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Pakistan stages largest manoeuvres in 20 years
TAMEWALI KHARIPUR, Pakistan |
TAMEWALI KHARIPUR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan army troops backed by fighter planes conducted a mock battle with India in the largest military exercise in 21 years, signalling that the old rival remained its biggest security threat.
In a dusty yet impressive display of conventional firepower, Pakistan's army and air force put on a show on the edge of the Cholistan Desert, less than 100 km (60 miles) from the Indian border on the weekend.
In clouds of exhaust and fine grit sand, Cobra attack helicopters made short work of enemy positions in a simulated exercise while Al Khalid tank brigades flanked to the left, pummeling an incursion coming from the direction of India.
"More punishment!" the announcer exclaimed as ordinance from tanks, artillery and fighter jets pounded simulated enemy positions. The crowd of parliamentarians, generals and visiting military attaches clapped politely in approval.
Later, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in an address to the visitors, praised the military and said the integrity and security of Pakistan "are in safe hands".
Pakistan is engaged in "Azm-e-Nau 3" (New Resolve 3), its largest wargames in 21 years. More than 50,000 troops are involved in the two-month long exercise that started in the deserts of southern Pakistan and move now to the river plains of Punjab. It is both a warning and a show of confidence to India and the rest of the world.
The demonstration of tank brigades and anti-aircraft missiles is not only a signal of military might, but also one that Pakistan won't be told what to do by outside powers, analysts said.
"I think to the world this is the signal," Moeed Yusuf, South Asia advisor for the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, told Reuters. "That, 'Our threat perception comes from us. Once we decide that threat perception, we're willing to work with you, but within that framework if you try to push us out of that, and say forget about India, too bad. It's not going to happen'."
"NO LONGER CAPABLE OF THREATENING INDIA"
Pakistan has a half-million strong army, with the bulk of its forces on its eastern border with India. It has about 150,000 troops engaged in the fight with the Taliban on the western border, said army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.
Its official military budget is about $4 billion, although much military spending isn't reported. India's military budget, however, is close to $32 billion and is one of the world's major arms buyers. Most analysts, however, say India is in a race with China -- with which it fought a war in 1962 and still has outstanding territorial disputes -- to modernise.
"India is now focusing increasingly on the northern front with China as the long-term military threat," said Gurmeet Kanwal, a retired Indian brigadier general who now runs the Centre for Land War Studies in Delhi. "Pakistan is down and almost out and no longer capable of threatening India militarily. It is only capable of continuing to wage a proxy war through mercenary jihadis."
Still, India is developing a controversial "Cold Start" military doctrine that emphasises quick mobilisation of the country's military in the case of war. The enemy is not specified, which worries Pakistan. That the Indians have yet to demonstrate that Cold Start works has not calmed their worries.
"If you're holding a gun and I don't have a gun, can I trust your intentions?" asks army spokesman Abbas. The Indian Cold Start doctrine, he adds, "gives them a specific capability which is against Pakistan".
Hanging over any conflict is the spectre of nuclear war. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has between 60-70 warheads while Pakistan has about 60. Pakistan has publicly hinted that battlefield tactical nuclear weapons might be used on its own soil to balance India's conventional superiority and repel any incursion.
"The balance of power must be maintained," Abbas said. "It must not be allowed to grow so the nuclear threshold lowers."
So far, the Americans -- who for years asked the Pakistanis to "do more" to combat Islamic militants -- seem resigned to Pakistan's re-emphasis on tanks and F-16s instead of the boots-on-the-ground grind of counter-insurgency doctrine.
"A Pakistan that feels more secure will be more flexible in engaging the Taliban and al Qaeda," said a U.S. official on hand to watch the demonstrations.
That's a big change in attitude, said Talat Massood, a defence analyst and retired Pakistan lieutenant general. "They used to think this is an obsession with Pakistan, but now that has changed to a better appreciation of Pakistan's concerns."
Planning for New Resolve 3 started a year ago, when the army was seemingly on the ropes and in retreat from a surging Taliban offensive. The West looked on nervously and wondered if jihadis might gain control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
But even then, the Pakistan military was focused on India, said the U.S. Institute of Peace's Yusuf.
"The thinking never changed," he said. "And I think that will continue until and unless the Indian problem is there. So the Taliban part, yes, they're really worried about it. But now I think they're even more confident that they can take care of it."
(For more coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)
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