The Guns of August to India – Pakistan War

Sialkot BorderBy Brigadier Nadir Mir (R)

Was World War I (1914 – 1918) which started with the ‘Guns of August’ inevitable? Then Second World War (1939 – 1945) may appear as preordained. These and a thousand questions probe the historian’s mind. Yet peace in our times is the need of citizens all over the world. If war in 1914 destroyed an entire generation, a great war in 2014 would be much graver for all humanity.

A Third World War is not needed! Nuclear War between India and Pakistan alone would destroy many regions, kill, maim, stricken and sicken almost 2 billion people (including a billion people who would die from starvation in the famine to follow).  If a reckless, hubris filled India attacks Pakistan, it would be a fatal blunder. Pakistan would be defended by its brave soldiers led by their Army Chief General Raheel Sharif known for his professionalism, patriotism and courage. The people of Pakistan would support their Army to destroy the aggressor at any price!

Numerous other flash points for confrontation exist on the planet. Small scale conflicts are galore, more so in Southern Eurasia. The Middle East is in turmoil and parts of Africa explosive. Still no major state actor seeks war with Israel (which enjoys nuclear monopoly).  Hence, any conflict in the Middle East would remain small, confined and limited.

A US – Iran War (prospects now extremely remote) would ultimately have been a one sided affair. Even if the Iranians had sunk a US carrier and struck American bases in the region besides blocking the Strait of Hormuz, main land America would have remained strategically invulnerable. Iranians, despite their national courage, would obviously have come to grief. Yet even mighty USA shied away from such an expensive war effort. The conflict brewing in Ukraine has led to a mini cold war between USA led west and Russia. Still a major war between NATO and Russia is unlikely (with Moscow increasingly aligned with Beijing).

Today, there is no model of major state actors fighting a war surpassing the ‘Guns of August 1914’ or even the Blitzkrieg of September 1939, except one. An India – Pakistan War can become a Total War in front of which even the First World War pales. Ironically, there are some similarities between the environment of 1914 in Europe and 2014 in and around South Asia. A brief glance at the tragic First World War before returning to the prospects of a even more horrific and catastrophic India – Pakistan War would be in order.

First World War

  1.  The real reason for the ‘Guns of August 1914’ was European Geopolitics. The murder of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian assassin was a tiny spark to a giant powder keg on the European Geopolitical Chessboard. 37 days later, Europe was at war. This month plus proved futile for diplomatic endeavours to avert war. The much quoted military – political – diplomatic gap ensured that the guns would speak. This Great War commenced almost a century after the last great conflict ending in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo June 1815.
  Pakistan: A lethal nexus

Thus, a far of tussle, Austria – Serbia instigated the great powers to the war path. Rising Germany under a militaristic Kaiser Wilhelm, goaded by an aggressive chief of staff Moltke (junior) were confident of the Schlieffen Plan. Borrowing a leaf from Napoleon’s operational strategy of the central position to the European scale, Count Schlieffen had devised a military strategy of fighting France and Russia sequentially. In essence, Germany would mobilize its forces and with the bulk manoeuvre to out flank Paris and force capitulation of the French Army; while holding the slowly mobilized Russians at bay with lighter forces. Having defeated France the might of Germany would be concentrated on the vastness of Russia.

The British Empire initially neutral, subsequently threw in their lot on the side of France. The Schlieffen Plan based German manoeuvre was to roll into France violating Belgium’s neutrality. This, the British were loath to accept. The acquisition of Belgium’s coast and possible defeat of France by Rising Germany would make the British Isles vulnerable and so thought London.

For centuries British Geopolitics under the notion of balance of power, was averse to any rising power dominating Europe. In this case, the rise of German Navy anathema to the Royal British Navy, German quest for colonies of Africa and a dozen other reasons ensured war on the continent. The causes of the First World War by Historian AJP Taylor are an apt study on the subject. Winston Churchill as first lord of admiralty was among the British hawks (later landed the British and Australian forces in disaster at Gallipoli Turkey).  The cousin relationship between the British monarch and German Kaiser could not prevent war, nor limit it.

The Russian Empire under the house of Romanovs was falsely confident of its military prowess.  Having defeated Napoleon in 1812 and Cossacks entering Paris in 1814 had given delusions to the Czar. Russia would lose the initial battles against Germany at Tannenberg and subsequently face revolution at home in 1917, capitalized by Lenin and fore told by the Siberian monk Rasputin.

The Austrian Empire was tottering. The Hapsburgs rightly fearing war would lose their empire on the side of Germany. So would the Ottoman Empire face defeat and disintegration as Germany’s allies. Except Mustafa Kamal Pasha, the hero of Gallipoli, who would rise phoenix like from Anatolian heartland as founder of the modern Turkish State. America entered the war on Anglo French side towards the end and helped shift the logistical and military balance against Germany, forcing it to capitulate.

  A Tale of Three Cities

First World War Conclusion

The Schlieffen Plan failed. Even as German mobilization was near perfect (25,000 trains moving on time), the German juggernaut was halted outside Paris. Muddy trench warfare shackled strategy and tactics alike. Millions died on both sides and not much was achieved. The German Empire was exhausted, the Russian Empire in revolution, the victors Anglo French Empires greatly weakened. The Austrian and Ottoman Empires disappeared!

While the valour of millions dutiful soldiers on all sides is saluted hundred years later, the war was a total disaster.   It weakened Europe’s global primacy. It led to the rise of Hitler’s Germany (Treaty of Versailles among other causes) and caused the Second World War. After which global power shifted from European Capitals and was contested between Washington and Moscow.

Who really won this war? What would have happened had it been fought with nuclear weapons?

It is now time to draw some lessons for an India – Pakistan War.

           India – Pakistan War

Some over confident and conceited Indians are comparing themselves with ‘Rising Germany’ of 1914.  Others are talking of two front war with Pakistan and China. An Indian Ali Ahmed writes in ‘South Asia echoes from across a century’ of Schlieffen Plan as India faces a two front war. The Modi regime does not even accept Kashmir as a dispute, leave alone settle it. Already an Indian policy of confrontation with Pakistan is quite visible. Delhi’s wasteful military shopping spree is meant to achieve military supremacy over Pakistan while deterring China. The current Indian worldview seeks military dominance of Greater South Asia and India’s emergence as global economic power.

The debate in Indian strategic circles is who to fight and defeat first, Pakistan or China? In this absurd strategic dilemma, Indian wannabe Clausewitzs, Mahans, Manstiens and Rommels vie in their dim witted illogic. In their level of miscalculation, they beat the Neo cons of America hollow, who thought invading Afghanistan and Iraq would be a picnic. This quixotic worldview of Delhi is fantasy, self pleasing and yet self destructive.

India has obviously been emboldened by a terrorist campaign on Pakistan’s western border (now being eliminated by Pakistan Army). India supports terrorists but failed to embroil the Pakistan Army. The recent political activism in Islamabad provided Delhi minor space to ferment trouble in Kashmir.  India is overestimating its military power and underestimating Pakistan’s military potential!

The fact is the Pakistani nation is united with its armed forces to defend Pakistan. Even while controlling militancy on its western border, Pakistan Armed Forces are ready to defeat anything from adventurism to full scale Indian invasion on the eastern border.

  Tarek Fatah’s musings

The analogy of First World War is in fact misleading. India is no Rising Germany. Pakistan is neither Serbia nor France. It is in fact a nation awake and proud of its national independence. Pakistan is defended by an Army which is battle hardened, and prepared to fight full spectrum war including asymmetrical, conventional to total nuclear war. PM Modi’s claim about Pakistan of not having the conventional military capability to fight India is hollow in the extreme. Pragmatically speaking Pakistan has evolved the military concept of dove tailing sub conventional, conventional, nonconventional war waging to achieve ends of strategy. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence includes tactical nuclear usage to strategic nuclear exchange which will leave few survivors in India.

On the contrary, India’s Cold Start – Proactive Strategy is not really doable. The equipment, level of training, command control for an Indian Krieg of ten battle groups with air and missile superiority is not yet available. The notion of Cold Start remaining short of Pakistan’s nuclear threshold is simply illogical. With a part of its military force (Cold Start mode) India cannot defeat Pakistan. In the event, Pakistan may yet finish the war on a favourable note.

In case, India was to go for full scale war mobilization la 2001 Escalation Mode, it would need 2 to 4 weeks giving Pakistan ample time to fully mobilize and blunt the Indian offensive. A strategic stale mate in South Asia would be deemed as Pakistani victory, considering Delhi’s penchant of claiming global India status. India’s much acclaimed economy would obviously also be doomed.


A two front war with India fighting both Pakistan and China is a big joke!!

‘India cannot even defeat Pakistan in a short conventional war. The Pakistan military is motivated and ready for battle to defend Pakistan. India’s Cold Start offensive is likely to prove a total disaster. Pakistan’s Air Force one of the finest in the world, always remains at high alert. Pakistan’s versatile missile arsenals can strike earlier in India than India’s land offensive into Pakistan.  Pakistan’s quick mobilization and defensive response could include tactical nuclear usage, leading to counter value and counter force nuclear exchange.

No matter how the Indian military wages a two front war, it cannot win, except in Bollywood!’

                                                                                                 (Extract from the book, ‘Geopolitk Pakistan’ by Nadir Mir)

The lesson of First World War and today’s India – Pakistan war is simply one. Peace is the only viable option for all. Conflict resolution starting with return of Kashmir to Pakistan is the key. India must also relent on its ambitions in Afghanistan where it can never win.

Strategic balance in the subcontinent is a prerequisite for strategic stability, till resolution of disputes ‘Cold Peace’ should prevail!!