New Delhi: The Pakistan military establishment has begun to put the squeeze on Nawaz Sharief as he prepares to take over as prime minister in a few days. Through a sharp but basically specious newspaper piece penned by the former Pakistan envoy to the United States and the UK, Maleeha Lodhi, the military has given notice to Sharief apropos his plan to resume the peace process with India initiated by him and the former Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Lodhi has articulated pungent objections to a speech of Shyam Saran, India’s former foreign secretary and chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, delivered last month concerning Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons and this country’s response to it. Pakistan’s military has cleared the way for a tactical nuclear weapons’ strike against any Indian “cold start” invasion. Shyam Saran said that in the event of such a strike, India would launch a “massive nuclear retaliation”. Lodhi has questioned the key premises of Saran’s argument to portray India as the country with aggressive intentions, a slant that would put Nawaz Sharief in a tight spot with the military about his Indian peace plans.

The “cold start” doctrine arose from the ruins of Operation Parakram when the Indian military realized the absolute necessity for a quick and decisive strike against Pakistan following a terrorist attack. The background was supplied by the 13 December 2001 Pakistani terrorist attack on India’s Parliament House. The doctrine fundamentally sought to compress the timeframe for full mobilization and involved modifying age-old deployment philosophies. It would also limit the scope for international intervention with Indian war objectives achieved in record timelines. As a country with little strategic depth, Pakistan was alarmed, and returned with the decision for tactical nuclear weapons’ deployment.

Maleeha Lodhi and other Pakistani diplomats and analysts like to pause at the narrative here without throwing light on the reasons for India’s “cold start” doctrine. Pakistan has been waging limited war and sponsoring terrorist attacks against India under a nuclear overhang. The outrageous attack on India’s Parliament was followed by equal and bloodier strikes on several Indian cities, religious places, commercial districts and educational institutions, culminating in the Bombay carnage of 26 November 2008. Pakistan’s deterrent prevented an Indian conventional attack despite the clear involvement of the Pakistan military in the terrorism. And with Pakistan’s threat of tactical nuclear weapons’ retaliation against an Indian conventional attack, the nuclear threshold was dramatically lowered. Pakistan, in other words, was thumbing its nose at India, daring it to cease its terrorism and nuclear blackmail.

The blunder on the Indian side was not to own the military’s “cold start” doctrine. Once Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons’ deployment plans became known to the Indian political establishment, there was furious backpedalling. The government denied “cold start” and the military was press-ganged to confirm the denial. But the Pakistan military would have none of it. It trotted out the standard military axiom that it had to prepare on the basis of India’s capability and not its intentions which could change overnight. When Pakistan seemed to get the upper hand on deterrent strategizing, Indian analysts came up with a simple counter. In response to a Pakistan tactical nuclear attack, India should authorize “massive nuclear retaliation”. This is roughly what Shyam Saran said. He said he spoke on a personal basis but he is too much an establishment man to fool anyone. Besides his leadership of the National Security Advisory Board is a dead giveaway.

Maleeha Lodhi in a signed piece in the Jung newspaper says Shyam Saran’s formulation provokes deterrent instability between India and Pakistan and that both countries must go for nuclear restraint, conventional weapons’ parity and talks to settle the core disputes. This is a typical Pakistani style of ending everything with the Kashmir issue. Lodhi also says Pakistan has anxieties about the Indo-US nuclear deal that frees domestic uranium for more bombs, India’s missile defence capability, and the growing conventional weapons’ clout of this country. But she does not squarely deal with the issue of Pakistani terrorism which is at the root of India-Pakistan tensions. Her line is to ignore this and to marshal arguments coming straight from the Pakistan army headquarters. People like Maleeha Lodhi are bad news for Nawaz Sharief.

But her strident criticism of Shyam Saran also reveals India has a strategy that can be reasonably successful against the terrorist state of Pakistan. There is essentially no difference between a tactical and an overwhelming strategic nuclear response. One begets the other. India has finally recognized this and told Pakistan so. Following on Saran’s speech, India must officially embrace his articulation. It must also own “cold start” because it has generated a response that cannot be reversed. The moral of all this is that India must be transparent about its conventional and nuclear military doctrines. Transparency leads to stability. The enemy must be well-informed what terrible things to expect for harming India.

Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharief will find that the road to peace with India is blocked by the Pakistan military which has among its cheerleaders charming provocateurs like Maleeha Lodhi.