South Asia’s Strategic Environment

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Abbottabad, PAKISTAN: Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Major General Liu Minjiang (C) and Pakistani Major General Mohsin Kamal (behind flag) stand during the opening ceremony of the ten day Pakistan-China anti-terrorist military exercise in Abbottabad, 11 December 2006. More than 200 Chinese troops headed to Pakistan's mountainous northern region at the start of the first ever joint military exercise held here by the two allies. AFP PHOTO/Aamir QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The rising strategic environment of South Asia primarily revolves around some key players: Pakistan, China and India as the regional actors and the US. India plays a fundamental role in shaping the regional dynamics of South Asia. The estranged relationship between India and Pakistan since their independence has made the region a volatile place. Furthermore, China’s animosity against India has exacerbated the situation. Though China’s animosity against India has remained beneficial for Pakistan, yet the region remains under constant threat of skirmishes and security contours. China’s inevitable involvement in the region makes the involvement of the US compulsory to check the China’s hegemonic proclivities. Competition to have a hegemonic status in the region has invited the interests of the great powers in the region. The South Asian region works like a chess board on which the great powers are fighting to have sway over others.

Indian factor in the region has made irreversible ties between Pakistan and China. China and Pakistan relations have started with the inception of China. These relationships strengthened in 1962 when India and China fought a war over border issues. Both Pakistan and China share mutual relationship ranging from military cooperation; economic cooperation to building nuclear weapons and energy corridor. Pakistan procures weapons from China so that Pakistan can counter Indian rising threat. This is a clear evidence of the fact that economic means are being employed by the countries to transform into secularisation of the countries. China and Pakistan share symbiotic relationship. Both elicit benefits because both have a common adversary.

Regional Security Complex is visible among the countries of the region. Despite all countries rhetorically emphasise on mutual cooperation for betterment of the region, reality does not reflect their words. There is a vivid gap between their words and actions. India and China entertain economic relationship but their strategic interests differ. Both take each other a security threat. Their economy is transformed into a military uplift. China wants to subdue India and vice versa. Meanwhile, the US is another stake holder in the region. The US and Pakistan have remained estranged partners. However, both countries are no more amicable in their political and geo-strategic interests.

The matter of Indian hegemonic tendencies is an existential threat to Pakistan. Since its independence, India wants to undo Pakistan. Rising India, undoubtedly, does not serve the interest of Pakistan. Moreover, China is the biggest contender of the world hegemon. For that, China first needs to be invincible in the Asian region which the US does not want. There is both susceptibility interdependence and vulnerability interdependence between China-India and India-Pakistan. Indian military modernization makes Pakistan and China vulnerable to the security challenges.

China and Pakistan reciprocate Indian advancement in military by signing new agreements

China and Pakistan reciprocate Indian advancement in military by signing new agreements. Furthermore, Indian role in Afghanistan puts both Pakistan and China on tenterhooks and make both the countries to explore new ways to counter the emerging security threats. Thus, it would not be erroneous to call India a defining character, owing to its strategic interests, in bolstering China-Pakistan relations.

All of the above geopolitics engender strategic environment of the South Asia. India has introduced a new controversial military strategy in the region. This strategy is called the Cold Start Doctrine. There is myriad of elements which are responsible for the emerging strategic environment of the South Asia. The tussle between the key players of the South Asia landed both the countries in an unending race of acquiring weapons. This ultimately resulted into nuclearization of South Asia. Furthermore, cross-border terrorism has deteriorated the regional environment of South Asia. Indian involvement in Baluchistan is an open secret. Moreover, sanctuaries in Afghanistan are used against Pakistan and the southern region of China to escalate the separatist sentiments. Indian rise has bolstered the relationship between Pakistan and China beyond any doubt. New economic initiatives have been taken by Pakistan and China. China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship of OBOR, is a glaring example of committed relationship between China and Pakistan. It does not stop here. India and Iran also have fallen into an economic cooperation under the flag of Cahaba port. It will help India, besides economic advantages, to reach Afghanistan and the CARs by by-passing Pakistan. So, it does not stop merely at the economic purposes but extends to the securitization of the region.

All of this has security implications for South Asia. Unabated animosity among the states may result into arms race. Pakistan and China are vulnerable to Indian military and economic designs. Thus, both countries have concluded some military and economic alliances to counter India. This deteriorates strategic stability of the region. The arms race among the countries makes the region vulnerable to the security threats and challenges. India takes the support of the US to tackle China and China bolsters Pakistan to make both the countries involved in the imbroglio. The US does not want China to rise at the global level. China does not want India to take the lead in the region. If India takes the lead, that will be security threat to the existence of Pakistan. Stable Pakistan is not in favor of India. Thus, India while considering Afghanistan an Achilles Heel of Pakistan gets involved in Afghanistan. Thus, Pakistan is vulnerable to India from both sides. The interests in the region also invite the extra-regional powers to the region. This ensue a great power gamble in the region. Furthermore, as Afghanistan is also a center of the South Asian strategic environment,thus, peace is Afghanistan is the foremost priority of Pakistan. Every state which is the stakeholder in the region wants peace in Afghanistan on its own terms. This further deteriorates the situation in the region.

However, Pakistan at this crucial period of its history, when the country needs to transcend other rivals to be in the limelight of the prosperous nations, requires taking some steps. Pakistan is an important strategic partner for China. Pakistan needs to govern itself efficaciously within its boundaries. To have smooth relations with China requires a governed Pakistan. Good governance, human resource development, political reforms and capacity building are the major steps that need to be taken by Pakistan to elicit maximum benefits from the CPEC.

With regards to India, instead of blaming India, Pakistan needs a policy review. Both India and Kashmir are long-term challenges for Pakistan. Pakistan cannot choose either short-term or zero-sum solutions with regards to India. Hence a long-term policy is needed beyond myopic blame-game. India by either means wants to undo CPEC. However, the issues may be resolved by introducing the concept of ICPEC (India China Pakistan Economic Corridor). This will play an important role in eradicating distrust between the countries.

For Pakistan, Afghanistan is a foreign policy embarrassment. Pakistan up till now cannot develop amicable relations with Afghanistan. Both countries have never tried to smooth their relationship beyond blaming each other for the upheavals in the countries. Alliance of the US, Afghanistan and India is not in favor of Pakistan. Pakistan’s standing with regards to Afghanistan always remains at its lowest ebb. Pakistan, come what may, has to substantiate its relationship with Afghanistan for perennial across the borders.

Lastly, Pakistan’s relations with the US are also on the back burner due to the US blames against Pakistan. The Trump’s Afghanistan and the South Asia Policy targeted Pakistan and elevated India in the strategic calculus of the US. Pakistan needs to come out of strategic stand-off with the US. Pakistan, further, needs to develop viable relationship with the US. Rhetorical defence is more deception than a reality. Out of the box policy is required to deal with the stake holders in the region.

By Hamid Ehasan Warraich
The authors holds an M.Phil Degree from Quaid-i-Azam University and is currently focusing on independent research on Security and Geo-politics of South Asia