Nearly a year after Pakistan and India squared off in an aerial dual that brought the nuclear-tipped but hostile neighbours to the brink of war, a former head of the country’s air force on Thursday proposed expanding strategic cooperation with the brotherly country China to counter India’s growing military modernization.
This was suggested by former chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal (retired) Kaleem Saadat on Thursday while speaking at a seminar organised by the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) on ‘India’s Military Modernisation and Counter-Force Temptations: Impact on Regional Security’.
ACM Sadaat, who now heads the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), said it was important to make China commit strategically to Pakistan’s security alongside the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Proposing an offensive approach as the best guarantee for maintaining deterrence against India, he said that given the geopolitical environment, Pakistan will have to depend on China for the acquisition of the necessary platforms and weapon systems.
However, he pointed out that there are two key issues in this regard. The first is the availability of cash to fund the necessary military purchases from China. The second is Beijing’s readiness to provide the necessary technology.
Another core area where ACM Sadaat said attention was needed was the development of electronic countermeasure capability — which played a critical role in the February 26 incident. This capability, he said, should look to counter India’s S400 systems — which it acquired from Russia. Another aspect is to focus on more modern war theatres such as cyber warfare.
“The cyber warfare capability will have to be developed indigenously,” he emphasised.
Former Defense Production Secretary Lt Gen (retired) Syed Muhammad Owais also recommended closer coordination with the Chinese to remain prepared to respond to any hostility from India.
India, he maintained, wants to weaken Pakistan politically, militarily, economically, and internally. This hostile posture, he said, is unlikely to change irrespective of who is in power in New Delhi.
India, in its quest for modernization of its forces, is supported by the US and Israel, Lt Gen Owais said.
He warned that New Delhi is putting in more and more resources for the acquisition of modern weapon systems.
Air University’s former vice-chancellor Air Vice Marshal (retired) Faaiz Amir spoke about the prospects of a disarming strike by India against Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. He ruled out the chances of such a strike in the near to medium-term being successful.
However, with India acquiring capabilities in weapon accuracy and sensors, this assessment may change, he cautioned.
“India, by enhancing its counter-force capabilities, would trigger an arms race and perpetuate other dynamics that could aggravate political and military conditions,” he further warned.
However, AVM Amir added that New Delhi’s overconfidence could lead it to believe that it can execute a disarming strike, which would place the region and the world in an incredibly perilous position.
CASS Director Dr Adil Sultan noted that India is working on developing capabilities that could provide it with at least the option of a pre-emptive counter-force strike against Pakistan.
“Any attempt to neutralise or undermine Pakistan’s deterrence potential and to explore space for limited conventional conflict is likely to trigger a response that will eventually end in a nuclear holocaust,” he said.
He also expressed his scepticism about India carrying out a successful counter-force strike against Pakistan because it lacks intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities along with precision munitions.
However, he said that development of counter-force capabilities by India will pose a significant challenge for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence.
SVI President Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema said that Pakistan has so far successfully relied on “calculated and timely responses” to maintain deterrence such as the development of the Nasr — the short-range ballistic missile, and the Ababeel missile — equipped with multiple independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities.
“Pakistan’s timely responses and development of sophisticated military technology, like intermediate and short-range ballistic missiles, MIRVs, air, and sea-launched cruise missiles, and development of naval second-strike capability have been effective in preserving the minimum credible deterrence,” he observed.
Dr Cheema said that an unfortunate aspect of South Asian Nuclearization was the pro-India bias of the international community.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2020.