South Asia is emerging as a region which will assume similar geo-strategic significance during emerging Cold War in Asia-Pacific as was enjoyed by European Theatre during the Cold War between NATO and Warsaw Pacts, signifying two major politico-military groupings of the Second-half of 20th century. China’s emergence as economic and military power in 21st century and slowly re-emerging Russia as a major power, underlines new politico-military orientation, necessitating USA applying the pivot or strategic re-orientation from Atlantic to Asia-Pacific, by implication precipitating the creation of new war zones not only in Pacific- Ocean but extending into Indian Ocean / Afro-Asian Ocean region as well.
The new strategic-military regimes are emerging mainly driven by USA and its allies in the region, i.e. Japan, Australia, India and to some extent, Israel; the objective being, the envisaged containment of China, both in economic as well as military-strategic terms. The US Pivot implies major military re-orientation and stationing of its military capability to Asia-Pacific. It also implies enhancing and creation of new military capabilities of USA’s new strategic partners in the region, like India.
India has been the largest military systems importer since long. Her imports from erstwhile USSR and later Russia, France and UK have already given her an edge over all other countries in the region. With emerging politico-strategic realities and realizations, USA and Israel have emerged as India’s major military suppliers and providers of modern military technologies. Along with her indigenous military developments, the new military cooperation with USA and Israel has tremendously reinforced India’s ability to venture into new military regime of Ballistic Missile Defences.
Indian nuclear explosion in 1974 grossly created a strategic-military imbalance in South Asia, putting Pakistan into a very disadvantageous position, especially in the wake of 1971 War, during which India invaded East Pakistan to assist Mukti Bahini in division of Pakistan. India enjoying a nuclear edge in South Asia meant further break up of Pakistan with whom she had multiple disputes, major one being the unresolved dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, where a referendum is yet to be held under the UN Security Council Resolutions to decide its annexation to Pakistan or India. For Pakistan, Kashmir is matter or life and death, since all rivers flowing into Pakistan like veins of life blood running through a human body originate from Kashmir. The dispute still remains unresolved and India since 1947 has not only cast a hegemonic eye on Pakistan but over the entire region. With emerging geo-strategic realities in the region, India finds new opportunities to distort, disturb or neutralise the prevailing nuclear-strategic deterrent established since 1998, post-Indian initiated and Pakistani responded, nuclear explosions.
Apart from fielding a TRIAD of nuclear delivery regime in South Asia, extending far beyond South Asia, India has vehemently fielded Strategic Air Defences along with her forays into aero-space technologies, i.e. launching of various categories of satellites including military satellites. India’s missile development programme started in early 1980s, has been continuing unabated. More important for the ballistic missile defences are India’s imports from Israel and help from some US manufacturers of military equipment. Various imports of critical missile / air defence technologies have enabled India to perfect some of her on-going air defence systems like Trishul and Akash, which are Extended Short Range Air Defence (ESHORAD) and Low to Medium Air Defence (LOMAD) systems, respectively.
Along with these, India has been uninterruptedly developing her High Altitude Interceptor missile programme. The system is designed to intercept a Surface to Surface Missile (SSM) and other targets outside the earth’s atmosphere, which is a major step in development of a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) regime. India has named this interceptor missile as Prithvi Defence Vehicle (PDV). The PDV employs an imaging seeker which can see the incoming missile, track it and guide the interceptor towards the target. Indians have already carried out successful interceptions in various tests in the endo-atmosphere (below 50 km) and exo-atmosphere (Below 50 and 80 km). The success of the tests for interception at 120 km against hostile ballistic missile approaching from more than 2000 km away would move Indians closer for their development and fielding of BMDs. These systems will bear serious consequences for strategic deterrent regime presently in vogue in South Asia.
The recent Indian test of its PDV, claimed to be successful, takes India a notch up in her pursuit of strategically destabilizing BMDs. With the US Pivot, and strategic partnership/alliance with India, the transfer of critical technologies to India will be filliped and US will enjoy all types of logistic and installation facilities on Indian naval bases and dockyards. Possibility of US Navalanti missile systems like Aegis mounted SM series interceptors’ stationing in Indian waters will be further destabilizing for strategic stability regime in South Asia. India and USA have also been negotiating in the past to station US Patriot missile systems on Indian mainland. With such military developments in the region, will Israel stay out? It remains a moot question; whereas in the recent past she has been a major contributor to Indian military capabilities.
Under the emerging strategic-military scenarios, where does Pakistan stand? So far Pakistan has been closely following Indian nuclear and military developments and balancing the strategic equation fairly well. India has been engaged into creating serious sub-conventional threats by creating and arming Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and various Baloch dissidents like threats in the interior regions of Pakistan to sap Pakistan military and logistics stamina as well create law and order situation for Pakistan which may seriously retard its economic development. The development of BMDs is even more threatening which gives India a false sense of security from Pakistan’s First Strike Doctrine, venturing into extrapolation of their Cold Start Doctrine in a limited war context, which may quickly graduate into a nuclear tete-a-tete, against all their foxy assumptions.
With a view to ensuring sustenance of strategic stability or deterrent to counter conspicuously aggressive and offensive Indian designs, Pakistan may be forced / required to increase the number of nuclear warheads available for launch against various strategic targets, to neutralise Indian interception capability, besides developing / seeking its own BMDs to be deployed for defence of major cities/capital and other critical national/military capabilities. Pakistan also needs to engage major world/regional powers to dissuade India from destabilizing strategic stability regime in South Asia and also preclude major Indian allies deploying such systems in India or in the Indian/Afro-Asian Ocean region impinging upon its defence and security. Pakistan may also require to seek strategic cooperation/collaboration from China and Russia to provide ABM umbrella, in case the USA, Israel or any other power provides such capability to India. Proactive diplomatic options are needed to be geared up to persuade USA and other countries to refrain from enhancing Indian nuclear and BMD capabilities which are inimical of Strategic Stability in South Asia. The option should also be kept open to initiate, through negotiation process with India, fresh Confidence Building Measures inclusive new Indian initiated developments in the realm of BMDs; and also continue raising the Indian build-up of nuclear arms and BMDs at UN and other international forums to expose Indian hegemonic designs in the Indian/Afro-Asian Ocean region.
By its geography, Pakistan not only has been at the confluence of history but also it happens to be the cross roads of South, Central Asia and Middle East, the zone falling in the proverbial eye of the future strategic competition/conflict. Escape is not the option for Pakistan. Pakistan must quickly stabilise itself politically and economically, while achieving commensurate annual GDP growth rates above 7 %. Defence spending is a geo-strategic compulsion of Pakistan. Any weakness created here will be fatally costly for us. The aforementioned options to stand to Indian strategic bullying are imperative for survival of Pakistan as an honourable nation in the region. And Pakistani people have always stood by its Armed forces to face all odds and threats to our nationhood or sovereignty.
— The writer retired as Maj Gen from Pak Army and is currently Pakistan High Commissioner to Nigeria.