Shireen M Mazari
(Yangon, Myanmar: 6 August 2007)
While 9/11 is seen as having altered the strategic dynamics of South Asia in a most stark fashion, the reality is that these dynamics began altering before 9/11 and 9/11 accentuated them. So let us identify some of the major trends coming to the fore with the end of bipolarity around the South Asian region and which have now become accentuated in the wake of 9/11.
Four external trends impinging on South Asia’s security dynamics:
I – The disintegration of the Soviet Union physically altered the Asian map with the creation of a whole set of new states in the Caucasus and Central Asia. These states, with heavy structural and economic dependencies on Russia, created a region of strategic vulnerability, especially since many of them had old historico-political cleavages within them that came to the fore with independence. The presence of critical natural resources added to these states’ vulnerabilities as did the Russian perception that these states should continue to be within its sphere of influence. With Islam being the dominant religious force in this region, and with the Chechen struggle going on, the Russian leadership looked on every Islamic movement or political group in these states with suspicion. The advent to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in September 1996 further heightened this mistrust.
The war on terrorism, which has brought in external military forces into the region, has added to the instability of the Central Asian region. For the states of the region themselves, security concerns continue to predominate after 9/11. The introduction of foreign coalition troops in three of the CAS – Uzbekistan, Kyrghzstan and Tajikistan – has not stabilised the situation for the CAS and their region for a number of reasons: First, it has upset the local balance of power amongst the states. Second, it may lead to even greater internal instability within the states because the governments of the CAS have become far more authoritarian since 9/11. Third, Given the strategic neighbours of the CAS, including Iran and China, the entry of the US military within the region will pose new threats for these states because effectively now the US military is on the borders of these states.
The SCO has already expressed grave concerns over a long term US presence in Central Asia and the US-Iran antagonistic relationship will create instability for the CAS – especially with the Bush declaration, with all its implications, of an “axis of evil” which includes Iran. With the growing importance of the strategic resources of the Caspian Sea, the present cooperation between Russia and the US in CAS may turn into competition – thereby further aggravating the security scenario in the region. Unless the local situation stabilises, with the CAS themselves being able to fill the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union, the region will remain destabilised in the near future. This instability will be further aggravated if the US decides to use the CAS for the placement of Theatre Missile Defence – which is an inherent part of the US Ballistic Missile Defence policy.
II – Along with the post-bipolar geopolitical change, the dividing regional lines between the various Asian sub-regions – such as South Asia, West Asia, and Southeast Asia – also stood dissipated, with the advent of medium range missiles in the arsenals of some of the states of the region. With the nuclearisation of South Asia, the Asian defence parameters, in the form of distinctive strategic sub-regions were challenged by states like India who now saw their strategic operational milieu in the form of “Southern Asia” – stretching from the Middle East to East Asia.
Post-9/11, the parameters dividing South Asia from the neighbouring Asian regions have further weakened – especially with both Pakistan and India becoming part of the international coalition’s war on terrorism and the presence of external military forces not only in Central Asia but also in the Indian Ocean. The Indo-US agreement to jointly patrol the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea to the Malacca Straits reflects the redefinition of India’s strategic milieu to effectively include the whole of Asia. Drawing the Central and West Asian regions more directly into the South Asian strategic milieu have been the various schemes/proposals for oil and gas pipelines. And there is India’s direct military presence in Central Asia with the setting up of an air base in Tajikistan.
III – Adding to all these regional changes was the strategic shift in US policy mentioned above. What one is seeing is a new kind of alignment, which will be based upon the idea of core states, which will then ally with semi-core states and so on. This will see new strategic alliance systems. The politico-military reflection of the core states alliance will be premised coalitions of the willing – in an effort to act outside of Chapter VII of the UN Charter – and “anti-terrorism” of a particular kind.
Central to this development of core states is the post-9/11 US National Security Strategy, first brought out in 2002 and an updated version that has come out in March 2006. Clearly the core states include Britain, India, Israel, Japan and Australia. The strategic criticality of India has been stressed in the updated Security Strategy Paper of the US, which declares that: “India is now poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation with the United States in a way befitting a major power.”
Also, new strategic notions are being pushed forward that challenge traditional security notions. e.g. the rejection of deterrence & the efforts to rationalise military use of nuclear weapons; notions of preemption and regime change; the democracy agenda.
There is also an interesting dialectic at work that is now becoming more evident. While the sole super power has shown its willingness to resort to military power and other non-violent punitive measures to deal with states not falling in line with its agenda, this excessive use of a non-accommodative approach is resulting in also showing the limitations of such an approach. The Iran nuclear issue is showing these limitations with the US now realizing that its own allies may not be prepared to opt for punitive measures against Iran for their own interests. So, there is going to be room for manouevre for smaller powers.
IV – Another major external development that impinges upon the strategic environment of South Asia is the introduction of NATO in Afghanistan. The NATO presence in Afghanistan raises a host of questions including whether this presence is going to be a permanent one? If the answer is yes, then it will raise security concerns for countries like Pakistan, Iran and China because their national interests may not always coincide with US or NATO interests.
Even more troublesome at a basic conceptual level is the idea that NATO is being transformed from a collective defence organisation to a collective security organisation to serve the interests of future “coalitions of the willing”. There is no legitimacy for any collective security organisation other than the UN with its universal membership. Will NATO now push itself as a collective security organisation promoting the values of the Atlantic-European community? Internationally there is no legitimacy for such an organisation because Article 51 of the UN Charter provides a very clear and limited framework for collective defence organisations. Is NATO going to be an alternative to the UN system of collective security, peacekeeping, and so on – just as the notion of “coalitions of the willing” is a direct alternative to the UN and its Security Council?
All these external dynamics have had a major impact on the strategic compulsions of the states of South Asia, especially Pakistan and India – both of whom are now nuclear weapon states. The nuclearisation of South Asia has stabilised a bilateral deterrence between the two nuclear powers and allowed Pakistan to move beyond a compulsion for conventional force balancing. Even within the nuclear context, Pakistan has unilaterally adopted a regime of minimum deterrence and nuclear restraint, while India is going for an ambitious nuclear programme with a triad of forces and the development eventually of ICBMs. While Pakistan has accepted India’s more ambitious nuclear programme, it is concerned over the Indian acquisition of Missile Defence because that will undermine its own policy of nuclear restraint.
Another issue of concern is the growing strategic partnership between the US and India. While the US claims that it has dehyphenated its India relationship from its Pakistan relationship, for Pakistan certain critical factors of the Indo-US relationship impinge directly on its security parameters – specifically the Indo-US nuclear deal and the 10-year Indo-US defence cooperation agreement.
The most damaging has been the Indo-US nuclear deal. In its present form, it provides no substantive guarantee that foreign nuclear technology or spent fuel might not be used for India’s nuclear weapons programme.
Perhaps most critical from Pakistan’s perspective, the Indo-US nuclear deal totally undermines the strategic stability that presently prevails in South Asia between Pakistan and India. In fact, we need to see the deal within the overall military cooperation between the US and India which directly impinges upon Pakistan’s security parameters.
The most important, both in the short term and long term, is the Indo-US agreement to cooperate on missile defence (MD). This is not surprising given that India was the first state that welcomed the US decision to launch into a missile defence programme. Since then, India has set itself on the course for acquisition of a similar capability – beginning with acquiring Russian aerial platforms, the Phalcon radar system from Israel and a plan for the acquisition of the Arrow missile system from the US. Acquisition of missile defence capability by India directly destabilises the nuclear deterrence in South Asia as well as undermining Pakistan’s doctrine of minimum deterrence and nuclear restraint. To sustain a credible deterrence Pakistan will have to begin multiplying its missiles and warheads very soon – as well as deploying its nuclear arsenal in a scattered fashion into the interior of the country. While there is no need for a direct arms race, the “minimum” will be moved to a much higher level unless Pakistan is able to also acquire missile defence capability – which does not seem likely for quite some time. In this context, the successful testing by Pakistan of its first cruise missile, Babur (Hatf VII), on August 11, 2005, with an initial range of 500 kilometres, could be seen as Pakistan’s first response to the Indo-US MD cooperation.
The instability is further heightened by another of the components of the Indo-US defence agreement – that of activating the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in this region with India becoming a partner. The PSI is part of the US notion of “coalitions of the willing” which seek to undermine prevailing international law – in this case the law of the sea – by attributing to members of the coalition the right to stop traffic on the high seas and in international airspace on a mere hint of suspicion of transportation of WMD material or components. One does not require too much wisdom to see how this pretext can be used to harass other states and their nationals – especially given that there is no provision of compensation for wrongful interventions!
Beyond the MD and PSI aspects, there is the element of joint weapons production between the US and India which implies transfers of state-of-the-art technology to India and includes joint military research and development projects. This again will put pressure on Pakistan in terms of its nuclear and conventional weapon systems. The US has also committed to India for transformative systems in areas such as command and control and early warning. These will then become force multipliers for India and again put pressure on Pakistan’s weapon systems.
It is in this context that the Indo-US nuclear deal is particularly threatening for Pakistan. Apart from allowing India a multiplier affect in its weapons production by liberating its unsafeguarded fissile material totally for military facilities, it separates the nuclear status of India from that of Pakistan. This could be a first step for renewing pressure against Pakistan’s nuclear programme in the future – at any time – now that the linkage has ended.
The growing Indo-US strategic relationship is also being seen as a factor impeding the peace process between Pakistan and India at the substantive level – in terms of conflict resolution.
While the present peace process (begun in January 2004) has been declared as irreversible by the Pakistani leadership, and the dialogue process has been moving forward, without being held hostage to the Kashmir issue, there is a growing view in Pakistan that India has failed to move forward on this issue in response to a number of proactive interim measures suggested by the Pakistani leadership.
Amongst the proposal are: Demilitarization; self-governance and regional ascertainment of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. India has not responded to any of these. Instead its only response was to offer a peace and friendship treaty with Kashmir being left out of its ambit! The earthquake drew attention to the human dimension of the Kashmir issue but by now that has again been pushed into the background with the LOC crossing points seeing little human traffic.
But the process of greater exchanges amongst the political elites on both sides of the LOC continues to increase and there is an effort being made by some to be proactive and think beyond the status quo. However, the Indian Establishment has still to make a major psychological shift that will allow it to think beyond its traditional position on Kashmir.
It is not just the Kashmir issue that has seen no forward movement on the part of India. All the other outstanding political disputes continue including Siachin, Sir Creek, and the Water issues – with the Baglihar Dam issue having already gone to international arbitration as provided for in the Indus Waters Treaty. So, clearly, there is a growing perception in Pakistan that India is seeking to put these conflictual issues either aside or to impose solutions – as on Siachin. In fact, there is a basic difference in the approaches that Pakistan and India have towards the outstanding conflicts. While India is seeking conflict management as it seeks greater economic access, Pakistan wants to move towards conflict resolution.
Nevertheless, despite these problems, regional cooperation now sees a greater potential within the SAARC context (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). SAARC has slowly and incrementally been operationalising its economic and social agendas – especially since 2004 when the Social Charter was signed at the Islamabad Summit in January 2004. It was on this occasion that the Additional Protocol to the Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism was also adopted – especially to plug in the gaps that had existed including on the financing of terrorism.
The formal parameters of South Asia have now expanded with the inclusion of Afghanistan as a member of SAARC. With China and Japan getting observer status, there is every possibility of SAARC’s parameters increasing further outwards towards East and West Asia in the future. There is also now the issue of the US seeking observer status which opens a whole series of issues relating to the future functioning of SAARC including its purpose and agendas.
2006 saw the start of the implementation of the SAARC Social Charter and the ratification of SAFTA by the 7 original SAARC members. Afghanistan has observer status viz SAFTA. But the MFN issue remains between Pakistan and India.
• The third phase of the composite dialogue was resumed towards the end of 2006, after initial postponement by the Indian side in the wake of the Mumbai blasts. There was some progress at the tactical level on the Sir Creek dispute with an agreement over a joint survey of the area to produce an acceptable map.
Presently, we are in the fourth phase of the composite dialogue process which began in March 2007. Again, preceding the resumption of this phase, bilateral relations suffered a setback because of the bomb blast in the Samjhota Express bound from India to Pakistan.
An important meeting was on the Pakistan-India Joint Mechanism on Terrorism – with an agreement to share information and to finalise the structure & framework of this mechanism. However, talks on all the conflictual issues have made little headway so far.
Finally, on the external strategic dynamics, issues adding to Pakistan’s security concerns are developments along its western and northwestern borders. There is the Afghanistan issue – with Pakistan facing a hostile Afghan government with the fall of the Taliban. Apart from the fact that the Karzai government has no writ outside of Kabul, the growing Kabul-Delhi nexus is a source of real threat to Pakistan especially along its sensitive western border where it is believed that India is already involved in LIC operations. The fact that India has sent 300 Special Forces, on the pretext of providing security for its businessmen in Kandahar, has raised suspicions of Indian intent. Pakistan still has around 2 million Afghan refugees and the instability in Afghanistan is preventing their return, thereby adding to the pressure on Pakistan’s environment and finances.
Apart from Afghanistan, the Iran policy of the US may become a source of instability within Pakistan’s domestic polity which has strong cultural and religious links to Iran. Any military action against Iran would be unacceptable to Pakistan and its civil society and would make it difficult for the Pakistan government to continue its extensive cooperation with the US.
All in all, the evolving strategic dynamics of the region show little sign of stabilising and a continuing fluidity is the main characteristic. This is likely to continue till such time as Afghanistan stabilises and external forces in the region are reduced – leading to their eventual withdrawal which does not seem likely given US intent of seeking control of energy resources and the growing importance of energy security.
In this context, the China factor becomes critical in the South Asian strategic dynamics because China is also seeking energy security. In contrast to US policies, which are destabilising the region, China continues to be an increasing factor of security in South Asia, especially in the wake of the fast-paced rapprochement between China and India.