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Develop Capability to Deter Proxy War

The need of the day for India is to develop a completely new capability to deter Pakistan from waging a proxy war in Kashmir

Issue: 09-2019By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath

Intelligence reports indicate that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is in the process of activating the airfield at Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, located close to Kargil. The intention of Pakistan appears to be to deploy combat aircraft of the PAF including the JF-17 Thunder, the Mirage V and possibly the F-16, most likely for operations against India in the event of a military conflict between the two nations in the near future. Intelligence agencies have observed that three C-130 tactical airlift aircraft of the PAF have been transporting equipment to Skardu, needed to support operations by the combat fleet of the PAF.

Skardu airport which is functional from dawn to dusk, is normally used for air operations by the civil aviation segment. Civil flights are operated essentially to support activities such as tourism, trekking and expeditions for which Skardu is a major hub-centre. Skardu airport currently has two asphalt runways of which the shorter one is just over 8,700 feet long and the longer one is just under 12,000 feet. Both these runways that are currently used primarily by aircraft of the Pakistan International Airlines, are eminently suitable for supporting operations by combat aircraft of the PAF and as such, Skardu airport is also designated as a forward base of the PAF. Combat aircraft of the PAF have, in the past, been deployed at Skardu either for an air exercise or if required, to carry out sorties in support of ground operations undertaken by the Pakistan Army in the event of tension or outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan.

The current deployment of combat aircraft by the PAF at Skardu is meant ostensibly for an air exercise; but given the escalating military tension between India and Pakistan, the deployment of combat aircraft at Skardu is indicative of a hostile intent of Pakistan. This is reinforced by other intelligence reports that are indicative of large scale redeployment of units of the Pakistan Army along the border with India. While the abrogation of Article 370 is being seen in India as a positive step meant for the benefit of the inhabitants of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Pakistan is likely to make every effort to turn public opinion against the step taken by India. The one common aim of the multiple power centres in the political and military establishments in Pakistan appears to be to create massive instability internally in J&K and pave the way for fresh induction of militants and terrorists in an attempt to turn the tide against the Indian security forces deployed in the state and particularly in the Kashmir valley.

The economy of Pakistan is currently in an extremely precarious state. Also, Pakistan does not seem to be getting any support readily from the global community over her opposition to the steps taken by the Indian government for the full integration of the state of J&K with India. As such, Pakistan seems to have been left alone to fend for herself both in respect of the management of her failing economy as well as for keeping India under pressure through clandestine interference in J&K, especially in the Kashmir valley where Muslims are in the majority. Pakistan is not in a position to engage India in a full scale war for a number of reasons. The Indian armed forces have now acquired the capability to deliver both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons which would serve as an effective deterrent against Pakistan opting for a full scale war. This limitation to some extent, applies to the Indian armed forces as well. The Pakistani armed forces too possess nuclear weapons, but only of tactical nature. However even tactical nuclear weapons would compel India to think twice before taking on a major military venture against Pakistan. But unfortunately, possession of nuclear weapons by India does not seem to have any dampening effect on Pakistan’s frenzy to carry on with the proxy war in J&K that she has been waging for the last three decades. And now Pakistan appears to be planning to significantly enhance the scale and intensity of the proxy war in the Kashmir valley. As per reports, plans are on the anvil in the Pakistani establishment to induct in a clandestine manner, Afghan Taliban in large numbers and deploy them in the Kashmir valley to take on the Indian security forces there. Of course, this will be projected by Pakistan as totally an internal uprising in the Kashmir valley by the local population and Pakistan will continue to disclaim responsibility.

It is abundantly clear from the three-decade long proxy war that superiority of the Indian armed forces over their Pakistani counterpart, both in the conventional and nuclear regimes, has failed to stem the tide of proxy war in the Kashmir valley. Therefore, the need of the day for India is to develop a completely new capability to deter Pakistan from waging a proxy war in Kashmir. Unless this is done, there appears to be no possibility of ending the proxy war in the Kashmir valley.