Landscape of Strategy

On Indian independence day this year, the Times of India distributed a facscimile of its 15 August 1947 edition. On the newspaper’s second page was a short article predicting the future defence relationship between India and Pakistan. The unnamed author couldn’t, in hindsight, have gotten it more wrong.

The article, headlined “Interdependence of India and Pakistan” and subtitled “Long-Term Defensive Pact Inevitable,” says it all. How did this analyst get it so wrong?

In a purely military sense, his assessments are faultless. The author argues “the facts of geography and the strategic requirements of the subcontinent” would make India and Pakistan join hands. West Pakistan was so narrow as to have no defensible depth, and as for East Pakistan, its defence “is really desperate.” In a war, Pakistan would have to either “be prepared to accept the loss of this portion of territory” or ask for help from India.

The new state of Pakistan, the article argued, had a surfeit of defensive problems – the tribes of the Northwest Frontier Province, the passes from which the subcontinent had been repeatedly invaded, a seacoast and “stemming an invasion from the south.”

The “military deficiencies” of the two countries would “call for a long-term defensive alliance between the two Dominions.” It hypothesized there would be an India-Pakistan “joint Defence Council” or “unified command.”

Much of this made sense from a security standpoint. The United States spent much of the Cold War trying to get India and Pakistan to be a single defensive shield against a supposed Sino-Soviet bloc. And Pakistan’s security problems are, as the Times of India article warned, “a tall order” for “a moderately sized” country with a minimal industrial base.

Where the article got it wrong, of course, was politics. It argues a joint defence “notwithstanding the political division of the country.” Actually, that political division changed everything.

The two countries saw each other as their primary military threat and Pakistan in particular formulated a foreign and security policy to address the shortcomings the article cites.

Acutely aware of its lack of land depth and industrial weaknesses, Islamabad has sought to tie itself to the US or China, dominate Afghanistan and provide itself a nuclear-tipped guarantee of its territory. It solved its tribal security problem by making the tribes part of its offensive capability against India – from the original use of “lashkars” in the October 1947 Kashmir conflict to the terrorist groups of today. And it made no provision for the security of its eastern wing, helping ensure it walked off as Bangladesh.

Politics trumped the fixed logic of geography and a centuries-old military assessment of the subcontinent. Military deployments and strategic thinking had to readjust to a new political reality.

One can only wonder if that logic is now reasserting itself. Today, Pakistan is more under threat from its west than from India. The article noted that East Pakistan’s creation was “cutting the lines of communication between Calcutta and the Assam-Burma border,” a state of affairs that will start to be reversed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coming trip to Bangladesh.

The author got one thing right. “The secession of Pakistan has revolutionized the strategic picture of the Indian Union.” But the author didn’t understand it wouldn’t be geography, but the politics of secession that would dictate the strategic picture.



Copyright © 2011 Hindustan Times.

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