Restructuring the armed forces II —Shaukat Qadir

To effectively combat these terrorists, our forces need to be re-organised into smaller, self-contained, composite groups to improve their response capability

In Pakistan’s case we have never seriously considered structuring our armed forces in accordance with our own requirements; both because of lack of resources, and a complete lack of ability to envisage our military role(s). Our politico-military establishment chose to remain totally obsessed with India, while the Indian establishment also made no attempt to either reduce Pakistan’s obsession with India, or its own with Pakistan.

Despite the current turmoil in the country, we are faced with a unique opportunity which makes it possible for us to redefine our defensive operational strategy and undertake a meaningful reconstruction of the armed forces. This opportunity has been offered by America’s expressed desire to provide military assistance for our war against terrorism and the increasing dimensions of the threat on our western borders (while we appear to be making slow but steady progress towards peace with India).

While India must always remain a prime factor in our threat perception, it might be possible to evolve a more affordable defensive strategy that could simultaneously improve our ability to deal with the ongoing insurrection in our tribal areas, and the foreign support available to them.

With regard to India if, instead of the more ambitious desire of capturing Indian territory through a ‘riposte’ as advocated by Gen Beg in the late 1980s, we decide to fight a destruction-oriented strategy based on ‘counter offensive(s)’ within our own territory — where the PAF would operate under the protection of our ground-based air defence — we could, with two smaller more mobile reserves placed at two strategic locations, like a boxer, reach out to destroy one penetration, while delaying another, to be dealt with after the first; and so on.

Admittedly, Indian forces will capture some of our territories but if defensive forces were organised to fight in a manner that contained enemy penetrations in preparation for the planned ‘counter offensives’ by our reserves to destroy them, the war could be fought ensuring that we stave off defeat.

What is more, our vastly outnumbered air force could confine its operations in support of the ground forces to our own territory where, supported by ground based air defence systems, their capability to inflict damage on the numerically superior Indian air force would multiply. The PAF’s forays in Indian territory, where the Indian ground based air defence systems, coupled with the IAF could decimate them within days, would be reduced to the bare minimum necessary!

Were our military to adopt such a strategy, our intelligence requirements to locate Indian reserves would multiply. Estimating the time of their response would enable us to utilise our mobile strategic reserves while the window of opportunity referred to as a ‘vacuum’ in military parlance still exists; the existence of a vacuum has to be identified well before it occurs.

The reserves launched in self-contained, composite, smaller groups, moving towards the same location from multiple directions — that do not offer lucrative targets to the enemy’s air force as large cumbersome strategic forces would — could then swiftly destroy the enemy penetration(s), fall back and regroup while another group of reserves deals with another penetration.

Needless to say, the theory is far more easily stated than the implementation is likely to be. Our senior military commanders will need to not only be exceptionally well-trained and to be able to judge the exact timing for the employment of their reserve(s), but will also need the exceptional courage that is essential to take ‘calculated risks’ in war.

While I have written on this subject earlier, it is relevant to explain why I consider this an opportunity to undertake restructuring of the armed forces. The US is very keen to provide us military assistance for our role in the war against terrorism; it would, however, be extremely reluctant to provide us assistance that might be seen to bolster our offensive military capabilities vis-à-vis India.

There is no disputing the fact that our intelligence gathering capabilities need enhancement for us to be effective against terrorists; in fact, the US is already assisting us in the provision of intelligence gathering capabilities and is even encouraging us to produce some indigenously, like drones.

To effectively combat these terrorists, our forces need to be re-organised into smaller, self-contained, composite groups to improve their response capability. Were we to seek assistance to this end, it is unlikely to be denied, particularly since, even in relation to India, it will only enhance our defensive capabilities.

I have deliberately refrained from discussing details of how the military could economise to comfortably reduce its annual expenses by 15 to 20 percent, which I believe they can without impairing their combat capabilities. These details would make for boring reading and concern only those politico-military leaders who might wish to take decisions in this regard.

Admittedly, even though this effort is titled ‘restructuring the armed forces’, it has dealt almost entirely with the army. Mention of the PAF has been only in passing, while the PN has been totally omitted. The reason for this is my realisation that while the effort for restructuring of the armed forces has to be a composite one, both the PAF and the PN deserve a detailed and more informed effort to support this concept; more informed than I could perhaps provide. I hope some representative of each will complement my effort by doing so.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This is the second and final article in a two-part series. The first appeared last Saturday

Daily Times, 26/7/2008


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