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India Armed Forces Joint Doctrine 2017: A Critical Appraisal

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Post-event Report

Panel Discussion


India Armed Forces Joint Doctrine 2017: A Critical Appraisal



A one-day panel discussion “India Armed Forces Joint Doctrine 2017: A Critical Appraisal” was organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) on February 28, 2018 at the IPRI conference hall, Islamabad. The panel discussion consisted of one working session where two sub-themes, i.e. “Potential Shifts in Indian Nuclear Strategy: Challenges for Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia” and “Asymmetrical Military Buildup in South Asia: Options for Pakistan” came under discussion. Two eminent speakers, who talked on sub-themes, included Air Commodore (R) Khalid Banuri and Ms. Salma Malik, Assistant Professor, Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. The discussion was attended by students, academics, journalists, members of diplomatic missions in Islamabad, and former diplomats.

Panel Proceedings:

Ambassador (R) Abdul Basit, President IPRI, welcomed the distinguished speakers and participants in the conference. He said that the subject was very important because after India’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD), there had been debate going on as to what that doctrine entails for Pakistan. There were many gaps in the CSD and the Indian government, on its part, did not elaborate as to what this doctrine itself contained. The launch of “India Armed Forces Joint Doctrine 2017” (IAFJD) is a huge step forward from Indian side, which also demonstrates as to how Indian strategic thinking was evolving.

Ambassador Basit informed that the aim of this “Panel Discussion” was to discuss this doctrine as it contained not only interesting but also dangerous concepts and if India moved on to implement those ideas, they could have serious implications for Pakistan as well as for the region and beyond. Two components of the doctrine have long-term implications for Pakistan. First, India has evolved and moved from “credible minimum deterrence” (CMD) to “credible deterrence”, which means in practice that they do not believe in keeping their “Triad” to the minimum deterrence. Indians would develop their armed forces horizontally as well as vertically. So, there is no restriction in development of their nuclear assets.

The second important implication is that it talks about surgical strikes against terrorism, “safe havens”, and so on and so forth. This development created its own dangerous dynamics for the region. These two aspects of this new doctrine are the most critical as they contain serious implications for Pakistan. Pakistan needs to comprehend or understand as to how this development will affect Pakistan’s security in the long-term and what Pakistan needs to do under these emerging circumstances together with Pakistan’s dwindling economy. The IAFJD overtly recognizes the use of “surgical strikes” as a formal part of India’s punitive toolkit and validates the existence of India’s CSD, which clearly highlights a shift in nuclear strategy.

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Banuri, while speaking on the topic, i.e. “Potential Shifts in Indian Nuclear Strategy: Challenges for Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia” said that India had formally compiled and announced its draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine (IND) on August 17, 1999. The major features of IND were transparent but some parts were kept deliberately ambiguous and are still under a big question mark. For example, India tried to lay down the broad principles for the development, deployment, and employment of India’s nuclear forces. Based on the “Greater India” philosophy, India emphasized the normative posture in its draft nuclear doctrine. For example, the draft doctrine highlights that nuclear weapons pose the gravest threat to humanity, peace, and stability in the international system. The IND displayed that India’s nuclear weapons would be used primarily in retaliation to a nuclear attack. The fundamental aim of these weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against India.

The IND says that India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and it would not use nuclear weapons against countries that did not possess nuclear weapons or were not aligned to countries that possessed nuclear weapons. The draft IND was later operationalized in January 2003 that outlined explicitly important areas of nuclear doctrine and its operational arrangements. First, it vigorously reinforces Indian policy of a CMD. Second, it maintains a no- first-use posture, i.e. nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation to a nuclear attack on Indian territory or Indian forces. Third, it highlights that nuclear retaliation should be massive so as to inflict unacceptable damage to an adversary. Fourth, it highlights a political control over nuclear weapons use through the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA), comprising of the political council and the executive council.

India’s latest IAFJD focuses on India’s conception of its national security and strategy for managing threats across the “full spectrum of military conflict.” In this sense, the document addresses the principles, guiding the Indian military’s approach to everything from nuclear war to internal security. Given recent debates on potential shifts in Indian nuclear strategy, the presentation of India’s nuclear strategy in the IAFJD is alarming since it has opted to use the terms “credible deterrence” instead of “credible minimum deterrence”. No longer are the lines “gray” in terms of what India’s hegemonic and dangerous designs for the region since the IAFJD is indicative that New Delhi sees both China and Pakistan as direct military threats. Also, the IAFJD offers a new dimension of how India separates the control of its nuclear weapons between military and civilian authorities.

As a reflection of India’s future political and military ambitions, the IAFJD will have long-term implications for Pakistan’s threat perceptions and force posturing, which calls for serious contemplation by the Government. The IAFJD’s focus on determining or preventing conflict through a process of credible deterrence, coercive diplomacy and punitive destruction, disruption and constraint is alarming. While not mentioning “minimum” in the credible deterrence formulation is very problematic and it is also unclear what precise changes are being envisioned by India. The IAFJD’s language is highly ambiguous and posits more gaps, especially in the absence of an autonomous office of Indian Chairman Joint Chief of Staff.

Overall, the IAFJD should be viewed in the broader context of the wave of ultra-nationalism that is sweeping the globe and is being spearheaded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in South Asia. The IAFJD goes beyond a focus on traditional military imperatives since it portends to use diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions backed by projection of military force for what India calls maintaining peace through show of force. The fact that India’s future operational or command and control philosophy would not rely upon precise control is also a cause for great concern since this may lead to hasty decisions based on limited information.

Ms. Salma Malik spoke on “Asymmetrical Military Buildup in South Asia: Options for Pakistan” and was of the opinion that the IAFJD was revealing of the Indian military’s contemporary preferences for expeditionary and overseas operations. For example, the document calls for “complete and effective inter-operability” with “countries, big and small” — a tacit endorsement of ever-closer logistics, communications, and intelligence collaboration with countries ranging from the US, Japan, and Australia to smaller powers in Southeast Asia. Echoing the 2015 maritime security strategy, the joint doctrine emphasizes the salience of the Indian diaspora to the country’s national security strategy, “especially in the Middle East/North African regions, which are home to millions of Indians, remain central to [India’s] external security paradigm.”

The IAFJD has had received mixed reactions in India since many view it as an ambiguous document that has more unanswered questions and obvious incongruities. The IAFJD leaves no confusion regarding India’s malicious designs, a country which was the world’s largest importer of arms between 2012 and 2016, and the world’s 2nd largest military force. The IAFJD reiterates the basic tenets of the Indian nuclear doctrine, no first use and CMD, contrary to recent calls to revise the no first use and speculation in the West that India would resort to a first strike. Pakistan’s political and military leaders need to be cognizant that the IAFJD is not confined to physical conflict alone, rather factors in “Hybrid Warfare”, i.e. supporting chaos, psychological and media warfare, cyber warfare, and economic warfare.

Pakistan should be wary of a changing mood in New Delhi vis-à-vis the issue of no first use as statements made by the key Indian politicians, strategists, and academics like Vipin Narang give a clear idea that India would not allow Pakistan to go first, and may, in fact, opt for a full “comprehensive counter-force strike” to completely disarm Pakistan of its nuclear weapons. Pakistan will have no choice but to work with the assumption that Indian nuclear strategy now seeks to limit the damage Pakistan can inflict at the strategic level by degrading Pakistan’s integrated nuclear command and control capabilities in an initial conventional strike.

While the launch of the IAFJD is an effort at integration of India’s political and military thinking and focuses on India’s conception of its national security and strategy for managing threats across the “full spectrum of military conflict” — everything from nuclear war to internal security and counterinsurgency, it was a poorly developed “copy pasted” manuscript made up of a hotchpotch of ideas that borrow heavily from the US defence doctrines. India is progressing from military power, soft power to smart power and is making these moves in leaps and bounds, supported by its growing economic might.

Question & Answer Session:

During the question-answer session the following important comments came forth:

  • In 2016-17, the Indian defence sector received US$ 51 billion, 2.25 per cent of its GDP. The US spends 4.0 per cent of its GDP on defence, China 2.5 per cent, and Pakistan 3.5 per cent. In the last four years, India’s imports were far greater than those of both China and Pakistan. However, India may soon change this role in the global arms industry by transforming itself into a leading weapon exporting nation as the country has shifted its focus towards indigenous defence production.
  • India is trying to harm Pakistan through kinetic and non-kinetic means, and the Government of Pakistan needs to stop its internal issues and focus on developing the country’s national strength by virtue of strong and resilient armed forces, robust defence production infrastructure, and by developing an indigenous scientific research and development culture. Also, there is a need of greater debate in Pakistan on the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons for counter-force, targeting to offset India’s conventional forces and its CSD.
  • Since a strong economy hinges on strong politics and strong civil-military relations, Pakistan needs to cater to these facets holistically rather than see them in isolation for its own national interests and national security. Regardless of what India did, Pakistan needs to put all its efforts in strengthening its economy and governance mechanisms as without these prerequisites, it would face insurmountable challenges in the future.

Major Recommendations:

  • Two important changes are occurring under the IAFJD. The first being the shift from “credible minimum deterrence” to “credible deterrence” and incorporation of Surgical Strikes by India under its joint doctrine. Moreover, additional areas deserving focus are sense of the higher defense organization, and the latent question of the no-first use. One interesting sense is that despite notional sense of strong civilian control, since the control of the warheads lies with the strategic force command, it lies with the military. The BJP has toyed with the idea of giving up the commitment to no first use, this has been the part of their political manifesto. Moreover, the doctrine doesn’t clearly mention on how command and control will operate in the open sea. In India’s case, technological realization is driving the doctrine and the latter is shaping the projection of the former. To counter the aforementioned developments and aspirations of India’s political and military establishment for its conventional and nuclear strategic goals, Pakistan needs to heighten its operational ambiguity of the nuclear operations.
  • There was a conventional asymmetry between India and Pakistan, and similarly nuclear weapons cannot prevent acts of sabotage and covert activities sponsored by India, and limited military action under nuclear umbrella. Moreover, if Vipin Narang’s statement needs to be understood, Pakistan needs to determine how much damage it can take, it also needs to build a robust cushion for raising the nuclear-threshold bar for Pakistan to conventionally deter India from ruminating or deliberating limited or large scale conventional or special forces action against Pakistan.
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could greatly benefit Pakistan’s economic arm. Pakistan needs to put its house in order. To this end, domestically Pakistan needs to build its capacity, and take into account the impact of the existing strategic and international environment on its progress, security and political order.
  • Pakistan should also incorporate a global outlook in its foreign and economic policy. India is trying to harm Pakistan through kinetic and non-kinetic means. To counter the existing nature of complex challenges, Pakistan needs a strong and resilient armed forces meeting modern trends.
  • In order to counter Indian military build-up, Pakistan also need to have a robust defence production infrastructure. To exploit the full potential of it, Pakistan will need to build indigenous scientific research and development culture, in order to rely on efficient and optimal resource utilization for overcoming challenges of national significance. Pakistan can capitalize on its skilled human resource, and infrastructure for such endeavors. Moreover, Pakistan also needs to promote public and private partnership for research and development projects in the defence sector.
  • Similarly, in order to counter Indian armed forces’ move to exploit space and cyber for military purposes, Pakistan should constitute separate space and cyber commands. Pakistan will also need to have effective capabilities in place to deny and penalize India from undertaking special forces’ operations against Pakistan.
  • Pakistan can also enter in military alliances with other countries. Also, Pakistan needs to rely on tangible and intangible elements such as non-kinetic tangible and intangible areas. This is more a time for building geo-economic alliances along with proactive diplomacy across the region and internationally.
  • Pakistan needs to utilize traditional but also non-traditional diplomacy, including use of advocacy. Similarly, Pakistan needs to ensure a prominent presence in world capitals for arguing Pakistan’s case.
  • Pakistan needs to build its tri-services capability, in order to bridge the existing asymmetry between India and Pakistan by strengthening latter’s nuclear as well as conventional deterrence vis-à-vis the former to build “credible deterrence capabilities”. But, these capabilities are conditioned to economic prosperity and capacity of Pakistan. The more economically better off Pakistan will be, it will certainly become more desirable among the international community, which will eventually give credence to its narrative among the world community on different matters.
  • There was an agreement among the panelists and participants that Pakistan needs to strengthen its economy. For this, Pakistan needs to embrace a more global outlook, rather than remaining in a fix with India, because only a global ambition in every avenue will allow Pakistan to improve its economic might, and also enable to improve its image, and consequently in building its military muscle.
  • Panelists also recommended that research and development in every avenue hinges on economic capacity of a nation, including its public and private sector to fund such initiatives. Therefore, Pakistan should adapt to the ongoing changes with novel, unconventional, and out of the box approaches to strengthen its conventional and strategic deterrence.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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