5,000 Terrorist Targets = War with Pakistan

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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world, Terrorism by Alex Harrowell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Alex Harrowell

Alex Harrowell is a research analyst for a really large consulting firm on AI and semiconductors. His age is immaterial, especially as he can't be bothered to update this bio regularly. He's from Yorkshire, now an economic migrant in London. His specialist subjects are military history, Germany, the telecommunications industry, and networks of all kinds. He would like to point out that it's nothing personal. Writes the Yorkshire Ranter.

16 thoughts on “5,000 Terrorist Targets = War with Pakistan

  1. I don’t know if China can really afford and accept to loose all its Pakistanese strategic investments, as the Gwadar Port for instance.
    Could this be one of the (untold) reasons why three Chinese warships are on their way to Somalia ?

  2. I find the comment about school textbooks to be typical of how unaware the rest of the world, including this blog is about the magnitude of the problem. Though to be fair, the report cited is of the ludicrous Guardian, which notably prints a fair amount of anti Indian screed and usually downplays terrorism as some kind of travel junket done by the uninvited guests.

    The Indian press is actually quite correctly alluding to the level of brainwashing that is done by the Pakistani state itself that makes its wards ideal recruits for terrorist organizations which the Pakistani state then dubs non state actors. And this blog refers to that as “war hysteria” and nationalism, without even understanding the magnitude of the issue. With attitudes like these, islamism is bound to flourish till it becomes a problem which cannot be handled, not that it currently can be.

    Furthermore, the report was done by a courageous team of Pakistani academics led by Pakistani AH Nayyar – hardly Indian propoganda.


    Coming to Barbora’s remarks – he is an Indian officer, not a Pakistani one, and to suggest that there cannot be 5000 actual terrorists in Pakistan betrays breathtaking naivete on the part of the author.

    Is he not even aware of the hydra headed multiplicity of Jihadi groups ie tanzeems in Pakistan? There are the state supported ones like LeT (which conducted the Mumbai attack) whose armed supporters easily number in the thousands.

    The Pakistani army itself fields mujahid battalions (note battalions) which draw on jihadi tanzeems for recruits stiffened up with Pak Army NCO and officers for actual warfighting.

    There are other mistakes as well – India has no Tu22M3s in service, India has 51 (not 39) Mirage 2000’s and these are Mirage 2000-H variants not 2000-5’s.

    These are minor though – the actual debate remains on how India can deter state sponsored terror from Pakistan which promptly brandishes its nuclear armament each time India seeks to stop the same.

    Unless the world wakes up to Pakistan’s ISI and its antics, these actions will continue. Unless of course the author counts Gordon Browns statement about 75% of the UK’s terror threats being linked to Pakistan as nationalist hysteria.

  3. Thanks Ajax, I didn’t knew SDPI (just reading the crss.pk analysis sometimes).

    Of course you’re right when you talk about Pak Army links and its dream of a great “new Pachtounistan”; but this dream may not be shared by Pakistan Navy oy Air forces officers, don’t you think ?

    About the Pakistan government, I don’t really agree with you; Zardari leads several talks with Manmohan Singh even proposing nuclear desarming. And this is something that some inside Pak Army and Indian Army cannot accept.

    As you quote, one of the problems is ISI/ex-ISI, and all its links between majors players, including external state ones.
    You cannot denied too the role of don Dawood too, dealing power and money in both countries administrations (and also supporting LeT via ISI or DGFI in Bangladesh).
    It seems that no one can stop ISI/ex-ISI rogues – nor Browns or even Negroponte – or does he really wants too ?

    I wouldn’t say this is Pakistan state terror: I would say there is a triangular war for power inside Pakistan, between Pak Army, government, and other state armied forces, and no one can see the issue, as Afghanistan is in it too.

    All these provocations – Marriot, Peshawar bombings, etc., 1800 deaths in 2008 – show that some Pakistanese forces prefer to kill their own people than see peace with India.

  4. M-m-m, Guy, you forgot to mention 116 India Su-30MKI, arguably second best world superiority/strike fighter jet.

  5. If indian SU30’s are the second best fighters in the world than where do we rate Euro fighter, F-22 raptor, F-35, Rfael, grippen, F-16, F-18, F-15……?
    Ignorance like this is a clear example what indian text books teach.
    It is also known that much of
    of indian SU-30 fleet is not availaible due to lack of parts and poor maintence reasons as had been the case with with older indian aircrafts, which even became popular as flying coffins.
    I would also like to correct the fact that JF-17 is jointly produced both in China and Pakistan.
    For those who are not much aware of this newly developed can inform themselves at:

  6. The Pakistani officer here is suggesting a minimum of 5,000 aiming points.

    Incorrect. It’s an Indian Air Force officer suggesting this number.

  7. IMO: Here’s I would rank them (purely for air superiority purposes, which, it should be noted, is a fairly obsolete mission when it comes to fighting terrorists):


    There is no doubt that all of these aircraft represent a generational advance over the F-15, F-18, and F-16. The Su-30 has shown itself to be significantly superior to the F-15 in exercises.

    The JF-17 is hard to rank; my hunch is that it is roughly speaking an F-16 or F-18 equivalent. But we don’t really know.

    The F-35 is not really in extensive active service yet, so I wouldn’t bother ranking them right now.

    I’m also quite amazed that you think you can tell the nationality of commenters here just because they think the Su-30 is an advance over the F-15 (which is an assertion that I think most unbiased observers are going to agree with).

  8. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS.”

  9. Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Founder creator of Pakistan):

    “So finally, you have given me my moth-eaten Pakistan. Nothing good shall ever come of it. It is destined to be a folly on the state of eternity. One that shall be rued to the day of judgement and even then summarily dismissed as an example of a tribe that did not share a common bond. Better yet, if we had only accepted Gandhi’s offer to make a Muslim cabinet.” – From The Last Testament of Qaidi, by Aslam Athar Hussaini, Rawalpindi, 1973.

  10. IMO:

    There is no mistake. Indian SU-30MK(India) was custom modified by Russia (and surprisingly, Ukraine) to adopt trust vectoring and other modifications, and is considered by US experts more capable than Russian SU-30 and SU-30MK(China).

    The most notable and important part of modification was new radar and electronic system, developed by India with help of France, Israel, etc. Full capabilities of this electronic package is not fully revealed. Yet US/India joint exercises revealed that SU-30MKI with Indian pilots in the cockpit are quite formidable opponents of F-22 Raptor.

    Google “ India SU-30MKI exercice ”

    It is quite interesting reading.

  11. The basic thrust of this article is wrong. In fact, India has been quite restrained in its relations with Pakistan, in notable contrast to the behavior of the US after 9/11.

    It’s Pakistan that has mobilized troops on the border with India, not the other way around.

    The Indian public has also punished the BJP, which pushed a more warlike stance, and the governing party has been careful to damp down war calls.

    Now, things could still go south, but right now, the threat of war is rapidly lessening.

  12. Lets look at the fact and figures. Barbora is challenging an air force equipped with F-16 and capable of manufacturing and overhauling two advance fighters like F-7 and JF-17 thunder. India on the other hand had

    World record: 500th Indian “Flying Coffin” Mig crashes. The IAF has the worst crash record on the planet from


    40% of the pilots have been assigned administrative tasks due to lack of aircrafts and budget.

    Kargil india has shown no backbone to cross into Pakistan territory?

    Wake up people war won’t help. lets not let drunk officers like barbora over grade indian potential and spoil the peace process

  13. As long as the super powers have a foreign policies and use them as weapons to sponsor terror, there is no use in lamenting like this. What we have been witnessing today in India, Pakistan and else where in the globe is nothing but ruthless promotion of State sponsored terror. They are paying for what they have done in the past. However, none in the west is ready to accept it. It is good to analyze the root cause of the terrorism and address it for the welfare of the humanity

  14. Kashmir is the problem. Let people decide their fate as agreed upon by Pakistan and India in United Nations.

    India should withdraw 700,000 troops from Kashmir. I cannot think of any reason between them to fight if Kashmir issue is not there.

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