One of the remarkably depressing features of the Pakistan-India military equation is the absence of any effective and elaborate structures of communication between the two nuclear armed militaries. It must be noted that these countries are armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art weapon systems and firepower so immense that they can turn the region into a wasteland in capable of sustaining life. There is one hotline in land forces headquarters on both sides, which is handled by officers of major-general rank on both sides. These two officers talk on every Tuesday of the week and exchange information on any large-scale troop movements on both sides of the border. This means that they exchange only basic levels of military information with each other, which, as even a layman would understand, would not be enough to quench the thirst for information of a modern military machine to know as much as they can about their rival military machine. Any rival military machine’s intentions and capabilities are always the target of a military’s espionage projects. But espionage is not the only way rivals get to know about their enemy’s capabilities, mode of thinking and threat perceptions. Sometimes rivals willingly and intentionally exchange such information with each other, in order to reduce tensions. There are models of military rivalries from other parts of the world in which the rival forces shared information about their capabilities, doctrines and mode of thinking of military high command in order to allay the fears, apprehension and threat perceptions of the other side.
Not long ago, such an exchange of information emerged as a possibility between Pakistan and India when the Prime Ministers of the two countries met in Lahore in what was dubbed as the historic Lahore Summit in February 1999. The two Prime Ministers—Atal Bahari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif—agreed that the two governments, “shall take immediate steps for reducing the risk of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons and discuss concepts and doctrines with a view to elaborating measures for confidence building in the nuclear and conventional fields, aimed at prevention of conflict.” So reads the Lahore Declaration at the conclusion of the summit. Within 8 months of the summit meeting, a military coup happened in Pakistan. Since that day, nobody has ever talked about regular interaction between the military establishments of two nuclear rivals.
Perhaps this was the first non-jingoistic acknowledgement of the Indian commander’s existence by the Pakistani military. This was also a very sober move on the part of the Pakistan Army – a gesture on the death of an adversary which could be dubbed as an act of maturity
What is truly remarkable is that there exists no tradition of meetings or interactions between the army chiefs of Pakistan and India, as if they are not on talking terms. In fact they never seem to acknowledge each other’s existence – or at least not in public. The only contact between the two militaries is the DG MO hotline – and the exchange of fire on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Sometimes, when the exchange is intense, there are flagstaff meetings between area commanders of both sides. The disturbing aspect of this military equation is that both the sides have in the last two decades developed and formulated very dangerous military doctrines and weapon systems to counter imagined threats—for instance the Indian military have formulated a Cold Start Doctrine and have taken practical steps to implement the threat, Pakistan on the other hand apparently sees its 60 km range ballistic missile and its tactical nuclear weapons as a counter to India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Has there ever been a direct exchange of information between the two armies about these dangerous developments? No, at least none that is publicly known on either side of the border. There had been a tradition of Pakistan Army Chiefs who had staged a coup meeting the heads of government in New Delhi. For instance, General Musharraf held a summit meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Indian city of Agra in July 2001, but never met his Indian Army counterpart.
Something surprising happened this Wednesday (08 December 2021), when the chief of the publicity wing of the Pakistan Army tweeted the following note, a few hours after Indian Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash, “General Nadeem Raza, CJCSC & General Qamar Javed Bajwa, COAS express condolences on tragic death of #CDS General #BipinRawat, his wife and loss of precious lives in a helicopter crash in India”. Perhaps this was the first non-jingoistic acknowledgement of the Indian commander’s existence by the Pakistani military. This was also a very sober move on the part of the Pakistan Army – a gesture on the death of an adversary which could be dubbed as an act of maturity. Otherwise, I had started to believe until recently that this Twitter handle was being maintained to degrade incumbent prime ministers and insult visiting dignitaries from brotherly countries. But, as mentioned, one thanks God that they have shown some maturity.
In some of the recently published literature on the Indo-Pak military equation, there have been hints that Pakistani and Indian army chiefs did have meetings in the past. But these meetings took place away from the public glare. A lack of regular communication between two armies is very dangerous for the region—as this situation broadens the scope of misunderstanding and misperception between the military leadership of any two countries. To protect and secure your land doesn’t necessarily and always mean strengthening your military and acquiring more weapons and firepower. It sometimes also means that the rival’s threat perceptions should be reduced and any of your moves, acquisitions and doctrines should not force the rival to respond in kind, which in turn increases your sense of threat, which can lead to an unending spiral of escalation.
But how can military commanders of two countries meet when the political leaders in two capitals are not on talking terms. Political tensions are running high and the hotline between two prime ministers has been cold for many years. Here I mean to say that the two political leaders of two countries whenever they resolve their political differences should make it a point that there is a regularized interaction between the two military leaders and establishments. They should not acknowledge each other in death only. They should acknowledge each other in life as well.