RAWALPINDI While the Pakistan Army is alert to and fighting the threat posed by militancy, it remains an “India-centric” institution and that reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved, according to army chief Gen Kayani.
In a presentation to Pakistani media, Gen Kayani reiterated his widely reported comments on the Pakistan Army's view of the situation in Afghanistan and the way forward there.
But the army chief also made it clear that his institution's “frame of reference” for addressing the problems in that country included certain concerns that are India specific.
History, unresolved issues, India's military capability and its 'Cold Start' doctrine meant that Pakistan could not afford to let its guard down. Repeating a well-known formulation, Gen Kayani said “We plan on adversaries' capabilities, not intentions.”
The tough, matter-of-fact line on India was in stark contrast to that of Gen Kayani's predecessor, Gen (retd) Musharraf, who tried hard to push for peace with India in his latter years in power.
Gen Kayani, though, does not carry the dual burden of being president and the army chief, which perhaps explains the narrower, militaristic formulation of Pakistan's posture towards India.
The general was particularly keen to highlight the threat posed by India's 'Cold Start' doctrine. Turing the traditional theory of war on its head, 'Cold Start' would permit the Indian Army to attack before mobilising, increasing the possibility of a “sudden spiral escalation”, according to Gen Kayani.
The Pakistan Army's concerns about 'Cold Start' are well known, but Gen Kayani went as far as to put a timeline on its implementation two years for India to achieve partial implementation and five years for full.
If true, the strategic impact could be of the highest order defence analysts have speculated that 'Cold Start' may lead the Pakistan Army to lower its nuclear threshold as a way of deterring any punitive strikes or rapid capture of territory by the Indian armed forces.
Yet, Gen Kayani was also keen to point out that he did not have a one-dimensional view of security. Despite the fact that India's defence budget is “seven times” that of Pakistan's “there has to be a balance between development and military spending,” the general said.
He also pleaded that “peace and stability in South Asia should not be made hostage to a single terrorist act of a non-state actor”, a reference to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Refusing to talk to Pakistan would send a bad signal on two counts one, the non-state actors would know that they have the power to nudge India and Pakistan towards war; and two, within India it would become clear that relations with Pakistan could be suspended indefinitely.
The comments on India, though, came only later in an extended Power Point Presentation that covered everything from the operations in Swat and South Waziristan to the “way forward” in Afghanistan. Gen Kayani seemed relatively pleased with the reaction his presentation received when first unveiled at a meeting of chiefs of defence staff of Nato and its allied countries in Brussels late last month.
Emphasising what he termed the “fundamentals”, he claimed that until the Afghan government improved its credibility and governance record and until the Afghan population began to change its perception that Isaf is not winning, the Afghan government would not be able to establish its writ and the local Taliban would not be “weaned off”.
But on Afghanistan, too, India featured in Gen Kayani's comments. Rejecting India's reported interest in training the Afghan National Army and the country's police force, Gen Kayani argued that Pakistan had a more legitimate expectation to do so.
Taken together, Gen Kayani's comments suggest that the possibility of a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan any time soon is low.
Both India and Pakistan appear to have firmly lapsed into the old pattern of highlighting the differences between them and the threats they face from each other, while nominally leaving the door open to an improvement in relations if one side addresses the other's concerns.
Unlike the past, though, the stakes appear to be higher because of the uncertain future of Afghanistan and a 'nuclear overhang' that may be affected by 'Cold Start'.