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Report Prepared by  Naireen Khan, Research Assistant, USI India.

USI and ICWA jointly organized a webinar on the 24 July 2020 on the theme ‘Re-Imagining Pakistan’s Strategic Behavior Vis a Vis India.’ This discussion was aimed at unpacking Pakistan’s overall strategic behavior and her perception of the ongoing Sino-Indian tension against the backdrop of the recent Chinese aggression along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) coupled with the hostile India-Pakistan relations post the Balakote air strikes and the abrogation of Article 370. While the webinar was chaired by Maj Gen BK Sharma, AVSM, SM & Bar (Retd), Director USI, the panelists were:

  • Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Research Associate, SOAS London;
  • Lt Gen KJ Singh, PVSM, AVSM & Bar (Retd), former Western Army Commander; and
  • Ambassador TCA Raghavan, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, and DG ICWA.

Discussion highlights are listed below.

Pakistan – China Alliance

The Pakistan Establishment is of the view that the best years of its partnership with China is ahead of them. The growing Chinese aggression in the region gives credence to such a belief. For Pakistan, the conflict between India and China is advantageous especially if the two countries are not able to find a solution to the stalemate. The element of confidence is also owed to the improved relations with the U.S, due to the ongoing US rapprochement with Taliban in Afghanistan. It sees four dividends to the current tense situation between India and China, as under,

  • The India-China LAC conflict is an opportunity for Pakistan to get back at India after the Pulwama terror attacks and the subsequent Balakote air strikes in which India responded more aggressively.
  • An escalating Sino Indian conflict against the backdrop of deteriorating Sino-US relations, serves to alleviate pressure from Pakistan; both external and internal. The gap left by Pakistan’s inability to act militarily has been filled by China.
  • While Pakistan’s intention remains to address the Kashmir issue diplomatically, there is an expectation that the Sino-Indian conflict will be broadened by China to include Kashmir thereby, making it trilateral dispute as opposed to a bilateral one.
  • Pakistan views the Ladakh dispute as a strategic balancer that has great potential of keeping New Delhi engaged. Its view has shifted to focus from Pakistan to the rearrangement of power in the region.

Military Deployment in Gilgit-Baltistan

There are troops in Gilgit-Baltistan in anticipation of any possible tension and to assist in the organization of elections in August. However, there is no indication of any extraordinary movement by Pakistan at the Line of Control (LoC) or the Northern Areas. Pakistan is not planning to open a second front with India. In fact, General Asad Durrani’s hawkish view that a combined China-Pakistan effort against India should have been launched to solve the Kashmir issue is not shared by the majority at the General Headquarters at Rawalpindi. Furthermore, Pakistan does not want to disturb the arrangement in Afghanistan which is currently favorably dispensed towards it.

Possibility of a Terror Attack

From the Pulwama-Balakote incident both India and Pakistan derived different lessons. India had upped the ante in response to an attack on its territory. Pakistan, on the other hand saw it as India’s inability to effectively use force. Thus, the use of militancy by Pakistan remains an option. However, a terror strike at the moment is unlikely. Pakistan would prefer China to take over and push the LAC dispute further.

That said, the overt use of militancy by Pakistan to launch a terror attack in India would complicate matters for Pakistan with regards to its relationship with the U.S, U.K and China. India-Pakistan relations have not adhered to a set template on the matter of terrorism. At different times, successive Indian governments have formulated varied responses to Pakistan’s cross border terrorism. Ambiguity in response and flexibility in posture is prudent as consistent and predictable options would compromise national security.

Space for Diplomatic Engagement

There is always diplomatic space for dialogue, the current trust deficit between India and Pakistan notwithstanding. While the India-Pakistan relation is at its nadir, it’s neither exceptional nor unique. The period between 1990 and 1995 was similar, so was the post Kargil phase. India and Pakistan have had unpredictable relations which have been addressed through political initiatives with varying success in the past. While the bilateral equation between India and Pakistan is unlikely to improve imminently, the scope of diplomacy will not disappear.


Prepared by Naireen Khan, Research Assistant, USI India.
Report uploaded on 05-08-2020

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