• 042-35941921, UAN: 03-111-999-101
  • info@kipscss.net

After India’s Skirmish With China, Is Pakistan Next?

  • Fahd Humayun
  • Aug, 2020
  • 125
  • Asia Conflict

Looking to reinvigorate support at home, Modi could pick a fight with his country’s traditional enemy

The worst border skirmish between India and China in the Himalayas in decades has abated for now, but the potential for crisis still looms large over a nuclear-armed South Asia. Last week, India announced it was formally downgrading relations with its other adversary and neighbor, Pakistan, by reducing the staff at its High Commission by 50 percent. The last time India asked for a similar reduction of embassy staff was in 2001, following an attack on the Indian Parliament. Bilateral ties between the two states have been shunted since New Delhi unilaterally revoked the special status of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Aug. 5, 2019, and intensified a heavy-handed crackdown in the valley.

So what exactly does the dust-up with China have to do with Pakistan’s relationship with India? In short, there are five reasons why this month’s Himalayan standoff increases the likelihood of a fresh India-Pakistan crisis.

First: India’s muted response to China in the aftermath of the Galwan Valley skirmish has raised difficult logistical questions and reputational concerns about New Delhi’s much-touted role as counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific. Although New Delhi adopted a position of nonalignment for much of the Cold War, its potential as a regional diplomatic and military bulwark against a rising China took on new significance after U.S. President George W. Bush sought to enlist it as a strategic partner and approved the sale of U.S. nuclear technology to the country. More recently, New Delhi and Washington announced an expanded defense partnership, including $3 billion in arms sales.

Yet hostile encounters with China in both 2017 and again this year have underscored for Indian policymakers the need to get along with Beijing if only to sustain a mutually feasible cohabitation; informal summits such as those in 2018 and 2019 were driven by this strategic necessity. In the aftermath of the most recent crisis, corps commander-level talks and diplomatic negotiations between Beijing and New Delhi mean India is likely to prioritize a minimum-working engagement with China over an unambiguous geopolitical rivalry that would come with fully partnering with the United States. Meanwhile, the political compulsion to demonstrate military capability-especially in the face of a conventional balance of forces that has shifted in China’s favor-may impel India to look elsewhere to offset suggestions of strategic impotency. If military capabilities drive policy choices, then the theater with Pakistan is a suitable foil for perceived Indian weaknesses compared to China.

Second, since coming to power in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated both a willingness and a capability to deliver on nationalistic pledges at home, especially when his government’s ability to deliver on the economic front has hit snags. Although India has seen its GDP growth fall to its lowest rate in the last 11 years, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to consolidate its political base by doubling down on its nationalistic pledges-from revoking the special status for Jammu and Kashmir (disputed between India and Pakistan since 1947) to building a Hindu temple to the god Ram on a disputed holy site where the Babri Masjid once stood.

Research shows that leaders looking to divert attention tend to target traditional enemies and enduring rivals (as conflict against such persistent adversaries is most likely to promote in-group solidarity), and diversionary conflicts are particularly likely to take the form of territorial disputes. Since the controversial measures in Kashmir last year, India’s politicians have systematically upped the bilateral ante with Pakistan by declaring intent to “secure” the Pakistani administrative areas of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Earlier this year, India’s new Army chief said the Indian Army was “ready to seize control” of Pakistan-administered Kashmir if directed by the Indian government; the same month, Modi said India needed seven to 10 days to defeat Pakistan in war. Two weeks ago, India’s defense minister reiterated that taking Pakistani Kashmir was now a “stated goal of India’s Parliament.”

Ordinarily, such statements might be put down to cheap talk-except, in this case, the BJP’s own track record of follow-through suggests these threats should be taken seriously. Operationally, the Indian Army has begun to set up artillery strikes deep into Kashmiri villages to launch long-distance fire into Pakistan-administered territory. In May, after months of deliberation, the India Meteorological Department began to list several areas on the Pakistani side of the border, in its own internal weather reports-an unprecedented development.

Share on facebook or twitter

Email to a friend