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South Asia on A Short Fuse (SAAG Paper No.395 Dated 29.12.2001) Reviewed in 2014

Paper No. 5800                                     Dated 08-Oct-2014

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan’s unwarranted conflict escalation both on the Line of Control and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir and targeting innocent civilians on the Indian side is a grim reminder that nothing has changed in terms of Pakistan’s attitudes in the last 14 years.

Conflict escalation with India is a marked propensity of Pakistan and the Pakistan Army and deeply embedded in their psyche and this comes into play more forcefully when the Pakistani domestic scene becomes turbulent, or the Kashmir issue is getting devalued in international perceptions or that the Pakistan Army perceives that the United States and China are opening up to India more than Pakistan likes in terms of Pakistan Army’s perceptions of balance of power.

In October 2014 Pakistan Army’s insecurities are once again in replay with the advent of the Modi Government in India, its calling off Foreign Secretaries level talks in response to Pakistan High Commissioner’s provocative defiance of India’s advice not to invite Kashmiri separatist leaders to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, the international community’s indifference to Pakistan’s ranting’s on Kashmir at the United Nations and Prime Minister’s political recognition as a strong Indian Prime Minister by the United States, China and Japan in the last few weeks.

Kashmir has always been a strong weapon successfully employed by Pakistan Army to make the United States deviate from realistic strategic postures in the Indian Sub-Continent. However, having over-used the Kashmir weapon rashly and in light of the reappraisal of India’s emerging power capabilities, the Pakistan Army will be at its wits ends as to how to reignite Pakistan Army’s strategic utility to United States national interests in the region. With the United States exiting Afghanistan, the situation for the Pakistan Army becomes more worrisome.

Conflict escalation on the India-Pakistan borders and raising the age-old but much de-valued bogey of “Kashmir as a Nuclear Flashpoint” or “South Asia as a Nuclear Flashpoint” are the only cards that the Pakistan Army has been left to play with.

In such a desperate situation India should expect significant conflict escalation on the borders in the months to come arising from Pakistan Army’s frustrations on the international environment bestowing on India her true worth as the regional power in the Indian Sub-Continent notwithstanding Pakistan Army’s nuclear arsenal. India should also expect an intensification of Pakistan-based or Pakistan Army sponsored terrorist strikes deep within India.

South Asia once more seems headed towards a situation of being on a short fuse. As in 2001 and now once again in 2014, the Indian public opinion is highly incensed with Pakistan Army’s military adventurism and the Modi Sarkar may not be able to restrain public opinion demands for decisive ripostes.

The Indian Government should impress on the international community that for maintenance of South Asian peace Kashmir is not the ‘core issue’ as Pakistan claims. The ‘core issue’ is Pakistan Army’s propensity for conflict escalation with India deeply embedded in their psyche. Remember that General Musharraf had famously asserted once that even if India settles the Kashmir issue, ‘there will be many more Kashmirs’.  

With the above in mind, it is thought worthwhile to reproduce the above quoted SAAG Paper of mine as a contextual reference.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is Consultant International Relations and Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at

Annexure: SOUTH ASIA ON A SHORT FUSE, SAAG Paper No. 385 dated 29.12.2001 REPRODUCED


 Paper no. 385    29. 12. 2001

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

War Clouds Hover :  South Asia is today on a short fuse with war clouds hovering heavily, courtesy Pakistan’s irresponsible and immature political and strategic behaviour as a nation state.  Pakistan very subtly escaped its due punishment in subjugating Afghanistan under Taliban’s medieval terror and brutalising an entire nation with deputation of Pakistan Army regular soldiers to be the Taliban’s spearhead.  Pakistan again due to kind courtesy of the United States was not taken to task on its assistance and havens to the Al Qaeda terrorist groups and Osama bin Laden.

India’s government today is under tremendous pressure from public opinion to take Pakistan to task for its wanton sponsorship of the attack by Pakistani terrorists on India’s Parliament House on December 13, 2001.  Public patience in India with Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and sabotage acts elsewhere in India was wearing thin.  The attack on India’s Parliament House on December 13, 2001 was the last straw which proverbially broke the camel’s back.  India as a whole with the exception of some of its pseudo-liberals and sections of Indian media, have construed the attack on India’s Parliament as a Pakistani attack on India’s nation hood.

The all-pervasive feeling in India, as reflected in opinion polls and the feelings of the man on the street is that the root cause of the proxy war in Kashmir and terrorism in India needs to be addressed once and for all.  This translated in concrete terms implies that India must use military action against Pakistan to force it to desist from its proxy war against India.

In South Asia, the military situation today witnesses the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan facing each other throughout the length of the LOC and the international border in eyeball to eyeball confrontation.  Strike formations stand moved to their concentration areas and ready operationally to carry out offensive strikes.  Missile assets of both nations stand deployed for action. 

This highly explosive and short fuse situation in South Asia has been generated by Pakistan’s misreading of India’s continued restraint as military weakness and encouraged by the overnight American conversion of the terrorist and rogue state of Pakistan to an American ally and frontline state.

The United States, traditionally has been insensitive to Indian public opinion, prone as it is to being comfortable in dealing with military dictatorships and authoritarian governments.  The United States also sent a wrong message to Pakistan post-September 11, 2001, that Pakistan’s criminal culpability in sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir will be exonerated.  Further, that the United States campaign against global Islamic Jihad will be selective and sequential, based on furtherance of American national interests.

South Asia has always been on a fuse and flash-point status due to Pakistan’s propensity for conflict and confrontation with India, since its creation in 1947.  The current short fuse situation in 2001 and the core issues which have allowed the perpetuation of this state of affairs by Pakistan, need to be understood, so that the prospective war is averted. 

United States Original Sin in Perpetuation of Pakistan’s Military Adventurism: South Asia has been kept as a short fuse flash-point by the military adventurism of Pakistan.  How could Pakistan a politically fragile state since its inception, economically weak and with none of the attributes of power of a nation state and ending up being assessed as a ‘failed state’ by 2000, achieve the instruments of military adventurism?  How could Pakistan, a fraction of the size of India, assume the role of military challenger and ‘regional spoiler state’ in South Asia?  How could Pakistan feel emboldened to challenge India’s natural pre-eminence in South Asia without the attributes of power? 

The original sin committed and contributive towards Pakistan’s military adventurism was committed by the United States.  The United States has continued with this with Pakistan in South Asia thereafter.  Some facts in brief:

* United States reversed its original judicious stand on India’s case on Kashmir due to India’s reluctance to be a part of the Cold War arrangement.  A continuation of United States original stand on Kashmir would have nipped this issue in the bud.

* Pakistan’s willingness to be the American hand-maiden in South Asia was rewarded by us political support on Kashmir issue and sizeable military aid on Pakistan joining CENTO and SEATO.

* Both these American rewards, encouraged Pakistan to launch the 1965, 1971 and 1999 Wars against India.

* United States embarked on balance of power politics in South Asia to curtail India’s natural pre-eminence by military build-up of Pakistan and its emergence as a ‘regional spoiler state’.

* United States repeated the military build-up of Pakistan in the 1980s because of Afghanistan.

* United States introduced the phenomenon of Islamic Jihad via Pakistan in the 1980s in Afghanistan.  Pakistan now uses this as an instrument of state policy against India.

* United States permissive policies in South Asia favouring Pakistan contributed to Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear weapons power with MRBM capability.  United States failed to prevent China from building Pakistan’s capability in these fields.

If South Asia is on a short fuse today the United States should rue its strategic errors in terms of USA’s Pakistan policies.  The United States has created a monster, which may challenge its creator’s strategic interests at some stage. 

China’s Culpability in Build-up of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons and Missile Arsenal of Pakistan: In the decades of the 1970’s and thereafter, China’s intrusive presence in South Asia was facilitated by a strategic congruence between Chinese and American policies in South Asia.

Both China and USA followed balance of power politics in South Asia in pursuance of strategic containment of India and limiting it to South Asia.  Pakistan was once again a willing hand-maiden ready to serve Chinese and US strategic policies.

China in direct contrast to its vocal professions of friendship with India followed the following anti-Indian policies:

* Issued military ultimatums to India in the 1965 and 1971 war siding with Pakistan’s attacks on India.

* China provided blueprints, components and testing facilities for the production of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

* China provided ‘off the shelf’ nuclear capable missiles for immediate deployment and provided IRBMs lately, including facilitating North Korean supplies too.

* China throughout this period developed a ring of Chinese military client states around India’s peripheries.

Ever since the 1960’s and more so in the 1980’s and 1990’s China went out of the way to build-up a strategic nexus with Pakistan in South Asia.  The obvious target was India.  China more than USA has facilitated the emergence of Pakistan as the regional ‘spoiler state’.

South Asia’s Imminent War Situation-Pakistan’s Strategic Insensitivity and Military Adventurism:  South Asia’s imminent war situation today has been generated by Pakistan directly.  The following factors need to be noted in this context:

* Pakistan has been involved in a relentless proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir for more than a decade, without success.

 * Pakistan has indulged in terrorism and arson in all parts of India and particularly on the peripheries and fanning Islamic fundamentalism.

* Pakistan has generated and sponsored terrorism in the frontier regions of North East India in the proximity of China.

* Pakistan in 2000 and 2001 was emboldened to permit its Islamic Jehadi terrorist organisations to strike at the very centre of India’s nationhood i.e. the capital city of New Delhi.

Pakistan, so emboldened, to embark on military brinkmanship with India, especially under its military ruler General Musharraf in the last two years betrays two or three serious strategic flaws, namely: 

* Pakistan stands emboldened because of its nuclear weapons to challenge India.

* Pakistan’s strategic perceptions misread that India’s traditional policies of restraint would not draw Indian military attacks in response to Pak provocations  

* Pakistan feels that as a frontline state of the United States and the West, India dare not militarily respond to Pakistan’s military adventurism against India.

Independent analysts of any hue would be hard-pressed not to concede that Pakistan is wrong on all the above counts.  Pakistan it seems has not learnt lessons from its strategic debacle in Afghanistan.  Pakistan over-stretched itself strategically in Afghanistan and is now repeating the same strategic mistake against India.

India’s Responses to Pakistan’s Military Adventurism and the Imminence of War : India despite vociferous demands from its public opinion to the contrary, has followed commendable policies of restraint so far to Pakistani provocations.  No self respecting country, especially the size of India, anywhere in the world would have done so.  India has acted with restraint so far not because it did not posses military muscle.  Its restraint was due to its ardent desire for economic advancement and fruition of its economic liberalisation.

India reeling under incessant terrorism inflicted by Pakistan based, sponsored and trained Islamic Jehadi organisations has waited so far for the international community to pressurise Pakistan to put brakes on such military adventurism, promotive of conflict.

India can no longer be expected to exercise restraint when Pakistan is unable to restrain its intelligence agencies and their terrorist groups from directly challenging India’s nationhood and the citadels of its flourishing democracy. 

India has adopted lately, therefore, a combination of military, political and economic measures to demonstrate to Pakistan that it has the resolve to blunt Pakistan’s challenge to its nationhood.  The calibrated and graduated Indian responses to the imminence of war in South Asia generated by Pakistan is to give time to Pakistan to draw back from the brink and meet India’s legitimate demands on cessation of Pakistani proxy war and terrorism.  It also gives time to the international community to restrain Pakistan.

South Asian War Situation and International Community:  Pakistan’s proxy war against India warrants serious responses from the international community.  Pakistan as a failed state needs international economic resuscitation, which can only be provided by the West.  The West therefore is in a position to pressure Pakistan to give up its strategic misadventures.  

The United States and China, preaching restraint to India today, should apply this principle to their wayward protégé in South Asia.  One rap on Pakistan’s knuckles by these two countries would restrain General Musharraf.  Wayward military Generals do not see reason, they need a rap and only USA and China can do so.

United States is in a position to put the screws on Pakistan (and China should they still get tempted to issue military ultimatums to India in an imminent war situation) and its financial donors like Saudi Arabia and UAE. Not doing so would be an abdication of its responsibilities. United States also could recompense for having created the Pakistani terrorist monster.

Conclusion:  South Asia today is decidedly on a short fuse.  War seems to be imminent as a result of Pakistan’s military adventurism.  India cannot be faulted for exercising any military option for compelling / dissuading Pakistan from its military adventurism against India.

Pakistan’s military adventurism against India is a direct result of United States and Chinese strategically permissive policies towards Pakistan, in complete disregard of India’s strategic sensitivities as the pre-eminent power.

South Asian strategic interests of the United States and China especially, and those of the international community would be better served by; (1) Respecting India’s pre-eminence in South Asia; (2) Accepting a pattern of asymmetrical equations in South Asia and making Pakistan recognise that devoid of their support it is in no position to challenge India’s pre-eminence; (3) Pakistan should not expect to receive American and Chinese or United Nations intervention, assistance or aid in any imminent war with India.

The above is the only way that the imminent South Asian war situation can be averted.  India today is beyond the stage of sermons and preaching.  Its nationhood is at stake and it is therefore duty bound to liquidate the threats to its sovereignty.