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South Asian Strategic Equilibrium

The Brookings Institute, a Washington based think-tank, recently released an extensive 15 month research on the concept of four nations inter-linked as a strategic chain, these being the U.S., China, India and Pakistan. The research analyzed that how compelling comparison of the China-Pakistan equation vis-à-vis the India-U.S. alliance as these two sets of relationships have resulted in some of the fastest-growing nuclear weapons, missiles and missile programs globally.

The research has been balanced and inclusive with the participation of scholars and senior officials from the four nations, as a whole, detailed assessment was conducted regarding strategic doctrines, strategic programs, measures of restraint and bilateral restraint management, along with the coinciding strategic interests. As promoting understanding between these countries would promote stability, the chain of interests focuses on this observation, “While Pakistan responds strategically to India, India responds both to Pakistan and China, which in turn responds both to India and the United States,” It is particularly worth mentioning that this think-tank’s recommendations are taken into consideration in U.S. policy-making, significantly the India-Pakistan paradigm has been extensively detailed for the very first time.

Symbolically, the study denotes both Pakistan and India as ‘friends’ of the United States while a better trust level with China needs to be worked on, however, Russia, Iran and N.Korea are clearly named and discussed as U.S. adversaries. As Matthew Kroenig from the Georgetown University observes, “The United States lacks formal allies and potential competitors in South Asia, but it does have strategic interests in the region. India and Pakistan, while not formal allies, are both friends of the United States. Washington does not feel threatened by these countries or their strategic capabilities.”

The U.S. would wish to prevent any military conflict between both countries and encourage high-level dialogue along with confidence-building measures. Interestingly, many of the findings of this research go in Pakistan’s favor and its reservations regarding India are part of the report, the Pakistani perspective is adequately represented, highlighting that Pakistan’s security threat comes from India, not ruling out the possibility of another war in the region despite nuclearization.

Syed Muhammad Ali from the Centre of International Strategic Studies in Islamabad, narrates that Kashmir is the reason that the Indo-Pak conflict never simmered down.” India has used a combination of military and political measures to deal with such threats. Militarily, India sought to defeat the insurgents with a strategy that emphasized limited use of force that isolated the militants from the population. ”He goes on to say, “Kashmir continues to face a low-intensity insurgency, and some sections of the valley continue to demonstrate intense anti-India feelings. Further, the rural “Maoist” or “Naxalite” insurgency has also afflicted many parts of the country, especially where the fruits of India’s economic development have not fully filtered down. Overall, while India continues to face a number of internal rebellions, none are presently considered serious, though they require continuous monitoring.”

The report also observes that India’s political elite, with its growing economy, is pursuing an ambitious and destabilizing military build-up, to become a global power and regional hegemon as New Delhi spends almost seven times more on its military than Islamabad. The paper continues thus, “The absence of a meaningful, sustainable and result-driven dialogue and the growing strategic partnership between India and the United States are matters of grave concern for Pakistan.”

Indeed, India’s growing conventional and strategic capabilities are overwhelmingly poised against Pakistan, it may publicly reject its Cold Start doctrine which “aims to rapidly launch shallow thrusts inside Pakistani territory to capture and use it for coercing Pakistan” but its recent measures are evidence that it is planning towards operationalization of the same doctrine.

Pakistan dealt with this threat effectively by attaining short range ballistic missiles, a credible minimum deterrence that is cost-effective. Additionally, Pakistan possesses the most secure nuclear arsenal with elaborate, multi-layered defense concepts and the IAEA endorsed its nuclear security, the report elaborates further over Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, “Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent plays a pivotal role in guarding Pakistan’s national security interests in multiple dimensions. In order to dissuade, deter, and defeat these threats Pakistan has taken various elaborate measures by developing and employing the full spectrum of military capabilities in a network centric environment.”

In fact, it is Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent capability that stabilizes the region by reducing chances of conflict, notwithstanding the fact that it is an increasingly complicated environment. “Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is reported to be widely dispersed in numerous secure and secret locations, across the country. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is probably one of the most well-guarded, and is constantly secured by one of the world’s largest nuclear security apparatuses, consisting of a highly trained, motivated, and specialized force, deployed in accordance with an elaborate, multi-layered, defense in depth concept.” In contrast, India has insufficient nuclear security with no checks and balances, so it never agrees to undergo IAEA inspection of its nuclear facilities.

Rajesh Rajagopalan from the Indian side discusses how insurgencies are dealt with, “India has used a combination of military and political measures to deal with such threats. Militarily, India sought to defeat the insurgents with a strategy that emphasized limited use of force that isolated the militants from the population.” Usually though, it is rare for India to admit that it faces any serious internal security challenges, it is further narrated how the China-Pakistan equation greatly troubles India and that in case of war, India would seek to dominate Pakistan while countering China as it fears their collaborative hostilities.

He writes, “Pakistan has sought to further complicate Indian calculations by developing tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), which lowers the nuclear threshold.” Anyhow, India has still not been able to come up with a response to Pakistan’s tactical weapons. The report contains the warning,” As the nuclear gap between China and India narrows, China may increase its interest in the India-Pakistan nuclear competition. This is because China “fears that the widening nuclear and conventional military gaps between India and Pakistan may threaten regional stability.”

Unfortunately, India does not trust the intent of any Chinese initiatives, such as One Belt, One Road (OBOR), and it also intends, “to maintain a very robust security and political relationship with Russia. There is a natural strategic comfort in this relationship.” It is a veritable twist in the story as the U.S. views Russia as an adversary and this may have serious implications for Indo-American relations down the line.

Finally, the report suggests some bilateral India-Pakistan confidence building measures, “ a) Agree to resume comprehensive dialogue and institutionalize it so that it is insulated from bilateral tensions. b) Consider the modalities and functions of risk-reduction centres. c) Agree not to weaponize space. d) Consider expanding existing CBM s to include an “incidents at sea” agreement. e) Consider measures for restraint and confidence building, where feasible. “

Overall, the strategic dynamics between the four nuclear states cannot be addressed individually or on a strictly bilateral basis, as the ‘strategic chain’ of interests binds them, the report states, “Participants noted that developments in U.S. strategic posture, such as missile defense and conventional prompt global strike, could lead to reactions in China, countervailing or imitative, which could produce corresponding reactions in India, which in turn could impact Pakistan’s strategic choices.” It is a circle of interests as India-U.S. watch the China-Pakistan strengthening relationship with some trepidation while Pakistan and China look askance at the India-U.S. civil, nuclear deal.

The Washington think-tank feels that these countries need to stay engaged on a constant basis, notably it is the very first time that the Brookings Institute undertook a study on South Asia in this pattern. New geopolitical re-alignments have resulted in an atmosphere fraught with tension in South Asia, the novel ‘strategic chain’ concept ably highlights the connections of the group of countries, restraint between China and the U.S. likewise encourages restraint between India and Pakistan so it makes sense to include them all on one platform to iron out differences.

In conclusion, the report observes that some degree of progress has been achieved, “The countries of the “Strategic Chain” have undertaken some measures to promote strategic stability and reduce strategic uncertainty. These include declarations, memorandums of understanding (MOUs), confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs), and strategic dialogues.”

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Sabena Siddiqi is a Lawyer, a Journalist writing on geopolitics and International law-related topics, also engaged in facilitating local charities for women and children since several years.


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