The saga of Indo-Pak rivalry

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


December 3, 2022

The saga of Indo-Pak rivalry

M Ali Siddiqi looks at a
persistent problem

One of the first and crucial questions asked when the recent change of command took place at the Pakistan army was that what would be the attitude of the new army chief towards India and what policy he would follow. The saga of Indo-Pak rivalry perception is at the centre of Southwest Asia as the region is widely considered a flashpoint for trouble due as here exists an almost perennial rivalry between India and Pakistan, two neighbouring countries having nuclear capability. There is hardly any doubt that Indo-Pak estrangement is probably the longest running conflict whose intensity has very rarely softened despite countless bilateral and multi-lateral efforts. The prevailing conflict has many times exacerbated to the level that conflict appeared a real possibility with potential of engulfing the countries of the region.

The never-ending feud between Pakistan and India has befuddled many an analyst and they feel genuinely unnerved at the flagrant obstinacy of decision makers on both sides to persist with the obdurate enmity that has fairly good chances of resolution if far-reaching prudent flexibility was exhibited by hard-liners of respective countries. It is evident to all that Pakistan is delicately placed in the region and is exposed to many dangers. Its rivalry with India is its defining point and it is not just a ploy to balance political options. It may be amenable to establishing workable neighbourly relations with Afghanistan but it cannot afford to remain oblivious to Indian designs. That is where the problem lies as the conflict between both countries is a never-ending phenomenon and both of them are acutely aware of it. Though it defies evolution of international system but it exists as a reality and cannot be ignored.

The Indo-Pak rivalry is an odd part of the evolution of nation-state concept and its interplay in the wider international arena. The horrors of First World War were not yet over when, after an interregnum of only two decades the Second World War cast its disastrous shadow over the entire world opening hitherto unimaginable theatres of murderous operations. This mortal conflict became the most disastrous occurrence in human history killing more than 50 million people and destroying entire infrastructures painstakingly built over decades. The world has enjoyed relative peace for seventy years since 1945 although the simmering discontent continued in shape of Cold War for 45 long years after the end of hostilities of Second World War. The Cold War also brought unbelievable misery to vast swathes of land and uncounted number of people and left a murderous legacy that still lingers making life hell for many areas.

However, the Indo-Pak conflict has entered the new paradigm of fifth generation war that is waged on multiple fronts. One can clearly observe the ferocity of Indian opinion about Pakistan by just watching some of the content aired on their TV screens about Pakistan that is full of venom. It would be completely wrong to view this conflict as a historical aberration because its contours are deeply seeped in history and traditions that have raised barriers that cannot be conveniently ignored. It is a verified testament of history that every global conflict needs just a spark to start it and ironically its perpetrators are usually unmindful of its horrible potential. But at some point during such a conflict things tend to escalate spreading it over till the nation-states participating in it forget its initial cause and become subsumed by competitive rivalry.

The goal of fighting becomes the establishment of a new global order and with the increase in stakes comes an increase in the resources committed by the combatants resulting in causing havoc to the people on a large scale. The current crises scale is brimming with conflicts considered potential harbinger for a global war and unfortunately Indo-Pak stand-off is one major concern.

Analysts fear that India and Pakistan may go to war in the near future for a variety of reasons; Kashmir imbroglio, water disputes, India’s intervention in Balochistan and a resurgence of religious right fomenting hard-line attitudes in both countries. A terrorist attack mirroring Mumbai carnage may cause an unending flare-up. Wary of such impending scenario Pakistani policy makers have broadly hinted at a reaction that may border on something more than conventional weapons thereby clearly hinting at limited nuclear response. The in-built emphasis in such hints is that if Pakistan suffers serious reverses then it will possibly resort to tactical nuclear weaponry. To put it mildly, nuclear retaliation is never limited whatever the policy makers make the world to believe. Nuclear capability is deterrence-oriented and it must be kept at that level. If nuclear aspect comes into play then all bets are surely off.

Another fear is that the conflict-ridden Afghanistan may become yet another cause of problems as India wants to keep it in its zone of influence whereas Pakistan would never like that to happen. The physical proximity Pakistan and India have with Afghanistan makes it very difficult for international forces to completely control surreptitious activities taking place there. The not-very-desired impression conveyed by US policy makers that they may not object to India looking after Afghanistan interests has caused considerable irritation in Pakistan that has always been wary of revival of the Pukhtunistan bogey involving almost 25% Pashtun population inhabiting areas forming Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the border province of Pakistan. Pakistan is justifiably worried about growing Indian designs in Afghanistan and considers it a highly undesirable act aimed at encircling it with hostile elements.

The ever-changing conditions prevailing in the region have become more fluid with the growing closeness between America and India. America is decidedly oriented to make India its defensive partner in its conflict with China and it is now is quite visible a policy. The blow-hot-blow-cold US-Pakistan relationship is not expected to be balanced in near future. Added to it is the Chinese intention of intensifying its relationship with Pakistan although it is also normalising its ties with India. Viewed in the backdrop of a collaborative stand taken by both US and China favouring Pakistan in 1971 war, it is unclear in current circumstances to predict how America will respond if China decides to intercede on Pakistan’s behalf in case it engages in war with India. The scenario has all the ingredients of a powder-keg.

US-China rivalry may have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan particularly when India comes on the side of America. Pakistani ties with China have already cooled down under American pressure but there is no quid pro quo in the offing. Pakistan’s traditional friends in the Gulf States are also getting close to India and have started to distance themselves from Pakistan. The ultra-rightist Modi regime is bending backward to woo the Gulf countries towards India and they are getting closer. All this is taking place, unfortunately, on the expense of Pakistan and it is quite unnerving for Pakistani policy makers. The worsening economic conditions of Pakistan have also contributed hugely towards creating a tension-ridden scenario in the region that could be exploited by India and its Western allies as became evident during the recent FATF imbroglio Pakistan was pushed into in which Indian role was decisively and worryingly negative. TW


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