Pakistani Army tanks advance during November exercises in Bahawalpur district. Pakistani procurement plans must weigh conventional conflict and terror attacks. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan faces potential conflict on two fronts that calls for different types of equipment, but funding issues restrict its choices.
Counterinsurgency equipment to fight the Taliban is needed, but Pakistan must remain mindful of Indian acquisitions. Though on balance analysts say Pakistan has reasonable deterrent capabilities, the outcome of the Indian general election could raise tensions.
Despite some improvement, Pakistan’s economy remains beleaguered.
Consequently, a senior defense official told Defense News that Pakistan’s procurement efforts are split between counterterrorism and general capacity building, with the former being prioritized.
“Today our priorities are those capacity-building efforts where our counterterrorism operations are involved. The others are either on hold or on go-slow because we cannot have everything on the same priority,” he said.
In terms of building capabilities, gifted or cut-price surplus equipment, such as additional Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates and F-16 fighter jets, have helped Pakistan maintain a fair level of conventional capability.
Major deals also have been undertaken, such as the F-22P frigate deal with China, which was done on a technology- transfer basis.
As a result, analyst Usman Shabbir of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said the military is reasonably well equipped, with counterinsurgency equipment “trickling in” and “training and tactics that are now taught as part of a standard syllabus.”
While wary of India, Shabbir said “larger items, like towed and [self propelled] artillery, induction of new tanks and upgrade of old ones” allow Pakistan breathing space vis-a-vis India.
Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, concurred, but partly because of to India’s failings, which would tell in a new Indo-Pak conflict.
“If the war were to remain conventional it is entirely likely that Pakistan could achieve major successes on the ground. India’s artillery is totally inadequate for any conflict, and its tanks, although numerous, are by no means as effective as most of those of Pakistan. The Indian Army has severe problems,” he said.
“In the air, the picture is very different from what it was a decade ago, with Indian Air Force numbers being much reduced. The IAF could not establish air superiority over the battlefield to the degree of yesteryear,” he added.
However, he said the forthcoming Indian election could change matters and also hamper efforts to deal with the Taliban.
“There is one problem for Pakistan in the temptation to move military priorities from the eastern border, and that is [Narendra] Modi, the likely next Indian prime minister, and a dedicated Hindu ultra-nationalist. Nobody knows yet what his military planning might be, but given his public statements so far, it would be unwise to imagine that he is greatly in favor of rapprochement with Pakistan,” he said.
Mansoor Ahmed, lecturer at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Islamabad’s Quaid-i-Azam University, said that despite Indian acquisition failures, the “conventional asymmetry with India is growing, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.”
Consequently, Pakistan increasingly relies on its non-conventional deterrent and a lower nuclear threshold. As the world’s largest arms importer, “India’s exponential increase in its overall conventional military capabilities,” which appear to be Pakistan-specific, coupled with “deployment patterns and doctrines such as Cold Start,” means Pakistan must keep pace with India, he said.
Pakistan must proceed with its modernization of existing conventional and non-conventional/strategic systems “including reliance on battlefield nuclear weapons, designed to buttress conventional forces.”
This latter point has driven Pakistan to diversify its strategic missile forces and increase plutonium production to help establish a triad-based nuclear deterrent.
Regardless of the Taliban threat Ahmed said the Indo-Pak rivalry will remain the pressing security issue.
“Pakistan’s internal security situation undoubtedly presents an existential threat to the state, but other nations have successfully managed to overcome such situations, which are not enduring, while the India Pakistan rivalry is manifestly enduring,” he said. ■