By: Haris Bilal Malik 25 February 2021
On the 14th of February in 2019, a young Kashmiri individual attacked a convoy of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). This suicide attack reportedly killed 44 personnel of the CRPF. As part of its traditional blame game, without any undeniable evidence, India blamed Pakistan for backing the attack. This is further evident from the very fact that Pakistan probed India to provide solid evidence. However, since the broader Indian aim was to deliberately create war hysteria against Pakistan, the latter’s offer wasn’t considered. Enthused by this, on February 26, 2019, as reported, India entered Pakistan’s airspace with its Mirage-2000 fighter jets. This intrusion was referred to as a ‘surgical strike’ by India under its self-proclaimed ‘new normal’ in South Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, was left with no choice but to give a befitting response to India. On 27th February 2019, in an aerial fight, Pakistan downed two Indian jets and managed to capture an Indian pilot alive. This has been acknowledged by the international community since Pakistan provided undeniable evidence of the whole operation i.e. ‘Operation Swift Retort’. Contrary to this, the Indian claims of destroying a militant camp in Balakot and downing an F-16 jet of Pakistan remain suspicious to date. However, later on, Pakistan released the captured Indian pilot as a show of peace gesture and commitment towards regional peace and conflict settlement. February 2021 marks the completion of two years of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis which had resulted in a short-lived military engagement between the nuclear-armed rivals of South Asia. Since then, many factors have emerged as the destabilizing factors for the South Asian Strategic Stability.
Security analysts around the world believe that this crisis has further complicated the South Asian security dynamics. In this regard, the region is now regarded as more prone to military escalation than ever before. The volatility of relations between the arch-rivals India and Pakistan has been significantly enhanced. During this period, the Indian atrocities in the disputed Kashmir region have further acknowledged the relevance of Kashmir as a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. Based on this, there remains a continuous fear of conflict in the region which would likely have the potential of turning into a nuclear conflict. Likewise, in August 2019, India changed the special constitutional status of the disputed Kashmir region with the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. The international community openly condemned the Indian political annexation of the disputed Kashmir region. Despite this, a considerable time has passed and the Indian imposed lockdown and communication blackout remains partially applicable to date. This unilateral Indian move has more significance in view of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis in particular. It further implies that India aspires to dominate the escalation ladder of the region with its provocative and offensive policies.
At the military front, India has been actively involved in an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization drive. This is in the larger part aspired by the Indian long-held desire to dominate the region militarily. By doing so, India wants to readjust the regional military equation in its favor. This has emerged as one of the most destabilizing factors in the region. Likewise, other factors such as; an asymmetric conventional military balance of the region, and the Indian aggressive nuclear policies vis-à-vis Pakistan are also quite significant. In this regard, India’s development of advanced Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Systems, its agreement with Russia for the acquisition of the S-400 anti-missile system, provision of advanced nuclear-powered submarines, and the acquisition of Rafale fighter jets from France are also worth considering. Furthermore, India’s development of supersonic and hypersonic missiles especially during the last two years also implies that its military modernization program is aimed at becoming a regional hegemon. This Indian attempt to readjust the military balance of the region in its favor has further added to the instability of the South Asian region.
Moreover, India’s self-proclaimed notion of ‘counterforce preemptive surgical strike’ which it hopes would remain under the nuclear threshold of Pakistan is significantly important. Especially against the backdrop of the Pulwama-Balakot crisis, these have emerged as the most destabilizing factors that have affected the regional strategic stability. This has become more apparent from the way the Indian political and strategic elite has been involved in threatening Pakistan with such notions time and again. Consequently, the prospects of war and escalation in South Asia have significantly increased. In case of any provocative future entanglement, while India hopes that the intensity of conflict would remain conventional or even at the sub-conventional level, this however cannot be guaranteed. Contrary to such Indian assumption, the evolved dynamics of conflict would likely further challenge the threshold of Pakistan’s nuclear capability that already provides deterrence against various spectrums of threats coming from India.
Hence at the present, the prevalent security environment of the South Asian region even two years after the Pulwama-Balakot crisis remains in a state of influx. This is mainly because of the Indian aggressive politico-strategic thinking and its provocative war strategies against Pakistan. Given the absence of an appropriate regional crisis stability mechanism, the emergent security dynamics of the region have become more of a global security concern. Determined by such a regional environment of instability, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain more inclined towards India. In this regard, Pakistan’s nuclear capability, while being a credible and reliable deterrent force, would likely play the decisive role of holding the burden of strategic stability in the region.
The author currently works as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI) in Islamabad, Pakistan.