India and Pakistan - now pausing to rearm?

Kashmir conflict leaves both countries questioning the quality of their weapons

With a rough mid-summer peace between India and Pakistan at hand, the question here is: What next?

By all accounts, the next months and years will bring a major reappraisal of the military strength of both India and Pakistan, experts say - leading to enhanced weapons systems, armed forces, and military strategy.

Improvements to military capability will be expensive and take place in a part of the world where 40 percent of the people earn less than a dollar a day.

Neither India nor Pakistan is willing to regard a buildup or revamping as an arms race, and both sides state a commitment to rejoining appropriate dialogues. Yet the military lessons from what Indian officials call "the Kargil war" (a key town in the conflict), will involve further development of nuclear capability on both sides, and a major rearming and reequipping of conventional forces.

"Kargil represents the failure of India's conventional military deterrence," argues retired Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, director of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis here.

Even modest new military increases in India and Pakistan represent a significant departure from the spirit of the peace deal made in Lahore, Pakistan, last February between India and Pakistan's prime ministers. Moreover, the cause for the buildup may be placed as much on India's test of nuclear weapons in 1998, experts say, as on Pakistan's attempt to create international sympathy for claims on Kashmir by its support of militia there.

Indian and Pakistani officials are not eager to discuss their nuclear weapons programs. But Western intelligence sources say both sides continue to refine and develop their potential. Last week US Secretary of Defense William Cohen warned that "recent conduct" by both states suggested they were in the process of weaponizing, a development not conducive to peace in the region.

In April, India successfully tested the Agni-2 rocket, which has a range of about 1,300 miles. Pakistan tested the Ghauri-2 soon after, a nuclear-carrying rocket with a range of 1,700 miles. India is now at work on an Agni-3 with a range of more than 2,000 miles, capable of reaching deep into China. Pakistan has a Ghauri-3 on the table.

On the conventional front, Indian military strategists are preparing not for large-scale border wars with Pakistan - their current strength - but for a series of Kargil-like operations in which Pakistani forces use guerrilla tactics in difficult terrain. "In the 21st century, the operational doctrines of India will undergo a fundamental and qualitative change to meet new challenges," says Sreedhar, an analyst at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. "Kargil is only the beginning."

A large number of casualties and lack of preparedness in Kargil by the Indian military will likely result in the purchase or development of a wide array of new weapons systems that stress technology: laser-guided missiles, military satellites to monitor borders, early-warning systems, sensors, radars, night-vision equipment. High-tech weaponry costs in the first phases of purchase are estimated at $5 billion.

Indian tank forces, air force, and heavy artillery are likely to be enhanced, sources say. The Army is buying 200 new 155 mm heavy guns - making its totals around 500 - with prospective sellers in Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Israel, Great Britain, France, and South Africa. Pakistan, which has few 155 mm, is reportedly seeking US firms to sell the weapons.

For several years the Soviet MIG-based Indian Air Force has been recording numerous crashes in normal flight operations. Just 40 percent of the MIGs are in working order at any given time. Only late in the Kargil operation, when French military suppliers shipped laser technology for Indian French-built Mirage jets, was the Indian Air Force able to effectively target the mujahideen fighters in the mountain peaks of Kashmir. Indian Air Force officials are looking at adding Mirage-style aircraft, slower ground-fighting aircraft like the US-built A-10 Warthog (a formidable tank destroyer in the Gulf War), and also long-range bombers like the Russian-built Sukhoi-30, to carry nuclear weapons, sources say.

Cash-strapped Pakistan is not expected to make the same degree of investment in military spending, though sources in Islamabad say that Pakistani costs for its conventional post-Kargil military will rise some $530 million. Pakistan's claims over Kashmir have long provided its military a rationale for steadily increasing budgets. Moreover, Pakistani generals can point to increases in Indian capability as a motivation for their own needs.

As for the cause of the buildup, Indian officials point to Pakistan's support of Islamic revolutionaries, and the Kargil adventure explains the need. Yet many Western sources, including US officials, point to India's test of nuclear weapons as the initial falling apple.

They argue first that Pakistan found, to its delight, that after the nuclear tests of 1998, the international community, long neglectful of this region, was suddenly paying attention to South Asia. And not only South Asia - but the Kashmir dispute in particular. Almost overnight, a decade of Pakistan's painstaking and often fruitless, snail's-pace negotiations with India over Kashmir gave way to high-level diplomatic interest, marquee lights, and the furrowed brows of presidents and prime ministers whose defense analysts flagged Kashmir as a likely "flashpoint."

Secondly, the nuclearization of India and Pakistan actually changed the military dynamics on the ground. Pakistan, soundly defeated in two wars by India in 1965 and 1971, was held on the borders for years, and in its military calculations, by India's overwhelming conventional military advantage. Any cross-border adventures would likely result in a thrashing by India.

But now, the margins of Pakistani military adventurism could be raised beyond the former status quo - since India would be unlikely to retaliate with the same impunity due to the danger of nuclear use. "Pokhran [where India's nuclear test took place] foretold more trouble in places like Kashmir in the years to come," says Kanti Bajbai, a disarmament expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

In the short term, India may engage in chest-thumping and a buildup due to elections now scheduled for Sept. 4. The former ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which tested the nuclear weapons, came into office on a platform of martial vigor and Hindu nationalist sentiment. The party was damaged by the ease with which Pakistani forces occupied the Himalyan peaks of Kashmir. The elections therefore are likely to stress the need for bigger and better guns.

Perhaps more markedly, a reason for a buildup is a significant change in the Indian establishment over Pakistan. A broad range of moderates and Indian peaceniks who pushed reconciliation have been angered by the bloodletting of the Kargil war.


1997 population: 967 million

1997 military budget: $9.9 billion

Increase over 1996: 4.8%

Outlay as a share of GDP: 2.6%

As a share of government spending: 15.3%

Total regular forces: 1,145,000

Army: 980,000

Navy: 55,000

Air Force: 110,000

Reserves: 528,400

Ballistic missiles: Unknown number of nuclear-capable short-range Prithvi in service. Agni, now in development, capable of being turned into a nuclear intermediate-range ballistic missile. Nuclear missile program and possible naval nuclear missile program given new importance following India's testing of five nuclear devices (thought to be warheads) in May 1998.


1997 population: 132 million

1997 military budget: $3.3 billion

Increase over 1995: -10.8%

Outlay as a share of GDP: 5.4%

As a share of government spending: 24.6%

Total regular forces: 587,000

Army: 520,000

Navy: 22,000

Air force: 45,000

Reserves: 513,000

Ballistic missiles: Hatf-1 short-range missile: 18. Hatf-2 short-range missile under development. Unknown number of indigenously produced Hatf-3 short-range missiles. Unknown number of nuclear-capable M-11 short-range missiles (from China). Medium-range nuclear-capable Ghauri missile tested in April 1998 (believed to be North Korean No Dong). Medium-range nuclear-capable Shaheen-1 and long-range nuclear capable Shaheen-2 said to be under development. Nuclear missile program given new importance following Pakistan's testing of six nuclear devices in May 1998.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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