Spearhead Research Opinion
By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
It seems that Modi has fallen into the trap laid for him in the form of accusations that India has been responsible for funding separatist elements in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. Modi’s statement only affirmed the establishment’s perspective, which strengthened after the capture of a RAW agent in Quetta, and could possibly lead to the Pakistani military’s consolidation of broadening security presence in the province. It is also unlikely that following Modi’s statement, Pakistan is going to backpedal from its support for various militant outfits working against India as a policy to settle scores with New Delhi.
These are interesting times for the Pakistan-India front, but there has to be an end game for the hostility and the war of words being exchanged between the two; Is a destabilized Pakistan really in India’s interest? Where does the enmity stop?
The Upper Hand
Conventional war between the two countries ceased to be an option ever since Pakistan acquired a solid nuclear deterrence capability, and developed bilateral ties with China to counterbalance India’s powerhouse of economic and military capabilities. With India having no land access to Central Asia and the West, the formulation of CPEC adds more depth to India’s Pakistan policy. However, India’s response to this is its growing proximity with Afghanistan in order to deny Pakistan strategic depth in the region. India’s strategy to achieve its dream of reeling in the Great Power status and undo Pakistan’s efforts towards stability is being manifested in the form of political pressure, economic isolation, defamation by the media, and financing terrorism.
Alongside the West, India is working vigorously to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, as a means to handicap Pakistan’s policy of using nuclear blackmail to resist control. Repeated crossfire along the Line of Control in Kashmir has also added to how it maintains military pressure on Pakistan.
India has always made efforts to distance itself from the Balochistan allegation, and its involvement in the insurgent elements that plague it; a distance Modi seemed to bridge in his speech. India’s sponsorship of terrorism in Balochistan, and support for the Baloch Liberation Army has been part of its strategy to weaken Pakistan. The capture of the RAW agent, along with substantial proof gathered by Pakistan’s agencies of Indian sponsorship of terrorism on Pakistani soil through outfits like the TTP, in collaboration with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), has added to this narrative. However, considering that both countries are neighbors, a destabilized Pakistan, along with an already crumbling Afghanistan, would only further handicap the regional environment in which India seeks control.
India would want a stable Pakistan to suit its regional interests of trade and security, as opposed to a strong Pakistan till the time Pakistan develops a stake in India’s growth through trade. If Pakistan’s industries were dependent on India, and India’s on Pakistan’s, then powerful business lobbies would’ve held both countries at bay and prevented them from exchanging hostile sentiments. However, with the Indian Finance Minister not attending the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting, India still not being granted the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status, and tensions revolving Kashmir and Balochistan on the rise, economic ties have been put on hold.
Both countries have also taken each other for granted due to Pakistan’s reliance on China for CPEC, and India’s disinterest in accessing Pakistan’s borders owing to the Chabahar trilateral agreement, which makes India less dependent on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Therefore, while India would want a Pakistan with some economic growth, it would want it to be on the low side, imparting stability as opposed to strength and competition.
For Pakistan, strength is defined in military terms, and stability is derived from it. This is primarily for two reasons. One, a hostile Afghanistan with claims on Pakistan’s territories as it rejects the Durand line, and accuses Pakistan of financing Afghan terrorists; Two, the deadlock with India over Kashmir, and its growing regional power. Since both issues are in continuation and there’s a lack of a resolution for the disputes, both neighbors will sustain a bitter relationship. Thus, to avoid any threat and coercion, Pakistan will continue to seek military strength as a solution to its problems, and this will keep irking India. It is for this reason that India uses its media to tarnish the reputation of the armed forces of Pakistan, one of the few orderly institutions remaining in the country.
So what sort of Pakistan does India really want?
What’s more important is to analyze how a strong Pakistan would act towards India – that’s another ball game. With Pakistan’s tendency to view everything from a security-led military-tunnel-vision, and its bipolar political system whereby the military gets as much of a say in political affairs, if not more, as the civilian government, bilateral relations will be gauged by military terms as opposed to economic and diplomatic. This holds true for the 1965 and 1971 wars, as seen by the Indian establishment, where economic stability paired with military strength led to Pakistan waging war on India. Therefore, a stable, military-dominated Pakistan would only be more prone to resorting to asymmetric warfare against a conventionally strong India.
However, despite the appeal of an imploding Pakistan as something Indians can high five about, it is certainly not in their regional security interests. A ragged Pakistani state would only become a breeding ground for jihadi organizations to meddle in India; state using India as a scapegoat for its own political and governance failures. While this phenomenon already exists, it is yet to be seen on a scale that’s damaging for India – Pakistan’s collapse could possibly lead to that. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is contingent on Pakistan’s stability, and diplomatic relations between the two. Even if India were to snatch Kashmir from Pakistan, hostile elements within Pakistani territories would only destabilize the Kashmir region to a point that Indian security forces wouldn’t be able to handle it – as in the ongoing case of Indian Occupied Kashmir.
Between stability, strength, and downfall, it seems that India’s best bet would be the first. However, with India taking charge of the manufacturing of F-16’s, it could make sure that all odds are in their favor. What’s Pakistan’s next move going to be?