Tag Archives: Pakistan

Notes from ‘Fighting to the End: the Pakistan Army’s Way of War’

I recently finished Christine Fair’s new book, ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War‘, which is based on an extensive survey of essays, books, and manuscripts written by Pakistani military personnel. I’ve written a review of the book for the RUSI Journal, but I wanted to pick out a few passages/nuggets from my notes that I couldn’t mention there:

  • “the army relaxes its educational and even physical standards in places where it hopes to expand recruitment. For example, in Balochistan, recruits with an eighth-grade education will be considered for all positions except as technicians, nurses, or military police. Recruits from Balochistan can be shorter as well, with a minimum height of  feet, 4 inches instead of  feet, 6 inches” (p31)
  • “PMA [Pakistan Military Academy]  recruit – like their enlisted counterparts – are taught how to use a flush toilet, sit on the commode, perform physical exercise, and even use the proper dining etiquette … South Asian Foreign Area Officers in the US Army as well as scholars of the Pakistan Army also note that in the Pakistan Army officers are “also judged on their personal behaviour to a degree that is uncommon” in western armies” (p33-34)
  • “The military cultivates civilians including scholars, journalists, and analysts, providing them selective access to the institution and punishing them – either with physical harm (or the threat of it) to the author or her family members or simply with  the denial of future access – should they produce knowledge that harms the interests of the army … self-censorship is still very common, as is deference to the army’s  preferred narratives. The intelligence agencies’ willingness to use lethal methods against intransigent journalists and other domestic critics …” (pp35-36); “in recent years ISI has established its own media cell tasked not only with monitoring international and domestic reporting about Pakistan but also with reaching out to and actively managing reporters … the army has long influenced Pakistan’s textbooks, in which the army appears as the institution best able to handle any crisis” (p198)
  • Pakistani military memoirs show “focus on battles in which Pakistan prevailed but within wars that Pakistan lost … there is a persistent emphasis on religious themes, such as the nature of the Islamic warrior, the role of Islam in training, the importance of Islamic ideology for the army, and the salience of jihad. Pakistan’s military journals frequently take as their subjects famous Quranic battles, such as the Battle of Badr. Ironically, the varied Quranic battles are discussed in more analytical detail in Pakistan’s journals than are Pakistan’s own wars with India. A comparable focus on religion in the Indian army … would be quite scandalous. It is difficult to fathom that any Indian military journal would present an appraisal of the Kurukshetra War” (p39)
  • Pakistani defence publications frequently cite the poetry of Iqbal on  a variety of themes ranging from the notions of faith and community to that of jihad” (p43)
  • “Oddly, many authors in Pakistan’s military journals do not consider the 1947-1948 war to be a war at all, even though the army was engaged and even though the operation had the backing of the senior most political leadership. While teaching undergraduates at the Lahore University for Management Sciences during summer 2010, I learned that those students, who came from throughout Pakistan, had never learned that a war took place in this period … these students believed that the conflict involved only mujahideen and were incredulous that the army and civilian leadership were involved” (p51)
  • “this tendency to conflate India with Hindu is a common trope in Pakistani military writings, and writers rarely bother explaining what precisely they mean by such expressions as Hindu mentality” (p57)
  • “the military attracts public support by describing the foe – inevitably Hindu India or its agents – as nonbelievers (kufar, pl. of kafir) and casting the conflict nearly exclusively in religious terms. Thus, conflict with India is portrayed as jihad against nonbelievers who threaten Pakistan” (p90)
  • “Another way of denigrating the enemy is to reduce the diverse Indian Army to a solely Hindu force … Perhaps one of the most important examples of such exposition was written by Brig. Javed Hassan (1990). Hassan, who would retire as a lieutenant general, published India: A Study in Profile while at … the Command and Staff College in Quetta. It is now required reading at the National Defense University as well … Among Hassan’s other derogatory remarks, he argues that India is not a nation, characterizes its past as having a “total absence of any popular resistance against foreign domination and rule”, describes the Indians as “less Warlike” than Pakistanis, and attributes India’s military failings to “racial” shortcomings” (p100) … “several prominent and intertwined rubrics or narrative tropes … the authors first establish that Hindus are dishonourable, meek, pusillanimous, treacherous, and inequitable and then argue that these traits define the country … Muslims are honourable, brave, dedicated to fighting for the umma, steadfastly committed to justice, and fight only when attacked” (p154) … “Hassan’s book frequently deploys such tropes as the “Hindu psyche” and other patently Orientalist, if not outright racist, concepts” (p162)
  • “the Afghan government actually supported Pakistan in the 1965 war with India and maintained strict neutrality  during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan” (p116); a “thaw in relations prompted Pakistan to stop its assistance to the Afghan Islamists in early 1977″ (p123)
  • On Kargil: “one of [Sharif’s] advisors explained to me … that the briefing [by the army] was in English, and Sharif did not seem to understand the possibilities for escalation of the conflict” (p151); “the [ISI] chief had not been apprised of the mission in advance” (p152)
  • “prior to the 1971 war, no authors in Pakistan’s defence establishment blamed India for widespread unrest in Pakistan, with the exception of those who claimed that India encouraged Afghanistan to take provocative positions in the frontier” (p166)
  • “the Pakistan army clearly understands concepts like defeat and success in ways that differ from more mainstream understandings of these concepts. With the exception of the 1971 war, Pakistan does not see itself as ever having been defeated militarily” (p172)
  • “for several years, Pakistan voted against seating communist China [in the UN] … Pakistan jointly sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution criticising China’s suppression of the 1959 Tibetan uprising” (p185)
  • “In recent years, writers in Pakistan’s defence publications have begun to content that the United States is deliberately seeking to destroy Pakistan or is even aiding and abetting the Pakistani Taliban in its operations” (p195)
  • “Pakistani defense writing of the 1950s suggests that engagement with the US military led the Pakistan  Army to adopt important doctrinal shifts toward guerrilla warfare” (p227)
  • “Since 2001 … the Afghan Taliban have experienced regular turnover of midlevel commanders … The new commanders are less beholden to Pakistan, in part because of their age … Pakistan is struggling to cultivate influence among the emerging Afghan Taliban factions, even while it seeks to control elements of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura” (p21)
  • “One highly suggestive piece of evidence is the significant signals traffic between the ISIS and JeM recorded after JeM’s 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, indicating the ISI’s anger with JeM for that attack. In contrast, significantly less traffic was detected after the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai” (p252)
  • “Punjabis living outside of the Punjab are less likely than those in the Punjab to view jihad as a militarised struggle .. however [they] are also less supportive of complete civilian control of the army” (pp272-273)

The context to the Saudi-Pakistan nuclear relationship

On Tuesday, the BBC’s Mark Urban cited a ‘a senior Nato decision maker’ who ‘had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery’, and that this reporting was based on ‘Israeli information’. I am largely sceptical of this latest reporting, not least because Saudi Arabia has every incentive to play up this issue as nuclear diplomacy with Iran advances. Julian Borger has a good piece to that end.

Nevertheless many people are unfamiliar with the extent of security cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. David Kenner yesterday reported that Saudi Arabia sought Pakistani assistance in training two brigades of Syrian rebels, although it was earlier reported by Yezid Sayigh that Pakistan had been ‘reluctant or unable to meet a previous Saudi request to provide special forces training’.

But the relationship goes back a long way. Pakistan assisted the Royal Saudi Air Force to build and pilot its first jet fighters in the 1960s, and Pakistani personnel flew Saudi aircraft during a Yemeni cross-border war in 1969.[i] In subsequent decades, as many as 15,000 Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, ‘some in a brigade combat force near the Israeli-Jordanian-Saudi border’.[ii] In 1986, Pakistan’s Saudi presence comprised one division (roughly 13,000 troops), two armoured and two artillery brigades (approximately 10,000 troops), along with naval and air force personnel.[iii] Pakistani forces reportedly ‘fill[ed] out most of the 12th Saudi Armored Brigade’ based at Tabuk.[iv] This brigade reportedly left in 1988, after Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan send only Sunni personnel.[v] It is unclear how many Pakistani personnel remain in Saudi Arabia, but Pakistan does provide assistance and personnel to Bahrain and to other GCC members for internal security.[vi]

For a fuller account of this and the nuclear dimension to the relationship, I look at the issue in some depth in my RUSI Whitehall Paper on Iran Permanent Crisis, available here. A short extract of the relevant pages is available here (PDF).

[i] Nadav Safran, Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 202.

[ii] Bruce Riedel, ‘Saudi Arabia: Nervously Watching Pakistan’, Brookings Institution, 28 January 2008.

[iii] C Christine Fair, ‘Has the Pakistan Army Islamized? What the Data Suggest’, Working Paper 2011-13, Mortara Center for International Studies, Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, September 2011.

[iv] Anthony H Cordesman, Western Strategic Interests in Saudi Arabia (London: Taylor and Francis, 1987), p. 139.

[v] C Christine Fair, Pakistan: Can the United States Secure an Insecure State? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2010), p. 121. Thomas Lippman claims that the forces left because ‘oil prices hit historic lows and the Saudis could no longer afford them’; see Thomas W Lippman, ‘Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy’, Middle East Institute Policy Brief No. 5, January 2008, p. 8.

[vi] Mujib Mashal, ‘Pakistani Troops Aid Bahrain’s Crackdown’, Al Jazeera, 30 July 2011.

The Afghan Missile Crisis (That Wasn’t)

From the Washington Post, on 11 November 2001:

Pakistani fears of an Indian attack on its nuclear sites were so great in the summer of 1999, after Pakistani-supported guerrillas invaded Indian territory, that military officers here secretly contacted Taliban officials about the possibility of moving some nuclear assets westward to neighboring Afghanistan for safekeeping, according to a recently retired Pakistani general officer familiar with the talks.

”The option was actively discussed with the Taliban after some indications emerged that India may open hostilities at the eastern border,” the retired official said. ‘‘The Taliban accepted the requests with open arms.”

The former official said the talks were ”exploratory” and said that no nuclear-related assets were placed in Afghanistan. At the time, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services had close relations with the Taliban, providing training, weapons and other support.

The story appears not to have been corroborated by other outlets, and it doesn’t have a named byline. I can’t find anything on this episode in the authoritative books on Kargil. But an interesting counterfactual: what if the nuclear weapons had been present in Afghanistan in September 2001? 

A National Security Council for Pakistan: another turn of the wheel

Ahmed Rashid, with an overview of Nawaz Sharif’s challenges, in the FT:

Mr Sharif realised he had to simultaneously construct a security strategy to counter the violence before he could get investment and the economy moving. The result has been intense daily discussions led by Mr Sharif with the powerful military, intelligence agencies, experts and others on how to create a civilian-led national security strategy and even the setting up of a national security council under the prime minister – a first for Pakistan […] The answer for Pakistan is a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that brings together military operations, political initiatives, reconciliation and economic development – something that has never been tried and certainly not since the growth of violence after September 11 2001. For the first time there is also hope that such a strategy will be led by a permanently staffed national security council that brings together the military, intelligence, bureaucrats and civil society experts.

From Time magazine, in 1998:

Speaking at the Naval War College in Lahore on Oct. 5, [then Army chief, General Jehangir] Karamat fired several well-aimed salvos at [then Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif. He blamed the nation’s politicians for carrying out vendettas and insecurity-driven and expedient policies while Pakistan capsized. Karamat called for the creation of a three-tiered national security council that would include the military, credible advisers and a think tank of experts. Despite Karamat’s call for a larger military role, few Pakistanis believe he was trying to topple Nawaz Sharif’s elected government. This was a warning, says former army chief of staff Mirza Aslam Beg, not a plan to get rid of Sharif. The Prime Minister wasn’t so sure, fearing that the proposed council would impose itself over elected legislatures at both the federal and provincial levels. He ordered Karamat’s words to be deleted from reports on the state-run television and radio stations, the first time a Prime Minister has dared to censor the Pakistani military.With that, Pakistan’s leader was on a collision course with its army chief. Two days after the speech, Nawaz Sharif forced Karamat to resign […] To succeed Karamat, the Prime Minister elevated Lieut. General Parvez Musharraf, a corps commander who may be more supportive than his predecessor [!].

Indian views of Nawaz Sharif’s election

Indian views on Nawaz Sharif’s election – ranging from the wary to the enthusiastic.

Shyam Saran (former foreign secretary):

One, Kashmir will remain the “core issue” for Pakistan […] Pakistani army’s well-known opposition to him. It would also reassure his constituency of right-wing and religious elements, including jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tauiba [sic].  Two, given PML-N’s close association with jihadi and fundamentalist groups, it is unlikely that serious curbs would be put on them […] Thus, there is unlikely to be a clear break from the long-standing policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of State policy — although in seeking to improve relations with India, they may be put under more strict constraint […] Three, Sharif has been reticent about his party’s views on the Afghan Taliban or on how he sees Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan […] India has had no place in Pakistan’s vision of a future Afghanistan and this is unlikely to change […] Hence the best policy to adopt is to seek improved relations in small doses, whose cumulative impact over a period may still be substantive. We should learn from the experience of Kargil and other similar instances. Grand gestures on either side or an attempt to depart significantly from the established narrative are usually followed by a deliberate and often violent effort to reverse any perceived improvement in relations.

C. Raja Mohan:

Sharif is also aware that Singh’s clock is running down, and that the UPA government headed by him has little political steam left. There is a danger then that the subcontinent’s traditional curse — the misalignment of the political cycles in India and Pakistan — might once again compel Delhi to lose yet another moment of opportunity with Islamabad […] As Delhi debates the government’s options towards Sharif within the UPA’s self-imposed constraints, there is one way out — through the Punjab. It could consider, for example, sending an Indian political delegation headed by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to attend Sharif’s swearing-in next week […] When Vajpayee travelled to Lahore in February 1999, defying the hawks in his party, he had the wisdom to ask Parkash Singh Badal, the then CM of Punjab, to join his delegation

The elections in Pakistan provide a new political basis for re-imagining India-Pakistan relations. Nawaz Sharif’s victory is rooted in a comprehensive political sweep in Punjab — Pakistan’s largest province. On this side of the Radcliffe Line, there is a strong government, whose leaders are deeply committed to normalisation of relations between the two Punjabs, and between Delhi and Islamabad. The stars in Punjab are in rare alignment for a big political push on the people’s agenda in Indo-Pak relations. The only missing element is a bit of political courage in the Congress party

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan (former Indian Ambassador to the UN):

On the other hand, going by the election manifestos of major political parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the May 11 elections, there seems to be a growing consensus among politicians for détente with India. Their manifestos not only did not contain anti-India rhetoric; they also indicated a willingness to promote peace with India. The party of incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even went to the extent of declaring that it will open the transit route for trade between India, Afghanistan and beyond through Pakistan. Since winning the election convincingly, he has reiterated his desire to work for better relations with India, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warmly reciprocated. Imran Khan’s party also spoke of progressive detente with India. This trend needs to be noted and welcomed in India. It suggests that the political mainstream might be ready to stand up to the military in case the latter came in the way of normalising relations with India. Whether it is able to do so will remain to be seen, but at least it has made public its intention to do so. Mr. Sharif has declared that he will be the ‘boss’ and that civilian supremacy will be asserted. If that happens, the possibility of normal relations between the two countries can certainly be entertained. Indians have a tendency to lurch from euphoria to hostility in reacting to developments in neighbouring countries. We need to wait and watch.

Vivek Katju (former Indian diplomat):

Lastly, how should India deal with Sharif? It should welcome a forward movement on trade, treatment of prisoners, people-to-people contacts and cooperation in areas such as agriculture and the environment. However, we should be conscious that the use of terror is a part of Pakistan’s security doctrine against India and Sharif cannot change that. His views on Kashmir and other issues have also not been flexible. Statecraft requires cold assessment, not exuberant emotion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister Salman Khurshid would do well to watch Sharif’s swearing-in on television in their offices rather than in person in Aiwan-e-Sadr in Islamabad.

Shekhar Gupta:

So the people of Pakistan have nuanced their view of their army and the Lashkars. But are we in India willing to change ours? Unfortunately, over the years (post-Sharm el-Sheikh, let’s say), our view of Pakistan has become re-militarised as its own society’s has become de-militarised. Anybody in Pakistan is willing to say to you now that the horrible beheading of the Indian soldier was carried out by the military establishment only to block the Zardari government giving India the MFN status. And we walked straight into the trap, calling off sporting exchanges, the prime minister himself saying it can’t be business as usual, the leader of the opposition demanding 10 heads for one. While the same Pakistan has defied the army, the Lashkars, and its hatred of America and its drones, to vote for a man whose manifesto promises trade and peace with India, even transit to Afghanistan and Central Asia […] Sad truth is, we Indians still seem unwilling to appreciate and respond to this dramatic transformation.

Pakistan, NATO, and tactical nuclear weapons: two of a kind?

The Davy Crockett tactical nuclear weapon, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in March 1961.

There has been growing interest in Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons. Here’s Gurmeet Kanwal:

The Pakistan army’s continuing efforts to arm the 60-km Hatf-9 (Nasr) short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with nuclear warheads will adversely impact deterrence stability on the Indian subcontinent as tactical nuclear weapons are inherently destabilising and invariably escalatory. The Nasr missile was first tested in April 2011 and then again in May 2012 and is reported to be a replica of the Chinese M-20.

On this subject, see also A.H. Nayyar and Zia Mian from 2010, Jeffrey Lewis and Rajesh Basrur last year, and Michael Krepon. The rationale for Pakistan’s use of such weapons is familiar to most, and often invokes NATO’s nuclear doctrine. It is worth understanding how exactly NATO’s nuclear thinking applies to Pakistan, and what this implies for how its arsenal might develop and how India might respond to this.

The most lucid explanation of NATO’s doctrinal precepts are to be found in the late Michael Quinlan’s 1997 RUSI Whitehall Paper, Thinking About Nuclear Weapons. Its available free online, and formed part of a longer book in 2009 (the book includes a chapter on India and Pakistan). The bolded sentences highlight the parts most strikingly relevant to Pakistan today:

Especially, though not only in the particular setting of the Cold War confrontation, plans and capabilities have had to provide options for use that could be credible; and this has meant, for example, developing weapons of greater accuracy and lower yield, and plans for more limited use and more constrained targeting, than might feature in an uncontrolled apocalyptic holocaust


The [NATO nuclear] doctrine was built around the Alliance’s strategic concept of flexible response, formulated during the 1960s. That concept has been much misunderstood and even caricatured. It did not, for example, envisage a pre-determined sequence of moves – an ‘escalation ladder’ – to be followed in the face of aggression; and though it did not rule out first use or early use of nuclear weapons, it was far from prescribing or assuming either. The core of the concept was always the timely use of the minimum force, whether conventional or nuclear, adequate to deny an aggressor success in his objective. Aggression against so broad and diverse an entity as the North Atlantic Alliance could have a wide variety of forms and scales; and providing a capability for apt and credible application of minimum effective force to fit any scenario therefore meant that there had to be plainly available a substantial range of military options from which the Alliance could choose both for initial resistance and for how best to proceed if the first option did not succeed. A narrow set of prescriptions for response, or a rigid doctrine for the order or number of follow-on options to be entertained, would have been the antithesis of flexibility, at odds both with the realities of the Alliance’s political, geographical and strategic diversity and with the deterrent merit of uncertainty.

NATO thinking was always clear that a major conflict was not to be conducted in sealed compartments, whether of territory or of force category, and still less in sealed compartments imposed by an aggressor to suit his strengths and preferences. The idea of possible escalation, in the sense of being ready to change the terms of the encounter in scope or intensity beyond what the aggressor had chosen, was essential, But NATO recognised also that the prospect of having abruptly to cross a wide gulf in these respects could scarcely be either acceptable to its own peoples or credible to a determined adversary. Deterrence required making it as hard as possible for any adversary to form the view that NATO would shrink from decisions on raising the conflict’s intensity, or to dare act on such a view.

The range of options available must therefore be an unmistakable continuum without huge gaps. That in turn meant that there had to be nuclear forces, backed by will and doctrine for their possible use, intermediate between conventional forces (NATO had no large offensive chemical armoury) and the ultimate strategic nuclear capability – the more so since, especially in the earlier days, that capability often entailed high weapon yield, low accuracy and uncertain penetrativity, so that precisely-limited use might not have been easy. From NATO’s inception the judgement was widely accepted that NATO’s non-nuclear forces might find themselves unable to repel or even arrest a large-scale and determined attack upon NATO territory. NATO, as a grouping of free sovereign states, could not espouse plans envisaging the ready surrender of any member’s territory and must therefore adopt a posture – ‘forward defence’ – that was was by no means optimal for military effectiveness.

Besides the overwhelming general fact of virtually inexhaustible destructive power in the hands of the postulated adversary, substantial studies of possible scenarios brought out – in retrospect, unsurprisingly – a more particular conclusion: that if, finding itself losing in a conventional conflict in Europe, NATO were to use nuclear weapons for military effect and the adversary then responded more or less symmetrically, it must be expected (with all due allowance for the uncertainty in such evaluations) that NATO would still, save perhaps in one or two narrowly specialised settings, find itself losing. In other words, NATO could not count on its nuclear weapons to substitute military victory for military defeat.

Recognition of this conclusion infused the work of the NPG [Nuclear Policy Group] for most of the later years of the Cold War. NATO nuclear doctrine had to concentrate upon the use of weapons to convey effectively to the adversary the message that he had mistaken NATO’s political tolerance and underrated NATO’s will to resist, and that for his own survival he must therefore back off. Much NPG work centred upon questions of targeting principle (it did not attempt detailed target selection) to fulfil this basic war-termination concept. The purpose would inherently be to convey a political message and induce a political response; but it was generally accepted that achieving this would require action with some substantial material effect going beyond just the shock, severe though that might be in first use, inherent in any nuclear action. ‘No-target’ demonstration – the detonation of a weapon over the Baltic, say – was occasionally canvassed, and the option continued to be recognised; but it found little real support. It was judged, surely rightly, that this might well suggest precisely a lack of the tough resolve that it would be the whole aim of the action to demonstrate. The heart of the judgement required would be to find the right balance between doing too little to drive home the message and doing so much as to provoke a ferocious reaction in rage or spasm.

It was usually thought that for most situations targets should preferably, though not with absolute necessity, be military ones with some bearing upon the non-nuclear operations in progress, so that the aggressor could not immediately sustain those operations unchecked but would be compelled at least to pause and address fresh and dangerous decisions.


One such consideration held that non-strategic war-termination strike (or ‘pre-strategic’ or ‘tactical’ or ‘theatre’ strike-the terminology never quite settled upon a uniformly-accepted usage differentiating among these) ought to be carried out by delivery systems evidently separate from the ‘strategic’ ones The argument ran that unless this distinction was maintained the Soviet leaders might mistakenly interpret the action as just the initial salvo The weight of this argument always however seemed questionable. NATO would undoubtedly accompany any ‘war-termination’ nuclear action by a major effort in explicit communication to convey what its purpose was and was not – this was indeed a major theme of study in the NPG’s work.

These problems – conventional inferiority, a lack of strategic depth (stemming from politics in NATO’s case, but territory and infrastructure in Pakistan’s), a fear that limited war would create “sealed compartments, whether of territory or of force category” and neutralize nuclear weapons – are directly and highly applicable to Pakistan.

But many of these subtleties are not brought out in the Pakistani context. This is especially as regards the very limited battlefield effectiveness of such weapons, and hence their role as political signals to compel de-escalation rather than military instruments to physically and durably block an offensive. The use of the descriptor”tactical”, rather than “non-strategic” or “sub-strategic”, has contributed to this confusion, although some (Nayyar and Mian, Tellis)  have tried to explain the surprisingly limited effects of nuking tanks.

Quinlan even addresses the issue of the safety of tactical nuclear weapons, a problem that often comes up in discussions of Pakistan (like that of Kanwal, excerpted above):

It used sometimes to be suggested that the forward deployment of nuclear delivery units on West German territory posed, in face of a postulated Warsaw Pact offensive, a ‘use-or-lose’ dilemma which, whether as inescapable fact or even as deliberate stratagem, could drive the timing of NATO nuclear action and so set the ‘threshold’. This was, however, in no way part of NATO’s doctrine or planning (and forward commanders had neither the authority nor, at least in later years, the physical power to launch nuclear weapons without political clearance).

Even if Quinlan is right (and Paul Schulte suggests otherwise, claiming that in the 1950s NATO “seems to have supported a temporary policy of U.S pre-delegation of very short-range battlefield nuclear weapons, including Atomic Demolition Munitions, especially on the Central Front in Germany”), then there are still some significant differences with Pakistan – the primary one being that Pakistan’s lopsided civil-military relations look very different to NATO’s.

In 2005, for instance, Feroz Hassan Khan, a senior official in Pakistan’s nuclear secretariat, the Strategic Plans Division, explained that “partial pre-delegation” of weapons would be an “operational necessity because dispersed nuclear forces as well as central command authority … are vulnerable” (see here, p.15).

A second difference is that NATO gradually placed less and less emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons (withdrawing more and more after 1979 as part of the “dual-track” policy), because of the “eventual improvement of its conventional capabilities that, spurred by Warsaw Pact equipment improvements and doctrinal innovations, resulted from Western technical and, especially American, electronic advantages”. (Schulte, p.53). Pakistan, by contrast, is conventionally falling behind in terms of military spending and technological edge (see this KSG report, p.10). This suggests its reliance on nuclear weapons will grow, not diminish.

A third difference lies in the response to tactical nuclear weapons: “the Soviet General Staff, led by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, seems to have concluded in the late 1970s that their most effective option against NATO would be conventional but extremely rapid deep operations conducted, after massive aerial surprise attacks, by operational maneuver groups” – so far, apart from the qualifier “deep”, this blitzkrieg-like approach should remind you of India’s own evolving limited war doctrine, dubbed Cold Start (Cold Start is, of course, supposed to entail shallow incursions).

But the similarity ends there: “Ogarkov knew that many in NATO doubted that their political leaders would agree quickly to use nuclear weapons”. The Soviets would fight “the war in such a way as to delay NATO taking the decision to use nuclear weapons until it was too late for them to be able to influence the outcome of the war” (Kelleher, cited in Schulte, p.53). Whereas NATO was a multinational alliance with a variety of perspectives on where the nuclear threshold ought to lie, Pakistani decision-making – whatever its pathologies – is certainly simpler and more responsive. India cannot rely on Pakistani hesitation, even though it, India, would surely calibrate the level of force so as to make any Pakistani decision a difficult one.

If Pakistan does place increasing stress on limited nuclear options, and tactical nuclear weapons in particular, then understanding the differences from the NATO precedent – the ones discussed here, and plenty of others – will be as important as seeing the similarities.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (and A.Q. Khan’s perpetual motion machine)

Bruno Tertrais has published a new paper, Pakistan’s nuclear and WMD Programmes: Status, evolution and risks (PDF), at the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium. Its mostly a synthesis of existing information, but sums things up nicely.

On the evolving nature of Pakistan’s requirements for nuclear sufficiency:

Guaranteed unacceptable damage implies survivability even after a first strike by the adversary. Pakistan is likely to use an Indian pre-emptive strike as a planning assumption (coupled, in the future, with the deployment of missile defence by India) … a former SPD officer wrote that for a set of 10 possible targets, a country might need 68–70 warheads (without taking into account the risk of a pre-emptive strike).

On Pakistan’s need for creativity in counter-value targeting:

A diversification of targets could make Pakistani deterrence more credible, given that a strike on Indian cities would produce massive casualties among its Muslim population—something that might be hard to consider for a country whose very creation was justified by the need to provide a sanctuary and a natural homeland for South Asian Muslims. [1]

For the reverse (and slightly weird) idea, that India would “spare Karachi because Indian Muslims’ relatives live in the city”, see here.

On Pakistan’s nuclear readiness:

It is widely assumed that Pakistan’s nuclear systems are kept on low alert. In peacetime, missiles may not be mated with warheads, and in 2003 President Musharraf referred to a ‘geographical separation’ between them. It is also possible that warheads are kept in a disassembled form. However, the SPD insists that it has never confirmed such arrangements; Kidwai states that forces are not on ‘hair trigger alert’ but that ‘separation is more linked to time rather than space’. A former SPD official has also denied that the warheads were kept in disassembled form. The time required to convert weapons into a state of launch readiness is uncertain. Some accounts suggest that assembly would only take minutes, while other refer to hours. Kidwai said in 2002 that it could happen ‘very quickly’.

On Pakistan’s weapons potential:

Pakistan began producing HEU in the mid-1980s …  It may be producing 120–180 kg per year, enough for 10–15 warheads … Pakistan has [also] begun developing an important plutonium production capability … Khushab-1 can produce 5.7–11.5 kg of plutonium per year depending on its duration of operation, enough for 1–3 warheads … The [total] potential production of warheads today is 7–18 per year.

In late 2010 Pakistan had enough fissile material for at least 160 warheads, and perhaps as many as 240. The coming online of the third and fourth Khushab reactors could bring the total Pakistani buildup capacity to 19–27 weapons per year.

If you assume Pakistan has a 100 warheads today, and take the lower bound for the potential production rate (19 weapons per year), it would take Pakistan under seven years to surpass the UK’s total stockpile (225 weapons), just over seven years to reach China’s level (240) and just over a decade to reach that of France (290) – with these latter figures taken from the Federation of American Scientists. For a useful chart that displays these comparisons, see here. See also the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ useful review, Pakistan’s nuclear forces, 2011.

Anyway, back to Tertrais. On Pakistan’s command and control

The foreign minister is deputy chairman of the Employment Control Committee (ECC), which defines nuclear strategy and would decide on nuclear use. It includes the main ministers and the military chiefs … The planned deliberative process for nuclear use is compared by the SPD to that of a ‘board of directors’. The principle of unanimity was affirmed by the NCA in 2003. A decision to use nuclear weapons would need ‘consensus within the NCA, with the chairman casting the final vote’. If consensus were impossible, however, a majority vote would  suffice. Given that the ECC comprises five civilians and four military ex officio members (not including the SPD head), it is not unreasonable to conclude that the military would be the de facto decision maker. However, it would probably ensure that the civilians shared the responsibility of the decision to use nuclear weapons.

On nuclear safety:

As stated above, weapons are probably kept in a disassembled form, but there is considerable uncertainty about the location of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Some suggest that even the director of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) does not know where the weapons are.  It would make sense for most of them to be located in the northern and central parts of Pakistan, in the safest and most secure area of Punjab. After the terrorist attacks on the USA of 11 September 2001, Pakistan ordered a redeployment of its arsenal (to at least six new secret locations according to one account), for fear of an Indian attack. A similar redeployment occurred after the Abbottabad raid by the USA in May 2011, this time for fear of a US raid. Pakistan plays some kind of shell game with its nuclear weapons and dummy locations reportedly exist. If the country has about 100 warheads, it would be surprising if more than 10 sites host weapons at any given time. Some of these sites are subterranean and Pakistan has certainly gone to great lengths to physically protect them.

See also Christopher Clary’s useful 2010 paper for IDSA, Thinking about Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime, Crisis and War.

On the nuclear codes:

The last line of defence is coding. Coding is now carried out during the manufacturing process: the launch officer receives the code a few moments before use and inserts it via a computer. For aircraft, pilots receive the code during flight. It has been surmised that 12-digit alphanumerical codes, generated by the Military Intelligence agency, are used. Codes are physically present on bases, split between two officers according to a two-man rule. There are both enabling and authenticating codes. These arrangements are supplemented by ‘a tightly controlled ID system’ and there is no involvement of intelligence services in the chain of command. Atsome points in the chain of command, a three-man rule operates ‘for technical reasons’, according to the SPD One informed source claims that the arming code is divided between three persons.

Gauging the possibility of unauthorized use depends on the exact nature of the codes used by Pakistan. Are the arming mechanisms buried deep in the warhead design, or can coding be bypassed? Do they include disabling features? Is there a code for each warhead or set of warheads, or just a general nuclear release enabling mechanism? Does physically arming a warhead depend on a code transmitted down the chain of command at the last minute, or would the code(s) already present at the base be enough?

Finally, on the EU’s concerns:

 EU members might have military facilities within reach of Pakistani longer-range missiles (e.g. France and the United Kingdom in the Gulf) or temporary bases and personnel (during an operation in the region). In the case of a deterioration in Pakistan’s relations with the West, this could be a subject of concern.


On a sort of related note, I was amused by A.Q. Khan’s recent interventions in the case of Pakistan’s magical car-that-runs-on-water. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb appears to be quite taken with the invention:

Former science minister Dr Atta ur Rahman has bravely tried to stem the tide of nonsense by pointing out that the laws of thermodynamics rule out perpetual motion machines, but Dr Qadeer Khan (father of the Islamic bomb and national hero) steps forward to defend the inventor … he says that Readers Digest wrote many years ago that apparently ridiculous inventions may turn out to be true and one can easily see that there is no gas tank in this great man’s car, so the proof is already here … I am NOT kidding.

Video (Urdu):

State sponsorship of terrorism: a blessing or a curse?

This week, the United States put a $10 million bounty on Hafiz Saeed, the founder and leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). When it comes to state sponsorship of terrorism, LeT takes the biscuit. As Christine Fair explains:

[A]fter the Mumbai attack of 2008, the Punjab provincial government began managing the organization’s substantial assets in the Punjab and has even placed many LeT/JuD workers employed in various purported charitable activities on its official payroll. In addition, the Punjabi government has made substantial grants to the organization … for Pakistan, LeT is an existential asset in the same way that it is an existential enemy for countries like India and even the United States. (p25)

Seemed a good time to read A Blessing or a Curse? State Support for Terrorist Groups [PDF of draft], an article in  the most recent International Organization by David Carter. His theory is that, far from being beholden to their proxies,

[state] sponsors [of terrorist groups] avoid costs, physical and political, from target military operations by providing information to the target about the groups they sponsor. Sponsors have the greatest incentive to do this when the group is based within their territory because an attempt to forcefully eliminate the group necessitates military operations in the sponsor’s territory. Thus, sponsorship can be a curse to groups when they rely on their patron for a safe haven … On the one hand, sponsors want to provide enough aid to the group to facilitate successful attacks. On the other hand, they also want to minimize potential military or economic costs they will incur from target reactions to group attacks. (pp130, 133)

Carter argues that the experience of the Jammu  and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) is typical:

The JKLF, who had come to rely on a privileged basing arrangement and support from Pakistan, suffered considerably from actions taken by Pakistan that undercut the group. In fact, the group’s leadership even accused Pakistan of providing information about its whereabouts to Indian security forces. The group was successfully eliminated by Indian forces in 1996. (p130)

One of the most interesting arguments:

Cooperating by providing information can help avoid a military strike or can even increase the precision of target military strikes and decrease the physical, economic, or political damage the sponsor experiences. (p134)

This seems persuasive, until you see the example supplied (an excerpt from the New York Times):

Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan. (p134)

Those tracking the US-Pakistan relationship will find this interpretation … unpersuasive.

Anyway, how does the model hold up when tested against the data? Carter looks at 648 groups, of which 244 were still active as of 2006, 377 eliminated, and just 27 ‘victorious':

In contrast to the results for sponsorship without safe haven, sponsorship with a safe haven does not significantly decrease the probability of failure by internal dissolution in either model … Furthermore … sponsorship without safe haven does not significantly affect the probability of target elimination. The results provide considerable evidence that receiving sponsorship with safe haven is not helpful to a group’s prospects. (p145)

So, two things: groups do benefit from safe havens – just not ones actively provided by a sponsor; and groups do benefit from sponsorship – just not when it’s supplemented with safe havens.


Does military action help in eliminating a group?

The finding that target initiation of a MID [militarized interstate dispute i.e. belligerent act] against the sponsor increases the risk the group is eliminated by 176 percent suggests that target states enjoy some measure of success in putting pressure on sponsored groups. Conversely, target states that are embroiled in civil wars are 90 percent less likely to forcefully eliminate a group. (p147)

Curiously, India is cited as an example of a state embroiled in civil wars on the basis of its multiple internal insurgencies.


All in all, I’m not persuaded by the causal mechanism. The US-Pakistan case actually suggests something completely different: if the client is important enough, the sponsor will carefully calibrate the quantity and nature of the information they provide so as to stave off pressure on themselves but ensure long-term group integrity.

And, in fact, the intelligence relationship can be subverted by the sponsor for their own ends. Matthew Aid, in Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror, describes this pattern in great detail:

Beginning in the fall of 2007, several of the joint CIA-ISI intelligence operations in the FATA went horribly wrong. Sensitive intelligence information that the CIA was giving to the ISI on al Qaeda and the Taliban activities in the FATA was found to be somehow leaking to the enemy, resulting in a number of CIA clandestine intelligence collection operations being compromised and agents either being killed or disappeared without a trace … CIA officials were convinced that the targets of the [drone] strikes had been compromised from the inside, with the leaks appearing to come from the very top of the ISI.  (pp108-9)

In fact:

Only in the past three years has the US intelligence community somewhat reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Pakistani government’s unwillingness to help the United States combat the Taliban was a deliberate act of national policy. (p110)

But you can’t argue with the numbers:

when a group relies upon its sponsor for safe haven the probability of target elimination is 114% greater than if the group does not (and has never had) sponsorship. (p145)