India’s ambitions of achieving Great Power status cannot be fully realised unless Pakistan is strategically neutralised. A conventional military defeat of Pakistan has been a costly and unlikely option ever since the latter acquired a credible nuclear deterrence capability. Pakistan has also built a strategic relationship with China which provides it with the capacity to balance, to a considerable extent, India’s larger military and economic capabilities.
India’s need to bring Pakistan to heel has intensified in the context of the emerging Great Power contest in Asia. Pakistan’s incorporation into an Indian sphere of influence would be a grave setback to China’s future role in South, West and Central Asia and the western Indian Ocean. The prospect of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, while India has no land access to the West and Central Asia, has added a new dimension to India’s determination to neutralise Pakistan. India’s strategic goals, if not its methods, are fully supported by the US and its allies.
India has adopted a complex strategy to wear down Pakistan’s resistance. This strategy encompasses: military and political pressure; subversion; terrorism; diplomatic isolation; media and public defamation and cultural domination.
Some elements of India’s comprehensive strategy and actions are now public knowledge, such as Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s boastful speech recalling how Indian agencies eroded the Kashmiri freedom struggle through corruption and intimidation; forecasting the separation of Balochistan; and expressing glee at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s beheading of Pakistani soldiers in Fata.
India’s strategy has a wide canvas.
Resistance to Indian domination
One element of the strategy is the attempt, pursued in tandem with the West, to neutralise Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. Thus, the discriminatory Western restraints on equipment and technology transfers to Pakistan and the vigorous US opposition to Pakistan’s deployment of theatre nuclear weapons and long-range missiles which are designed, respectively, to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine and its second-strike capability.
Meanwhile, India maintains military pressure on Pakistan through deployment of advanced weapons systems (ballistic missiles, anti-ballistic missiles etc), expanded offensive deployments, military exercises to refine the capacity for a surprise attack (as envisaged in India’s Cold Start doctrine) and frequent shelling along the Line of Control in Kashmir.
Subversion, involving infiltration, sponsorship and support for dissident or disgruntled groups within Pakistan, is a third element of this strategy. The sponsorship of the Baloch Liberation Army and terrorism in Balochistan and Sindh has now been confirmed by the recent capture and confession of the Indian spy. Disaffected groups in Karachi, rural Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkwa have been encouraged for many years to disrupt peace and security.
Substantial proof has been gathered by Islamabad’s agencies of Indian sponsorship of terrorism against Pakistan through the TTP, in collaboration with Kabul’s National Directorate of Security and certain power brokers. Some of this evidence has been shared with the UN but has not evoked any action so far from the world organisation. An Indian link to the Lahore park atrocity, responsibility for which has claimed by an affiliate of the TTP, cannot be ruled out.
Pakistan’s armed forces are one of the few organised institutions left in the country. Not surprisingly, because of their profession and training, their resistance to Indian domination is robust. Tarnishing the reputation and credibility of the Pakistan Army is an important element of the Indian strategy. Through the Indian and Western media, the Pakistan Army is incessantly accused of doing today what it did yesterday – supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Kashmiri jihadi groups.
Acceptance in Pakistan
The reality is clouded by ‘fifty shades of grey’. Despite old relationships, Pakistan’s security establishment is either confronting some of these Jihadi groups or has little influence over them (the Afghan Taliban). The violent sectarian groups in Punjab are known to have enjoyed in recent years the protection of some politicians rather than the security establishment. Notwithstanding this, the Indian-inspired mantra against the army and the ISI is frequently echoed not only by the Western media but even within Pakistan.
At the opposite end of India’s kinetic actions, is the wide and successful use of its “‘soft power’, epitomised by Bollywood. This song and dance culture has been warmly embraced by large segments of Pakistan’s young and moneyed elite. Over time, this can lead to greater acceptance in Pakistan of India’s political and strategic goals.
Since early days, India has attempted to co-opt Pakistani politicians, by fair means and foul. When out of office, some political leaders have had intimate contacts with the Indians. Shamefully, some of them – excluding the ruling party – are known to have expressed the desire for Indian and other foreign intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Even today, the desire of some of Pakistan’s leaders to ‘normalise’ relations with India at any cost is inexplicable.
India has been able to play on the fears and predilections of Pakistan’s politicians to set the tone and pace of the bilateral relationship. Dialogue is held out as a favour to Pakistan. India’s positions on both substance and process keep hardening with each encounter. Concessions continue to be made by Pakistan on process and substance – to no avail or purpose.
It is high time for Pakistan’s National Defence Council, which includes both the civilian and military leadership, to undertake a frank and in-depth review of India’s objectives and policies towards Pakistan and evolve a coherent and consensual strategy to respond to each of the elements of India’s policies aimed against Pakistan.
To those Americans who disingenuously chide Pakistan for being paranoid about India, I would respond as Trotsky did shortly before being assassinated: “Just because I am paranoid, does not mean I am not persecuted.”