Kidwai on S Asian Security, 2023

In a September 2023 speech, Lt Gen Khalid Ahmed Kidwai presented a brief history of India-Pakistan security issues:

The Fifties and the Sixties, which saw an era of early political instability, belonged subsequently to the relatively stable political and economic period of President Ayub Khan. The period witnessed ironically not only the blossoming of Pakistan-US romance on the one hand but also included the crucial opening of strategic relations with China on the other hand; the relationship with China has since solidly stood the test of times over several decades, even though the Pakistan-US romance later turned sour. This was also the period when two wars in South Asia, separated in time and space, left deep strategic effects which continue to reverberate till today in one way or another. I refer to the India-China War of 1962 and the India-Pakistan War of 1965.

The Seventies of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s era not only consolidated Pakistan’s relations with China to a point that these became the cornerstone of Pakistan’s security policy, but also brought a breath of fresh air by strengthening Pakistan’s relations with the Muslim world especially with the holding of the widely popular Islamic Summit in Lahore in 1974. The Islamic Summit, which was one grand event of its kind, was a truly star studded affair and brought the entire top leadership of the Islamic world to Lahore. It helped in lifting the gloom and doom and the sagging spirits of Pakistanis after the trauma of the loss of East Pakistan in 1971.

Most importantly, however, from the perspective of Pakistan’s then weakened security especially after the explosion of a nuclear device by India in 1974 at Pokhran, the Bhutto era marks the birth of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and is therefore, in my view, the most critical decade of Pakistan’s history from a security point of view. When we reflect on it, you will probably agree that if that decision had not been taken then, Pakistan today, minus the nuclear weapons capability, would have been at the mercy of its ruthless adversaries.

The Eighties of General Zia ul Haq’s rule saw the continuation of the development of Pakistan’s nuclear capability on the one hand, but on the other hand, we also witnessed the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 thereby raising the specter of Communism and Communist USSR becoming Pakistan’s ominous neighbours if not pushed back. Both developments had profound effects on Pakistan’s security. While the nuclear programme continued to be developed to secure Pakistan against external aggression for times to come, the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation, though successful in expelling the USSR from the neighbourhood, left lasting negative and destabilizing effects on Pakistan’s internal security with which we continue to grapple to this day. Also in this decade, we can add the consequences on Pakistan’s internal dynamics of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. It has had debilitating effects on Pakistan’s internal security and stability with the rise of sectarianism.

The Nineties were a period of layers upon layers of US military and economic sanctions against Pakistan because of Pakistan’s continued pursuit of the nuclear programme; this, after Pakistan had served the US interest in organizing the fight against the USSR which eventually led to its disintegration. Pakistan felt used and discarded. The term “transactional relationship” came into usage and has left a lasting bitterness in Pakistan-US relationship. The Nineties also saw the birth of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan with its inevitable negative fallout on Pakistan. The one item, however, that remained rock solid in the Nineties too was the national determination and consensus to develop Pakistan’s nuclear capability irrespective of the government in power. Pakistan’s finest hour also belongs to the Nineties when in May 1998 Pakistan responded to India’s five nuclear tests with six of our own. The nuclear programme thus emerged out of the closet and Pakistan became the seventh nuclear power in the world finding stable security against external aggression.

There is no doubt that the two decades of this 21st Century have been defined and shaped worldwide by the events of 9/11 while also retaining the influences in many ways of the events and strategic effects generated earlier in the five decades of the 20th Century. While Pakistan’s robust nuclear deterrence continued to enforce peace of sorts on the eastern border, howsoever fragile, it is the western borders and the state of internal security especially in Baluchistan and the KPK which have become problematic for Pakistan. The fallout of the post 9/11 US invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror continues to haunt Pakistan. Some of this can also be attributed to the fallout of the global struggle between the US and China. Pakistan’s close strategic relationship with China particularly the unfolding of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been opposed by the US and India in an anti-Pakistan, anti-China nexus and therefore the fillip to the insurgencies in the two critical provinces keeps Pakistan destabilized.

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