Pakistan : Challenges & Stratergies


There is an interesting anecdote about the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. It is said that when the first Chief Justice of Pakistan was appointed he decided he would rather function from New Delhi than any future capital of Pakistan. The assumption obviously was that there was nothing serious about the creation of Pakistan and the situation would probably retract in a few years, if not a few months.  The lesson – even those at the apex level, involved in Pakistan’s foundation, remained unconvinced about the new state. That unfortunately has remained the situation with Pakistan; never has it been able to come to terms or picked itself up to seriously set goals and achieve tenable aims to create peace for its people and give them an honorable national identity. Much less populous than India and far less diverse in terms of demographics it continues to remain beset with ethnic, sectarian and ideological issues which have threatened to tear it apart. True democracy eludes it, although regular elections have been held for the last two decades or so. Its Army has never detached itself from political power which it exercises on the back of its direction of the nation’s foreign and security policy. Lessons from the Indo Pak Conflict of 1971 and the loss of its former eastern half never seem to have dawned on it. Instead of launching into a campaign of nation building it has preferred to remain mired in a self-defeating game with intent of seeking retribution against India who it blames for its loss of face, dignity as a nation and half its territory and population.

Retribution drives Pakistan’s India policy; more correctly retribution drives the Pakistan Army’s approach towards India. While civil society in Pakistan does harbor traditional animosity it is willing to move on for the sake of the nation and future generations; the Pakistan Army is not. From the memory of 1971 is drawn the energy for retribution which helps keep the Army center stage in the complex social and political labyrinth of Pakistan. That contributes to power and at the end it’s only a power game which drives Pakistan’s relations with India. Joining the Army in its policy of using India as prop for its power are willing politicians and the judiciary besides retired generals, diplomats, bureaucrats and two of Pakistan’s most powerful entities – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Inter -Services Public Relations (ISPR). This conglomeration often referred as the deep state also has a clutch of radicals and terrorists all designated as friendly to Pakistan’s interests. Some of the strangest perceptions of national security prevail in the Pakistani nation and the core center of the perceived threat remains India. It is around this threat that Pakistan has built its entire security policy.

The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) issue helps drive the agenda of antipathy against India. If generational change and civil society’s natural progression and aspirations tend to dilute this antipathy, J&K helps exacerbate it. It needs to be remembered the Pakistan Army adopted the strategy way back in 1977 and thence onwards whereby it accepted its incapability to challenge India in the conventional battlefield. However, it aimed at reducing and virtually negating the asymmetry through adoption of a nuclear weapons program; this it achieved through the Eighties but used various ruses of alternating denial and acceptance, until transparency finally emerged in 1998 when it went overtly nuclear. The central aspect of its policy was and has been to place itself firmly as a core Islamic power and draw the international economic and emotive support from that linkage. To do that it needed to pursue the internal promotion of Islamization. It was supposed to be a calibrated approach to draw maximum strategic advantage that went completely awry.  Alongside this it has followed a policy of exploiting India’s various fault lines, the prime being the communal one. The belief remains that India’s minorities must not be allowed to be mainstreamed and their Islamic fervor enhanced such that they perceive isolation and persecution within. The J&K proxy conflict controlled from Islamabad provides the dual adrenaline of attempting to wrest that state and exacerbating divisiveness within India.

Significant Aspects of Pakistan’s Geo-strategic  Importance

Pakistan’s occupies a geographical location which gives it an automatic strategic importance. Five different civilizations surround it, each with a mutual set of interests resting within its territory or its people. With Iran in virtual international pariah status it is Pakistan which provides access to Heart of Asia and outlet from the latter to the oceans.  No sustained and major operations can be fought in Afghanistan without access from Karachi port to the Afghan heartland; the feasibility of such operations through an airhead in the Central Asian Republics (CARs) is militarily impossible. The long and troubled border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is in itself a battleground of no mean proportion and Pakistan considers Afghanistan its natural ‘strategic depth’, a term which has been differently interpreted by different analysts. The aspect of accessibility to the oceans plays out most significantly in the context of China’s One Belt One Road   (OBOR). The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of OBOR, with an investment of 62 bn USD, which Pakistan wishes to make the major binder for an even more profound strategic relationship with China.

Pakistan’s current cockiness in foreign policy may appear a brave front to minimize US coercion to pry maximum cooperation in Afghanistan. It is playing out its strong equation with China and the obvious advantages of its geostrategic location to set up its own significance and attempt to gain maximum from the international community, including possible concessions on J&K and its relationship with India.

Among major vulnerabilities is its lower riparian status in the regional drainage of waters from the catchment areas in the north; with the upper riparian being India the status of the Indus Waters Treaty assumes greater significance especially if India is continuously needled in other domains which impinge on its security.

Pakistan’s Strategic Security Priorities   

Perceiving an existential threat both on the borders and within, Pakistan’s current priorities for its strategic security are as follows (not in any order) :-

  • Besides its Islamic linkages the partnership with China forms the bedrock of its foreign policy. From it Pakistan draws tremendous support and a degree of freedom from coercion from larger and stronger countries such as the US and India. However, security policy framers in India need to be aware that the economic relationship between China and Pakistan is not based on aid but on loans which are reasonably expensive. The effect of repayment of loans is yet to be fully comprehended or analyzed with difference of opinion more rampant than any single view.
  • It is seeking fresh partnerships with countries such as Russia on basis of mutuality of interests in a world now examining different equations. However, a set of military cooperation exercises and sale of a few helicopters does not spell a new strategic equation.
  • It seeks to secure a major part of the strategic space vacated by the US and the INSAF in Afghanistan, through proxies such as Taliban and the Haqqanis and deny that space more specifically to Indian influence.
  • In the pursuance of the stabilization of the internal security scenario within Pakistan its security forces have suffered a major toll. In recent times it has executed two major operations – Zarb e Azb, to establish internal domination in the restive areas along the western front where the ‘bad terrorists’ (as against the friendly ones focused against India) have had a long run, and Radd – ul – Fassad, an operation to clean out areas in its hinterland by neutralizing the ‘bad terrorists’ and sectarian elements. 
  • It follows the continuation of proxy conflict in J&K using ‘friendlies’ and by default in other parts of India where it seeks to cause instability through disturbance of social cohesion. This gains major priority each time a trigger is either available by circumstances or successfully set up by the ‘friendlies’ primarily represented by the United Jihad Council (UJC). The possibility of such triggers in the near future becomes more relevant considering the wide open political space in Pakistan in its run up to the elections which are due in Jul 2018. With mainstream political parties largely weakened there are elements such as Hafiz Sayeed’s Jamat ul Dawa (JuD) (with a brand new political party – Milli Muslim League, to boot) and other friendly terrorist groups who could attempt to morph into political entities to garner credibility. Most of these groups follow a radical Islamist line and the political color they adopt is perceived to receive a fillip by a more strident anti India stance. The latter could result in attempts to execute high profile violent actions on Indian soil. 
  • Lastly, the pursuance of nuclear weapons is a very significant strength Pakistan possesses. Sanctions on the proliferation of its program were laid to rest as soon as it regained ‘frontline status’ for the US in its fight against radical jihadi elements in Afghanistan. The potential of the nuclear weapons falling into Jihadi hands as a result of a possible implosion of Pakistan remains an abiding concern among big powers. It offers scope for continuous impingement of this notion on the international community through effective Indian communication strategy.
  • Pakistan now boasts of having developed tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) as it claims, to counter India’s offensive thrusts which could be a part of the latter’s pro-active strategy on the western front. It does not yet have an answer to the feasibility of the employment of such TNWs crossing the rubicon of India’s declared No First Use policy in the employment of nuclear weapons as weapons of war fighting.

One of the subsets of Pakistan’s strategic security strategy which it has developed and refined is communication strategy, the art of effective propaganda and perception management. It appears to have partially borrowed this from China’s doctrine of ‘war under informationized conditions’. It is learnt that Pakistan is avidly studying India’s successful handling of the Doklam standoff with China. What can be expected in future is greater collusion between Pakistan and China in the approach to India and the disputes that exist with it.

Lastly, J&K still rules the roost as far as immediacy is concerned. Pakistan has been surprised by the speed with which Indian security forces (SF) have regained dominance in the Valley. However, as long as alienation among the populace in the Valley runs high the scope to overturn the situation in favor of Pakistan sponsored anti-national elements always remains. In a situation where Pakistan’s control over turbulence in the Valley is only marginal it is violent exchanges at the Line of Control (LoC) which becomes the symbol for projection of the J&K issue to the international community; keeping it in the focus, so to say.

India’s Counter Strategy

Considering the takeaways from the strategic security priorities of Pakistan India can ill afford not to have an updated view of the threats that are likely to be at play in 2018 and beyond. A counter strategy would already be under evolution as work in progress under the National Security Adviser (NSA). The possible areas on which such a strategy may focus are analyzed in succeeding paragraphs.

There are some assumptions and truisms we need to keep in mind while considering such a counter strategy:-

  • War is not an option to resolve issues but coercion of different kinds and different levels backed by credible deterrence remains one of the key elements in diluting threats.
  •  The world is undergoing change in terms of strategic relationships. Past foes can be friends and vice versa with no dogma of history of antipathy attached to future dispensations.
  • Partnerships between nations or membership of groups today are important and contribute to greater security as complexities and inter linkages within strategic situations have enhanced.
  • Communication strategy and narrative dominance are equally important tools in dealing with adversaries and grappling for advantage. Nations which lack this capability suffer from the perception they cannot evolve in favor of their own cause, in terms of justification of stands taken.
  • Diplomacy is usually of the structured kind, conducted upfront by a nation’s official diplomatic corps. However, narrative dominance is more likely to be achieved by under radar diplomacy conducted through employment of a corps of competent former diplomats, scholar warriors, bureaucrats and intelligence officers. Pakistan has itself mastered this art.

Indian Strategic Approach.  With the above truisms and assumptions in mind we may outline a broad strategy to tackle security issues thrown up by India’s overall standoff with Pakistan:-

  • India should no longer look upon Pakistan in isolation. That is the difference 2017 made. While threats from China and Pakistan have often in the past been viewed in tandem the tendency has more often been to view each in isolation. China and Pakistan are likely to assess avenues of cooperation which can place India at disadvantage. For example in the field of cyber capability China’s greater assistance to Pakistan will bring to bear a modern element of warfare along an enhanced front. India must therefore seek ways of countering this through counter cyber warfare techniques and systems.
  • India must continue to seek strategic partnerships with important countries on the basis of context of threats it faces. In the specific case of the collusive Sino-Pak threat the emerging Indo-US strategic partnership is the most significant. There may be occasions when India may have to re-examine its current interests and not be guided by the past. The apparent dilution of the Indo-Russian relationship must be kept in focus and ways to retract and recover it need to be considered. In the post ‘post-cold war’ world to expect that an Indo-Russian relationship will be based on the threat perceptions of the pre-cold war period is unrealistic. However, there is enough convergence of interest, probably well identified. The emergence of a Russian-Pak relationship must be viewed from an angle of new equations with no major compromise on the Indo-Russian relationship.
  • There appears to be a negative narrative created around India’s current military capability. Besides low budgetary allocations, and procedural inefficiency in procurement of weapons and equipment a very awkward civil-military relationship has eroded India’s deterrent capability vis-à-vis Pakistan. The solution lies within and how it needs to be done is the subject of another analysis.
  • The world is increasingly looking at the hybrid form of conflict which encompasses below threshold covert operations, economic warfare, resource threats such as those based on water, terror, separatism, sabotage and subversion. The range of hybrid threads can be many times more manifold and do not remain the purview of one nation. ‘Two can play the game’ – still remains a truism as everything thing can be paid back in kind and that includes 28 years of tolerance for Pakistan’s one sided hybrid aggression. There is every possibility that Kulbhushan Jadhav was kidnapped from Chahbahar to brand and project Indian espionage and subversive activities in Baluchistan.  It was also contrived to send a message to India’s intelligence leadership that Pakistan had a measure of control over the intelligence space. This must not dissuade India from setting up its own proxies in Pakistan, especially Baluchistan and cultivate its capability beyond the usual niceties between neighbors.
  • The J&K issue makes India vulnerable, takes away out of proportion focus of officials and the strategic community and needs out of the box handling to strengthen India’s stand. Military domination is important but equally important is the strategy evolved and executed to dilute alienation, take the population on board and involve it in nation building. While it may be easier said than done the efforts towards that end need to be seen as sincere and holistic. For this India needs to develop its overall communication strategy capability to counter Pakistan’s nefarious agencies and have its own versions of storytelling.
  • Storytelling is an essential part of communication strategy. There is much to learn from Pakistan in this regard and better it through willingness to adopt change. Our capability of outreach to important international institutions, think tanks and simply the right circles which matter, through unofficial diplomacy supported and briefed by the Government, is a must. The Indian narrative on all contentious issues must be heard and be absorbed.
  • Embassies and high commissions abroad have their hands full and are under staffed. India’s diplomatic corps is insufficiently large to undertake a full scale official diplomatic offensive. Hence the need for supplementing it with academics, army officers and others who show proficiency in understanding strategic affairs. On matters of core concern for India, such as J&K or Doklam (at the height of the crisis), the ability of our missions abroad to sell the Indian narrative needs to be progressively enhanced.
  • The oldest phrase and probably the most appropriate in all matters concerning Pakistan is –‘setting our own house in order’. If internal harmony between communities is in place no power can weaken India but the moment political interests override national interests we open ourselves up for exploitation.
  • Economic strength will override all other capabilities in the future. Pakistan is expecting to reach a figure of 7 percent GDP growth in the next three to four years on the back of the perceived CPEC benefits. Although economists are all skeptical about such expectations India’s GDP growth must outmatch Pakistan to allow the truth to sink in. Managers of India’s economy need to be mindful that apart from social parameters which are affected by economic growth so is projection of capability and power.
  • There is a certain position of respect acquired by India over years on the basis of its democratic and secular credentials and indices of human freedom and free media. This is soft power that India carries over and above its military and economic capability. It lends out of proportion credibility and enhances comprehensive national power which too is a deterrent for rogue nations undertaking adventurism against India.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to be coerced by US in the usual ways adopted thus far. If it has to be pulled back from the activities it is indulging in India and the US need to be in much more consultation. The US will have to be prepared to go the full mile and refrain from stopping mid-way and resorting to sops. In the short term it is unlikely to happen as historical US and particularly the US Military’s support to Pakistan will not wane overnight.
  • India’s risk propensity for undertaking one off punitive operations against Pakistan and its surrogates has to increase. There can be no perfect situations and solutions; much imperfection and a degree of crudity have to be accepted. It is only then retribution capability will increase. This should be left to the Army to handle with no encumbrances just as has been demonstrated at the LoC through 2017.
  • The experiment with countering terror, separatist and other financial networks has been a runaway success. Much more time and energy needs to be invested in this field as it has immediate effect. With reasonable success in the J&K theatre we now need to expand our counter finance operations to other states where the jihadi scope runs high.
  • In terms of the nuclear field India’s relative silence and maturity has somehow given Pakistan an erroneous perception of its (Pakistan’s) decided superiority in this field. Subtle correction of perception may be necessary to allow deterrence to take more effective shape.

The recent NSA parleys at Bangkok have been met with confused signals even from well informed circles. The truth remains that even at the height of standoff in relationships a window remains open. It may not be a process in place but one off meets to take stock and examine feasibility of changing course. Given the political events in the offing in both India and Pakistan in 2018-19 major initiatives for peace may not be forthcoming even in the absence of any major tensions. However, in the context of the times things can change overnight if bold initiatives are taken by political leaders. Inevitably such initiatives will need to come from India in view of the light political leadership in Pakistan and its guidance under Army control. The spoilers will remain the ‘good guys’ who deliver Pakistan’s perceived interests with regard to India. Pakistan needs to get this clear that its stance on talks and more talks has to be matched by sufficient initiative to ensure future talks if at all, are not sabotaged at the hands of maverick ‘good boys’.

Lastly, the feasibility of Doklam 2 looms large and in that are opportunities for Pakistan which it will not forego. India has to be more than ever mindful that lower intensity two front situations without the full spectrum being unleashed could well be on the cards; a kind of test of collusion for the future. Its strategic partnerships must ensure that India is not isolated in the event of such testing. It will need much support and that support will equally set the stage for future   standoffs.

(This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of ' Synergy, a Cenjows Journal' and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)