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Haris Bilal Malik –

The strategic stability of the South Asian region has been in a continuous state of vulnerability in recent years. Various factors have contributed towards destabilizing this region. At the military and strategic level, these include; the conventional disparity between India and Pakistan, India’s offensive military modernization drive, India’s evolved nuclear posture, and its aspiration to politically dominate the region. In addition to these, the Kashmir issue has been the most crucial factor in this regard which is widely believed to be a ‘nuclear flash-point’ between India and Pakistan. At the political front, India has held a dream of getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Though very unlikely to succeed, such aspiration would also destabilize the region as a whole. Apart from these factors, the US-Russia growing strategic competition in South Asia, as evident by the enhanced defence collaborations of both countries with India has also destabilized the region. Moreover, India’s desire to dominate the escalation ladder has become more frequent in recent years, especially since the year 2019. All these factors combined have made the South Asian security dynamics more complex. Such a volatile situation would have long-lasting implications for regional security and strategic stability.  

The military equation of South Asia, which India has been trying for long to dominate and readjust in its favor, remains one of the driving factors of the instability in the region. There are key determinants of this, like for instance, the conventional advantage of India vis-à-vis Pakistan, and India’s offensive nuclear posture. Moreover, the acquisition of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) and the Anti-Missile systems like the Russian S-400 along with the development of supersonic and hypersonic technologies have further added to the volatility of the region. Indian attempts to change the South Asian military equation in its favor have created a dangerous atmosphere of destabilization in the region. These Indian notions are considerably dominating the regional security environment especially in the absence of a crisis stability mechanism. The resultant action-reaction spiral between India and Pakistan over the last few years has been adversely affecting the already fragile South Asian region.

Over the last few years, India has been continuously working to enhance its counter-force offensive military capabilities against Pakistan. This is further evident from the recent technological developments which Indian has been carrying out. Like for instance, the space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) purposes, a technologically advanced fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, and achieving anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons capability are quite significant. These technological developments indicate that India wants to deliberately destabilize the strategic stability of the South Asian region. Furthermore, at the doctrinal level, there are various offensive war-fighting doctrines that India wants to pursue against Pakistan. These include the much-hyped Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) of 2004, and the recent Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) of 2017, and the Land Warfare Doctrine of 2018. These offensive doctrines provide documented evidence of India’s desire to dominate the escalation ladder in the region which would ultimately destabilize the region.

In the same vein, the Indian self-proclaimed notions of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘new normal’ under a nuclear scenario are notably significant when the destabilizing factors of the South Asian strategic stability are to be analyzed. This has been evident from the threatening assertions of Indian political and military top brass on various occasions with such preemptions. The aggressive and provocative policies of India demonstrate that it has an ambition of achieving escalation dominance in South Asia at the cost of destabilizing the region. Based on India’s provocative and threatening strategies, there has been a continuous fear of war and conflict in South Asia. In the worst-case scenario, such a provocative conflict, contrary to Indian estimates, might not remain limited to sub-conventional or low-intensity level. It would likely challenge Pakistan’s nuclear threshold which already covers a broad spectrum of threats coming from India.   

The evolved security dynamics of the disputed Kashmir region since the year 2019 have once again become a global concern. There has been an increase in Indian brutalities in the Kashmir region which considerably holds a prospective fear of a nuclear confrontation between the two countries especially against the backdrop of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis of February 2019. Similarly, the subsequent revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by India in August 2019 has further added to the volatility and destabilization of the region. Regardless of the criticism worldwide, India had imposed a lockdown in the region which remains imposed to date. This demonstrates that India wants to dominate the region with its provocative strategies. The significance of the Kashmir issue for the South Asian strategic stability is quite evident from the very fact that it has remained a crucial agenda item during the UNGA 74th session last year and also during the ongoing UNGA 75th session this year. During these sessions, Prime Minister Imran Khan has successfully drawn the attention of the international community towards this long-standing issue. Also, during these sessions of two consecutive years, other prominent leaders of the world have condemned the Indian brutalities in the occupied Kashmir and emphasized its peaceful resolution under the UN mandate.   

Hence at the present, the South Asian strategic stability has been considerably undermined by India’s provocative war strategies and its offensive politico-strategic ambitions against Pakistan. In these circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain more inclined towards India. Furthermore, the prevailing conventional asymmetry in South Asia has motivated India to embark upon its limited war agenda against Pakistan. India believes this would not challenge Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. It seems that while having a conventional advantage, India has been deliberately trying to change the nuclear deterrence equation in its favor as well. However, India’s hegemonic aspirations would likely provoke Pakistan to further intensify its nuclear threshold. Pakistan needs to further maintain a stable and credible nuclear deterrence approach. In this regard, an assertive manifestation of the nuclear doctrinal posture along with the technological sophistication seems to be a plausible way-out.

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