The American strategic community and foreign policy elites have formulated a new strategic concept to deter China’s aggressive military posturing in the Asia-Pacific. It goes by the term “Integrated Deterrence.” What is integrated deterrence, and how is it related to the strategic situation in our region? What is India’s role in integrated deterrence?
Answering these questions will take us into the realm of Pakistan’s foreign policy, military strategy and domestic politics. In our political discourse, we are too narrowly focused on myopic questions, such as who is, at any particular point of time, the most popular leader? Which party will dominate the parliamentary elections? Who is going to form the next government in Islamabad?
In this narrowly focused and sometimes useless discourse, we ignore the international and regional security situation, and the question of how these situations will impact outcomes in our domestic politics. At the cost of sounding too stereotypical, I will repeat the political cliché that it is the Pakistan military which handles the policies that deal with the international dimension of the Pakistan state.
The Pakistani state is facing two questions relating to the international and regional dimension of its existence at the moment. Both questions relate to the security of the state and its foreign policy and both questions will impact the country's domestic politics at an extremely fundamental level. The first question relates to how Pakistan will deal with an overly assertive India as a regional military power in South Asia? Americans have a plan to shore up Indian military capabilities with the transfer of state-of-the-art technology, intelligence sharing and joint production of modern weapon systems. The Americans have a plan, because they have a strategy to insert India as a counterweight to China in the Asia Pacific Region. This is where the concept of Integrated Deterrence becomes relevant. Two analysts from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Sameer P. Lalwani and Vikram J. Singh, describe the concept of integrated deterrence in the following words, “it is operating from a theory of “integrated deterrence” where India’s enhanced ability to defend itself and deter aggression and coercion will contribute to regional peace and stability.
Although the strategy of integrated deterrence is directed to deter China, the new military relationship Washington is constructing with New Delhi in no way imposes any restrictions on India not to use the newly acquired military capability against Washington’s old ally, Pakistan.
Deterrence will not stem simply from India’s existence or expansion of its latent power. If that was enough, India’s rapid rise over the past two decades should have deterred Chinese aggression along the LAC and the Indian Ocean, which it clearly has not. Deterrence will depend on what India does, how it operationalizes and postures its power, and who it cooperates or at least synchronizes with. These are the most important issues for U.S. and Indian leaders to discuss, if only in private.”
Although the strategy of integrated deterrence is directed to deter China, the new military relationship Washington is constructing with New Delhi in no way imposes any restrictions on India not to use the newly acquired military capability against Washington’s old ally, Pakistan. Both Pakistan’s officialdom and independent strategic and military experts have been expressing the opinion that the process of transfer of technology and joint production of modern weapons systems will transform the military equation in South Asia, tilting it heavily in favor of India.
In this situation, Indian strategic thinkers discount the recent attempt by the Biden Administration to revive its strategic relations with Islamabad as not a very significant move. India’s Foremost strategic analyst, C. Raja Mohan describes the latest US-India strategic relations in the following words, “The current US policy in the Subcontinent is not a replay of the 20th century Cold War. The recently released US National Security Strategy (NSS) underlines the central role of India in Washington’s competition with China in the Indo-Pacific. Having defined China as the most ‘consequential threat’ and the Indo-Pacific as the main arena of competition, the US is stepping up its engagement with India. As India is the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defense Partner, the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it says.
The official tour of Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, General Asim Munir to Washington in this strategic environment will hardly have a transformative impact on South Asia’s regional security environment. The question that Pakistan has to answer is how to adjust itself in this new strategic environment, where India has emerged as a strategic partner and military ally of Washington. Initially, the Indian strategic community was extremely reluctant to enter into a military alliance with Washington. However, recent China-India border tensions made them overcome their reluctance. If Islamabad continues to invest in resisting New Delhi’s regional hegemony, how it would manage its relations with Washington, which will directly be supporting India for consolidating its military hegemony in South Asia.
Pakistan society is again witnessing a high rise of terrorists led violence with suicide bombings as tool of terror groups. There is a growing consensus in Pakistani society that the Pakistan military and government should restore large scale operations against terror groups.
We can be sure of one thing: Pakistan doesn’t carry the kind of weight which India under Prime Minister Nehru had in Washington to condemn and criticize the latter's move in 1950 and 1960s to provide the latest weapons systems to the Pakistani military. Even if we do criticize Washington’s move to arm New Delhi, our voices will fall on deaf ears. If the gap in conventional weapons between Pakistan and India widens to a level where we are forced to rely more desperately on our nuclear weapons, more rounds of military instability could be just round the corner. We could be sure that this aspect of the South Asian security situation must be on the top of agenda in the talks between US officials and General Asim Munir.
Second important question the Pakistani state will have to answer relates to the rising wave of violence in the North West and South West of the country. Pakistani officials’ assertions to continue the fight against terrorism are matched by a rising wave of violence in Pak-Afghan border areas where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has consolidated its position. The TTP has carried out multiple levels of terror attacks on Pakistani security forces in Pak-Afghan border areas, especially in the north western parts of the country. The other area of Pakistan which has been severely hit by terrorism and militancy is the south western province of Baluchistan, where secular minded Baloch separatists have been carrying out terror attacks on military garrisons during the past four months. Baluch separatists have their bases in Pak-Iran border areas. Baluch separatists however have reestablished their base camps in Afghanistan.
Pakistan society is again witnessing a high rise of terrorists led violence with suicide bombings as tool of terror groups. There is a growing consensus in Pakistani society that the Pakistan military and government should restore large scale operations against terror groups. Pakistan is reentering a phase just like the 2007 to 2014 period when suicide bombing was a daily occurrence and security forces were losing their grip on the Pak-Afghan border areas. After this period, the military launched a full-fledged military operation to dislodge TTP from border areas. Afterwards, the TTP fled Pakistan and lodged themselves in towns and cities on the Afghan side of the border.
TTP started tracking their way back into Pakistan territory after the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021. The Pakistan government initially offered talks to TTP using the influence of the Afghan Taliban. However, TTP remained engaged in terror attacks despite ongoing talks with the Pakistan government. Alarms went off in Islamabad after Pakistani intelligence agencies started reporting that TTP had now consolidated their position in border areas.
If Islamabad continues to invest in resisting New Delhi’s regional hegemony, how it would manage its relations with Washington, which will directly be supporting India for consolidating its military hegemony in South Asia.
The world around us has been transformed—the dominant trend in world politics is shifting from intra-state to inter-state conflict. The Ukraine conflict, tension on Korean Peninsula, China-India military tensions, Israeli military invasion of Gaza strip - all indicate a shift towards inter-state conflict. The United States has pulled out of countries where intra-society conflicts were the norm. Now, American security documents harp on the themes which relate with interstate conflicts. Conflicts are bad, whether they are intra-state or interstate, and they are especially bad for a poor and helpless country like Pakistan. But this is not our choice—we have to deal with both the intra-state conflict within our society and potential interstate conflict with India.
For us there is no escape. But we have to fully comprehend the shift in security situations in the region as well as internationally. We have to understand that the Pakistani state doesn’t have the resources to launch a full-scale military operation against TTP in the north west.
Suppose we are assured of two things - enough financial resources to deal with the threat of TTP and what lies beyond our western border, and if we are assured that Washington’s new found military ally India will not pose any conventional threat if we get busy with our task on the western border. What will be our fate in the long run?
Could our military be bogged down in a prolonged civil war? Will this amount to an end of our dream to resist Indian hegemony in the region? How will this impact our domestic politics? Will forces which are dealing with TTP with an iron hand treat less violent political groups any differently? The signs of our state machinery employing draconian tactics in domestic politics are already becoming far too visible. These two security questions will determine the future of our foreign policy. One thing is for sure: the decision-making processes on these two issues will consolidate the military's dominance of the state’s power structure. After finalizing their strategies on these two questions, the military leadership will be in a better position to bring in a pliant political leader as the next Prime Minister. It remains astounding that in the normal course of our political discourse, we don’t even see any mention of these two issues.