Over the past few years the attention of the national media has been geared towards the increasing military capabilities of Russia and China, often overlooking the 67-year-old animosity between India and Pakistan, a rivalry with potentially greater consequences for the world. Ever since the partition of British India in 1947, the relationship between the majority Hindu Indian state and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been far less than cordial to say the least. Since independence there have been three large wars, and one undeclared war called the Kargil War in 1999, between these two regional military heavyweights. In comparison, the last major war that China fought was the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979 and Russia’s latest conflict consists of aiding the anti-government rebels in Eastern Ukraine. The main commonality between these two regional hegemons is that they both faced opponents that were much weaker than themselves and more importantly did not possess nuclear weapons.
In order to understand the current animosity between the two former British colonies, the failure of the partition of British India to peacefully divide the population and land between Pakistan and India needs to be taken account. The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people, and is categorised as one of the largest migrations of the 20th century. In addition, the lingering issue of Kashmir has been a catalyst for all the wars between India and Pakistan except for the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Kashmir was a princely state during British rule, and while it had a Muslim majority, the king was a Hindu. Sensing an opportunity, Pakistan invaded Kashmir in 1947, which prompted a counter-invasion by India, who already beforehand made the accession of Kashmir into the Union of India a prerequisite for any military aid. Ever since then, there has been a ceasefire line called the “Line of Control”, that essentially divides the three areas of Kashmir that are under Indian administration and the two under Pakistani Control.
While the frozen conflict in Kashmir has led to the establishment of a permanent Indian and Pakistani military force being stationed on the Line of Control, the wider implication of this conflict is the current arms race between the two nuclear powers. In the past six years, India has consistently been the world’s largest importer of weapons and from 2007-2011 imported an estimated $17.3 worth of arms from its biggest military supplier Russia. Additionally IHS Jane’s, a military consultancy, estimates that by 2020 India will have the fourth largest military budget in the world, surpassing the likes of Japan, Britain, and France. This sharp rise in conventional military weaponry alone would be considered a remarkable feat, however what’s more significant is the fact that India has been rapidly expanding its technological capabilities at the same time. Since 1974, India has possessed the capacity to create nuclear bombs, and currently has around 80 or more warheads than can be deployed onto ballistic missiles at a moments notice. As recently as October, India has successfully test fired its Agni-5 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and is planning to conduct another test by the end of November or early December. The Agni-5 intercontinental ballistic missile is the most advanced version of the Agni missiles that were created as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program that started in the 1960s, and has a range of 5000-8000 kilometers, which effectively puts all of Asia and parts of Europe within operational range of the missile. In addition, India is currently in the process of creating the Agni-VI missile, which will have an estimated range of 10,000km and will include Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), which allow each individual warhead within the missile to target a specific target within the vicinity of the trajectory radius.
Furthermore, due to the breakneck speed at which the Indian missile program has advanced within the past few decades, the Indian Space Research Organization has benefited immensely, considering many of the boosters and designs used for ICBM missiles can be applied toward launching satellites into orbit. This was demonstrated on September 24 when India succeeded in becoming the 4th nation in the world to attempt to launch a satellite to Mars, and the very first country to achieve the impressive feat at its very first attempt. What’s even more extraordinary is the fact that this accomplishment was done using a budget that was less than 1/16th the size of NASA’s.
Nevertheless, while India is rapidly ascending towards the title of a regional hegemon in Asia, Pakistan refuses to be left in the dust. Even though India’s military budget, land area, and population size all far surpass those of Pakistan, India has fewer nuclear weapons than Pakistan does. In 1998, Pakistan tested its first nuclear weapon in response to an Indian nuclear weapons test a few weeks before, and has since then been producing more nuclear weapons than India has. While nuclear weapons alone do not determine a military’s power projection capability, Pakistan has more strategic missiles. Considering Pakistan does not yet possess ICBM’s, the missiles they do have all possess the capability to strike India specifically, and thus act as an effective deterrent against a potential full-scale invasion by India. In the mean time, Pakistan has also been seeking to improve their missile capabilities and have been advancing toward a sea-based missile that could be fired from a ship or submarine and would give Pakistan “second-strike” capability if a catastrophic nuclear exchange destroyed all land-based weapons. Still, Pakistan may not have to depend solely on the strength of its own conventional forces if an all out war breaks out; one of its closest allies in the region is China. Starting with Pakistan’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1950, these two nations have aided each other on both a military and political level. In fact, Pakistan is China’s biggest arms buyer, accounting for nearly 47% of Chinese arms exports, and is also tied with China as the third largest exporter of arms in the world. With the age of colonialism long gone, former colonial entities like Pakistan and India are earning the fear and admiration of major powers as both a economic and militarily powerful force to be reckoned with. This in effect, creates a new world order where former sole regional hegemons have to share both the power and the responsibility to coexist with its neighbors. Although this alone is not a cause for concern, the fact that small incidents have been met with dire consequences in the past leaves only time to tell whether or not India and Pakistan can maintain the façade of peace.
Image License: Some rights reserved by Garima