Very, very worrying news from India and Pakistan. I especially don’t like all the stuff about school textbooks.
On Friday, India warned its citizens to stay away from Pakistan, claiming that they were in danger from agencies “that operate outside the law and civilian control”. Yesterday’s newspaper reports reflected increasingly frenzied war speculation. “Pak army on the march” was the headline in the Hindustan Times, while the Times of India – which led its Christmas Day edition with the headline “Pak whips itself into war frenzy” – reported that Pakistan had stepped up its “war moves”. Claims by Pakistan that Indian nationals had been arrested in connection with a Christmas Eve car bombing in Lahore were also angrily dismissed. Anand Sharma, an Indian external affairs minister, called the reports “hogwash”.
Although some in the Indian media have urged caution, there has been a spate of anti-Pakistan stories since the Mumbai attacks. Yesterday’s Times of India carried a front-page report headlined “Pak textbooks foster hate against India” which claimed that “venom against India is officially promoted to infect young minds in Pakistani schools” and asserted that terrorism in Pakistan had its roots in a culture of hate.
Yelling about the other side’s maps and school textbooks is a telltale symptom of nationalist hysteria. Also, look what the head of the Indian Air Force Western Command is saying:
Air Marshal PK Barbora, chief of India’s western air command, said that the air force had identified 5,000 terrorist targets inside Pakistani territory.
Five thousand terrorist targets? I’d bet there aren’t five thousand actual terrorists in Pakistan, as opposed to people who might agree with them, or think the Pakistani government is just looking for an excuse to bring its tax-collectors into their valley when it talks about terrorists. Terrorism is by definition a small-team pursuit; otherwise it wouldn’t be terrorism, it would be ordinary war.
Now, let’s remember a classic post on this blog. Back in February, 2007, the National Security Archive at George Washington University got hold of the original slides from the briefing document on war with Iraq. The heaviest air bombardment the planning study included foresaw 3,000 individual aiming points from 2,100 aircraft sorties, the difference being made up by an unknown mix of multiple-target missions and Tomahawk missiles. This was designed to wreck the Iraqi military and military-industrial complex thoroughly. The Pakistani officer here is suggesting a minimum of 5,000 aiming points.
Even compared to the Iraqi military-industrial complex at its hubristic height immediately after the Iran-Iraq war, with its nuclear programme, satellite-launch programme, T-72 tanks and indigenous airborne early-warning aircraft, it would be fair to say that the Pakistani one is a much more complex complex, with the benefit of years more investment and both US and Chinese support, to say nothing of the nuclear system and the secret AQ Khan procurement-network. So the first thing we have to conclude that Air Marshal P.K. Barbora is floating not just an operation directed at Lashkar-e-Toiba, or even ISI facilities, but a conventional blitz intended to wreck the Pakistani Air Force, the nuclear system, and as much of the ISI, the Army, the Navy and the defence industries and strategic infrastructure as he has aircraft left for.
Air Marshals always want this, of course. It goes without saying that he couldn’t launch something like this without an epic air battle and a ferocious Pakistani counterattack of some sort. Barbora’s command has a mixture of MiG-21, MiG-23/27, MiG-29, and SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft; the -21s, -23s and -29s are mostly assigned to air defence roles, the -27s to close support of the army, and the Jaguars are India’s premier strike aircraft. Among other things, their role includes carrying part of the nuclear deterrent. There are 108 of these; 6 are assigned to a maritime role in the Southern command. It is fair to say the rest will be facing Pakistan. An operation of this size would also involve the South-Western command and the Central command; the Central command controls most of the 110 Sukhoi 30 fighters and the 39 Dassault Mirage 2000-5 aircraft, some of which would be assigned a strike/attack role. The Sukhoi 30s are officially there as a pure fighter, but it’s unrealistic to imagine that given a latest-generation aircraft they won’t take any opportunity to get into the fray.
Therefore we can say there are about 150 serious strike aircraft available. There are also the four Tu-22M3 bombers, theoretically reserved for operations at sea. However, the fact the Russians lost one over Georgia may well dissuade them from looking for trouble. A big variable is the percentage of the MiG-27 fleet which will be held back for the Army – the Western command has many of them, but also has Kashmir and the critical Route 1 into Kashmir on its plate. Just using the Jaguars, Mirages, and any Sukhois assigned to the job, 5,000 aiming points would be attacked in 17 days at 2 sorties/aircraft/day. It’s fair to rule out many missions covering more than one target – this won’t be Afghanistan or even Iraq or even Iran. Pakistan has a lot of rather old but much-upgraded Mirage IIIs, Chinese-made MiG-21s, 44 F-16s (which are pre-1984 -A and -B models), and some very new Chinese JF-17s that really, nobody knows much about. Assuming 75% serviceability, it would be a theoretical 23 day campaign, but this doesn’t count the major commitment of fighters and defence suppression aircraft.
Clearly, however, there is no quick and relatively safe option. If Indian planning is anything like Barbora’s remarks, this means major war, with the certainty of the biggest air battle in living memory, the near certainty of a major mountain battle in Kashmir, a significant risk of the armies fighting out a battle of manoeuvre further south, and some risk of nuclear war.
I finished that post by saying that there would probably be no war with Iran. I can’t say that about India and Pakistan.