Pakistan needs to rethink its dealings with India.
In his article for the daily Dawn, “Indo-Pak Reality,” Moeed Yusuf made two important, interrelated points by first accepting Islamabad’s contention that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to isolate Pakistan and deal with it only in a narrow, security-related framework.
Yusuf argued that Modi’s ability to do so is contingent on two factors: India’s growing power differential vis-à-vis Pakistan, and the world’s continued support to an ascendant India. To do this, Modi’s strategic thrust must be to keep Pakistan wedded to its current India-centric security paradigm.
On both points, Yusuf is spot-on.
Let’s begin with employing the concept of relative power, which, the Realist school argues, is the most important determinant of interstate behavior. When two states are locked in a conflictual paradigm, total peace can be achieved in two ways: through an adequate balance of power—acquired either by a state’s own strength relative to other state, or by bandwagoning with an ally to make up for any weakness. The second is by submitting—i.e., the decision by one state to allow relations to be shaped according to the will of the other—or, for it to be coerced by the other into taking the submission option.
It is a matter of empirical evidence that Pakistan’s own strength, relative to India’s, has been declining. It must, therefore, going by the Realist framework, find powerful allies to balance India’s power. Finding allies is a matter of convergence of interests with powerful states and interesting, not worrying, them.
Traditionally, Pakistan has tried to do this by using the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, China. While in recent years Pakistan’s reliance on China has increased manifold, its relations with the U.S. have steadily declined. In fact, if Afghanistan is anything to go by, there’s not much convergence of interests between U.S. and Pakistan. Additionally, the U.S.’s relations with India, since 1999, have been on an incline and unlike Washington’s dealings with Islamabad, the former’s reach to New Delhi is multifaceted and strategic, not security-related and transactional.
This means that Pakistan is worse off today than it was 10 or 15 or 20 years ago in relation to India both in terms of its own relative strength as also in finding allies to balance India’s power. As for China, Beijing still wants Washington to play a role in the region and successive Chinese leaders have told civil and military leadership in Pakistan to normalize relations with India.
It should be obvious that, if the trajectories do not undergo a significant, positive change for Pakistan, the current power differential will only grow worse for it. Equally obvious should be the fact that, given this, it is important to not just have a nuanced view of how we must deal with India, but also a nuanced review of how we have dealt with it.
The argument is not that India is a babe in the woods or that Pakistan’s policies have been entirely gratuitous. Quite the contrary. India poses a threat to Pakistan by being the largest, most powerful and pivotal state in the region with the inclination to increase its influence and project power within and beyond the region. A system-level analysis will tell us that the important point in this ‘India factor’ is not so much a Pakistani fear that India could conquer and hold Pakistani territory, but that India should not be allowed to get into a position where it can use a mix of non-kinetic and kinetic means to coerce Pakistan into accepting its terms. Indeed, evidence suggests that India has reached a state of peace with only those neighbors that have accepted New Delhi’s terms.
As I have written elsewhere, “the argument… is not so much about Pakistan’s real or perceived threat from India. Threat levels can fluctuate and whether they are/were real or perceived can be, and is, debated. The point is both broader and more structural and relates to Pakistan’s drive to avoid falling within India’s ambit of influence.”
What are Pakistan’s options?
One way is to keep doing more of the same. But my argument—as also Yusuf’s—is that that is precisely what Modi wants: keep Pakistan entangled. Throw out a paper on limited war or present the idea of Cold Start and get Pakistan to invest in tactical nuclear weapons. Do mischief in Balochistan and keep Pakistan locked in a security approach to India. Penetrate the diffused power configuration in Kabul and prevent Pakistan from developing an independent Afghanistan policy. Mount covert intelligence-based operations and be confident that Pakistan will reply in kind and rely on exactly those proxies that have destabilized Pakistan. And so on.
Modi, since coming to power, has made clear that he will only talk “terrorism” with Pakistan. His line resonates with the global narrative. By keeping Pakistan locked in the old paradigm, he continues to win at a relatively lesser cost to India. Pakistan needs to change the game.
The British military strategist, Liddell Hart, wrote about the strategy of the indirect approach. “In Strategy the longest way around is often the shortest way there… an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance.”
Avoiding exposure to the adversary’s strength and upsetting his equilibrium (expectation, force concentration, response) are the two salient points of an indirect approach. The military thinks that relying on covert or sub-conventional war and avoiding a direct contest of arms is the essence of the indirect approach. But that’s only operational. We are talking higher, holistic national strategy. Yusuf, in his article, has listed the steps Pakistan must take for that indirect approach to be meaningful so I shan’t list them here. More points can be added to that list. The policymakers in Islamabad have to heed that advice. Restricting Modi and getting him lbw is our job.
Did I say policymakers in Islamabad? Correction: it’s the managers in Rawalpindi who must reevaluate and appreciate the situation instead of situating the appreciation.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider