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Advocating by Doctrine: the Pakistan Navy’s Experience

Written military doctrines should inform the most basic principles on “how to fight.” But what happens when a doctrine does not primarily concern itself with this question and instead resorts to advocacy? Take, for example, Indian Maritime Doctrine, to which Indian naval expert Iskander Rehman ascribed an advocatory function. In a recently published paper, we argue that the strategic culture of the Pakistan military, characterized by an aversion to documented instructions and the perception of advantage in maintaining strategic ambiguity, led to a similar expression of advocacy in the Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan. The strategic cultural imprint is so strong that it has allowed only limited change in response to external factors, such as the intensifying major power competition and changing strategic stability in the adjoining maritime region. Developments like these can have implications on how military-strategic doctrines are seen, especially in developing countries with smaller navies.

Military Doctrine in Pakistan

The strategic culture of Pakistan is rooted in a quest for security that is influenced primarily by three factors: perceived hostility with India due to contentions following partition, including the war in Kashmir; the threat of a two-front war due to tensions with Afghanistan; and the perception of lack of strategic depth due to the concentration of Pakistan’s population and infrastructure along the Indus River. These factors prompted Pakistan to adopt a policy of opposition to India, prioritizing defense by procuring foreign (mostly Western) weapon systems and seeking diplomatic and military alliances. These policy choices became a part of the country’s overarching strategic culture.

The military-strategic doctrine of the country also evolved in the same strategic cultural context. Due to the perception of lack of strategic depth, the overall strategic doctrine was based on deterrence by denial and, in the event of war, starting a limited conflict that would terminate early due to high costs and third-party intervention. The same concept was extended to the use of nuclear weapons after nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan in 1998, when Pakistan rejected a mutual ‘no first use’ offer by India. Despite these developments, the military doctrine of the country remains informal and ambiguous. This is due primarily to two reasons: the military forces of Pakistan inherited the British aversion to written doctrines, and the intentional strategic ambiguity that Pakistan maintains to have leverage over a disparately advantaged adversary.

The British military has a long history of avoiding written doctrine and relying instead — like many allied countries in the years during and after the Second World War — on joint doctrinal documents, such as the NATO Allied Tactical Publication series. The first British Naval War Manual came out in 1960, yet there was a 35-year gap between the Manualissued in 1960 and British Maritime Doctrine adopted in 1995 for the Royal Navy. In Pakistan, all the manuals and guiding documents of doctrinal nature used in the armed services have been either classified or restricted. Even the latest military doctrines of the Pakistan Army (2010) and Pakistan Air Force (2007) are restricted to authorized service personnel only.

There is also a tendency of adopting ambiguity at a doctrinal level due to Pakistan’s conventional asymmetry vis-à-vis the traditionally perceived adversary India. Decision-makers in Islamabad believe that maintaining an ambiguous doctrine and posture will leave India without any firm estimates about the cost of war with Pakistan, thereby deterring war. This view has been accepted by scholarship both at home and abroad.

Doctrinal Culture in the Pakistan Navy

Doctrinal ambiguity also persists in the Pakistan Navy, and it is most pronounced in the area of nuclear deterrence. The development of the service’s sea-based nuclear capability started as a response to the perceived threat of India’s rapidly developing naval nuclear program. Senior naval officials in Pakistan claimed to have the capability to deploy strategic weapons at sea as early as 2008. While the Naval Strategic Forces Command was established at the Naval Headquarters in Islamabad in 2012, Pakistan did not test fire the Babur-3 submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) until 2017. However, ambiguity around second-strike capability persists because the Babur-3 SLCM is not capable of long-range strategic (counter value) targeting. Contributing to this ambiguity, the Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan (2018) states that “Attainment of sea-based second strike capability in the neighborhood demands a robust sea based strategic deterrence. Completion of nuclear triad would enable Pakistan Navy to reinforce strategic deterrence in the region.”

Another reason for the lack of written doctrinal documents in the Pakistan Navy is that a culture of reading is absent in the ranks and ratings, and most instructions and orders are learned and communicated through customary practice and oral communication. One of the few doctrinal documents in the Pakistan Navy is the restricted Compendium of Fleet Orders that describes the role, functions, tasks, code of conduct, etc. for all officers and ratings in four volumes; however, it has little readership even among the officer cadre, which relies largely on customary conduct and anecdotes. Importance of the latter is reflected in the fact that anecdotes from the Navy were collected by a retired officer Rear Admiral Mian Zahir Shah and published in two volumes by the Pakistan Navy Book Club in years 2001 and 2016.

Ripples of Major Power Competition in the Indian Ocean

Across the border, the Indian Navy has also strived for increasing its influence among the armed services. Rehman’s assessment of the Indian Maritime Doctrine as an advocatory document was rooted in the oft quoted status of the Indian Navy as a “Cinderella service” — in reference to the neglected sister in the Disney story — and its limited involvement in Indian strategic decision-making. Yet, the Indian Navy supplemented its advocatory doctrine by an Indian Maritime Strategy published in 2007, and consequent updates of both the Indian Maritime Doctrine (2009) and the Strategy (2015). The Indian Navy also built a case for itself and succeeded in initiating major plans for modernization thanks to the increasing volume of India’s economy and the country’s strategic leaning towards its status as a “net security provider” in the region.

The strategic environment in the Indian Ocean region has transformed rapidly in the past decade. The Quad that formed in 2007 as a coalition for disaster relief and non-traditional security concerns has now consolidated into a regular platform for military exercises between India, the United States, Australia, and Japan. The India-U.S. partnership has cemented with the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) and its associated agreements, as well as the increasing procurement of military platforms, including the P8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. India and France have also been expanding their military cooperation with permanent deployments at Reunion.

At the same time, the United States deployed a nuclear ballistic missile submarine at Diego Garcia last year, a rare move for the U.S. Navy at its remote base in the Indian Ocean. Lately, the AUKUS deal has also sparked debate on increasing nuclearization of the Indian Ocean region with the Indian strategic community particularly divided on the matter. These webs of alliances in the region are all concerned with one security risk as their referent: China.

China’s interests in the Indian Ocean have increased significantly over the past decades. Even though they are primarily commercial, the basing of Chinese Navy ships at Djibouti and the commercial acquisition of Gwadar and Hambontota ports have raised eyebrows in India and the West. The presence of Chinese survey vessels have also increased in the region, which India frequently protests and even resists. China has its own reservations in the broader Indo-Pacific region against the formation of an “Asian NATO” that includes India in its web of Western alliances.

Amidst these changes in the Indian Ocean region, the Indian Navy successfully put in pipeline plans to modernize and grow its fleet to 170 ships, including eighteen conventional submarines, six nuclear submarines, and at least two aircraft carriers by 2030. However, given the present resource allocation and fleet size of 130 ships, the Indian Navy may fall short of its target. Regardless, the present fleet with an aircraft carrier and a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, and another one of each platform under construction, has enough potential to create ripples and disturb any perceptions of strategic stability in the Indian Ocean region.

The Pakistan Navy’s Course in the Indian Ocean

Situated within intertwining alliances and the interactions of great powers, Pakistan finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The country has been a traditional Western ally, assisting the West and the United States intimately during the Cold War, from the U2 crisis to the Soviet-Afghan war, and later after the Cold War in the War on Terror. Pakistan has also been an important maritime partner in the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) coalition that started in 2004 to ensure maritime security in the Western Indian Ocean. Subsequently, the Pakistan Navy commanded CMF’s Combined Maritime Task Forces 150 (Maritime Security) and 151 (Counter-Piracy) on 12 and 10 occasions respectively, the most among all participating countries. However, Pakistan’s close diplomatic and security ties to China and its participation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) led to a debate both within and outside on whether the country did, or needs to, change sides. Given this backdrop, Pakistan now situates itself for navigating the rough waters of increasing major power competition in the Indian Ocean region.

Returning to the doctrinal aspect, if the Pakistan Navy falls in line with the culture of maintaining ambiguity and is inclined to operate in the absence of widely documented doctrines, why did the service release a formal service doctrine in 2018? The official press release announcing the doctrine stated that the “MDP [Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan] will act as a stimulus in sensitizing the public at large, shape opinions and become instrumental in providing a sense of direction to the national maritime sector of Pakistan.” This is an affirmation of the advocatory purpose of the document, resulting from the fact that the Pakistan Navy has been the most under-resourced of the country’s military services despite dealing with the gap in nuclear deterrent capability and embarking on an ambitious fleet modernization program in the mid-2010s to offset conventional asymmetry. The outgoing Naval Chief Admiral Zafar Mehmood Abbasi in 2020 announced the target for a 50 ship fleet by the next decade. However, for this to materialize, the Navy needs more resources.

Vying for a Greater Slice of the Pie

Resource allocation has always been a problem for the Pakistan Navy. During the first budgetary year (1947-48), the government of Pakistan spent around 70 percent of the budget on defense, amounting to Rs. 43.2 million per month. The Navy only received Rs. 18.1 million for the whole budgetary year, while the rest was allocated to the Army fighting India in Kashmir. The budgetary issues continued for years, leading to the resignation of the naval chief HMS Choudri in 1959. After suffering losses during the 1971 war with India, the Navy adopted a strategy of sea control within a “defensive zone” to avoid a blockade of the country’s ports. The war experience and threat perceived from India continue to drive the Navy’s strategic considerations to date, very much in line with the overall strategic culture. Therefore, the increasing fleet size as well as augmentation of nuclear deterrent of the Indian Navy necessitates sharply the qualitative expansion of the Pakistan Navy to maintain strategic stability vis-à-vis India.

In addition to seeking greater resource allocation, the Navy also enjoys considerable influence in providing direction and expertise to the maritime sector. The Navy dominates key positions in several maritime institutions, including the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works, Karachi Port Trust, and the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation. The government tasked the Pakistan Navy with formulating a National Maritime Policy and National Maritime Strategy in 2010. Both documents, prepared in 2011, are still awaiting cabinet approval. Lack of government interest in maritime issues also incentivized the Navy to advocate for the overall development of the maritime sector of Pakistan. The present emphasis by the Navy is on a greater share of the budget for itself and for development of the maritime sector to uplift the national economy and support the defense budget.

The Pakistan Navy’s doctrinal experience shows that written military doctrines may carry other objectives than improving warfighting, such as advocating for greater relevance of a particular service or increasing government policy attention. Regardless of the objectives, such advocatory doctrines still reflect military-strategic cultural considerations even if they deviate from established norms, which in Pakistan’s case are the norms of doctrinal ambiguity and the absence of documented doctrine. The strategic-cultural considerations mediated the influence of major power competition upon the development of the Pakistan Navy’s doctrine. However, the service’s immediate priority still appears to be balancing parity with India rather than picking sides in the regional competition.

Source : CIMSEC