Peace, Thanks To The Pile-Up: Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Peace, Thanks To The Pile-Up
Nuclear and missile programmes maintain stability, conventional arms drain resources

SUSPICIONS are inherently self-aggravating and often self-exaggerating. These can accelerate to intolerable limits, resulting in actions due to heightened anxiety. Attempt to lower the quantum of anxiety is indeed desirable to keep the adversary relatively cool, so as not to cross the tolerance threshold. There is a need, therefore, to build credible grounds for de-escalating tension in the subcontinent.



Taking the above construct as a viable one in the context of Indo-Pakistan relations, suspicions, though mutually exaggerated, are not altogether baseless. Taking the objectivity of the ground realities into account, mistrust is a historical baggage, which our leaders are carrying and find if difficult to offload. Even though one may find it reassuring to contend that the newly installed BJP government in India may deviate from some aspects of its preelection manifesto and shelve other contentious issues, yet what cannot be brushed aside is that the saffron hue, symbolising Hindu Renaissance, had an emotionalised appeal among a size-able section of the Indian population. In other words, the revival of the glory of Hindutva is a latent national aspiration. The saffron and the coalition political rainbow, how would they ultimately mix, is very much a conjectural issue.



For Pakistan, the predicament is circumscribed by what India does to bolster its image. Facing three wars, experiencing the trauma of losing one half of the country in 1971 and subsequently waking up to India’s nuclear explosion of 1974, Pakistan quite rightly felt objectively threatened. The lingering Kashmir imbroglio; a well integrated missile development programme initiated by India in early ’80s to produce the surface-to-surface Prithvi and Agni, the sea-launched surface-to-air Akash and Trishul and the anti-tank Nag…these have multiplied the anxiety in Pakistan.



Faced with such challenges, Pakistan quite determinedly produced a minimal nuclear deterrence which has kept peace in the region for over two decades. Similarly, in response to India’s ballistic missile programme, Pakistan has made very successful efforts to seek an equaliser and contain India’s monopoly in this sphere. The Ghauri missile is a credible deterrence against the Pakistan-specific Prithvi. Relying mainly on indigenous efforts, Pakistan will integrate the missile in its defensive system. Any dispassionate strategist would justify Pakistan’s response, just as Pakistan’s nuclear capability has produced a very low level, non-weaponised nuclear balance and has been accepted as a reality for the sake of military balance and peace.



It is interesting to note that the existing co-relation of conventional forces between India and Pakistan has been adjusted over a period of time to operational necessities. This adjustment, which may be called operational balance, has been achieved in spite of the fact that India enjoys superiority of 2.5:1 in land forces; 5:1 in air forces and 7:1 in naval forces, raising the forces level, reactively, over the period. And whenever this operational balance was disturbed, there was a quick response to re-establish it, thus escalating tension, a mad arms race, nuclear proliferation and now the missile race.



India spends about $7 billion on defence, which is about 3 per cent of its GDP. Pakistan spends $3.2 billion—almost 6 per cent of its GDP—just to ensure that functional operational balance, notwithstanding an adverse correlation of forces against India. Such a large defence budget is a drain on our resources but certainly it is not out of Pakistan’s own choice. Pakistan is neither a nuclear nor a missile initiator. Pakistan’s predicament has thus to be seen in this perspective of the prevailing realities of unavoidable constraints. It has to effect a functional force level to be able to maintain a reasonable operational balance needed to ensure security to the territories of Pakistan.



It goes without saying that reduction in conventional forces will be resisted by strong lobbies in both the countries. Downsizing and cutting the military budget may be desirable but not a pragmatic option under the prevailing mindset. However, it is possible to initiate the move to reduce the forces level of both the countries, step by step from the present day level of the ’90s to the ’80s, and then to the ’70s, taking care that the operational balance is not disturbed. In order to take the first step, it is essential that the political leadership and military experts on both sides may, through mutual dialogue and consultation, agree to reduce the forces level. High-tech weapons and equipment inducted during the last two decades should be retained in the same proportionate order. In other words, this way without disturbing the operational balance the objective conditions of confidence would be retained and a substantial breakthrough could be achieved in arms reduction.



Minimal nuclear and missile deterrence should also be kept intact because these are the cheapest options for peace. I can say with confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is not that costly as it is generally thought to be. Right from the very inception in 1975 till 1990, it cost us less than the price of one naval submarine, which is estimated at $300 million; and at this very low cost it has held peace in the subcontinent for over two decades. Our missile programme is still cheaper. Logically speaking, therefore, the nuclear and missile deterrence have helped maintain peace, while the conventional arms race has drained our resources.



We are locked in a running gunbattle on Kashmir on the line of control. Inside Kashmir, a full-fledged war of liberation goes on,with thousands killed, maimed, wounded, molested and disgraced. Such sacrifices do not go waste just because one side is not prepared to talk. In such conflicts it is the dialectics of the opposing will which determine the parameters of the military logic, to bring the conflict to its fruition. And end it must, according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir, who have sacrificed so much for their cause. Righteousness of the cause has always triumphed over the forces of tyranny and injustice.



Building trust between the two countries—India and Pakistan—is indeed a formidable challenge. Someone rightly said: “The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”



(The writer is a former Pakistani chief of army staff and is chairman of the Awami Qiadat Party.)






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