A counter to the American “pink flamingo” nonsense

David Barno (a retired US Army Lieutenant General) & Nora Bensahel published an article on the influential ‘War on the Rocks’ website, on November 3, 2015. It purveyed the typically stock nonsense analysis about the South Asian, India-Pakistan security situation, that masquerades as expert analysis in Washington Beltway thinktanks — and must be read, to understand just how skewed US policies are. I submitted a brief historical analytical note in response which was published on that site Nov 5. Both the original piece and my response can be accessed at http://warontherocks.com/2015/11/the-pink-flamingo-on-the-subcontinent-nuclear-war-between-india-and-pakistan/.

My response is reproduced below:

Bharat Karnad says:
November 5, 2015 at 3:16 am
This is typical of the kind of articles that pass as deep analysis in Washington (and Western security enclaves, generally) when, actually, they are entirely bereft of the basic understanding of the socio-political reality in the Indian subcontinent. So, here’s a very brief historical analysis (elaborated at much greater length in my books – most recently ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ [Oxford University Press, 2015), ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’ [Praeger, 2008], and ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’, 2nd ed., [Macmillan India, 2005, 2002].

The partition of British India in 1947 resulted in an ethnically and religiously cleansed Pakistan (with the mass of Hindu population driven out) and an India that retained its composite character, including a large bloc of Muslims who today constitute the largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. For Islamabad the “unfinished” business of partition revolves around the two-thirds of the erstwhile “princely state” of Jammu & Kashmir, whose future was legally decided by its Maharaja, per the “transfer of power” rules agreed upon by the departing colonial power, Britain, and the leaders of the freedom movement, who acceded to the Union of India rather than join his kingdom with the rump state of Pakistan. Pakistan then decided to force the issue by deploying a force of irregulars to overturn the accession resulting in a limited military conflict. The UN-imposed ceasefire that obtained the present territorial division of that state followed India’s taking the dispute to the world body. The referendum promised in the UN security council resolution that both parties accepted first required Pakistan to remove its military and police forces from the third of the state it had forcefully occupied, which didn’t happen thereby nullifying the UN resolution. Subsequent and regular elections in Indian Kashmir since then have validated the people’s support for the state’s legal union with India.

Pakistan, however, did not stop contesting India’s control of the larger part of Kashmir, initiating all the “so-called wars” to try and wrench it from India. It repeatedly failed until in 1971 it lost the eastern portion of the country, which Islamabad had hugely misruled resulting in irreversible alienation of the people, a violent freedom struggle and the emergence, with India’s military assistance, of independent Bangladesh. The leadership of the Pakistan Army – an army with a country of its own – seethed unable to do much about the conventional military superiority India enjoyed. The unique feature about India-Pakistan ties, however much these may now and again sour, is that the sharp end of the animus is blunted by vibrant kith and kinship relations of the divided Muslim community which politically dictate how far either side can militarily go in hurting the other. Hence, all the India-Pakistan wars without exception have resembled “riots” not real “wars”, with the militaries as per unwritten rules of road, engage occasionally in “wars of maneuver” not “wars of annihilation”. No India-Pak “war”, the 1999 Kargil border skirmish apart, has lasted more than a fortnight or so, or extended beyond a 30-mile-wide corridor on either side of the border (and then mostly in the desert areas where armor and mechanized units can rumble unhindered unlike in the Punjab where the network of canals hinder rapid movement by mobile forces), or been particularly comprehensive in the wherewithal used – both sides have desisted from counter-city bombardment, for example).

But Western analysts and commentators are not clued into this socio-political reality in which conflict is automatically curtailed, or simply won’t bring it into their analyses and assessments as that would undermine the interests of Western states keen for geostrategic reasons in sustaining a role for themselves as mediators and balancers.

The insertion of nuclear weapons into this milieu does not change the basic character and nature of India-Pakistan conflicts other than marginally. The military hostilities were always way short of total, but nuclear weapons have their political uses. An N-arsenal burnishes the image of the Pakistan Army managing the country’s nuclear weapons program as the guardian of the Pakistani state and society, and affords the Pakistan government the international political and diplomatic leverage that comes from periodically raising alarms about the nuclear flashpoint, which Western thinktanks peddle for self-serving reasons. (Indeed, the head of a Washington thinktank once refused to publish a paper by me explicating the above thesis – and later explicated in my books and other writings — to counter the flashpoint theme his outfit has been embroidering over the years, saying “it would close the doors in Islamabad”!) So, why have Indian and Pakistani analysts taken to iterating the flashpoint line and, thereby, legitimating Western concerns of a region on the nuclear boil? Plainly stated, because those among them in the academia and the thinktanks have to do so for reasons of brightening their professional prospects, and for India and Pakistan-based analysts because it gets them short-term attachments at American thinktanks and enables them to get on to the Western-funded seminar/conference circuit.

So, why is the N-flashpoint thesis nonsense? Innumerable nuclear war games over the years conducted by the Gaming & Simulation unit of the National Security Council in Delhi have proved that crossing the nuclear weapons threshold, in any rational sense, is almost impossible. To argue that Pakistan will wilfully ignore the uncertainty and definite escalatory risks attending on violating the nuclear taboo, and disregard the horrifically unbalanced “exchange ratio” in case of nuclear war that could quickly become total– the destruction of several Indian cities for the certain extinction of the Pakistan state and society, and trigger first use even if on its own territory against aggressing Indian armor and mechanized forces, is to believe one of three things: that the threat of “massive retaliation” (promised by the Indian nuclear doctrine) is incredible, or that the Pakistan Army is essentially irrational, will court the risk of a kind it has not done before, even going against its own record of pragmatic actions in past conflicts that have actually injected credibility into its deterrent stance and legitimated its possession of nuclear weapons as weapons of the very last resort. Or, that the Pakistani posture, apparently bolstered by the emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons, is an over-stated bluff.

The evidence suggests it is a bluff Pakistan will persist with owing, as explained above, to continuing politico-diplomatic payoffs in the external realm, and internally because it burnishes the Pakistan Army’s self-image – no small thing in a country widely perceived as a near “failed state”. If it is not a bluff then Pakistan stands to lose its all. “Pink flamingos” in terms of nuclear hostilities in South Asia are a mirage. The insider-assisted capture of Pakistani nuclear weapons is, however a “black swan”.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Culture, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, US.. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A counter to the American “pink flamingo” nonsense

  1. James says:

    Get off your high horse . Let me give you brief synopsis of what your make believe world has been – First you Indians never, in your wildest dream thought that Pakistan could develop a bomb with, or without China’s help and this is what you fed to your new master (US).. and now you think that Pakistan will not (or never) use nuclear weapons even if its existence is jeopardized. I hope you are not kidding. But I have got news for you… remember 2001-2001-2002 Indian deployment? This was your litmus test…as there is a Pakistani threshold which India does not know and cannot predict even with all those simulations. If, God forbid, you underestimate Pakistan and overestimate your capabilities (conventional or other wise) then all bets are off . You think we will let you walk in and take over? If push comes to shove we will use nuclear weapons and FYI we know the price and the consequences.

    • James@ –By the way, a bit of settled history you should know — the US was complicit in the nuclear missile arming of Pakistan. And you are not paying attention to what I have stated and which all know that going nuclear is only a last resort option when national survival is at stake. This is true for all countries, including Pakistan and is the very reason why first use at the merest evidence of Indian intrusion of the kind that Pakistan threatens is not credible. The public declarations and fiery rhetoric to create the necessary ambiguity and fuel uncertainty, in the event, are par for the course. Fulminations by interested and concerned Pakistanis,such as you, also presumably serve a purpose. But there’s an inherent elasticity of response in all nuclear weapons use calculus that all nuclear weapon states have quickly reconciled to. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you, this is the case with Pakistan as well.

    • Aks says:

      James, I believe I speak for a vast majority of Indians when we say we don’t want to take over Pakistan. What do we get out of it? Yours is a moth eaten, decrepit, poor country, poorer than even parts of the most misrun parts of North and North east India. You guys are mostly extremist Muslims who share no joy in culture or good living and constantly attack each other. Why would we want you in our country or even seek to run it (and hence put money in it)? There is literally no positive side effect of seeking to own Pakistan. Its pointless really. Only a few punjabi and leftist die hards have dreams of kinship with you. Some feudal Muslims. Most Indians are now becoming more and more detached viz Pakistan & hence regard you with distrust & disgust given your sponsorship of terror in India.
      What we would want to do though is give you a good thrashing for all the terrorism you have sponsored and make your army pay for its antics, so that it sits within its borders and licks its wounds. We have already begun the process at our borders & are giving back several times over what we get from your side. That process will escalate.
      You can keep making idle threats, nuclear or otherwise, but the Indian Armed Forces know that your Pakistan Army has to rely on irregulars to fight the Indian Army because they themselves are too weak. That speaks volumes. Plus there is the Baloch and NWFP struggle to activate and encourage. In short, tough times ahead for your lot.

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