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Compiled by: Zukhruf Amin and Akash Shah

Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) organized a seminar on “South Asian Security Situation: Emerging Trends and Challenges” in collaboration with the Department of Political Science, Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU), Multan. The event was held at “TAHIR AMIN AUDITORIUM” BZU, Multan, on December 13, 2022. Prof. Dr Mansoor Akbar Kundi (Vice Chancellor, BZU, Multan) was the chief guest at the event. He gave the welcoming remarks, while Dr Nasir Hafeez (Director Research, SVI) gave the introductory remarks. The guest speakers included Dr Muqarrab Akbar (Chairman Department of Political Science, BZU), Dr Shahid Hussain Bukhari (Professor of Political Science, BZU), Ms Anum Riaz (PhD Scholar, BZU) and Ms Ahyousha Khan (Associate Director, SVI).

The SVI organized this seminar at Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU), Multan, as part of its outreach program to engage with academia, faculty and students in the peripheral areas of the country; and provide them with an opportunity to engage in policy-related discussions, research and analysis. The students were enthusiastic and willing to participate actively in discussions on national interest, security and global political order issues.

Inaugural Session:

Prof. Dr Mansoor Akbar Kundi formally inaugurated the session with his welcome remarks and expressed his gratitude. He stated that this collaborative event between the SVI and the Department of Political Science, Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU), is a great initiative to learn about the South Asian security environment. Dr Nasir Hafeez (Director Research, SVI) was then invited to address the audience. Dr Hafeez expressed his gratitude to BZU and said he was honoured that such a distinguished panel was present to deliberate on the topic. He then presented a brief overview of the scope and vision of the SVI to the audience. Later, he addressed the topic of the seminar and explained the importance of South Asia in regional and global scenarios.

Proceedings of the Seminar

Session I

Regional Security In South Asia: Emerging Trends

The first session, titled “Regional Security In South Asia: Emerging Trends”, was chaired by Dr Mansoor Akbar Kundi, with Dr. Muqarrab Akbar (Chairman, Department of Political Science, BZU), Dr Shahid Hussain Bukhari (Professor of Political Science, BZU) and Dr Nasir Hafeez (Director Research, SVI) on the panel.

“Contemporary Strategic Environment in South Asia: Challenges and Opportunities”

Speaker I: Dr. Muqarrab Akbar

Dr. Muqarrab gave a talk on  “Contemporary Strategic Environment in South Asia: Challenges and Opportunities”. He stated that South Asia is a key region in the global strategic environment. The security environment in the region is focused primarily on the Pakistan-India rivalry. However, the US-China rivalry is also important within the already fraught South Asian security environment. The US has invested in India to counterbalance China. In contrast, Pakistan has developed close ties with China. The region is also characterized by the India-China rivalry in the Himalayas, environmental challenges such as pollution, water disputes, threat of terrorism, insurgency, and organized crime. There are also non-traditional threats, such as climate change, illegal fishing, food shortages, energy security and drug smuggling. One of the critical factors that impact the strategic stability of South Asia is Afghanistan, as the security of Pakistan’s bordering area remains perilous due to perpetual conflict in Afghanistan.

The Chinese presence in the region is a cause of discomfort for the US. An intensifying competition between the US and China poses major risks for regional stability in South Asia, including increased possibilities of conflict across the contested boundaries in a nuclear neighbourhood. The growing partnership between India and the US in the Indo-Pacific region to curb Chinese influence has been noticed in Islamabad, and this collaboration has consequences for Pakistan. A deepening US-China rivalry could exacerbate the protracted India-Pakistan conflict by increasing advanced arms and intelligence capabilities on both sides while at the same time undermining prospects for the US and Chinese cooperation in managing ensuing crises.

Dr. Muqarrab further commented on the contemporary geostrategic environment, stating that South Asia has become a key strategic arena since the end of the Cold War. The region is considered strategically vital for regional and global powers to secure their interests. The US-India cooperation to counter China’s rise is widely seen as the most important element in shaping and transforming the South Asian strategic environment. The US aims to preserve its political, economic and strategic interests not through new regional initiatives or commands but by pursuing its old-fashioned alliance-making policy – primarily fostering a strategic partnership with India to contain China. On the other hand, China has secured considerable goodwill and influence in the region, particularly its ties with Pakistan.

Pakistan has strong geopolitical reasons to challenge Indian dominance and cooperate with China. The country’s policymakers believe that the region’s stability depends upon the stability in Afghanistan. National security imperatives must be addressed within the ambit of the international strategic environment. Pakistan needs to develop policies compatible with the international strategic environment and serve its national security objectives. There is a dire need for South Asian security dialogue to enhance peace and stability in the region.

“India-United States Strategic Partnership: Implications for the South Asian Security Environment”

Speaker II: Dr. Shahid Hussain Bukhari

Dr. Shahid Hussain Bukhari, deliberated on the “India-United States Strategic Partnership: Implications for the South Asian Security Environment”. He started his presentation by giving a brief overview of the contemporary regional and international strategic environment. Considering the chequered history of bilateral rivalry between Pakistan and India, the latter’s larger economic, industrial, technological and military/strategic capacity is a serious challenge to Pakistan’s Security.

India desires great power status with aspirations of becoming a regional hegemon as it considers itself qualified: owing to having one of the largest military, economy, and population in the world. For this purpose, Pakistan is considered a great hurdle to the Indian pursuit of hegemony. The rise of India as a regional power with US support has potential consequences for the whole region and for Pakistan, as the foremost challenger and also the target.

Dr. Shahid further stated that the Chinese presence in the region is a cause of discomfort for the US. Therefore, containing China is a natural US objective that is steering the current international strategic environment led by the US. For this purpose, the US-India strategic partnership is an instrument to boost India as a containment agent. Its growing economy, huge military build-up, and enmity with China are the features that constitute India’s prominence in the US strategic calculations. The US has three-fold benefits in promoting India; a big customer of American defence industry, a free-lance regional sheriff/assistant, and a potential containment agent. Therefore, the Indo-US collaboration is likely to grow more, where the US shall provide utmost support to India in her endeavour to achieve great power status.

The US-India Civil Nuclear Deal allows India to import nuclear fuel from other countries sparing its own Uranium for fissile material production. With this increased capacity to produce  fissile material, there are greater chances of increasing numbers of nuclear weapons, a direct security concern for Pakistan. Pakistan will have to catch up with this increase and upgrade its existing inventory of nuclear weapons to achieve the desired deterrence stability.

Similarly, the Indo-US Conventional Defense Deals will enhance the conventional asymmetry in the region, potentially eroding strategic balance. As India is the largest arms importer in the world and the third largest military spender, the induction of Anti Ballistic missile (ABM) Systems and Ballistic Missle Defence (BMD) will be highly destabilizing. In addition, space cooperation between the US and India is likely to improve the latter’s surveillance, reconnaissance, and missile development capability, e.g., Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Space Rocket Technology are useful for missiles. These missiles can be used for strategic objectives. Such a precarious situation would trigger an arms race in an existent fragile environment leading to instability.

Dr. Shahid believed that strategy is all about assessments and choices to analyze what the enemy intends to do and how one may be able to deter it. Pakistan needs to be aware of international geostrategic developments. Pakistan needs to have an enhanced focus on indigenous innovation in the core areas of strategic defence capabilities. Any strategic miscalculation on the Pakistani policy-makers part will affect Pakistan’s security in the longer run.

He noted that the US-India strategic partnership signifies that the US will no longer treat India and Pakistan on equal terms in South Asia. It has finally recognized India as the leading power in the region. Pakistan has now become only the tactical partner of the US, while India has emerged as a strategic partner. The Indo-US Strategic Partnership is a manifestation of the US alliance-building tradition, entailing power transition and imbalance in the region, which will erode strategic balance and, therefore, is perilous for the South Asian security environment. Given the history of Indian hegemonic designs with huge military build-up through US support, it constitute serious threats to regional security. The increasing bilateral Indo-US collaboration and the US’ help to India in enhancing strategic ties with other nations and international export control regimes will contribute to India’s national power. It will subsequently strengthen India’s military potential and may be dangerous for regional security.

“Indian Nuclear and Conventional Arms Buildup: Challenges and Policy Options for Pakistan”

Speaker III: Dr. Nasir Hafeez

Dr Nasir Hafeez presented his views on “Indian Nuclear and Conventional Arms Buildup: Challenges and Policy Options for Pakistan”. He stated that India and Pakistan are trapped in a perpetual cycle of hostility with long-standing territorial disputes and a history of warfare. The nuclearization of South Asia has changed the dynamics of warfare and the employment concept of hard power. War is no longer an option, and political disputes will now be resolved through other means. Regarding South Asia, Pakistan has always advocated and proposed various measures to maintain strategic stability, but India is least interested in normalizing its relations with Pakistan. The recent rise of the Hindutva Doctrine by the dominant BJP in Indian politics has further aggravated the situation. This adversarial relationship is likely to remain the same within the foreseeable future.

Dr Nasir highlighted that the great power competition has negatively influenced regional strategic stability. The US policy of promoting India as a counterweight to China has allowed India greater access to dual-use high-end sophisticated technologies. Its inclusion in international export control regimes has facilitated the acquisition and indigenous manufacturing of destabilizing weapon systems. All these developments have serious consequences for the region, and Pakistan needs to take note of the changing power dynamics and their impact on strategic stability.

The Indian nuclear program was established in 1944, two and a half years before India gained independence. Its nuclear program started with exploring peaceful uses of nuclear technology; however, it always had a military dimension. Homi Bhabha, the architect of the Indian nuclear program, outlined a three-staged program that could produce energy and develop nuclear weapons if needed.

Given the Indian nuclear history, it is characterized by consistency and continuity. India maintains one of the oldest and largest nuclear programs in the developing world. This program, though, claimed to pursue peaceful applications of nuclear technology always had an implicit goal to develop nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Nehru, while setting up the Department of Atomic Energy in 1948, talked of the relationship between the ‘purposes’ of the proposed nuclear programme.

Dr Nasir mentioned that India kept its nuclear options open for the military application of nuclear technology under cover of a peaceful civilian program and continued seeking international cooperation to develop long-term technological autarky in nuclear research and development. Having achieved some breakthroughs in nuclear explosive technologies, India conducted its first nuclear test on May 18, 1974. However, it was declared a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE), meant to use nuclear technology in mining and earth-moving operations. However, since this test, India has never attempted to use nuclear technology for such purposes.

There has been consistent duplicity in the Indian nuclear policy of promoting the cause of nuclear disarmament in the public sphere while covertly developing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Successive Indian governments pursued the strategy of nuclear ambiguity and continued developing essential capabilities. The situation, however, changed when political transition took place and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won elections in 1998. BJP had already announced the induction of nuclear weapons in its election manifesto.

Dr Nasir noted that India today maintains a large nuclear force with land-based Agni series ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, gravity bombs, and sea-based cruise and ballistic missiles. INS Arihant is in service, with two more in the development process. After getting a nuclear deal, India is now importing nuclear fuel for its reactors from across the world and conserving its local uranium for weapon purposes. India uses the China card to justify its expanding nuclear arsenal. Though it maintains a nuclear doctrine of credible minimum deterrence and no first use, it is still rapidly increasing its nuclear forces. With the changing size and type of nuclear arsenal,  its doctrinal position is also bound to change.

On the conventional side, Indian Military hardware import is currently over 46% from Russia, 27% from France, 13% from Israel and 12% US. India is rapidly upgrading its defence capabilities, with 93 military modernization projects worth $18.4 billion, including projects focusing on longer-range weapons, multi-purpose drones, night-fighting capabilities, disruptive technologies, and early warning and detection systems. India is also boosting its drone inventory. It is arming 90 Israeli Heron drones already in its possession and trying to buy at least 20 American MQ-9 Reaper Armed drones. This monumental arm built-up has challenges. The Indian military has several issues, such as a lack of political reforms, obsolete equipment, inadequate ammunition, and inadequate research and development due to over-reliance on imports and a shortage of human resources. The lack of ‘strategic culture’ among the political class in India continues to hinder the effectiveness of the Indian military.

However, the challenge remains for Pakistan as it has been the target of multiple Indian-sponsored hybrid campaigns at the international level. It is pertinent to mention that when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear program, India has been working for quite some time to project Pakistan as a country involved in nuclear proliferation. As a result, significant lobbying at various multilateral forums has been carried out by India to paint Pakistan as an irresponsible or even ‘rogue’ nuclear weapons state. The Indian policymakers understand that the Indian strategic objectives cannot be achieved without enhanced capabilities. Pakistan remains a primary objective in Indian Military Doctrines regardless of whether it is the  Cold Start Doctrine, Joint Armed Forces Doctrine or the Land Warfare Doctrine. So, Pakistan must improve its overall conventional capabilities to give a befitting response to any adventurism by the Indian military. To balance the Indian acquisition of sophisticated weaponry, Pakistan is compelled to ensure the credibility of its deterrence posture and preserve strategic stability in the region.

 Session II

US-China Great Power Competition and Challenges to South Asian Security

The second session was chaired by Dr Nasir Hafeez, with Ms Anum Riaz (PhD candidate Department of Political Science, BZU) and Ms Ahyousha Khan (Associate Director SVI) on the panel.


 “US-China Rivalry: Implications for South Asian Security Architecture”

Speaker I: Ms. Anum Riaz

Ms. Anum Riaz, gave a talk on “US-China Rivalry: Implications for South Asian Security Architecture”.  She began with an overview of South Asian significance in the historical and contemporary context, especially because of the nuclear capabilities of both India and Pakistan. The geopolitical orientation of the region has undergone a drastic change since the Cold War. Pakistan has traditionally been and continues to align with the United States of America to a certain degree and India had been close to the Soviet Union. However, since the end of the Cold War and especially after the rise of China, the relations between India and the United States have exponentially grown to be cordial. She said that the post-Cold War unipolar world created a power vacuum which gave birth to the strategic competition between US and China. Due to inter-regional connectivity that extends to Central Asia and eventually Europe, South Asia is important to both US and Chinese objectives in Asia. She referred to the history of ties between the United States of America and China, especially the role of Pakistan in melting the ice between the two countries, and how it has transformed into a strategic rivalry. And today there is a multi-layered and multi-dimensional competition spread across political, military, economic, and technological domains.

Discussing  South Asia’s security contours, the speaker emphasized that the idea incorporates both traditional and emerging challenges. Talking about Pakistan in specific, she said that geo-political and regional situation has made security a top-most priority for the country. India constitutes  the leading traditional security threat for Pakistan and it has exacerbated in the wake of renewed Indo – US cooperation, expanding into the realm of defense assistance in particular.  On the non-traditional side, Pakistan is facing challenges like climate change, cyber security threats, natural disasters, water scarcity, and political instability. The cascading impact of both traditional and non-traditional challenges call for  recalibration of the policy discourse. Hence, in this regard, the recently launched National Security Policy of Pakistan 2022-2026 focuses particularly on the economic security of the country, as the rest of the facets of security are contingent upon economic prosperity. On the other hand, India considers challenges emanating from China and Pakistan as threat to its traditional security, while non-traditional security challenges include poverty, social intolerance and extremism. These challenges holistically define the perception that countries in South Asia have regarding their security in the contemporary era of geopolitics.

Taking the analysis from the country to the regional level, the speaker dissected the security architecture of South Asia into internal and external dimensions. The US-China strategic competition is the most significant facet of the external dimension of the existing security architecture. Both India and Pakistan are trying to calibrate their position in the ensuing rivalry and it has an impact on the overall security calculus of the region in general and on the national security of each country in particular. The traditional India-Pakistan rivalry is the main component that constitutes the internal dimension of this architecture. Both the countries have not been able to manage their mutual security apprehensions and the bilateral ties currently stand at an all time low. In this context, it is a plausible assumption that this rivalry will continue to be the cornerstone of the security situation in South Asia. The synthesis of both these dimensions led to the formation and strengthening of dyads based on the interests of each country. The India-US partnership is based on the mutual interest of containing China and in the process, India has access to the latest weaponry and complimenting technology that it can utilize against Pakistan as well. Similarly, Pakistan has historic defense and economic ties with China and the cooperation is going to continue because of the Indo – US dyad.

Ms. Anum discussed the nature of relations of South Asian countries i.e. India and Pakistan with the United States and China in what she called “The New Great Game: US-China strategic rivalry”. First, she discussed India’s relationship with both countries and said that the dominant  aspect in the strategic partnership between India and the US is a nexus against China. While economic cooperation and strategic competition in Indian ocean, territorial disputes are the highlights of China-India relations. The speaker then discussed Pak-US relations in the historical context and said that the United States has continued with the policy of ‘carrot and stick’ throughout the history of bilateral relations. The relations have been unstable because of the dichotomy of perception regarding regional issues such as Afghanistan and Pakistan’s proximity to China.

In the end, the speaker concluded with Pakistan’s dilemmas in the continuing US-China rivalry along with broader implications for South Asian security. She said that Pakistan is heavily reliant on US  and at the same time  economically dependent  on China due to its on going cooperation  under the CPEC project. Pakistan needs a balanced strategy to  serve its national interest, without relying on either of the state. Any strategic miscalculation on the part of Pakistani policy-makers will affect Pakistan’s security in the long run. On the security implications for the region, she said that India’s growing military capability with the help of the US may not be successful in containing China, but will pose a risk for Pakistan’s security. Beijing may obtain access to Gawdar port, which will pose a significant challenge to the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy and add to US-Pakistan tensions.

“India as a Potential counterweight to China: Implications for South Asia”

Speaker II: Ms. Ahyousha Khan

The last speaker of the seminar, Ms Ahyousha Khan (Associate Director SVI), in her discussion on “India as a Potential counterweight to China: Implications for South Asia”, focused on identifying India’s role and position in the great power equation between the US and China. Contrary to the popular understanding that the US-India ties have become unprecedentedly cordial since the rise of China on the geopolitical landscape as a challenger  to the US hegemony, she began with the idea’s origins. India was pitched as a counterweight to China in response to the communist dispensations of the latter. She said that the term ‘India as a potential counterweight to China’ was used in the Western press, such as Times and New York Times and Economist, in the late 1940s and early 1950s when China emerged as a Communist state. Hence the view that India is a potential counterweight to China or an anchor for the US in Asia was embraced by the Eisenhower administration first in its South Asia policy in 1957 and adopted by subsequent administrations till President Nixon. Afterwards, this view reemerged in the Policy circles in the US during Bush Administration that China is not a strategic partner but a competitor.

She gave a historical overview of Indo-China relations and focused on the animosity-driven attitude that has persisted despite the high magnitude of bilateral trade between the countries. She referred to the Indo-China War in 1962, the Sikkim skirmishes in 1967, the Sumdorong Chu Valley skirmish in 1987, the Doklam standoff in 2017 and the latest deadly clashes in Galwan Valley, Ladakh in 2019. Further, she highlighted a few major areas of contention between the countries, such as the disagreements over their shared border, the issue of Dalai Lama, China’s security and economic cooperation with Pakistan, and the geopolitics, particularly in Asia and Indian & Pacific Ocean regions. The nature of relations between both countries has allowed the US to counterpoise India in response to China’s growing economic and military might.

For the US policy circles, China’s growth in trade and military domains, along with its economic outreach, such as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a challenge to the prevailing economic order. Furthermore, China’s effective military power projection in the South China Sea is perceived as a major threat to the US and its allies in the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions. Given the convergence of interest to contain China, the US-India bilateral ties have strengthened considerably, especially the defence cooperation. In the Indo-US 2016 joint statement, the two states have reaffirmed their commitment to work for the safeguarding of maritime security and freedom of navigation and protection of overflights throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.

Building on the historic and contemporary context, Ms Ahyousha said that both countries have declared each other as ‘priority partners in the region’ as they are concerned about China’s military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. India perceives China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy as an attempt to limit India’s role in the Indo-Pacific region. Indian strategic planners are also concerned about China’s assistance for ports and refuelling stations in Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Bangladesh (Chittagong), and Burma (Sittwe and Kyaukpyu). The US resents China’s first stealth fighter. The anti-ship ballistic and DF-21 medium-range missile can change the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific by forcefully pushing the operational US vessels to a greater distance from potential conflict zones. The US wants to consolidate its relations with India to enhance the latter’s stature as a regional power to play a key role in regional politics. To support her argument, the speaker quoted a part of Brooking’s report that ‘India can take on more responsibility for low-end operations in Asia, which will allow the US to concentrate its resources on high-end fighting missions’.

Speaking of the implications of the Indo-US partnership for South Asia, she said that the defence deal has allowed India to buy high-end and sophisticated military hardware from the US. It can further broaden the already wide imbalance of power between India and Pakistan. The deal also aims to assist India with sophisticated nuclear technology. 123 Agreement would not only allow India to continue to pursue its nuclear program by keeping 8 power reactors for military purposes but will also allow an assured supply of nuclear fuel by 46 countries in the NSG. Thus, India could divert the available stock of uranium for nuclear weapons. Recently, India has successfully tested the ABM system with US assistance.

On the diplomatic front, the US is expected to refrain from mediating between India and Pakistan as far as the settlement of the Kashmir issue is concerned. The US would support India’s bid to obtain a permanent seat in the Security Council.

In the end, the speaker talked about the plausible options for Pakistan to pursue her geopolitical interests and regional alignment in South Asia. She said the primacy of the US is likely to remain unchallenged due to enormous political, economic and strategic clout in the prevalent global arena. Pakistan must not compromise its strategic relations with China.

The second option is that Pakistan should come out of western influence and readjust its foreign policy that is more oriented towards China. At the same time, Pakistan should improve its economic outlook and strengthen its state institutions.

Finally, she said that no matter how much the US has in common with India regarding values and institutions, India’s doctrine of strategic autonomy will prevent the relationship from ever becoming a true alliance. India has made efforts not to estrange China, and several Indian states are rapidly expanding economic ties with their counterparts across the Himalayas through the India-China Forum of State/Provincial Leaders and other visits between state-level officials.

Question/Answer Session

The presentations were followed by an interactive question and answer session. The first question  posed was that how a conflict between India and Pakistan can be transformed into cooperation. Dr. Nasir responded to it by stating that the Pakistan has faced existential threats since its inception. In the present day regional situation, Pakistan is forced to maintain credible deterrence against India, which aspires hegemony and a great power status. Therefore, it is expected that the geostrategic landscape in South Asia will continue to witness renewed regional competition between Pakistan and India.

While responding to a question on Kashmir’s future, Ms. Ahyousha stated that the Musharraf Plan was a middle ground to bring Pakistan and India on the table. However, the Modi regime has made the situation complex for the decision-makers. Keeping in view the Indian Strategic Thought there is very little ice which can melt on Kashmir because they think that Pakistan can be handled through coercive means. It is a very alarming thinking pattern that adds to the vulnerability of the region. So, Pakistan must use its diplomatic potential to bring India to negotiations on the Kashmir issue, which will be beneficial for the region as a whole.

Another question was posed on China’s economic outreach to Pakistan. Ms. Anum responded to the question by reiterating that economic stability is the only key to maintain an independent position in the global politics. The current economic and political uncertainty in Pakistan has made it dependant  on foreign aid. Unless our house is in order, we will continue to remain on the receiving end. The CPEC is a manifestation of China’s policy to have a stable and peaceful neighborhood. So, a stable Pakistan is in the interest of the Chinese policy-makers.   

While responding to a question on the resurgence of terrorism from Afghanistan and a looming threat to Pakistan, Dr. Nasir stated that in the present day world, it is hard for a state to exist in isolation. So, it is not in the interest of Afghanistan to have strained relations with Pakistan. There are certain issues which need to be dealt with responsibly to ensure stability in the region.

In the end, Dr Nasir Hafeez (Director Research, SVI) and Muqarrab Akbar (Chairman Department of Political Science, BZU) thanked the panelists for making their valuable contributions.

Media Coverage:

The Coverage of the SVI seminar was reported in electronic media, and streamed live on social media. The recording is also available on the SVI official YouTube Channel.

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