One of India's leading hawks, Bharat Karnad, writes in the inaugural publication of the Armys new think tank, the Center of Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS): "The scenario described as "Sialkot grab" envisions very rapid movements by armour to close with the enemy's defense forces arrayed around cities like Sialkot ... [in] the strategic corridor running south to north less than 30 miles from the border ... (this) will prevent Islamabad from doing what it says it will do - use tactical nuclear weapons ... this may increase pressure on Pakistan's National Command Authority to escalate by striking at Indian cities, according to the strategy Pakistan professes ... it would trigger a general nuclear war entailing the certain extinction of the Pakistani state."
Karnad's reflection is on how to paralyse Pakistans "first use" nuclear strategy. His understanding is that success in a nuclear confrontation lies precisely in confronting the adversary with impossibly difficult choices he cannot risk making. In other words, India should put Pakistan in such an untenable situation that it could only choose to use its weapons if it accepted the risk of ceasing to exist!
The military illogic
Pakistani nuclear deterrence based on "first use" relies on the logic that defensive first use is more likely than offensive use. I.e. Pakistan would only use its nuclear weapons on Indian troops within its own territory after a conventional attack has been launched by India. Such a breach of the nuclear taboo would carry the least opprobrium. To undercut this temptation, Karnad's idea is that India should not strike so deep as to provoke such a reaction; i.e. Indian forces should take the fight to Pakistani population centers and military forces so that the enemy's nuclear use on Indian troops would amount to self-inflicted damage of prohibitive severity to its own urban centers and forces. This would stay Pakistan's nuclear hand, thereby freeing India's conventional superiority to prevail.
Since Karnad wishes India to have a tous azimuth nuclear capability, his logic that nuclear deterrence will stand the test of conflict is self-serving. But in fact, this idea has not been thought through and is begging for refutation. The strategic rationale behind war games is rarely replicated in crisis situations. The easier choice for Pakistan - if it is unable to nuke Indian troops who have advanced close to or within populated parts of Pakistan, or directly attack Indian cities with missiles - is to simply aim those nuclear weapons at other Indian troops amassing on their own side of the border. Indeed, a nuclear strike on an armoured division in Rajasthan could simply bring the two sides into parity - since India's advantage in conventional armoured forces is only one division.
Indias promised punitive retaliation would have no equivalent target - since Pakistani forces would then be toe-to-toe with Indian forces as per Karnads visualization. City busting would have the same consequences for India as Karnad visualizes in respect of Pakistan, though no one in Indias strategic community cares to admit it.
A political miscalculation
The problem is not only with the scenario-building indulged in by armchair strategists as Karnad; that sort of exercise is that raison d'etre for a whole class of planners, and will probably go on as long as there are armies and enemies. What is really worrying is what this doctrine reveals about the strategists currently holding court. The Indian Armys new doctrine, though downplayed as not amounting to a blue print for the next war, nevertheless does serve as a generalised basis for war-gaming and strategising. And the Army being ultimately accountable to the political process, one assumes that any doctrine for war should be based partly at least on what the political leadership thinks would be advantageous during a conflict. Leaving that responsibility too to the military would be pointless, since in the endgame politics, the military is in any event likely to play only a secondary role.
In this case, the military has apparently been persuaded by the political utility of grabbing the "thirty mile swathe". It has created the wherewithal for this war plan in the form of the widely reported Integrated Battle Groups. A well-informed critique that emanates from the director of the Amry's own CLAWS, a former vice-chief, carried by a leading website on security affairs, ipcs.org, has it that this doctrine has been written autonomous of the nuclear question. But war planning should be realistic too - an enemy with nuclear weapons is not going to act 'autonomous of the nuclear question' when confronted by a conquering force.
For the peace community, the ongoing bonhomie with Pakistan is not cause for complacency. Because, the security establishment - not only in India, but likewise in Pakistan too - is at this very time readying the nation for war with unrealistic ideas about what a nuclear-armed enemy will - or will not, more precisly - do. Continuous efforts for peace that would completely eliminate the threat or need for a war with Pakistan or any other state should continue in earnest, but alongside, it is important to critique the illusions that pro-bomb military planners offer.