--- Manoj Saxena
Pakistani and Indian border guards at the Wagah border (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
During recent decades Pakistan has emerged as an important country in International Affairs given its geographical size, population, and an influential army. The fact that the country also possesses nuclear weapons and is a key state in ensuring lasting peace in volatile Afghanistan adds to its strategic significance. Pakistan as a nation state was created by a partition of India and the struggle for independence from India has left a lasting impact on its national psyche. With festering disputes over Kashmir and International Terrorism the country has found itself in a perpetual state of conflict with India—although much of it may have been initiated by its own establishment. This article aims to focus on Pakistan's India Policy in the context of realism, an International Relations theory.
Post-Second World War realism saw states as the most important actors in absence of an over-arching international authority. Realist thought has since then favored a balance of power in case of a potential conflict. Realist thinkers emphasize on self help and prioritize the perceived national interest in order to ensure their state's survival. States may try to balance their internal responses or their external policies to suit their overall objectives of seeking security and power but in the present world system there are only moderate chances of states achieving these objectives by pursuing a purely realist policy. However, the Pakistan-India rivalry has turned out to be one of the enduring rivalries in modern world history, and much of Pakistan's India policy can be explained in the context of realism. Therefore, an attempt has been made through this study to explain Pakistan's India policy in light of established realist theory.
Realism in International Relations theory is guided by the thought that states are concerned with their own self-interest and engagement, estrangement, or confrontation in terms of International Relations is largely characterized by a struggle for power. Realism is neither moral nor amoral. It emphasizes that states—and not international organizations or institutes—are ideally placed to provide peace and stability to their own people. Focusing on state security, realists often believe that the development of military power is a natural progression of having developed an economic standing. Realists may not necessarily be in favor of war but this line of thinking does encourage a buildup of military and financial strength in a case of a potential war. In terms of post-Second World War realist assumptions, states which have a credible military capability—such as the United States of America—can look after what they perceive to be in their national interest in a freer manner than other states.
Realist thinkers try and define the world as it is instead of how they would ideally want it to be. One key factor in realist thinking is that in an anarchic world there can be no guarantee of a state's very survival. Power is an important means by which states can endure and prevail over competing interests. States try and strive for a balance of power in their own favor. Since no credible international authority or law governs all states there are fewer rules that restrain states to act on their own in a freer manner. Realists see the world as one in which the state has to play a rational role in securing and empowering its people according to its own national interest. Although realism takes into account the national interest and national security needs of a state it does not exclude the determinants of history, tradition and geography.
If two states have competing interests and their competition is likely to get potentially aggressive then the realist thinking is that a conflict may arise out of this competition and thus a preparation for it has to be made. If this conflict is, indeed, expected to arise then states try and provide for their security by preparing for a scenario in which they may have to defend themselves. They may end up seeking self-help to close the gap between themselves and their competing state(s). Ultimately, the realist view is that the international system and, indeed, the very structure of international politics is anarchic, and one in which states tend to favor a balance of power instead of passively watching a potential competitor gain economic, military, and political strengths.
Realist thought on military capability may also grant a special status to weapons of mass destruction owing to their devastating nature. Skilled use of conventional weaponry may disrupt and destroy an adversary's capability significantly but weapons of mass destruction—such as nuclear weapons—can cause so much damage so quickly that they amount to credible deterrents in their own right. In some extreme cases, a state might view the damages from a nuclear war to be more acceptable to its national interests than an adverse political or military alternative. Therefore, some states tend to favor the pursuit of this ultimate weapon.
In terms of realist thinking, states—besides building their own capabilities—may also seek assistance from other states in terms of military, political, and economic alliances. These alliances are not necessarily guided by ideology, although it may figure, but by the notion of national interest. In 1979, a perceived threat from Iran led to an uneasy alliance between Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq--which was under the Ba'th Party at the time. Even the United States of America—which sees itself as a flag bearer for democracy—has repeatedly put aside its ideological differences in the Middle East and has often focused on building ties with monarchic regimes in the region. In general, states may choose their security over their ideology if their national interest is under pressure.
Finally, the concept of enduring rivalries is also important to note. Enduring rivalries arise due to a sustained incompatibility of goals between two states and this may affect the stance of the states towards each other. Enduring rivalries are marked by recurring military confrontations or aggressive diplomacy over a long period of time. Democratic peace; appearance of other security threats; changes in the external environment; and the coming of decisive leadership are some factors that can terminate enduring rivalries.
Pakistan's India Policy in Light of the Conceptual Underpinnings
Pakistan's India policy is driven by a quest for self-interest given its sense of insecurity in the presence of its larger neighbor. The territorial dispute over Kashmir is one factor that has led to Pakistan adopting an aggressive posture towards India since 1947. Other wellsprings of discontent include contrasting ideas for nationalism and historical grievances, such as the riots of 1947 during the partition of India in which a large number of Muslims and Hindus were killed. The legitimacy of some of these grievances—such as that over Kashmir—may be disputed but they continue to play a part in Pakistan's India policy, and its larger worldview.
Discontent in Islamabad arises not only due to the fact that there is a territorial dispute with India that has not yet been solved but also due to the notion that India—which has been perceived as an arch rival since 1947—has been steadily rising on the world stage as a power in its own right. The very idea of a resurgent India has contributed to Pakistan's own struggle for power. Elements within the Pakistani establishment have sought to check India's rise and have used terrorism, nuclear weapons, aggressive diplomacy, and alliance-building in order to try and counter it.
A key factor that drives Pakistan's aggressive pursuit of seeking a balance of power vis-a-vis India is the realization that India is superior to it in terms of terms of economy, defense, and population. India enjoys qualitative and quantitative superiority over Pakistan in terms of levels of industrialization and overall financial stability. The Indian Armed Forces are larger and are equipped with modern weaponry. The sheer size of India's economy and its population is also a considerable factor, especially given that the number of Muslims in India roughly equal Pakistan's entire population. This unequal balance of power and resources in South Asia has contributed to Pakistan's struggle for power and security.
Pakistan has used its domestic resources to grant a disproportionately large amount of its budget to the requirements of its armed forces and intelligence agencies. In terms of aggressive pursuit of state security against India the Pakistani state devoted more than 6% of its Gross National Product (GNP) to balance the strategic equation during the 1990s. During the same period India devoted 3% of its GNP to defense-related expenditures. This pursuit of reaching an acceptable level of parity with India has not been easy for Pakistan itself. It has had to contend with low levels of internal development since a large amount of financial resources had to be diverted to matters of India-centric defense, traditionally considered paramount to Pakistan's national security. The country's decision makers also sought outside help to assist in their defense capabilities vis-a-vis India, sometimes even at the cost of losing a portion of their state sovereignty. However, given the nature of imbalance that exists between the two countries Pakistani decision makers have largely been in support of such measures in order to gain a competitive advantage over India.
While smaller and weaker than India in terms of conventional military and economic might, Pakistan does command sufficient standing on the world stage to stand on its own as a recognizable entity. It has also sought to bolster its regional standing vis-a-vis India by building a series of alliances with powerful states such as The United States of America and The People's Republic of China. These measures—aimed at balancing India—have come at their own costs and Pakistan has had to make substantial efforts to balance its China and US policies to keep working alliances intact. Following the September 11 attacks Pakistan weakened its support to the Taliban—to which it allied itself during the 1990s—and supported the US led war on terror to protect its national interests even at the cost of losing some of its strategic autonomy as the US established a foothold in the country and began mounting military offensives into Afghanistan. This highlights the importance that the Pakistani state attaches with its alliance with the US.
Suspicion towards India ultimately culminated in Pakistan seeking and developing nuclear weapons—which were overtly demonstrated in the Chagai nuclear tests of 1998. Given the state of Pakistan's economy the very fact that it maintains sophisticated nuclear weaponry is a noteworthy achievement in its own right. However, two factors contribute to the prominence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan's policy. The first is the existence of an imbalance in terms of military strength with respect to India, which has had overt nuclear capability since 1974. A second key factor that explains Pakistan's nuclear posture is that it has viewed its own alliance with The United States of America with a measure of distrust during recent times. The US has shown keen interest in building trade and security relationship with a rising India and it is seen by the Pakistani leadership as an important but unreliable partner in the scenario of a potential conflict with India. Pakistan has thus sought to seek all measures necessary to preserve and enhance its own nuclear capability since help from the US may not necessarily arrive in case of a potential war or prolonged conflict with India.
Since Pakistan's threat perception regarding India is high its security establishment has a significant input in the manner in which the Pakistani state is governed, especially regarding the India policy. The Pakistani military has consistently interfered in civilian attempts for rapprochement with India since it perceives any such step to be against the national interest. The military establishment in Pakistan has traditionally held that exporting terrorism to India and, indeed, attempts to get hold of Kashmir by force are in Pakistan's self-interest. The nuclear umbrella is also seen to somehow protect the Pakistani state against a punitive Indian reprisal.
There have been attempts to pursue rapprochement with India—particularly during the tenures of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif—but they have been scuttled by an aggressive defense establishment. In order to gain popular support for its actions from within the domestic population the army has favored an image of itself as an institution facing insurmountable odds in quest of resisting the hegemonic ambitions of an over-arching India with some measure of success.
Overall, Pakistan's rivalry with India has spanned so much time and has so much history and psychological baggage behind it that in terms of realist thinking it is inconceivable to view a termination of this enduring rivalry in the near future. Democratic Peace Theory holds that if two states have credible democracies ingrained in their systems of governance then they are less likely to engage in war. However, during the period in which a state transitions from an unstable democracy—or any other form of governance—to a stable democracy it may also actually be susceptible to instability and prone to conflict. Pakistan's transition towards democracy has been marked by interruptions and even the first democratic transition in 2013 is no guarantee that it may want to pursue rapprochement with India.
Emergence of an outside threat can also act as a factor that can end rivalries, especially if the threat is common to both the parties in a rivalry. Such a threat has emerged in both Pakistan and India in the form of religious terrorism but it has thus far been not been effective in terminating the rivalry and ensuring rapprochement. Some militant elements among the religious outfits active in South Asia—such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba—are indeed viewed as being essential for balancing India by influential segments of the Pakistani state.
Major changes in leadership can lead to the termination of an enduring rivalry, especially if the leadership in both the contesting parties is strong. However, the overall chances of Pakistani leadership abandoning their position on issues such as Kashmir remain bleak given domestic compulsions. Kashmir is likely to figure prominently in Pakistan's India policy.
Finally, some rivalries end with a major change in the international system. Such a change was witnessed during the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the US which led to a moderation in Pakistan's overt support for militancy aimed towards India. However, these measures are not yet substantial enough to initiate an end of rivalry with India. Given the current situation, an India policy which favors peace and confidence building measures is bound to create difficulties, which might to be hard to sustain for the democratic leadership in Pakistan. Pakistan's state policy towards India may see the country seeking further support via external alliances and a continuing role of the army's dominance over matters related to India.
Pakistan's India policy is guided by a deep suspicion of India and its strategic ambitions. Pakistan has, therefore, calibrated its strategic maneuvering to respond to not only the overt military threat from India but also other threats that may emerge as India rises as a world power. In order to meet this perceived threat from India it has allied itself with great powers such as the US and China at great cost to its own strategic autonomy and sovereignty. However, decision-makers in Pakistan see such trade-offs as being in their larger national interest of balancing and containing India. The use of non-state actors and nuclear deterrence measures is also seen as fair play in an attempt to balance India by elements within the Pakistani state.
Appearance of the threat of terrorism has thus far failed to unite the two countries and changes in the external environment since the September 11 attacks have also not been sufficient to end this enduring rivalry. Given the long transition towards democracy and an overbearing interference from the military establishment Pakistan's decision-makers may not be able to pursue rapprochement towards India in a manner that would occur in an ideal world. However, Idealism is not in line with realism and one has to deal with the world as it exists. According to realist thinking it can be concluded that a less than optimistic future lies ahead for India-Pakistan ties. In the foreseeable future, competition and not cooperation is likely to be the defining characteristic of this important relationship.
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