Have Pakistan & India been through the Worst?

by Aanya F Niaz


The history between Pakistan and India makes evident their turbulent relationship; they have been through near wars, conflicts and even experienced a limited war. There is no doubt that currently the parameters of an Indian and Pakistani settlement is very narrow. Furthermore, there is a high likelihood that another explosion will take place in India, which will probably have a Pakistani base. However, there are very low chances that both countries would wage war against each other, or resort to worse conflicts than before, as that is a step that neither nation can afford to take. Nuclear optimists add that rationality tends to prevail and that the increased command and control Pakistan and India have acquired due to their past experiences will foster an environment where a conflict could be kept under control. Moreover, we can see that both nations have displayed great self-control and self-restraint in the past when tensions were very high, which makes evident their capabilities to maintain order when necessary. There have been plenty of opportune moments in the past where India and Pakistan could have attacked each other, for an example when Pakistan wrongly crossed the Line of Control during the Kargil Crisis. However both nations managed to avoid confrontation on a larger scale. Therefore, in the event that there is another explosion in India, India will use alternative ways to avenge Pakistan rather than opting for war. Alternative methods include using Pakistan’s unjust move as a reason to better its own relations with the US, achieve more investment and resources, and be recognized as a stable and peacemaker nation internationally. Indeed, there are several reasons, which make the case for India and Pakistan to have been through the worst of it. However, the opposing argument also makes for a very robust case that the worst is yet to come, as another attack in India will undoubtedly unfold many a disastrous events, much worse than ever before. Below, I have provided solid reasoning for both sides of the argument, first dealing with why some predict the worst is yet to come, followed by a systematic analysis leading to my understanding of why India and Pakistan have in fact been through the worst already.

It is true that India and Pakistan have managed to avoid major conventional and nuclear wars in the past, however, the past attacks in Mumbai really brought India to the brink, and in the event that there is another explosion in India, the situation could really steer out of control. There are many reasons that solidify this argument that there are extreme conflicts in store for Pakistan and India. First, history has shown that miscalculation and misinterpretation have been two key characteristics of the relationship shared between India and Pakistan. They have continuously doubted each other and even come close to a war. This miscalculation has led them to test their nuclear weapons and pose unnecessary threat. In fact, the major reason why Pakistan attained its nuclear weapons was to deter India. Their major goal has been to compete with India and ensure that their nuclear weaponry is of equal standard, if not of better quality and more quantity. With increasing tensions between both nations, in special regards to the fact that Indian conventional military forces are of a much higher standard and this provokes Pakistan to increase its nuclear threshold, there is a great possibility that if India uses its conventional military forces to fight Pakistan, the latter will be compelled to use its nuclear capabilities since it cannot compete conventionally.

Nuclear deterrence pessimists argue that irrationality does prevail and that accidents can happen. Even if in the past Pakistan and India have contained themselves, there is no reason that if an enormous explosion is to take place in a popular location in India, India would not resort to combat. South Asian dynamics have proven that the situation between both nations has remained to be very tense and if this tension was provoked, the situation could cause great damage. The Kargil Crisis can be used as an example, where if the US President had not personally intervened, there was no reason for India to contain itself. It was an extremely trying task for President Bill Clinton to convince the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time, Nawaz Sharif. There is no guarantee that such an agreement could be made again between the US and Pakistan to promote stability in a volatile region.

The security and insecurity felt by India and Pakistan calls for major concern as well. India is secure in its belief that it can outdo Pakistan; such statements undoubtedly infuriate Pakistan, which would strike back if things were to reach an extreme level. Pakistan wants to prove itself to India and to the world of its capability to attack if necessary; which is a major reason why Pakistan acquired the nuclear Bomb. It is very important for this nation to use its Bomb as a symbol of power, as the country itself cannot currently offer alternative symbols of authority such as a booming economy, welcoming investments etc. The only weapon of power Pakistan has is the Bomb, or so it believes. Therefore, there is increasing reason to recognize that if there is a time of need, Pakistan will use its capabilities to defend its nation and prove its worth to India and to the world. Indeed, the struggling nation evidently uses nuclear capabilities as a measure of success; therefore there is a high likelihood that in an event of another catastrophe, nuclear exchange would become a probability.

Another major reason why the worst is not over yet is the increasingly improving alliance between India and the US. These calls for much jealousy in Pakistan; a nation, which greatly depends on US support. In particular, Pakistan has been the country calling for US engagement in the South Asian region, especially in regards with Kashmir, whereas India has always opted for bilateral agreements. Now if Pakistan felt that the US was clearly tilting towards India, despite it’s single-handed persistent efforts to involve the US in the region, the jealousy could prove to be hazardous. This is because if there is an explosion in India, and Pakistan is blamed, in the eyes of Pakistan the US, siding with India, will only add pressure onto Pakistan to take things under control, and not see the situation from Pakistan’s perspective. Indeed, Pakistan would react by retaliating with extreme force in order to show India that even if they have the US on their side; Pakistan has its own individual capabilities, which can cause great damage.

Furthermore, Pakistan has made clear its ‘red lines’ to India; in a way, this has given India a license to attack because they are aware of the precise areas that would cause most harm in Pakistan. On the other hand, India has kept its ‘red lines’ vague and not made them clear to its rival. If Pakistan wanted to strike India, it would do so with its own understanding of what may cause damage in India. However, India would react in the specifically ‘red’ designated areas of Pakistan, as it knows where Pakistan would be most harmed. Therefore, if an event was to take place that would bring India and Pakistan to the brink of war, a single step taken by India into Pakistan’s territory or vice versa could result in a major disaster.

Contrastingly, it is no secret that India and Pakistan have managed to avoid major confrontation in their past. Their portrayal of restraint has called for faith in their statuses as responsible states. There are several reasons why each country can make a convincing case that they have been through the worst of it. First, History shows that in the 1960’s, India’s was the leading voice for non-proliferation. They only attained nuclear capabilities to serve as a political symbol of power and authority, because India felt that until and unless it gained the Bomb, other countries with nuclear status would bully and treat India as an inferior. Therefore, it is not hard to believe that they take their Nuclear program less seriously than Pakistan, in fact India regards its nuclear weapons to be ‘political instruments’, whose purpose is to deter threat and represent the sovereign right to power of India. This makes clear that it is very unlikely for India to engage in a nuclear battle, even if explosions were to take place within the country. Although Pakistan takes its nuclear program much more seriously, it is in a very insecure position, where they use their bomb to deter any threat that India may pose, since Indian conventional forces are many more in number than in Pakistan and the only way Pakistan reassures itself of its capability is by adding to its nuclear weapons. However, nuclear deterrence optimists argue that there has been no use of nuclear weapons since World War II, therefore what will give Pakistan the legitimacy or the strength to indulge in nuclear warfare. Even India has made clear its doubt that Pakistan, if provoked, would involve itself in nuclear warfare as it simply cannot afford to do so due to its geographic location, War against Terrorism, depleting resources, internal security situation and struggling economy.

The democratic nation of India is also greatly occupied with its economic game plans. Any conflict with Pakistan would greatly damage their strategic economic planning as the emphasis would be taken off the economy of India and a huge amount of the financial resources will be used for war. India cannot economically afford to go to war or engage in tremendous violence with Pakistan, be it conventional or nuclear, as the costs of war would clearly outweigh the benefits. Similarly, Pakistan is already suffering from a dangerous internal security situation, where extremist groups residing within the country are exploding bombs and creating chaos. Many of the available resources are being used to stabilize the current situation using military and police forces. Furthermore, Pakistan is struggling for survival via its dependency on foreign aid and investment; it has depleting supplies of financial resources, which are mainly being provided to the military forces fighting the War against Terrorism. The rest of the financial resources are tied up in providing basic facilities such as water, electricity, food and shelter in order to keep Pakistan above the water. A war against India would completely wipe out any financial or developmental resources Pakistan has. Therefore, India and Pakistan are both not in a position to go to war against each other, even if matters were to get out of hand. Violence due to religion is an expected result of an explosion in India where Muslims may have to undergo severe treatment; India’s military may even fight a limited war with the soldiers of Pakistan but anything beyond the Line of Control would cost both countries much more than they can afford.

Another reason why Pakistan and India have been through the worst of it is timely US intervention. In the past, especially during the Kargil Crisis, we can find that timely US intervention has helped avoid a conflict. Since Pakistan is a key player in fighting the War against Terrorism, there will be US presence in South Asia for at least a certain period of time. With the US physically being present, they will be able to keep an eye on the situation and keep things under control. India and Pakistan will be under surveillance hence any actions would incite immediate US intervention. Therefore, if Pakistan and India were to reach an extreme level where they would ponder upon waging war or other extreme measures, the presence of the Americans would make them question their plans. Furthermore, history has shown that even if the US is not physically present, their engagement with this region has usually stayed alive. Such an active US role will be key in maintaining stability in the region. As Michael Krepon includes in his essay “The Stability-Instability Paradox, Misperception, and Escalation Control in South Asia”, the US is treated, by India and Pakistan, as an insurance against escalation into war. Each country believes its individual relationship with the US to be personal, where the US shares the perceptions of that country. Therefore, since the US will physically be present in Pakistan in the upcoming years, the relationship shared between the US and Pakistan could play a positive role in making decisions concerning India. Similarly, we can see that the current alliance between the US and India is much stronger than before, therefore the Indians are more likely to listen to the US in times of urgency.

Both the South Asian countries share much ‘mutual fear’. Ganguly Sumit is correct in pointing out that India makes very clear its superior position; Indian leadership has even told Pakistan that there is no doubt that India could wipe Pakistan off the map. This has incited fear in Pakistan, who is not willing to take risks. On the other hand, even though India is skeptical of Pakistan’s capabilities, it fears Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities. When the Kargil crisis took place, the conflict was purposefully contained by both sides within the disputed territory of Kashmir. This is because India did not want to allow for its military to expand its operation beyond the Line of Control due to its fear that Pakistan may use its nuclear weapons, since Pakistan’s conventional forces were not up to par with India. Indians recognized that Pakistan’s only option to retaliate would be the Bomb, and they feared the use of it. Therefore, both nations learned a lesson at this time that although they have nuclear weapons and both also indulged in a limited physical battle; the very fact that both nations had nuclear capabilities was enough to deter an outright war. The mere threat of nuclear usage can invoke a fear from either country in order to defend their nation from potential harm. This proves that next time the fear of nuclear involvement would deter either side from wanting to go to war.

Another main reason why the worst is over is the increasingly positive role China has started to play. The relations between China and Pakistan have always been profoundly friendlier than the relationship shared between India and China. In fact, China has done damage in Pakistan by helping them attain the Bomb in the past and there has been fear that China would enable Pakistan to indulge in a conflict as well. However, China has now become a leading partner to the US in maintaining peace in the region.  If Pakistan was to beg China for something in extreme circumstances, China may help them but the odds are much better today than before, that China would act responsibly. China has also made clear that in case Pakistan does opt for war, it will ask Pakistan to settle the crisis without violence. Therefore, the role that China plays now of the peacemaker along with the US gives strength to why a conflict would not escalate out of control between India and Pakistan.

As mentioned above, miscalculation, nuclear deterrence pessimism, security and insecurity imbalance, PAK-US and India-US relations, and Pakistan exposing its red lines have been major reasons for one to predict a gloomy future for the South Asian nations. However in recent years we have seen that the leadership of both India and Pakistan has willingly taken steps to undertake a cooperative path. What has been an unfortunate obstacle in the journey to improvement has been the atrocious attack in Mumbai, which halted all communication between both rivals. If Pakistan can make clear and use actions to make evident that they are taking steps to sever all ties with the extremist groups causing the havoc in India and around the globe, India is much more likely to extend its hand towards Pakistan. It has become obvious that the internal security balance in Pakistan can play a vital role in building ties with India; in fact, it is almost a precondition for both to continue onto a productively positive pathway. Since leadership of both nations can take steps to make communication more viable, the timing is ripe for better relations. If another explosion was to occur in India but Pakistan would take steps to show India that they share the same goals of eliminating terrorism, then India would be more likely to react in a softer manner. Although accidents happen, history shows that even in events where Pakistan has purposefully trespassed onto Indian Territory, India has managed to contain itself and its military reaction, therefore in the event that an accident was to take place, Pakistan and India could potentially reach an understanding. Additionally, nuclear competition has been a great cause for worry home and abroad. In particular, the United States is worried that the increased number of nuclear weapons will add to the already existing tension in the region. However, India and Pakistan have been competing for nuclear capabilities since they first tested in 1998, since then they have not emerged in nuclear combat, therefore there is less reason to believe that the future will compel them to do so as past events have been extremely intense and challenging for each nation already. The fact that India acknowledges its position as superior to that of Pakistan is no reason for Pakistan to proliferate, or attack. This is because in an event of an explosion, Pakistan will have to show the international community its support against extremism; it will prove to India and the US in particular that it is indeed not inferior as it is able to control its reactions when provoked. More than ever, Pakistan is in a position to prove such a responsible status now as it emerges at the forefront of the War against Terrorism. Gaining loyalty and trust from the international community has become its priority because without that, Pakistan is unable to fight the battle against terrorism alone. Pakistan also has increasing reason to gain faith in its relation with the US, despite US and India’s persistently friendly alliance. This is due to the reality that the US has currently put Pakistan on its agenda as a nation to be assisted, financially and developmentally. The aid being provided to Pakistan by the US is a solid measure of US investment and commitment to Pakistan. Therefore, the current status of US and Pakistan relations is such that there is limited reason for them to doubt US loyalty. Due to this, in the event of an attack in India, the US will be able to play a strong role in controlling matters, as both nations rely and use America as insurance against escalation of conflicts. Furthermore, although Pakistan making its red clines clear can be seen in a negative light, it should also be noted that these lines have no specifics or definite parameters. Therefore, India does not, in fact, have a license to hit Pakistan below the belt or right on target. In fact, making public its red lines, Pakistan can also be seen to have taken a bold step to warn India that it must indulge in extreme action to cross the lines. Since crossing these lines would cause reaction on the side of the Pakistanis, India’s fear of nuclear combat would discourage it from provoking Pakistan.

Henceforth, it is safe to say that India and Pakistan have been through the worst of it. Even if many dangerous events are looming in the future, each country is better equipped to deal with the circumstances and push for stability in the region. Significantly, Pakistan must recognize its position as a nation that can gain control of its future. It can focus on developing its various institutions and work on ridding itself of extremists, which are only worsening the situation. Pakistan also has the ability to use foreign aid and resources as a way to foster internal development, which could lead to a more prosperous future. If Pakistan commits itself to this, and follows up these resolutions with actions, India would have more reason to believe in Pakistan’s commitment to improving ties with its neighboring country, hence disavowing the potential for future disasters.