Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Exercise Azm-e-Nau-3: An Assessment

The Pakistan Army started one of its largest ever military exercises code named Azm-e-Nau-3 (New Resolve). It is the largest exercise since the Zarb-i-Momin war-games conducted in 1989 with an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 soldiers from all arms and services participating. Exercise High Mark 2010 which is concurrently being carried out by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), is being fully integrated with the army field exercise which will continue till May 13. As per Pakistan’s ISPR (Inter Service Public Relations), “the ongoing exercise is a culmination of a long and deliberate process of war games, discussions and logistic evolution of ‘Concept of Warfare’ that is fully responsive to a wide menu of emerging threats”. The process commenced with Exercise Azm-e-Nau-2, conducted in February 2010 and aims to validate the concept of a new defensive doctrine for countering conventional threats. Latest acquisitions in the field of weapons and equipment, intelligence gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance and communication means are also being tried out and tested in Azm-e-Nau-3.

Answering questions from the press, Pakistan’s Director General of Military Training, Major General Muzammil Hussain and their Director General ISPR Major General Athar Abbas said the exercise was part of the continuous process of threat evaluation. As India’s offensive capability was Pakistan specific, having a credible deterrence was a prerequisite to reduce the threat of war. They added that the exercise is being carried out specifically as a response to a possible threat from India and is based on Indian capabilities and not intentions which could change overnight. They stressed that weakness invited aggression while credible capability to hit back deterred war.

The question that obviously begs an answer is ‘why now’? In addition to the troops deployed by the Pakistan Army in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Baluchistan, close to 1,00,000 troops are currently engaged in fighting a sub-conventional conflict in South Waziristan, Orakzai and Khyber regions. The overall security situation in Pakistan’s two main provinces, Punjab and Sind is grave with incidents of terrorist violence being the norm rather than the exception. So, why the exercise at this time?

Major military exercises are generally held to check the state of preparedness of a force or validate war doctrines and operational strategies. Since Exercise ‘Zarb-i-Momin’ conducted two decades ago, there has been a radical shift in Indian war fighting doctrine which Pakistan has been trying to assess and find an answer to. Exercise Azm-e-Nau is evidently aimed at validating Pakistan’s response to the Indian Cold Start doctrine and was only to be expected. Naming the exercise ‘New Resolve’, is perhaps meant to signal to the Pakistan Army and to the people of Pakistan that the new leadership under Kayani will not kowtow to perceived Indian pressures to dismantle terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Their military leadership has expressed confidence that Pakistan has the requisite wherewithal to effectively counter a swift military campaign launched by India in the conventional domain. But how much of that is bluster and how much based on facts requires evaluation.

The attack by Pakistan sponsored terrorists on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 and the terror attacks on Mumbai from 26 to 28 November 2008 did not invite a military response from India. However, Indian public opinion was inflamed and it is unlikely that any Indian government can now afford to ignore public sentiments if a terrorist attack on a similar scale was to reoccur. In all likelihood such an eventuality will be met with a swift military response from India against selected targets in Pakistan or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Pakistan is loath to rein in the terrorists operating against India from within its soil as the establishment views them as strategic assets. She is also fully conscious of the fact that any misadventure by any of the terror groups operating from Pakistan against India will invite a strong response which may well involve the use of force. This leads one to the conclusion that perhaps the timing and scale of Exercise Azm-e-Nau-3 is to send a signal to India to desist from such a course as not only is Pakistan fully prepared for a military response from India but also has the offensive capability to escalate the conflict into Indian territory. It is unlikely however that the Indian security establishment will buy this line.

Too much should not be read into any apparent Afghanistan connection in relation to the current exercise. While the Pakistan Army conducted Exercise Zarb-e-Momin in 1989 subsequent to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the present context is quite different. While the United States may well be looking at the Pakistan Army to facilitate its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the current conflict in Afghanistan is not being held under the backdrop of a cold war as was the case in 1989. To what extent Washington concedes 'strategic space' in Afghanistan to the Pakistan Army thus remains to be seen. In any case, the extent of US withdrawal from Afghanistan can only be conjectured at this stage regardless of any policy announcements being made on that score. In addition, a new factor this time around is the spread of insurgency in the entire region of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. The Pakistan Army will not find it easy to extricate itself from the ongoing insurgency in the region and will be committed in operations against its own people for quite some time in the foreseeable future.

What Exercise Azm-e-Nau has done is to give the Pakistan army a much needed boost after its image was dented both domestically and externally in the manner it undertook counter insurgency operations in the frontier regions. Use of sophisticated aircraft and artillery to quell its own people spoke poorly of the Army’s ability to handle conflict and the large scale killing of innocent people could be likened to the genocide committed by it in 1971 in East Pakistan. That the country’s top political leadership braved the hot desert sun to witness the exercise speaks of a new found confidence in the Pakistan army.

There however appears to be an underlying element of uncertainty and concern on the part of Pakistan in terms of its military capability with respect to India and Exercise Azm-e-Nau would perhaps aim at coming up with certain viable options. Pakistan no longer has the means to pose an effective conventional threat to India. While it still retains the ability to continue its proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir, a major terrorist incident in India may well be the trigger to invite a swift and massive Indian response. Pakistan’s options thereafter despite its bravado will remain extremely limited.

Article by:
Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch,
SM, VSM (Retd) is Additional Director, CLAWS

Credits for the Article to Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)