Spearhead Analysis – 02.10.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research


The rise of China and India is a reality of the present day– both countries continue to enlarge their footprint globally.  Presently, these two powers often assume antithetical positions towards one another in spite of trade links and other bilateral and multilateral contacts. The contentious South and East Asian regions on the peripheries are likely to witness a future determined by the Sino-Indian equation; Pakistan in particular would be an integral part of this equation.

A recently published paper titled “India’s Strategic Choices: China and the Balance of Power in Asia. By Rajesh Rajagopalan –a professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University — examines India’s, China centric threat perceptions and conducts a balance of power analysis to evaluate the various foreign policy options available to New Delhi to counter the ‘unbalanced strategic environment’.

Pakistan at its end carries its own India centric security anxieties and often deems Indian postures and actions as destabilizing to the South Asian balance of power. The aim of this paper is to discuss Pakistan’s India centric threat perceptions and evaluate the broad policy options or option available to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s India Centric Concerns:

India and Pakistan remain embroiled in a stagnant equation of deteriorated ties. Pakistan faces hybrid threats from India that constitute direct military threats, irregular warfare in shape of Indian sponsored terrorism on Pakistani territory, propaganda warfare, environmental threats and economic threats, to name a few.  The nature of these external threats often wears the garb of internal threats. Therefore, Pakistan needs to look outward and inward simultaneously and draft coherent well defined policies for tackling individual issues. India has declared a policy of acting to destabilize Pakistan internally and isolate it internationally and its actions to implement this policy are clearly discernible.   

India continues to violate ceasefire across the disputed, working and international borders between India and Pakistan. Despite Pakistan’s persistent calls to engage in dialogue to discuss border violations and formalize agreements go unheard in New Delhi.

In a recent speech by the Indian FM India once again embarked on its propaganda campaign to diplomatically malign and isolate Pakistan at the UN.  At the local level it re-engaged in gross violations across the LoC and WB during ‘Operation Arjun’. The incident culminated in loss of several innocent civilian lives.  Yet, the Pakistani DGMO initiated a hotline contact with his Indian counterpart to discuss the matter and in turn—as per Indian media– faced Indian rigidness over the matter.

India continues to violate all norms of human rights in Indian Occupied Kashmir and attempts to malign Pakistan’s moral support for the Kashmiris under the pretext of ‘sponsored terrorism’. Pakistan repeatedly requests the International community to diligently follow up on the matter and assist the region in devising a decisive outcome on the issue. India on its part, re-enunciating stipulations of the Simla Agreement, continues to view the matter as a ‘bilateral issue’. But, remains less than eager to genuinely engage in dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmir on resolving or even discussing the matter.

 Its interest in preserving the status quo or at best tilting the demographics of Kashmir in its favor encourages India to spur legal roadblocks aimed at hindering the direct intervention of the international organizations. The Indian resentment that ensued following Nicky Hailey’s offer on Kashmir is a case in point highlighting Indian anxieties over resolving the matter. Owing to its active lobbying, India managed to blur the line between a ‘terrorist’ and a ‘freedom fighter’ by getting Syed Salahuddin declared a terrorist in collusion with US. The often discussed ‘new wave of freedom fighters’ continues to raise alarm bells amongst various Indian analysts, several voices suggest that India’s unjustified offense is a root cause of this ‘structure- less belligerence’.

 Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism. Standing on the frontline it continues to wage this war beyond its institutional capacities and exceedingly beyond its financial capacities. The people of Pakistan maintain religious, socio and ethnic ties with the people of Kashmir so the Indian oppression on Kashmiris is bound to create sympathy and support at local levels. This complicates the war on terror for Pakistan, complicates Pakistan’s de-radicalization efforts and heightens various risks of conflict between the two nuclear armed neighbors.   India continues to blur the concept of freedom and terrorism and militarily oppresses Kashmiris. Instead of formalizing relevant border agreements with Pakistan, devising an appropriate political solution on Kashmir in consensus with the local people and Pakistan and engaging international organizations to oversee the proceedings aimed at materializing the desires of the Kashmiris, India is committing unspeakable atrocities in Kashmir  

The same conundrum now prevails in the western border area of Pakistan, as India seeks to engage Pakistan on two fronts. Indian intelligence links with Afghan based TTP and its affiliates have been exposed. India also runs a clandestine radio station in Baluchistan and sponsors seminars to present fabricated views on a so called ‘Baluch separatist’ movement. Indian contacts with dissident elements have never been a secret.

The Indian PM not so long ago declared ‘support to the Baloch’ as state policy thereby directly threatening Pakistan’s territorial integrity. The Indian sponsored terrorist networks in Baluchistan—aimed at fomenting unrest– are an open secret. The arrest of the Indian Navy officer Kulbushan Yadav is just one recent proof. Such activities threaten Pakistan’s economic and social development. Balochistan is also an integral part of the CPEC– that aims to improve and provide socio-economic relief to all of Pakistan. CPEC remains centric to Indian malignant initiatives. Pakistan along with China, has tried extending the olive branch to India to join the regional economic initiatives but there has been no reciprocity from India.

These externally sponsored proxy wars and propaganda campaigns keep the province resistive provide space to and embolden criminal elements and reduce negotiation space between a small sponsored resistive segment of Baluchistan and the State. This further deprives the province of normalcy and development alongside exacerbating internal grievances. These social, economic and territorial threats to Pakistan need international recognition.

Due to deep religious and socio ethnic linkages, Pakistan has generously housed millions of Afghan refugees for decades.  For this reason, the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan have witnessed relaxed regulations in the past so that the war afflicted people may gain some socio economic relief from Pakistan and be able to travel back home. FATA, another conflict ridden warzone within Pakistan-  became a hub of terrorism and an abode for sponsored groups like TTP. It was cleared through determined military operations by the Pakistan Army and is in the process of being mainstreamed into Pakistan politically. This has been a positive development for Pakistan that India seeks to reverse.

The difficulties in segregating locals from foreigners and the need for stringent border management complicates effective elimination of the residual elements. Terrorist groups operating from Afghan soil also complicate the issue and Indian exploitation of the situation is clearly visible.

Pakistan has witnessed brutal massacres of its population at the hands of such groups. One cannot forget the horrors of the APS attack that consumed the lives of hundreds of innocent children while leaving millions more psychologically terrorized. The spokesperson of the notorious TTP—a group responsible for this and several other terror attacks in Pakistan- not so long ago, brought to light the role of Indian intelligence agencies in collusion with other agencies in sponsoring these proxy wars from across the border. These subversive activities continue to keep the area under a constant red flag and heavily impede the government’s initiatives to mainstream the region. These threats need to be recognized and Pakistan’s capacity in tackling these issues needs to be supported-especially in inducting effective border management and repatriation of Afghan refugees.

Indi and Pakistan are a natural extension of each other’s terrain with rapidly burgeoning populations. Amidst tense India-Pak ties, the timeless concept of war over resources seems to become inevitable. Indian violations of the Indus Water treaty—which stipulates the water sharing mechanism between India and Pakistan raises several environmental threats and economic threats for Pakistan. The plethora of Issues stemming from food, water, environmental and human insecurities not only pose direct threats to Pakistan but create negative repercussions globally. India needs to honor the internationally negotiated Indus Waters Treaty.

There is a need to present Pakistan’s case forcefully. The US-India Nuclear Technology Agreement and subsequent deepening India-US strategic and defense ties lead Pakistan to conclude that the US has placed all its strategic bets in South Asia on India. The US is further unbalancing the already serious imbalance in South Asia. Pakistan needs to consider India’s international efforts to create strategic Uranium reserves, enhance its nuclear capabilities, develop overwhelming conventional superiority, its defense related ties with Israel and the US decision to supply and even co-manufacture big ticket items like Drones and Fighter aircraft.

The US continues to support Indian military modernization efforts for broader objectives– without effectively taking into account Pakistani insecurities, the negative implications on the South Asian strategic balance and the increment in regional security issues as India increasingly finds itself emboldened to pursue aggressive postures. The growing asymmetry in conventional weapons that US arms sales to India is creating is at the root of the nuclear stand-off in South Asia.

 The threat of conflict between India and Pakistan has existed since their inception and there is a track record of conflicts. Unfortunately, the solutions continue to be a deeper dive into the offensive-defensive abyss. The Indian posture compels Pakistan to actively checkmate or at least stalemate the aggressor’s designs. Despite the multifarious limitations, Pakistan continues to militarily defend itself remarkably. Many studies indicate that direct Indian military adventurism against Pakistan is not feasible and that the idea of limited conflict under a nuclear overhang is a dangerous concept. Hence, the current Indian hybrid warfare strategy aims at overburdening the state of Pakistan. Furthermore, these multidimensional tactics, often fall beyond the purview of a militaristic answer. Their nature, often masked as internal threats, seems to create difficult choices in identifying short, medium and long term threats as they often play on the same plane of existence. Pakistan has to note that the external and internal threat from India has morphed into one single threat. Indian analysts tend to view China-Pakistan as a single threat and refuse to consider any bilateral restraint regime that could benefit both India and Pakistan.

It is critical for Pakistan to improve governance, institutional capacities and socio-economic development in congruence with modernizing the traditional security apparatus. Therefore, achieving all these objectives needs to be taken into account while forging its foreign policy contours.  

Option for Pakistan

Under the present regional and global environment Pakistan does not have the luxury of choosing between either/or options. Pakistan has to opt for a strategic option that factors in India’s continued hostility as a given yet leaves open the possibility—no matter how remote—of improved India-Pakistan ties in the future. The contours of such a strategic option are sketched out below.

Alignment with China:

 Presently Pak-China ties are a cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. As the region remains tense this trend is likely to continue because the Chinese-Pakistan relationship has stood the test of time and is set to grow on the basis of shared economic interests. China’s clout in various international organizations and global financial institutes provides Pakistan with a window of opportunity to present its India centric concerns more effectively. The two countries already maintain economic and defense ties and these two domains require effective management based on Pakistan’s own coherent long term national vision.

An alliance with China is favorable to fend off India centric threats for now. However, greater paradigms operate above the India-Pakistan contentions. Therefore, Pakistan would have to evolve its alliance with China in a manner that would defend it from any spillover effects. Pakistan should also ideally instill stringent system of checks and balances and devise clear frameworks for economic progressions to avoid any future complications in the alliance in the context of CPEC. Pakistan also needs to take China’s concerns carefully and address them continuously. 

Alignment with US:

Presently, Pakistan and US seem to have a frustrated relationship. However, so far Pakistan has never viewed the US as a threat. From the economic point of view a sustainable relationship with the US is in Pakistan’s interest. The US is Pakistan’s biggest trading partner and Pakistan has been the recipient of US aid and arms transfers. Pakistan needs US support in dealings with international institutions and on multi-lateral fora.

Pakistan has to work around the US-India strategic relationship and revive its own strategic relationship with the US. Improved Pakistan _Afghanistan relations that is a distinct possibility can lead to convergence on policies in Afghanistan. This is a track that Pakistan needs to pursue and inevitably this involves addressing US and Afghan concerns—and these may also be China’s concerns.

There is a possibility of the US-Pakistan deteriorating further. This should be considered a worst case scenario and not ignored.

Regional Organizations and Partnerships:

Regional organizations seem to be the new trend of a divided East. Pakistan and India are members of several key regional organizations. This provides Pakistan with a platform to seek support from multiple players in addressing the negative regional implications resulting from the current India-Pakistan dynamics. It also enables Pakistan to explore diversified venues for security and economic opportunities.

Pakistan’s economic vision and security have become interlinked. To effectively utilize its location for economic purposes and enhance its security, Pakistan requires good ties with other regional middle powers and bigger powers like Russia. Pakistan has already taken initiatives to forge deeper ties with Iran, Turkey and Central Asian countries—this trend needs to be strengthened as it adds weight in countering Indian threats. Economic ties need to be given over-riding importance and Pakistan’s location gives it the opportunity to do that. The Iran-Pakistan Pipeline is a venture that could be pushed and would tie in with CPEC.


 A nonaligned stance in the Indo/US–Sino power rivalries could protect Pakistan from getting caught in any crossfire. It may even set the stage for some form of India-Pakistan dialogue, and at the same time enable Pakistan to capitalize on its geography from an economic prism. A nonaligned approach in these relationships may also supplement Pakistan’s credibility at an international level and enable it to harness support on its stance on disarmament, dangers of an arms race and other regional security threats. It could also relieve Pakistan of internal backlashes caused by varied opinions in choosing alliances —an ideal, that may materialize at some point in the future.

However, under the current dynamics, complete non-alignment may not be feasible for Pakistan. Pakistan already faces conventional and unconventional security threats stemming from closely knitted regions therefore suddenly expecting reciprocal cooperation from others is not realistic. Nonetheless, it could extract and apply some principles of the approach for now, and continue to address the urgency for regional cooperation at diplomatic levels. In its choice between India and China, Pakistan naturally inclines towards to China. Pakistan needs China’s defense cooperation to add a layer of deterrence against threatening Indian postures. But certain redlines would have to be defined to ensure that the mounting Sino-Indian power rivalry does not spill over into Pakistan.

Internal Balancing:

 Pakistan could focus on devising strategies aimed at enhancing its own economic standing and in turn strengthening indigenous arms capabilities. This could make the nation more self-reliant and compel it to seriously resolve the burgeoning debt issues and unemployment crisis. However, this approach also carries certain limitations under the current dynamics. Pakistan may not have the luxury of time to deter India’s upcoming military modernization. This may require external assistance in gaining access to superior arms technology, Improve its own communication and transport infrastructures. Opportunities stemming from CPEC provide Pakistan with a window to genuinely work towards improving its economic standing and become more self-reliant in the long term.

Another issue Pakistan may face by solely relying on internal balancing is from its current global image. Pakistan at times faces criticisms for some of its defense capabilities and propaganda often couples this phenomenon with the ‘terror prone’ South Asian environment. Therefore, a lone expedited effort to cater to its defense needs may harness international condemnation and reflect Pakistan in defiance of international norms. Thus, requiring it to rely on support of a bigger power to strengthen its case in the international arena.

Pakistan needs to understand and address international concerns in the present global environment and address these effectively. The economic factor must weigh heavily in Pakistan’s security considerations and this implies political stability and good governance.


Pakistan is not aspiring to challenge the global status quo. In the regional context India is busy projecting Pakistan as a revisionist power bent on changing the status quo in Kashmir. Pakistan needs to counter this perception.

Pakistan does not seek to undermine India’s global position. Pakistan’s core concerns are related to defending its own territory and acquiring global recognition on its concerns and interests.

Presently China sets the foundation for Pakistan’s economic and security prospects in dealing with India centric threats. But keeping in view the negative connotations of greater power rivalries, Pakistan may be required to seek broader security and economic alliances. The alliance with China could help to achieve this.

The prime focus should be directed towards amassing adequate support on formalizing pending border issues and concluding a regional understanding on the ‘disputed areas’.

An improvement in Pakistan’s internal situation could enhance its international image and move it away from the perception of being at war with itself. This requires political stability, demonstrated economic viability and consistent improvement in socio-economic conditions based on reforms, controls and regulatory measures as well as focus on education and health sectors.

India should not be left out in the quest for improved bilateral relations. Emotions should not impinge on diplomacy where national interests are supreme. Even while facing threats from India there is a need to continue to seek dialogue that could lead to improved bilateral relations.