targets located anywhere on Pakistani soil.
Reaction by Pakistan
Pakistan has used its Air Force to target military installations in India in response to Indian counter-terrorism operations by launching their F-16s in the Laam Sub Sector on 27th February. However, their attempts were foiled successfully, and the Indian Air Force quickly reacted and was able to push the F-16s back. However, a MIG-21 was downed and that a pilot was been taken as a PoW by Pakistan and subsequently released by Pakistan
Possible Future Shape of Events in the Altered Indo- Pak Dynamics
The befitting response by India to the dastardly terrorist attack by JeM and the Pakistani reaction of using the PAF puts forth some interesting strategic questions in the context of the nuclearised sub-continent:-
What has been the international reaction to the evolving situation in the sub-continent?
How is the escalatory matrix likely to unfold in days , weeks and months to come?
Is a nuclear response from Pakistan inevitable if India prosecutes similar operations ?
As one has argued consistently over the last many years in the context of the US-led war against terrorism, there is hardly any state that can or will criticise India for invoking the right to prosecute perpetrators of terror. In a statement that left no doubt as to where its support lies, the USA described India’s air strikes on Balakot terrorist training camp as “counter-terrorism actions.” France recognizes India’s legitimacy to ensure its security against cross-border terrorism. Australia and New Zealand too have come out with statements supporting India’s action. Even Pakistani’s so-called all-weather ally, China, has taken a relatively muted response by stating that both India and Pakistan need to exercise restraint. With Pakistan effectively isolated and the international community firmly with India, the ball is now in Pakistan’s court to prove that it really intends to crack down on the terrorist groups operating with impunity on its soil.
Now, coming onto the escalatory matrix, especially the crucial question as to whether it can spin out of control and become nuclear? Will Pakistan really resort to use of a nuclear weapon in case conventional escalation does occur locally? The need is to understand that India has made it amply clear that its actions was a “non-military” and “pre-emptive” strike against a terrorist group. Pakistan’s action on the other hand, cannot be justified. Crossing Indian air space and dropping their bombs on “vacant” land cannot be justified. More importantly, taking an IAF pilot as PoW and parading him blindfolded on media was inhuman and Pakistan, has been roundly criticised for this. While his release was welcome, this incident has certainly not given any brownie points to Pakistan.
Pakistan is not an irrational madman who will resort to nuclear war for some idiosyncratic or stupid reason. Pakistan has adopted a policy that is ‘explicitly designed to deter conventional attacks’ by India, which is a conventionally superior state, by threatening the first use of nuclear weapons early in the conflict. Pakistan seeks to avoid war rather than engage in costly prolonged military confrontations. For far too long has India succumbed to the illogical fear that Pakistan is an irresponsible and irrational actor who will resort to the use of nuclear weapons at the slightest provocation. This has served to strengthen Pakistan’s resolve of playing the nuclear card to get away with brazenly supporting and abetting various terrorist tanzeems.
For long has the terms “Stability –Instability Paradox” been bandied about in the South Asian sub-continent. In a nutshell, the paradox states that by acquiring nuclear weapons Pakistan gained strategic parity with India making for stability at the strategic level. However, paradoxically, it led to instability at the tactical level since it was opined that Pakistan was protected by its nuclear weapons. However, as events have now shown this is entirely fallacious. India retains the ability to up the ante at every level. It is time that India and indeed the world stop obsessing about the so-called Stability Instability Paradox. It is heartening that almost the entire world has now accepted that India has a legitimate right to prosecute all those responsible for carrying out terrorist attacks on Indian soil, without fear of it escalating to a nuclear war.
This time around, while Pakistan did attempt to raise the nuclear bogey and to play to the “international gallery” by stoking paranoia of a nuclear Armageddon in the sub-continent, its bluff was called and exposed. It is imperative that better sense prevail in Pakistan and that they understand that they stand isolated in the world by adopting an intransigent stand. To quote Bharat Karnad, the unalterable fact of geography is that India is far bigger and can survive a nuclear exchange, while Pakistan cannot. This will always leave Islamabad stuck in the terminal nuclear sabre-rattling mode, and well short of risking annihilation. Hence, it can be conclusively concluded that the stability-instability paradox is a dud concept. An important part of the Stability-Instability Paradox was the proposition that the Line of Control in Kashmir was sacrosanct and can’t be crossed under any circumstances. Recent events have proved that it is not so and that India has the right to prosecute acts of terror even across the Line of Control or International Border.
@ The author was earlier a Senior Research Fellow at the USI. He is currently with the Indian Institute of Management, Indore.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to.