Pakistan is in the midst of various foreign policy challenges. The age-old rivalry with India continues to be a major preoccupation of security and foreign policy practitioners. The Afghan imbroglio and the concomitant tensions with the US, have not only imposed security challenges on Pakistan but also affected its position in the comity of nations.
As things stand today, Islamabad is being called out for security policies by Delhi, Washington and Kabul. The US blames Pakistan for the simmering Afghan conundrum; despite knowing full well that a military-heavy policy can do little to dampen the spirits of the Taliban, the US and Afghanistan pass the buck on Pakistan.
The Pakistani security apparatus has been continually lambasted for having a conventional India-centric threat perception. Bob Woodward in one of his seminal books “Obama Wars” stated: “it is mighty difficult for a Pakistani General to turn west”. Commentators, watchers, analysts, and foreign governments have questioned Pakistan’s fight against the scourge of terrorism, despite the fact that the state, at least on the kinetic front has successfully undertaken major Counter Terrorism Military Operations. Furthermore, eyebrows are raised at its robust nuclear program, something which has gained traction ever since Pakistan has developed nukes at the tactical level in a bid to achieve Full Spectrum Deterrence. More importantly, Pakistan is being accused of harboring terrorism; its counter and anti-terrorism efforts are being brushed aside, primarily due to the diverging interests between actors involved in the new Great Game in the region.
With security policies being the center of attention, it is important to succinctly delve on the country’s security psyche. Firstly, like any other state, security happens to be a core vital interest for Pakistan.
The Pakistan military despite being currently engaged in multifarious counter-terrorism operations against militant outfits across the country, maintains a deployment balance heavily on the Eastern Theater on the Line of Control, Working Boundary and the International Border. The strategic fraternity deems India as the major threat to the security of the country. Pakistan justified its order of battle by pointing out the deployment pattern of the Indian armed forces, as full-fledged commands are operationally deployed on the border. As things stand today, continuous skirmishes on the LoC and Working Boundaries, coupled with frequent bellicose statements from Indian government and military officials, have justified Pakistan’s India-centric
Also, the highly talked about Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) of the Indian army gives credence to Pakistani fears of Indian grandiose designs. Though not operational, the provocative nature of rapid thrusts of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) to bite and hold chunks has significantly helped Pakistan stick to its traditional view about India. The top leadership of the Pakistani military thinks that invoking CSD will lower the nuclear threshold, and hence Pakistan is all set to induct Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) in its arsenal. Ostensibly, Pakistan wants to fill the deterrence gap at the tactical level and guard itself on the whole spectrum. Regardless of the effectiveness of TNWs in deterrence, Pakistan is reacting to an action by its rival state: a common practice in international politics.
The possession of nuclear weapons has given both countries credible deterrents to work with. However, by no means do nuclear weapons rule-out engagements below the threshold. The higher the conventional asymmetry , the lower the nuclear threshold. Thus, thinning out on the eastern border just because of the presence of nuclear forces, is a militarily untenable idea. While many have reconciled with Pakistan’s “look East” military policy, there is still no understanding as to why Pakistan plays a role in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The colossal and ill-fated episode of the separation of East Pakistan is engrained in Pakistan’s security thinking. The lead role played by India is conspicuous, well-celebrated and now well-documented. There is no denial or remorse by India, from the creation of the Mukti Bahini to the armed intervention which led to the sequester of Pakistan. In the language of international politics, an enemy state directly intervened to separate a legal territory from a country. Pakistan did not react in the same vein to this blatant violation of international law by its arch-rival. It is blamed of fomenting trouble in the Kashmiri resistance movement since 1990. Pakistan is believed and alleged to be using proxies to damage India to an extent that the Kashmir issue is resolved in accordance with Pakistani wishes. It must be accentuated that Kashmir is a disputed territory; Pakistan from the contours of realism is trying to wrest back a land that it feels does not belong to India. In an anarchical world, Pakistan is doing what any other state would do, if we take allegations on face value. Recriminations on fostering terrorism in Indian Occupied Kashmir can only be done away with if the Kashmir dispute is resolved. Peace between states in the Westphalian System is achieved if and when casus belli is resolved. Kashmir remains the major flashpoint between the two arch-rivals.
Pakistan’s security thinking is India centric due to many historical reasons and the ever-increasing grandiose aspirations of India. There are no reasons to indicate a paradigm shift in Indian policy towards Pakistan. From the realist perspective, Pakistan will alter her security thinking if India as a relatively stronger state will assuage her fears. Besides, the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is central to peace between the two countries. Harmony would mitigate animosity and lead to peaceful co-existence.
Pakistan’s main concerns in Afghanistan relate to the increasing Indian influence. Afghanistan and Pakistan have had and continue to have turbulent relations, and India has shown a continuum in supporting the former on the issue of Pashtunistan and the Durand Line. Pakistan’s quest for a “friendly government” in Afghanistan is because it wants to lessen chances of being sandwitched by inimical neighbors from both sides. The paranoia that ascertains the country’s Afghan policy is that India and an India-controlled Afghanistan would be major security threats. Therefore, like other states, Pakistan will try its best to lessen the role of its nemesis on its western border.
However, with India being a major US partner in its regional Great Game against China, it is difficult to think that Pakistan’s security concerns will be obviated. Trump’s new laudatory references to India and his wish to see its greater role in Afghanistan, have given Pakistan all the more reason to protect its legitimate security interests in Afghanistan.