On July 17, 2014 China and Russia issued a joint statement stating their intention of creating a new world order. That same statement supported India’s long-standing bid to replace one of the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members. July 17th is historically relevant as it is the same day the U.S. joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, a mere hours later Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was downed by Russian mercenaries over Ukraine, followed by the announcement of the inception of the New Development Bank or The BRICS, named for its founders – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. While the intention of creating a new world, one radically different from that envisioned when the United Nations was created in 1948, appears to be well underway, India, which is busy defending its Kashmir region, has been left behind as Russia and China court the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a long-term and strategically-positioned ally of the United States.
The Pakistani Government
Pakistan is essential to curbing terrorist activities by the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other designated terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s military and its notoriously violent intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been training and funding several terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and India. The ISI aids these organisations by harboring terrorists, eradicating perceived enemies or those opposed to their cause, including India, Israel, the U.S., United Kingdom and other NATO members. Pakistan harbors terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Omar, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Sipah-e-Sahaba.
These groups interfere with NATO operations in Afghanistan; with Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria by providing training, weapons and fighters; and they have engaged in unconventional warfare along the border of India’s Kashmir state. These groups are responsible for the decades long terrorism campaign in Kashmir and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
‘Human Rights Watch’ has determined the ISI and Pakistani army actively aid the Taliban by “…soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban’s virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and on several occasions apparently directly providing combat support.”
ISI orchestrates its proxies to exert its influence in Pakistan, as well as in neighboring Afghanistan, Syria and India. The ISI also protected Osama bin-Laden, who lived a mere 100 kilometers outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for years, before being assassinated by U.S. Naval Special Forces on May 2, 2011.
FBI Satellite imagery evidences the existence of several terrorist camps in Pakistan, some of which are jihadist madrasa schools.
The disconnect is that the civilian Pakistani government operates without control over the ISI, and its army.
“The civilian government there [Pakistan] doesn’t control military policy, strategic policy… but the army and the intelligence service do…. and they have denied the obvious, postponed this reckoning for years with so many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda,” confirmed Chris Alexander, Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan.
Given the opportunity, the Pakistani Taliban would overthrow the Pakistani government and introduce a radical Islamist regime. Pakistani authorities fear that the Afghan Taliban could join forces with the Pakistani Taliban.
The Fragile U.S.-Pakistani Relationship
Following 9/11 Pakistan became a critical partner in the U.S.’s counterattack on al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda’s ally, the Afghan Taliban. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been a difficult one, at best, owing to the fact that the civilian government exerts little or no control over the ISI and the Pakistani army. Since 2001, the U.S. has provided extensive funding, now subject to conditions, to facilitate a stronger civilian Pakistani government empowered to take measures towards eradicating terrorism and the support of terrorism within its borders. Between September 11, 2001 and the end of 2008 the U.S. provided Pakistan with $11 billion in assistance.
In return, the civilian Pakistani government permits the U.S. to use its airspace; allows overland access to Afghanistan; and, to the extent possible, employs its police and paramilitary organizations to capture al-Qaeda activists.
Nonetheless, as of 2008 Pakistan was “…with the possible exception of Iran, perhaps the world’s most active sponsor of terrorist groups… aiding groups that pose a direct threat to the U.S… Pakistan is probably today’s most active sponsor of terrorism,” opined Daniel Byman, in an analysis published by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Due to a poor return on investment, as well as concerns about differing goals, nuclear proliferation, political instability, and Pakistan’s role as sanctuary for al Qaeda and Afghan insurgents, the U.S. has modified its aid policy.
Thus, the 2009 Kerry-Lugar legislation tripled nonmilitary aid to $1.5 billion per year as a long-term pledge to the people of Pakistan, it delinked military from nonmilitary aid, and conditioned military aid on certification that Pakistani security forces are (1) working to prevent al-Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating on Pakistani territory; (2) working to deny the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan; and (3) refraining from interfering in Pakistan’s political and judicial processes.
At a September 2011 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Mike Mullen, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that, “Pakistani duplicity puts in jeopardy not only the frayed U.S.-Pakistani partnership against terrorism but also the outcome to the decade-old war in Afghanistan.”
In July 2016 Sen. John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, met with former Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari. They agreed that it is in the interest of peace and stability that Pakistan continue playing its role in the fight against the global threat of terrorism. Mr. Zardari insisted that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism itself and would never support it, while Mr. McCain acknowledged the Pakistani government’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.
Afterwards, Sen. McCain wrote in a July 26th article that, “By taking on all terrorist groups operating in its territory, Pakistan will find that the U.S. remains willing and able to assist in this fight and develop an enduring strategic partnership. The sooner the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan get down to the business of fighting their common terrorist enemies together, no matter where they hide, the better off the nations, the region and the world will be.”
On August 29th the U.S. communicated its refusal to subsidize Pakistan’s purchase of 16 used F-16 fighter jets.
Building upon the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, on September 19th U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to discuss the countries’ strong and long-term bilateral partnership. Mr. Kerry reiterated the need for Pakistan to prevent any terrorist from using Pakistani territory as a safe haven. Mr. Kerry stressed the need for restraint in nuclear weapons programs.
Mr. Kerry commended Mr. Sharif on recent efforts by Pakistani security forces to counter violent extremism, for 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees, for restoring macroeconomic stability, and for cooperating on climate change priorities.
On October 7th the White House rejected a demand from several legislators that the U.S. Secretary of State designate Pakistan a “terrorist state”.
Competing Claims in the Kashmir Region
As for the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and China have competing claims. While China has never engaged in overt action over the dispute, Pakistan and India have engaged in escalating violence in the Kashmir region along the Pakistani and Indian border. Most recently, in September, India blamed Pakistan-based militant groups for an attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers, the deadliest assault there in years. India retaliated with cross-border “surgical strikes” against suspected militants in Pakistan killing two people.
One of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s diplomats warned that Pakistan would look to China and Russia if the U.S. fails to reconsider its position on the escalating Pak-India Kashmir conflict.
At a September 19th meeting, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Kerry expressed concern as to the recent violence in Kashmir, and the need for both sides to diplomatically reduce tensions. Mr. Sharif stated that Pakistan wants to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue.
The next day U.S. State Department spokesperson, John Kirby, issued a statement that the U.S. will not intervene in the Kashmir dispute and asked both the Indian and Pakistan governments resolve it through ‘meaningful dialogue’.
India and China
India could look to neighboring China for support. China will outwardly try to remain neutral. While China and India share a fear of expanding terrorist networks, Pakistan is critical to China’s $46 billion “One Belt, One Road” trade route running from Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea to China’s landlocked Xinjiang Province. This initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was designed to expand China’s Asian economic and political outreach, as well as providing it with access to a sea route for trade.
“The conventional wisdom is that China will intensify support to Islamabad amid rising India-Pakistan tension. China will want to reiterate its commitment to Pakistan and express its strong support, particularly if Beijing starts to worry that India’s more muscular approach towards Pakistan could entail efforts to undercut or even sabotage the China-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project,” stated Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.
India has worked to deepen its military cooperation with the U.S. In June the U.S. granted India “major defence partner” status, potentially paving the way for a transfer of U.S. military “dual-use” technologies, used to develop strategic weapons, such as ballistic missiles. The arms deal has a price tag of $9 billion. The deal was not totally one-sided. On August 30th the two countries signed a logistics sharing pact under which their militaries can use each other’s military bases.
China has significantly increased defence cooperation with Pakistan. While China already is Pakistan’s primary source of weapons, and responsible for building Pakistan’s nuclear reactors, only recently has China resumed sharing strategic weapons technology; a practice that ceased in the 1990s under U.S. pressure.
On March 9, 2015, Pakistan tested its Shaheen-3 intermediate-range, land-based surface-to-surface ballistic missile. Capable of delivering a conventional or nuclear warhead, the Shaheen-3 has a range of 2750 km- 1700 miles, and a circular error probable of less 40 meters, making it the most accurate ballistic missile of its class in the world.
The transport erector launcher used to launch the missile is believed to have been sourced by China as it bore similarity to a launcher transferred in 2011 by China to North Korea.
The Shaheen-3 was developed in response to India’s Agni-III. Capable of delivering a conventional or nuclear warhead, the Agni-III has a range of 3,500 km- 5,000 km, and a circular error probable of 40 meters. Since then India has tested two more advanced variants of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Agni-V and Agni-VI. Using multiple independent re-entry vehicles, the AGNI-VI can simultaneously deliver multiple nuclear warheads reaching targets as far 6,000 km away.
In 2015, China introduced 10 MIRV variants of its DF-5 ICBM, which are similar in capability to the Agni-V and Agni-Vi. It is believed that China has shared this technology with Pakistan.
Seeking to match India’s development of second-strike capabilities through land, air and sea-based delivery systems, in 2015, Pakistan’s acquired eight Type 041 diesel-electric attack submarines from China that can be armed with nuclear-capable Babur cruise missiles.
Pakistan and Russia
In 2007 Pakistan and Russia reestablished diplomat ties. While the raison d’être was ostensibly a joint interest in defeating the Taliban, recent events evidence the rationale as being multi-faceted.
In 2014 Moscow lifted a longstanding ban on arms sales to Pakistan. In 2015 the two countries signed a defence deal, including a sale to Pakistan of four Russian Mil Mi-35M attack helicopters to replace Pakistan’s aging U.S.-made AH-1 Cobras.
In 2015 Russia agreed to invest $2 billion to construct a North-South gas pipeline to transfer liquefied natural gas from Pakistani port city Karachi to Lahore, in the Punjab Province. Having an energy shortage, the pipeline could supply 30 percent of the Pakistani population with energy. The first phase is expected to be finished by December 2017.
After an August 8th blast killed at least 70 people at a hospital in Quetta, a city located near the Afghanistan border, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin stated, “We decisively condemn this cynical, inhumane crime… I’d like to reiterate that the Russian side is ready to bolster cooperation with Pakistani partners in the fight against terrorism.”
In September, the Russian and Pakistani armies conducted “mutual special drills in mountainous terrain” in the eastern Punjab province, a neighboring province to Kashmir region.
“Moscow and Islamabad are interested in deepening military-to-military relations,” stated Qazi Khalilullah, Pakistan’s ambassador to Moscow.
Russia further invited Pakistan to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russia has expressed a desire in joining CPEC.
The India-Russo Relationship
In 2010, Mr. Putin stated that “Russia is not maintaining military cooperation with Pakistan as it takes into account the concerns of Indian partners.”
Following an October 23, 2013 meeting between India’s then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Mr. Putin concerning Pakistan, Mr. Putin issued a strongly-worded statement that “states that provide aid, abetment and shelter for such terrorist activities are themselves as guilty as the actual perpetrators of terrorism”.
But, over the last two years things have radically changed. As Russia now considers Pakistan a partner on just about every level, Russo-Indian relations have experienced a downward trend. In 2015, under a pre-existing agreement, Russia was to build and finance 12 nuclear power plants in India. Russia unilaterally doubled the number of plants to be built all at a significantly higher cost.
Now, Mr. Putin has grown angry over India’s augmenting its Russian-Indian defense agreement with assistance from the U.S. and other Western nations. That anger was made manifest after Russia announced a three-fold cost increase and a five-year delay in procuring for India’s fourth aircraft carrier, and delays in fulfilling a multibillion-dollar agreement to provide India with a fifth generation fighter jet.
“By engaging with Pakistan, Russia leaves New Delhi with a hard choice: to honor its strategic commitment to Russia and make concessions or to observe Russian-Pakistani rapprochement, which could potentially erode India’s military advantage,” observed Moscow-based political analyst Dmitriy Frolovskiy.
Advances in China, Pakistan and India’s strategic weapons programmes have significantly elevated the danger of nuclear conflict because they threaten “to blur nuclear thresholds and elevate the risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation due to misperception,” according to a June study by the U.S. Strategic Studies Institute.
“Pakistan has rapidly expanded its nuclear arsenal and reportedly developed new tactical nuclear weapons. Not to be outdone, India continues to modernise its nuclear triad,” confirmed Sen. McCain.
In the 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook, India and Pakistan were the only two unrecognised nuclear powers that are currently expanding their arsenals and delivery systems.
“The nuclear arms race in South Asia has its own logic but China’s growing military sophistication has pushed India and the U.S. closer, which has further cemented the China-Pakistan alliance. This has implications for the nuclear dynamic as well,” observed Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College London.
There are two doctrines which have governed nuclear armament. The oldest is the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) whereby neither country engages in direct military confrontation with the other. Rather, aggressions are taken out in proxy wars staged in other less powerful countries. The second and newer doctrine is that of Mutual Assured Security (MAS), a condition in which neither party has the intention or capability to exercise a unilateral advantage over the other. Neither Pakistan nor India play by these rules as reflected in a 2014 paper released by the Australian Institute of International Affairs:
The largely-accepted and comforting notion that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) permits stability at higher levels of conflict (even as it facilitates instability at lower levels) does not apply in the India-Pakistan dynamic. The validity of the Stability-Instability Paradox (SIP) rests on a number of assumptions which existed during the Cold War, but are not present in the Indo-Pakistani security environment. The preconditions required in order for the SIP to hold are:
That the sides involved are rational actors;
That the side which threatens first-use has unambiguous red lines to prevent the accidental tripping of nuclear thresholds; and
That there are minimum levels of communication and mutual understanding between the actors so as to minimise chances of miscommunication and misinterpretation.
The study concluded, “With tactical nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile defence technology entering the equation, the nuclear ladder is getting ever-shorter and the region is fast becoming a tinderbox.”
Consider the statement made by Air Marshal Shahid Latif, a retired senior commander in the Pakistan Air Force, which confirmed that “Now, India doesn’t have its safe heavens anymore. It’s all a reaction to India, which has now gone even for tests of extra-regional missiles. It sends a [very] loud message: If you hurt us, we are going to hurt you back!”
This growing tensions in the Kashmir region are fueling further regional destabilization and polarization. The U.S. has thus far stated that mutual dialogue is the only viable solution. As for China, its interest in Pakistan and India is pecuniary. While Russia does not share the same interest in Kashmir as it is not a border country, the key to Russian restraint in Pakistan may lie in Russia’s lucrative financial relationships with China, India and Pakistan.
With The BRICS Summit taking place this past weekend in India, it is doubtful that the group will have done little more than reiterate its position against terrorism. Through diplomatic channels, however, as Beijing has no desire for bordering Kashmir to fall in the hands of Islamic extremists, China may hold the key to pushing both countries to reduce tensions.
A second logical solution would be for India and Pakistan to present their territorial dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, to which both countries are member states.
The author with United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the inauguration of the new ICC complex on April 19, 2016
Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague writing about geopolitics for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.