Pakistan’s Strategic Significance for India


Some strategic thinkers and policy makers in South Asia and beyond still believe that Pakistan-India relations are a one-sided game and it is Pakistan that should be more serious in improving its relations with India even on Indian terms.

This strategic misperception has been further strengthened in the post-cold war and post 9/11 scenarios because some major powers like the US and EU countries have started terming India as a major world power quite prematurely. Despite that India is yet far away from attaining this status.

Such a privileged position being accorded to India by the West is basically due to their desire of propping up this poverty-ridden country as a counterweight to the rising China and also considering it a major trading and investment market due to its vast population and cheaper labour force.

In the light of economic indicators of the advanced economies such as the US, Japan, Germany, France, Russia and China, it is difficult to consider India a major power when its economic growth has gone down to 4.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. India ranks 142nd in the world according to the per capita income (nominal) and its 30% population—according to the estimates by United Nations Development Programme—is living below poverty line. Also, with ongoing guerrilla movements in seven north-eastern states, along with the naxalites movement, its future cohesion, stability and integrity remain jeopardized. Impressed by the politically-motivated rhetoric of the West that India is a rising world power, where a fair number of Indian strategic thinkers and policy makers have been misled in considering India as a major power few decades in advance, some Pakistani stakeholders and policy analysts also seem influenced by this unwarranted Western propaganda.

In the real sense, India is yet to prove itself as an uncontested regional power in South Asia. This disputed regional status of India is mainly due to its ongoing disputes with almost all its neighbours; with Pakistan over Kashmir dispute—both countries have fought three wars on this issue because India has remained intransigent as regards the implementation of UNSC resolutions calling for holding a plebiscite in Kashmir. It remained engaged with Pakistan in a long arms race. Consequently, India became a declared nuclear power by taking lead in conducting overt nuclear tests in May 1998 and in the process, it also compelled Pakistan to become a declared nuclear power.

In the light of this established power equation in South Asia, and in view of India’s 21st Century economic interests linked with Central Asian States (CARs), Russia and West Asia, Pakistan’s future strategic value for India is immense. Hence, it does not make sense for Indian policy makers to start declaring India as a major world power unless it builds peace in South Asia by resolving its major disputes with its neighbours including Pakistan, especially the Kashmir issue in a rational manner. In this regard India should develop tension-free, friendly relations with Pakistan as a neighbouring nuclear power rather than undermining its nuclear status by distorting its non-proliferation credentials through propaganda. If India resolves Kashmir dispute in a just manner, it will not be a costly bargain for it as compared with the substantial long-term gains coming due to opening up of its trade and energy pipelines to CARs and Iran through the shortest land route via Pakistan.

It is only by consolidating its politico-economic position in South Asia by resolving lingering disputes with other South Asian countries in a just manner and boosting its declining economic growth through expanded intra-regional trade and investments that the regional countries will treat India as a major friendly power.

Pakistan’s strategic value for India, to meet its objective of becoming a major world power within no time, can be better understood if we can visualize India’s future economic and strategic needs that are linked to Pakistan. In this context, it will not be wrong to estimate that for India having a population of over one billion people, it will be extremely important to address its huge future energy shortages through imports from Central and West Asian regions. Import of energy from these regions will be inevitable for India to meet its growing industrial needs to attain its aspired growth rates—that range between 7 to 10 per cent—to address rampant poverty and to provide energy for domestic use.

As estimated by the US Department of Energy, India will face huge energy shortages by 2030 since by then its dependence on foreign oil will reach over 90%. Since in eastern India, no major source of energy supply is available, it will have to import oil and gas from Turkmenistan and Iran. For this purpose, the route for the pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the shortest and cheapest as compared to the route through Afghanistan and Iran using Chahbahar seaport and then by pipelines to be constructed through deep sea avoiding exclusive economic zones of Pakistan. Same is true for India for importing iron ore and other minerals from Afghanistan where it is investing heavily and also for large scale trading of goods with CARs and Iran. Trade route through Afghanistan and Pakistan will also be beneficial to India for trading with Russia, western China and even with Turkey and EU countries in the long-term perspective.

India should develop tension-free, friendly relations with Pakistan as a neighbouring nuclear power rather than undermining its nuclear status by distorting its non-proliferation credentials through propaganda.

Therefore, to meet its higher military and economic objectives to become a major world power, India will need to fully open up with Central Asia, Russia, West Asia and Middle East through land routes for which it will need to improve its relations with Pakistan in next 10 to 15 years. India can surely do this by resolving all major disputes with Pakistan including Kashmir issue through dialogue. Building better relations with Pakistan will also help India in further deepening its relations with the Gulf countries.

In this context, although Pakistan can also considerably benefit in economic terms from building better relations with India, it will still be able to wait for a long time to link development of good relations with India with the resolution of Kashmir dispute since it doesn’t depend on India to import energy from Iran and CARs.

On the other hand, India will not be able to wait for long to meet its future energy needs by importing it from Iran and CARs through Pakistan on much lesser cost for which it will need to improve its relations with Pakistan.

In the light of above discussion, it can be concluded that Pakistan’s strategic value for India in the next few decades will be much more than the value India would have for Pakistan. It is, therefore, important for Pakistani strategic thinkers and policy makers to understand India’s real strategic position and its 21st century economic imperatives in the correct perspective; so that they don’t get mislead by India’s over exaggerated power status.

This is necessary so that while Pakistani stakeholders and policy makers formulate policy options for improving relations with India, they do not underestimate Pakistan’s relative power status and strategic significance for India and hold bilateral dialogue with India from position of strength rather than choosing to unnecessarily appease India for building good relations with it—on its terms.

In this regard, Pakistani perceptions about India’s power status should not be linked with its current weak economic position, being a temporary one, which can be strengthened in a reasonable timeframe by formulating and implementing better economic policies by the current and future governments in Pakistan.

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