The Escalating Nature of Threat

This trilateral strategic balance in South Asia is unique, fragile, and constantly evolving.

The global geostrategic environment is in a state of constant flux. Unrelenting Sino-US rivalry has further exacerbated its imperatives. Its ripple effects have engendered intended/ unintended effects on the strategic balance in Asia generally and in the South Asian region, specifically. Consequently, regional countries are (re)positioning themselves and alliances, coalitions, pacts, agreements, and alignments are acquiring newer avatars and starker dimensions. Asia is getting seriously polarized.

While China faces a possible major effort against it in the Pacific Ocean region, it is not oblivious to a secondary or auxiliary effort coming through India, across the LAC in the Himalayas/South Asia. However, South Asia has a third, quite formidable player too; Pakistan. An extremely tenuous trilateral strategic balance has persisted here for many decades; it stands further vitiated now because of this current Sino-US friction; India’s clear alignment with the US against China and Pakistan’s obvious tilt towards the latter. India has fought wars with both China and Pakistan over territorial disputes. The militaries of these three antagonists sit eyeball to eyeball astride hot, volatile borders/lines of control. Thus, an existing clash of interests between three of the world’s most formidable military, nuclear, and missile powers is becoming rapidly, and radically aggravated.

This trilateral strategic balance in South Asia is unique, fragile, and constantly evolving. It is quite akin to a domino phenomenon, with one relationship having serious effects on the other. China needs to continuously enhance its allround military prowess to ensure a viable strategic balance with the US at the global and regional levels. The resultant military capabilities that China thus acquires could ostensibly be employed against India too. India is cognisant of this fact and extremely wary of its implications. Therefore, it continuously scrambles to maintain a feasible strategic balance with China. Furthermore, it faces a fearful two-front war against China and Pakistan and must simultaneously cater to a brittle, imploding inner front in the larger Kashmir region too. Therefore, its military build-up must essentially ensure practical strategic balance(s) with not only China and Pakistan at the bilateral levels, but also, in a worst-case scenario, of a possible joint China-Pakistan threat! Pakistan, on the other hand, is alert to India’s burgeoning military build-up, ostensibly geared against China. It is certain that these enhanced military capacities will be used against it too. It therefore strives continuously to strike a pragmatic strategic balance with India. It is thus inevitable that it always maintains the necessary full spectrum deterrence capability. It must make all military adventures by India militarily, economically, politically, and diplomatically unviable, unfeasible, and untenable! Period.

The end result of trying to maintain a workable trilateral strategic balance, under the overhang of a bristling Sino-US antagonism, is a maddening arms race in the South Asian region. This has acquired alarming proportions as newer, deadlier military technologies are increasing the accuracy, lethality, and ferocity of modern weapon systems. These new military technologies have had a direct impact on the nature of threats/wars that countries can now project. The nature of the threat is thus changing. The battle space too has changed. It has acquired an even larger spectrum; graduating from just the traditional land, air, and sea domains to include space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains as well.

Another revolution in military affairs seems to be on its way in. This is the age of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, autonomous and space-based weapon systems, C4ISR capabilities, GPS, nuclear-tipped missiles with a myriad of delivery systems like the MIRV etc, hypersonic and glide weapon systems, cyber and information warfare, UAVs, hi-tech aircraft, tanks, surface and subsurface naval assets, an array of missiles that dominate the battle space in a variety of lethal ways, more capable aircraft carrier groups and so on and so forth. The rapid rate of change in the evolution of new technologies is ominous. It is directly changing the nature of the threat and the subsequent war. This has been manifested by the even more destructive capabilities acquired by militaries globally and especially in South Asia. China, India, and Pakistan claim operationally viable nuclear triads. They are increasingly introducing deadly nuclear and conventional weapon systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Ominously, hi-tech weapon systems are now threatening to overwhelm the battle space in South Asia as well!

India is scrambling to acquire further emerging technologies. The US has smartly mustered it to its ranks against China. It is exploiting India’s compulsive Hindutva-inspired hubris and megalomania to its own advantage. It, (Russia, France, the UK, and Israel, too), is arming it with all the new military technologies that it seeks. India is investing massively in improving its domestic defense production capacities too. These technologies will have a direct, concomitant impact on Indian military doctrines (Cold Start Doctrine, for example,) which must undergo compatible change. That will cause suitable changes in the Indian military’s plans at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels too. Thus, the nature of the threat (and war) from India is already undergoing a massive paradigm shift. It threatens to be more destructive, varied, multidomain, multidimensional, hi-tech, and relentless. It is politically backed by a vicious RSS-motivated, Hindutva- inspired BJP government which thrives on blatantly anti-Pakistan and anti- Muslim agendas. All this translates into a quantum jump in the quality and variety of threat(s) that India will henceforth be able to generate against Pakistan!

Has Pakistan recognized this emerging dimension of enhanced threat(s) from India? Is it positioning itself well to meet the newer, more destructive technologies/challenges? Does it have the economic wherewithal to prepare itself for such an imposing threat? Will the threat from India come in tandem with subtle or not-so-subtle moves, pressures, and coercive diplomacy by the powers that be and the IFIs? (To be continued)

Imran Malik

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at im.k846@gmail. com and tweets @K846Im

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at and tweets @K846Im.

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