ASIAOPINION

Dynamics of strategic stability in South Asia

By Asma Khalid

Strategic stability in South Asia is complex phenomena due to adversarial relationship between two traditional rivals India and Pakistan. Existence of Action-Reaction Spiral between both nuclear rivals is increasing the fragility of the South Asian strategic stability. Though, the both states have successfully achieved the principal requirements of strategic stability by enhancing their nuclear capabilities and maintaining the deterrence. But different postures of military strategies have negatively affected nuclear equation of the region. Balance of power in South Asia revolves around the competition over nuclear and conventional military build-up between India-Pakistan and powers politic among United States, China and Russia.

Territorial dispute over Jammu and Kashmir is actual bone of contention and previous events of war of Kargil, Mumbai attack, and most recent attacks of Pathankot and Urri, has severely shattered the stability paradigm and these events have brought both countries on the brink of war. Most significantly Indian claim of surgical attacks in Pakistan held Kashmir has seriously disturbed the existing strategic stability paradigm in South Asia. Though introduction of nuclear weapon has brought the fundamental change in regional security calculus but Stability-Instability paradox is operational in south Asia.

Dilemma of the South Asian region is that with the passage of time, strategic stability is becoming more fragile instead of becoming strong. Deterrence stability and Crisis stability in the region is not yet stabilize due to various internal and external factors Historical events, social, economic, political aspects and external powers especially United States (US) has played crucial role in disturbing the strategic force balance and strategic stability in the region.  Internal challenges such as territorial disputes (Sir Creek, Kashmir, and Siachen), increased border tension on LOC, defence production gap and Indian military modernization, Indian ballistic missile program, and absence of arms control regime are the main source of tension in the region. In such strategic landscape three possible threats to regional strategic stability are: crisis instability, arms race, security dilemma and escalatory danger have worsened the situation.

Power politics among super powers has also played a crucial role in disturbing the regional equilibrium as the sub-continent has remained under the influence of great powers. During the cold war period USSR and U.S exercise their power struggle over South Asia; where as in china emerged as third competitor during the Post-Cold war era. At the end of Cold-War India-US bilateral ties were strengthen by economic and defence co-operation. In post 9/11 indo-US stronger ties were the biggest threat to regional stability. Growing Indo-US strategic partnership, Indo-US nuclear deal, recent defence co-operation and U.S support to Indian candidacy for NSG has drastically halted the process of stability. Defence bond between U.S and India is biggest threat to regional stability as well as to the global non-proliferation efforts. At the broader aspect Indo-U.S strategic partnership has put the question mark on the aspiration of both states and it may force the other regional states to take the measure to ensure their safety and security.

In response to Indo-U.S strategic co-operation, China and Pakistan are making strong partnership in economic, military and nuclear fields. China can play the crucial role to maintain the balance of power in the region by providing assistance to Pakistan in military and nuclear fields. At the same time, Pakistan and China are pursuing the strategies to counter the threats and challenges to regional strategic stability but not by violating the international laws or norms as US did to support India’s membership for NSG.  Subsequently, Pakistan’s vision is to promote the idea of regional cooperative development; CPEC is the most significant example of that.

Two categories of strategic partnerships: Indo-U.S strategic partnership and China-Pakistan Strategic co-operation has evolved the unique kind of equilibrium in the South Asia.  However, India’s military modernization plane, missile program, Indo-U.S civil nuclear deal and discriminatory approach of U.S towards Pakistan have directly challenged the regional strategic balance. In this regard, absence of crisis stability and deterrence stability mechanism is increasing the fragility of South Asian strategic stability.  So it is imperative to develop a framework comprised of conventional force balance, arms control regime and conflict resolution. Unfortunately, India has always rejected such proposals regarding nuclear restrains. In order to ensure the regional stability it is necessary to take the establishment of restraint regimes seriously for durable peace in the South Asian region.

Asma Khalid is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.

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