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In this two-​part series, CDA Institute Security & Defence Blogger Adnan Qaiser, a political and defence analyst with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy, examines the India-​Pakistan relations in the realm of Kashmir and Proxy Wars as well as Nuclear and Regional Dimensions. Part 1 can be found here.

In pursuit of becoming a regional power, India has unsuccessfully been trying to eclipse the geopolitical/geostrategic significance of Pakistan for the past 68 years, resulting in the subcontinent’s perpetual hostilities. With the two countries coming out of their nuclear closets in May 1998, the subcontinent’s conventional arms race entered a new phase of nuclear rivalry. The problem is that Pakistan is unwilling to accept Indian hegemony in the region. Christine Fair finds in her book Fighting to the End that Pakistanis view “acquiescing to India as their genuine and total defeat.” Under such a backdrop, Pakistan seems prepared for total annihilation in the face of Indian aggression.

India’s nuclear explosion of May 1974 threatened Pakistan into pledging a “thousand year war against India”– vowing to “eat grass but (also) build a bomb.” Further, the belligerent statements of Indian leaders after the Pokhran nuclear tests of May 1998 largely compelled Pakistan to follow suit. Threatening hot pursuit in Kashmir, then Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani bluntly stated in 1998: “India would not shy away from using its new found strength, despite international disapproval.” His outburst on the next day was even more intimidating, “Our nuclear explosions have created a situation similar to that caused after the fall of Dhaka,” in reference to the 1971 war that severed East Pakistan and created Bangladesh.

Notwithstanding its non-aligned credentials, New Delhi remained tied to Moscow during the Cold War, only to become a frontline ally in Washington’s ‘Pivot to Asia‘ policy under India’s newly adopted ‘Act East‘ approach. India arbitrarily assumed the role of a regional policeman after signing a 10-year Strategic Defence Pact with the US on 4 June 2015. The Indian army’s cross-border attack in Myanmar in June 2015 – with its Junior Minister for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore vowing, “we will carry out surgical strikes at the place and time of our own choosing” – is indicative of India’s regional aggressiveness. Since the minister named Pakistan as a prospective target, Pakistan’s army chief warned that “no one should dare cast an evil eye on Pakistan.”

In view of the 2014 Modi-Obama agreement, which called for cooperation to dismantle terrorist safe havens, Pakistan can be anything but nervous and riled. However, with the emergence of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the prospect of terrorist activities in India should be worrisome to all stakeholders. Militant groups have already formed a consortium of terror comprising of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Ahrar-ul-Hind and Lashkar-e-Khorasan. India’s ‘proactive operations/cold-start doctrine‘ (CSD) and ‘limited war‘ option under the nuclear overhang in response to any non-state terrorist attack from Pakistan soil has all the ingredients for a large scale military confrontation in which nuclear exchange cannot be ruled out. In testimony to the US Congress, George Perkovich and Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace pointed out that “a major terrorist attack in India might lead to a large-scale military assault on Pakistan, which then could lead to a nuclear war.”

The exchange of heavy gunfire that started on 6 October 2014 at the Line of Control and Working Boundary killed civilians on both sides and left dozens injured and several others homeless. At the height of border clashes, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even ratcheted up the hostilities by saying that when one thousand Indian mortars rained into Pakistan “it is the enemy that is screaming.” In turn, Pakistan’s former president, General Pervez Musharraf, warned that Pakistan won’t be shy about using nuclear weapons, if necessary. As he stated further: “We are Muslims. We will not show the other cheek when we are slapped.”

Maintaining a conventional-force superiority of 3:1, India’s stationing of its three ‘strike corps’ along with eight Integrated Battle Groups comprising of Reorganised Army Plains Infantry Divisions and airborne assets within hailing distance of the Indo-Pak border shows its fixation with carrying out a surgical strike inside Pakistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, declared that it would respond through its Nasr (Hataf-IX) tactical nuclear weapon, moving its doctrine from recessed deployment to “ready deterrence” under Full Spectrum Deterrence. Unsurprisingly, Pakistani lawmakers raised a spectre of a nuclear war against India during the latest hostilities. Addressing the parliament on 22 October 2014, a member of the National Assembly demanded, “This is the time we [Pakistan] respond to India as a nuclear state.”

India’s belligerence comes from an assumption that an internally unstable and conventionally weak Pakistan would be reluctant to use its nuclear option under international pressure. Retired Indian Admiral Raja Menon argues in his book The Long View from Delhi that “Pakistani military officers are rational players and would not extend the threat to a point where either side would be forced to switch from conventional to non-conventional weapons.” India probably thinks that Pakistan’s rigorous nuclear safety measures could delay Pakistan’s nuclear response to the point where it becomes irrelevant. However, at a dinner on 5 October 2005, Pakistani generals had asked Tony Blair’s communications director, Alastair Campbell, to remind their Indian counterparts that “it takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over.”

With its own house not in order, India’s regional hegemonic obsession is uncalled for. Besides the Kashmir uprising since 1989, India has also been occupied in a full-blown Naxalite insurgency in its eastern Red Corridor since 2004. A recent cross-border ambush by insurgents from Myanmar killed 18 Indian soldiers in June 2015. Moreover, the Sikh separatist Khalistan movement, which India had crushed in 1984, has begun to raise its head again. The president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), Simranjit Singh Mann, demanded on 5 June 2015 that a state of Khalistan be created to act as a buffer between India, China and Pakistan.

Having invested USD $2B, India is also edgy due to its reduced role in Afghanistan, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani favourably disposed towards Pakistan and China. Further, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking Gwadar deep-sea port to Kashgar has added to India’s disquiet, to the extent that Mr. Modi protested it as “unacceptable” to the Chinese government as it passes through what India calls Pakistan occupied Kashmir. However, having adopted a new ideal of “constructive engagement with communities of common destinies,” China’s present outlook promotes a ‘new Asian security concept‘ under which it reassured India that the corridor is not aimed at “targeting any third party” and will not affect China’s stand on the Kashmir issue.

Therefore it is no coincidence that to strengthen its blue-water navy, India has stepped-up the development of the Iranian Chahbahar port – located just 70 km from Gwadar – which has seen delays in its construction since 2003 due to international sanctions on Iran. India has meanwhile completed the 218 km long Zaranj-Delaram highway in Nimroz province in 2009 in order to connect Afghanistan with Chahbahar via Milak. Besides trying to reach Central Asia, India aims to outflank Pakistan in order to offer an alternate transit-trade route to Afghanistan, while keeping Pakistan under pressure from both east and west.

Pakistan’s nuclear sobriety reassures us that it is not disposed towards using nuclear weapons post-haste; it is India that has to step back from the notions of CSD and surgical strikes. Although India may start a war, even if it is limited in nature, it will be up to a nuclear Pakistan to choose how to respond and when to end the conflict. Any physical altercation with Pakistan could see ‘Shining India’s‘ fortunes collapsing.

In war, it is said, no one is right; only the one who is left. A nuclear India and Pakistan will leave none to mourn their fate.

Adnan Qaiser is a defence and political analyst having had a distinguished career in the armed forces as well as in international diplomacy and public and social sector development. He can be reached at: a.qaiser1@yahoo.com.

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