Pakistan's Strategic Future
Report of discussion held at the IPCS Conference Room on 26 April 2011
Chair: Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee (Retd), Mentor, IPCS
Pakistan is at present undergoing a particularly difficult period. Internally, it faces the menace of terrorism and in the region, shares turbulent relationships with its neighbours. Pakistan’s differences with India, especially, have compounded the problem.
Speaker: Dr Bhumitra Chakma, Director, South Asia Project, University of Hull, UK
The primary issue in Pakistan is the impetus given to maintain its military equilibrium with India. This has resulted in an arms race as well as increasing dependence of Pakistan upon its nuclear arsenal. Estimated at 110 to 150 warheads, Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has been piling up its nuclear arsenal despite reservations expressed by the international community. The recent trend in Pakistan’s rapid expansion of its nuclear arsenal has been the change in its deterrence policy. Post the 1998 nuclear tests; Pakistan was pursuing a policy of credible nuclear deterrence. This policy has now given way to minimum nuclear deterrence from the existing maximum nuclear deterrence. The shift in Pakistan’s nuclear policy is because of the differences in its military capability vis-à-vis India, and nuclear weapons are seen as a force-balancer. On the other hand, Indian is pursuing missile defence in response to Pakistani nuclear policy.
Despite its growing nuclear arsenal and build-up of conventional weapons, Pakistanis will not be in a position to sustain an arms race with India because of economic constraints. Officially only 4% of the GDP goes towards defence but in reality 50-60% of the GDP is allocated to meet the need of the defence forces. In addition, the payment of interests on its debt has been a drain on the economy. Pakistan’s economy is heavily dependent upon external assistance, be it in the form of aid and loans received from other countries. For Pakistan’s economy to improve, it will once again have to be dependent upon external sources of funding.
Discussant: Rana Banerji, Ex-Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat
Pakistan’s strategic culture is first and foremost focused on opposing the India hegemony in South Asia. This has resulted in Pakistan reorienting its defence requirements wherein its nuclear arsenal and nuclear deterrence play an important role. At the same time, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has being projected as an Islamic bomb and its past instances of proliferation have been a cause for concern for the international community. Pakistan is trying to bury the ghost of its proliferation past by implementing suitable security measures in its nuclear programme so as to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. At the same time Pakistan harbours the hope of signing a Indo-US-style nuclear deal with the US.
At the same time, Pakistani strategic culture also lays emphasis on external military assistance for conventional weapons and for its missile and nuclear programmes. The country most sought after by Pakistan is China as it follows the axiom ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Pakistan lays emphasis on ‘strategic depth’ with Afghanistan acting as a fulcrum. For this reason, Pakistan has concerns about Afghanistan. Pakistan desires to have the future government in Kabul to be predisposed towards it. In addition to this, Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state has been a part of its strategic culture which allowed it to reap economic benefits. Pakistan thus considers its support to terrorism as a part of its strategy.
Pakistan’s relationship with the US has seen its ups and downs. The US is wary of the role that Pakistan plays with respect to the Taliban and also in nuclear proliferation. Although the US is concerned about Pakistan’s support and assistance to extremism, it enjoys close ties with the Pakistani Army which in turn is heavily dependent upon the former. The army’s primary concern is the loss of its prominence which may well be the result of a changed security scenario.
Discussant: Dr D Suba Chandran, Director, IPCS
The strategic future of Pakistan will depend upon its strategic failure, for Pakistan is in a state of crisis. The failure of Pakistan’s strategy will ensure that the institutions that are holding the country together gain importance. What is required is to strengthen the institutions that are seen as the backbone of Pakistan. The inherent strength of institutions and also their perception must also be factored in. Among the political parties, only Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has a strong and growing support base; other political parties are shrinking. The judiciary is also a prominent institution in Pakistan although it has been found wanting in the past. As a point of reference, the demand for Sharia in Swat valley was not a result of religious motives but the failure of the judiciary to deliver timely justice. The middle-class and civil society too have not risen to the occasion. This could inevitably lead a section of the populace into the hands of extremism. In addition to this Pakistan is also facing a theological clash wherein differences between mainstream Islam are clashing with the extremist interpretations of the religion. Pakistan also facing challenges with its federal structure. The relationship and issues between the federal government and the provinces are not cordial and are characterized by disputes over inter-province water-sharing, which are a visible sore point.
A fractured or disintegrated Pakistan will be in everyone’s interest. For the US, its operations in Afghanistan will become relatively easier as it will not have to factor in the limitations that are imposed by Pakistan. Simultaneously, the Taliban will lose their safe haven in Pakistan. For India, the absence of a coherent Pakistan will address its security concerns. Pakistan’s disintegration can occur in two ways: through its break-up or an implosion/explosion. A break up is orderly and stability is inbuilt and the state is partitioned in a defined fashion. However, an explosion/implosion occurs when the state is torn apart and both order and stability are absent.
An argument contrary to the above is the risk associated with the theft of nuclear assets by non-state actors as a result of the disintegration of Pakistan. The security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has been a driving force for the West to aid and assist in maintaining Pakistan’s stability and integrity. This perspective is countered by the belief that Pakistan maintains an army and an intelligence agency that are well-equipped to deal with such situations of crisis.
Pakistan may be using its failure and collapse as a strategy and thereby holding the west to ransom. Here, the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is used as a trump card. At present, the army is not in a position to safeguard itself given its heavy losses in operations against terrorism, which leads to the question of its ability to come to the rescue of the nation in a time of crisis. However, it must also be noted that Pakistan may be playing a double-game in the 'War on Terror'.
Pakistan’s strategy has been in maintaining a degree of strategic anonymity. Pakistan sees its support to subversive activities as a force multiplier against Indian. In the same respect, its nuclear arsenal is perceived as a force equalizer with India.
Report by Sripathi Narayanan, Research Intern, IPCS