Written By: Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The global strategic chessboard would remain complex in 2017. The conversion in the global strategic environment continues. The transition in the global politics appeases the dynamical forces and alarms the status quo legatees. Professing about the developments in 2017 necessitates both the prerequisite of the understanding of the theories of international relations and proper awareness of the tangible developments in the international and regional affairs during the recent past. The following discussion precisely mirrors prospective developments at the 2017 global strategic chessboard in general and South Asian strategic environment in particular. The discussion is limited in scope because it focuses only on those issues which would be having impact on Pakistan’s external relations.
The nuclear weapons will not lose their significance in the strategic policies of the nuclear weapon states in 2017. The vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons would continue. It was reported that United States was going to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. Washington’s modernization plan included the development of more-reliable and more-accurate missile systems, aircraft, and submarines, as well as replacing existing nuclear warheads. Therefore, it is planning to spend about $1 trillion for modernizing its nuclear weapons over 30 years. The advancement of the American nuclear arsenal would reignite an arms competition or have a chain reaction entailing lethal vertical proliferation. The trends indicate that Russians would invest immensely in their nuclear capable delivery system to defy the Americans’ ballistic missile defence system. Importantly, the United States missile defence program would be having decisive effects on the global and regional powers’ military arrangements.
The strategic competition between India and Pakistan would sustain nuclear arms’ race in South Asia. The trends indicate that both New Delhi and Islamabad would advance their nuclear capable delivery vehicles, such as ballistic and cruise missiles. The new inventory of nuclear weapons and New Delhi’s mega investment in the procurement of conventional weapons from the advanced military industrial complexes necessitate the transformation in the nuclear doctrines of both India and Pakistan. Since the tests of Pakistani battlefield NASR missile and Indian Prahaar (both are cataloged as tactical nuclear weapons) in 2011, the Indian strategic pundits have been debating the relevance of ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear policy and strategy of ‘massive retaliation’. Many Indian strategic analysts have a consensus that the introduction of tactical weapons in both states’ arsenals obliges refurbishing of India’s nuclear doctrine. During the 2014 general elections, BJP leadership committed that it would “study in detail India's nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”. The Indian strategic discourse, however, received serious attention from the international security analysts after the statement of the Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on November 10, 2016, i.e., “India should not bind itself to a 'no first use policy’ on nuclear weapons”. He added: “Why should I bind myself? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my (personal) thinking”. Perhaps, New Delhi is going to revamp its nuclear doctrine. Though the shift in India’s nuclear doctrine would not be having much impact on Pakistan’s current nuclear posture, yet it demands vigilance from the Pakistani strategic enclave. Indeed, Islamabad needs to constantly invest, without getting trapped in arms race, in sustaining the credibility of its full-spectrum deterrence capability.
The Kashmiris will be sustaining their freedom movement in the Indian-occupied Kashmir in 2017, which will have a frustrating impact on Premier Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist associates. Instead of addressing the Kashmiris’ legitimate concerns, they will continue to accuse Pakistan. They seem convinced that warmongering would frighten Pakistanis and they would stop assisting Kashmiris politically and diplomatically. Though, it is their wishful thinking, yet it has potential to escalate the conflict at the Line of Control between the two nuclear-armed belligerent neighbours. The best option for Pakistan to save Kashmiri lives from the Indian armed forces’ brutal atrocities is to approach the United Nations Security Council formally to: investigate and condemn India’s human rights violations in Kashmir; call for a halt to Indian violations of the LoC ceasefire; and agree on steps to implement the Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir.
Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the nuclear non-proliferation regime is in a state of inertia. Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2005 and subsequent amendment in the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to accommodate India and above all Nuclear Suppliers Group’s India specific wavier on September 6, 2008 (India’s immunity from comprehensive international safeguards as a condition of nuclear trade) had eroded the regime’s credibility. Nothing much is expected in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in the near future. United States and its likeminded states, including India’s stance on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) and other core items of CD and Islamabad’s principle stance on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, endure the existing stalemate in the CD at Geneva, Switzerland. Both India and Pakistan neither join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor sign the draft of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Islamabad and New Delhi would maintain their previous stance in the Conference on Disarmament, whose first session will commence from January 23, 2017 to March 31, 2017. Despite, their identical stance at the CD, New Delhi and Islamabad will vigorously pursue the full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2017. The biggest obstacle in the entry into the group of non-NPT member states is India and its western allies including United States, which are not ready to accept ‘non-discriminatory, criteria-based approach’ while admitting a new member in the club. Such a stubborn, unjustifiable attitude might wear away almost five decades of international consensus on nuclear proliferation.
Since the United States presidential election on November 8, 2016, security analysts have been making guesses about the Trump Administration’s strategic policy. They seem anxious to hear the State of the Union speech of President Donald Trump, which is scheduled in January 2017. Because, during the campaign candidate Trump had paid little attention to the strategic issues United States is currently confronting. Nevertheless, the realistic fact is that Trump Administration would not depart from President Obama’s legacy, straight away. Therefore, the new American administration will continue to fight radical terrorist groups in Middle East and Afghanistan and will also remain engaged in resolving the civil war in Syria, Libya, etc. Though United States is a pre-eminent power in global politics, yet its worldview seems to be lacking support and thereby it could probably be challenged in a few regions of the world in 2017. The developments in Asia-Pacific and Europe would be decisive in the formulation of Trump Administration’s military strategy and framing of new strategic alliances.
The emerging strategic competition at the strategic chessboard immensely influences the developments in the South Asian strategic environment in 2017. Washington’s cementing strategic partnership with India to check Chinese rise in Asia directly would affect the national security of Pakistan in particular and other regional actors in general.
The sustainability of the Indo-U.S. strategic partnership is significant for both the regional and global strategic chessboards. The general impression is that India’s economic potential is the primary determinant of Washington and New Delhi’s cordial relationship. The critical examination of their bilateral agreements highlights that India is very significant in United States’ military calculations. On December 8, 2016, during his visit to New Delhi, United States Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter signed an agreement with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar to declare India as a major defence partner of the United States. Being a major defence partner, India is qualified to receive not only military equipment, but also defence technology. In simple words, the major defence partner agreement ensures uninterrupted defence trade and transfer of sophisticated military technology to India. Perhaps, the American Military Industrial Complex would be the major beneficiary of India’s military shopping spree. Indo-U.S. strategic partnership may receive positive trajectory in 2017. Conversely, Pakistan and United States may continue their bilateral strategic dialogue, but the developments are not favourable for both the states’ cordial relations in 2017. The latter’s strong inclination towards India alarms the former. Many analysts acknowledge probability of the worst-case scenario, i.e., the likelihood of American sanctions.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project’s early harvest schemes would be near completion in late 2017. Indeed, improved connectivity and better infrastructure would attract investment from the neighbouring countries, such as Iran, Russian Federation, etc. At the same time, Premier Modi is likely to continue his diplomatic and military efforts to subvert the CPEC. Therefore, one can expect Indian intelligence agency RAW’s clandestine support to the radicalized militant groups for conducting terrorist attacks within Pakistan. Hence, Balochistan would remain vulnerable to RAW-sponsored terrorist groups’ nefarious activities during 2017. Though Government of Pakistan has already announced and executed preventive/defencive apparatus, yet the threat demands more countermeasures.
Russian Federation has been increasing its engagement with Pakistan and other regional actors. On December 14, 2016, Pakistan and Russia held their first consultation on regional issues at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad. The Russian side was led by Alexander V. Sternik, Head of the Third CIS Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia while the Pakistani side was led by Ahmad Hussain Dayo, Director General (West Asia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This meeting indicates the convergence of interest between Islamabad and Moscow on the regional issues. For instance, Pakistan, Russia and China share common concerns in Afghanistan such as the threat of Daesh, terrorism and narcotics. On December 17, 2016, in an interview on Radio Pakistan, Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Y. Dedov highlighted that CPEC is an important project for regional connectivity. He also stated that ‘CPEC is a component of China’s Silk Road and Russia was also working on a similar Eurasian Economic Union’. It was reported that Moscow and Beijing are holding discussions to merge the CPEC and Eurasian Economic Union. The merger of these projects certainly enhances the vitality of CPEC as well as Gwadar port.
Russian Federation is also in contact with the Afghan Taliban. Kabul protested and demanded Moscow to end its contacts with Taliban. Russian Ambassador in Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy defended Moscow’s outreach to Taliban in December, 2016. While appearing before the Afghan parliament’s upper house, the Ambassador stated that if U.S., Britain, Italy, Qatar and Saudi Arabia maintain contacts with them then why is it an issue if “we are also talking to them”. He added: “Our limited contacts are aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and to ensuring the safety of Russian citizens”. The Russians believe that Taliban is a legitimate interlocutor for peace in Afghanistan and it can only check the rise of Daesh/Islamic State in the country. The increasing role of Russians in Afghanistan alarms the Americans and their NATO partners.
Prime Minister Modi and President Ghani have launched an aggressive campaign to malign and isolate Pakistan since 2015. They accused Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism in their respective countries during the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, India in December 2016. President Ghani stated that Pakistan has been supporting insurgency in Afghanistan and thereby he rejected Pakistan’s offer of $500 million in economic assistance. On December 4, 2016, while addressing the Heart of Asia conference, the Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov rejected the Indian and Afghan criticism on Pakistan. Nevertheless, the trends indicate that New Delhi continues to spoil Islamabad-Kabul relations. In addition, the Indian intelligence agency RAW with the connivance of its Afghan counterpart would endeavour to ruin the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
The current intifada (uprising) in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, which started due to the martyrdom of a 22 year old pro-freedom Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016 continues in the following months. Concurrently, Indian military atrocities are bleeding the innocent Kashmiris. Premier Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist cohorts would not succeed in quashing the intifada and thereby they maintain tension at the Line of Control and Working Boundary. Islamabad, which is a legitimate party to the conflict, is trying to draw the attention of the international community towards the atrocities of the Indian forces in Kashmir. Conversely, India is using its hard and soft power to punish Pakistan for politically and diplomatically supporting the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination.
The Indian ruling elite’s warmongering would continue in the first-half of 2017. Hence, there are inconsequential possibilities for the restart of a dialogue process between Islamabad and New Delhi till the completion of elections in the four Indian states, i.e., Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Manipur. The increasing mistrust certainly alarms about the escalation of the conflict between the nuclear armed belligerent neighbours. Perhaps, Premier Modi’s tactics (such as use of force at Line of Control, warmongering, sponsoring terrorist activities to bleed innocent Pakistanis and reiterating to isolate Pakistan, etc.) to coerce the Government of Pakistan and also muster the support of the Hindu fundamentalists in the forthcoming elections in aforementioned states is immensely risky. It could lead to the unthinkable – a nuclear clash between India and Pakistan. The Indian strategic pundits, military industrial complex’s profiteers and above all Indian military establishment would use the current tension between India and Pakistan to increase India’s 2017-18 defence budget. The international community, the big powers, international institutions, including the United Nations, would remain apathetic during 2017 from the deteriorating South Asian strategic environment. Precisely, the international community seems least interested in easing the current tension between Pakistan and India.
The Kashmiris will be sustaining their freedom movement in the Indian-occupied Kashmir in 2017, which will have a frustrating impact on Premier Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist associates. Instead of addressing the Kashmiris’ legitimate concerns, they will continue to accuse Pakistan. They seem convinced that warmongering would frighten Pakistanis and they would stop assisting Kashmiris politically and diplomatically. Though, it is their wishful thinking, yet it has potential to escalate the conflict at the Line of Control between the two nuclear-armed belligerent neighbours. The best option for Pakistan to save Kashmiri lives from the Indian armed forces’ brutal atrocities is to approach the United Nations Security Council formally to: investigate and condemn India’s human rights violations in Kashmir; call for a halt to Indian violations of the LoC ceasefire; and agree on steps to implement the Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, Islamabad’s formal approach to the United Nations Security Council definitely enrages Premier Modi. Consequently, the Indian armed forces will increase fire along the Line of Control and Working Boundary and target Pakistani civilians living near India-Pakistan border. The response of the Pakistani border forces may result in Indian aggression inside Pakistan. Hence, strategic vigilance and investment in solidifying defencive fence is imperative to hinder India’s military adventurism.
To conclude, the preceding discussion underscores that the emerging strategic competition at the strategic chessboard immensely influences the developments in the South Asian strategic environment in 2017. Washington’s cementing strategic partnership with India to check Chinese rise in Asia directly would affect the national security of Pakistan in particular and other regional actors in general. Therefore, the likely transformation at the strategic chessboard obliges Islamabad to be vigilant and prepared to revamp its foreign policy to guard as well as pursue its objectives in the anarchical international society.
The writer is Associate Professor at School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.