Strategic balance in S Asia after Agni-V

Dr Muhammad Khan

With the confirmatory test of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Agni-V, India claims to have joined the super exclusive club of five; US, UK, Russia, France and China. India has attained this status of super exclusive club as its sixth member, as it claimed. Nevertheless, this Indian move of missile race has not attracted any response from the super exclusive club of P-5. Upon this successful test the Indian Prime Minister, Mr NarendraModi tweeted; Successful test firing of Agni V makes every Indian very proud. It will add tremendous strength to our strategic defence. The BJP Government under Mr Modi is taking all steps, India needed to become a hegemon in the region and to attain the status of a major power at the global level.
This strategic missile has a range of 5,000 Kilometres and can carry 1,000 kg nuclear war head. The 17 meters long Agni-V missile has 50 tonnes weight, but very agile and modern weapon system. With its final operational configuration from Wheeler Island off Odisha, this ICBM can reach over to almost all major cities and towns of China (north most parts), Central Asia and Middle East. Apart from attaining overt nuclear capability in 1998, this strategic missile is another milestone, India has achieved in the bid of its major power status.
According to Indian Government announcement, “All the test parameters of the missile, which was tested for its full range, were successfully achieved. The missile splashed down near Australian waters.” Indeed, the last three test fires of Agni-V met failure, owing to minor technical faults and this final and fourth test of this ICBM was carried out after taking care of all those ‘technical tweaking required in the ballistic missile’. It took India almost two years in rectifying the faults, this missile system had earlier. According to Indian officials, “The missile’s canister-launch version makes it even deadlier since it gives the armed forces requisite flexibility to swiftly transport and fire the missile from anywhere they want.”
In the conventional field, India has already stockpiled huge munitions and indeed, become top arms importers at the global level. It is madly leading the arms race and its actions have become a real challenge for almost all the regional countries; South and Southeast Asian including China. With the development of Agni-V, Indian strategic capacity has increased many folds and it is posing a real time threat to all regional countries, Pakistan and China in particular. Indian Strategic Force Command (SFC) has already inducted into its weapons inventory the missiles like; Prithvi and Dhanush. Besides, Indian SFC has also inducted; Agni-I, Agni-II and Agni-III missiles, which are specifically designed against Pakistan. Agni-IV and Agni-V would take care of any Chines offensive.
Induction of Agni-V in the inventory of Strategic Command of India is a serious blow to the strategic balance, achieved by India and Pakistan, after nuclearisation of South Asia in 1998. Compared to India, Pakistan has limited strategic depth, thus its nuclear capable missiles, the Agni series can reach over to all parts of Pakistan. Then there is an offensive posture, India has maintained throughout over the last few years.
This development (Agni-V) and Indian conventional arms race has enhanced the concerns of Pakistan many-folds. Firstly, Pakistan feels, it will be dragged into an arms race at conventional level, against its desires. This would become essential, in the context of security maximisation, as described by structural realists like Walts and Mearshemear. Then, there is no end to the security maximisation, in fact for countries like India it is power maximisation in the garb of security maximisation. This unwarranted arms race in Subcontinent would put aside the socio-economic development of the region, resultantly; the poor masses of both countries would further suffer.
Already, there are over 35% people of India and Pakistan languishing in extreme poverty and this arms race would further increase this parentage. Apart from Pakistan, the masses need to ask Modi Government, as what would be achievement of India, if it stockpiles its weapon inventory and leaves the masses in an absolute hunger and thrust.
Then, the role of major powers, particularly the super power has been quite questionable. US was very concerned over the nuclearisation of South Asia in 1998, but became Strategic Partner of India in 2003. Since then, both countries have undergone a number of MoUs and defence pacts; the Indo-US Nuclear Deal-2008, massive US investment in India including shifting of F-16 manufacturing in India, signing of Logistic Support Agreement-2016, pushing India into Asia-Pacific and so many other pacts and agreements, signed between the super power and India.
At the strategic level, China may be a target of India, since US desires to neutralise China through India in this part of the world, but, Pakistan faces the real challenges of Indian massive developments in the field of its conventional and strategic arsenals. Through this stockpiling and development of its missiles system, India has seriously challenged the strategic balance in South Asia. Owing to unresolved issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek and now Indian manipulation of water, the region is already susceptible to conflicts.
Addition ICBMs like Agni-V would further heighten the tension by disturbing the strategic balance in the region. Then, there is already a nuclear dimension of any future conflict in the region. Pakistan wants resolution of all outstanding issues through negotiations in a peaceful manner. The UN, US and all major power should pressurise the India for a peaceful way forward, rather arms race and the missile race.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.
Email: [email protected]

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