Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies
The Indian Government’s decision to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution has generated a chain of intense reactions, reflecting in hate tweets, propaganda and statements from the Pakistani leadership, policymakers and scholars. Imran Khan has been competing with himself and writing acrimonious tweets tagging the Modi government as “fascist” and “supremacist”. Every succeeding tweet intensifies in bitterness and the latest one actually talks about the threat emerging from India’s nuclear weapons to global security.
In a recent interview to the New York Times, Imran Khan complained that his so-called “overtures for peace and dialogue” were rebuffed by the Modi government. Surprisingly, he said that he “has done all the talking” with India. The fact is that no talks took place between India and Pakistan, given India’s firm stance on a ‘conditional dialogue’. New Delhi has consistently maintained that resumption of dialogue is subject to ‘credible action’ against terror groups by Pakistan. Imran’s statements are very much in sync with Pakistan’s desperate diplomatic offensive which has emerged after the abrogation of Article 370.
Pakistan is likely to react on various fronts to deal with the probable loss of its “flashpoint”. At present, the state faces innumerable challenges within and does not seem to have too many choices. At this point, Pakistan is restricted in terms of intensifying militancy in the Valley, which has been the preferred option for the state. It has been under international spotlight and under continued pressure of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to act against the financial network of terrorist outfits. On the military front, the options look restricted owing to the international environment, experience of military actions which have not yielded any strategic advantage for Pakistan and the pressing financial crisis within Pakistan, which has once again made it highly dependent on external aid and assistance for sustenance. Consequently, Pakistan is likely to maximise its energy on the diplomatic front to intensify its Kashmir narrative and wage a propaganda war against India. It will try to draw the world’s attention by talking about human rights in Kashmir on every possible platform.
The question that needs attention is how the current developments are likely to impact Pakistan’s strategic posture against India. Pakistan’s strategic posture against New Delhi has been determined by three factors:
n The identity crisis of the Pakistani state, with which it has struggled for seven decades now. It has been a nation of contradictions; it has shared an ambiguous relationship with Islam, tried to adopt Western ideas of modernity, has an overpowering military which controls strategic decision making and embraces the notion of democracy with the civilian leadership completely under the influence of the military. The state suffers from a deep identity crisis and religion has been used in Pakistan for reasons ranging from nation-building to strategic security.
n A dominant military lobby has been a critical element in Pakistan’s strategic posturing. The military institution has managed to create, and sustain, an autonomous structure, financial freedom and flexibility for itself. Very importantly, the army in Pakistan undertook the responsibility of not only guarding the nation's territories but guarding the ideological boundaries of the state. This self-built image of the Pakistan Army exceeds its effectiveness to manage the country and has progressively led the country into a mire of misadministration.
n The desire to stay on a par with India's defence capability has been a strong factor in shaping Pakistan's doctrine, strategy and posture. Its desire to acquire high-technology weapons, alliance with the US (as early as the 1950s) and China, continued covert war against India and, very importantly, its ambiguous nuclear posture and frequent announcements of ‘first use’ are reflections of Islamabad's deep desire to neutralise India's conventional superiority.
These three factors have largely contributed to Pakistan’s strategic positioning. Its strategic posturing has revolved around the projection of (perceived) threat perceptions, projection of victimhood and military brinkmanship. These are likely to intensify much more post revocation of Article 370, which has challenged the centrality of military’s positioning and actions within and outside Pakistan.
Highlighting threat perceptions, Pakistan has long held the narrative of its threat perceptions. From the time of its creation, Pakistan has suffered a deep sense of insecurity owing to its geography, small size, having a (perceived) hegemonic neighbour in India etc. The narrative of threat perceptions has been sustained to allow the dominance of the military, justify the covert war against India and diversion of substantial national resources towards defence spending. This narrative of threat perceptions will further strengthen in Pakistan, which is apparent from the statements coming from Imran Khan, where he said that, “The Hindu Supremacist Modi Govt poses a threat to Pakistan, as well as the minorities in India.” The effort to highlight the threat posed to Pakistan's existence will continue at the domestic front and the international front.
Projection of victimhood has been a strong factor in Pakistan’s positioning. This has been used to legitimise its overt military actions against India and also the sub-conventional war, which it has conducted for five decades in the Valley and other parts of India. The narrative of victimhood has been strengthened after 9/11, when its counter-terrorism willingness and capability was repeatedly questioned by the United States. This narrative of victimhood is likely to continue with the insistence that Pakistan has been compelled to act and behave aggressively owing to India’s actions and positioning in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s military and nuclear build-up has been justified for long, citing the threat it faces on its borders. This positioning will remain unaltered. Although, at this point, Pakistan is unlikely to take a direct military action against India, the build-up of the threat of military action/nuclear threat will be cautiously maintained. Pakistan has excessively relied on nuclear weapons for the last three decades and is likely to continue to do so since it has failed to build other strengths or overcome its fundamental challenges. Pakistan's projection of low nuclear threshold has been challenged with the Balakot strikes and thus, an overt nuclear threat is unlikely, but it very tactfully includes the nuclear factor in its statements to remind the world of the presence of nuclear weapons in the region.
Pakistan’s strategic posture in the coming time is likely to revolve around an intensified and aggressive diplomatic campaign against India, a projection of deep concern for Kashmir, highlighting threat perceptions and justifying a strong military and nuclear build-up.
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