Pakistan’s Cold War and How to Win it

An unnamed cold war that Pakistan must recognise 

Pakistan is in the midst of a Cold War situation that many refuse to recognise. While some foolishly scapegoat post-colonial issues as the underlying cause for Pakistan and India’s fraught relationship, at a time when both countries are nuclear powers, one must analyse their turgid relations through the prism of a cold war standoff for the simple reason that the standoff exhibits all of the symptoms of a classic cold war rivalry whether it be the prominent US-USSR Cold War or the Sino-Soviet split that occurred during the last 30 years of the 20th century Cold War.

The following symptoms of a cold war are exhibited in the Indo-Pakistan “relationship”:

1. Both sides are nuclear powers capable of raising large armies backed by substantial military-intelligence agencies

2. India uses a de facto Hindutva state ideology (in spite of a secular constitution) to call for Pakistan’s destruction in the name of Akhand Bharat (sometimes referred to as greater India). Just as USSR politicians and propagandists sought to eliminate nations states by spreading communism so too do Indian RSS leaders, BJP officials and the media call for Akhand Bharat as a means of eliminating the traditional sovereignty and political independence of India’s neighbours.

3. Just as during the Cold War the United States defined itself as the capitalist alternative to Soviet communism, as an Islamic Republic and the world’s first modern republic founded specially as a homeland for regional Muslims, Pakistan’s Islamic characteristics demonstrate a clear ideological difference with an India in which Hindutva expansionism is becoming mainstream politics.

4. Recent events have shown that there is little real appetite for a full scale war on the model of 1999 let alone of 1971. The reason behind this is the same reason why the USSR and USA had no real appetite for a conventional battle during the Cold War. But far from being a symptom of peace, it is a symptom of a realisation that any conventional war would rapidly be settled by a deadly nuclear showdown.

5. Both sides continue to engage in tense skirmishes in Kashmir. In this sense, Indian Occupied Kashmir fulfils the role of the many proxy conflicts during the 20th century in which the USSR and USA would “pick a side” without directly attacking the other’s territory. Kashmir’s neglected status by the UN has made it so that Indian forces can aggressively attack Azad Kashmir whilst then telling the world that they have “not attacked Pakistan”. It is a convenient Cold War style get out of jail free card that is deployed again and again.

6. India seeks to use its domestic press and international influence to advance a narrative that Pakistan is somehow not a normal state but a terrorist state. Pakistan until recently has failed to adequately respond to this cold war style slander.

The final point leads one to the realisation that while India is engaged in all of the classic attributes of a cold war style rivalry, Pakistan remains reactive rather than pro-active when it comes to countering India’s calculated attempts to isolate Pakistan at a military, economic and diplomatic/ideological level. The following steps can be taken by Pakistan to rectify this deficiency.

Embrace China without reservation

Had Pakistan’s all-weather partner China been as powerful during the 20th century as it is today, the history of Soviet backed Indian aggression in the last century would have likely had a very different impact on Pakistan. As such, it is important to remember that China today can do far more for Pakistan than what the USSR did for India. Whilst the USSR was able to military aid India and offer India raw materials, today’s ultra-modern Chinese economy has the potential to develop Pakistan to a high level so that in twenty years time, Pakistanis can enjoy a far higher living standard than those living in an Indian economy which continues to create a massive gap between the ultra-rich and the masses of the incredibly poor.

Whilst China is on target to totally eliminate the last vestiges of legally defined poverty by 2020, it is this model that Pakistan can use to jet ahead of its largest neighbour in terms of poverty relief and building a larger middle class.

The only thing holding Pakistan back in this respect are security issues and overly burdensome economic regulations that PTI has pledged to overturn. The overturning of 1970s style cartelism that itself was nothing but a modern day version of economic warlordism cannot be eliminated soon enough.

Co-opt a pragmatic case-by-case partnership with the United States

The security issue however also must be approached from an economic angle. Between 2001 and very recent years, Pakistan was bankrupted in large part by a major war against terrorist forces originating from Afghanistan, the worst of which were/are backed by both India and the Kabul regime.

Although the United States was the direct cause of the havoc in Afghanistan after 2001, Pakistan must present a more broad based narrative to both Washington and the wider world on Afghanistan which has the benefit of being true. The reality is that Afghanistan has been plagued by multiple yet ceaseless civil wars for forty one years. Even the comparatively stable period of 1996-2001 was noted for a breakaway Northern Alliance which itself was divided between two main factions. Nevertheless the Northern Alliance controlled important frontiers with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, thus making even this seemingly stable period one in which Afghanistan was nevertheless divided by warring factions competing for international legitimacy.

The hard fact is that Afghanistan has not once been at peace since the Saur Revolution of 1978. As such, Pakistan should advance the long-term narrative of an Afghan conflict that goes back long before 2001. This can help to potentially win the support of moderates in Washington who remember that during the 1980s, Washington and Islamabad formed a strong partnership to combat the illegitimacy of the Kabul regime that ruled between 1978 and 1992.

Pakistan can also remind the US that while in 1996, Pakistan saw the young Taliban as the only force in the 1992-1996 era civil war capable of uniting the country, due to a lack of US interest in Afghanistan’s affairs after the fall of the USSR, the Taliban turned to Osama bin Laden as a source of finance and protection with results that benefited no one.

This time, both the Taliban and the US appear to be taking a different approach. Once again, the resurgent Taliban are the only force that can realistically govern Afghanistan in a manner that ends the decades of chaos that have blighted the region. But unlike in 1996, today’s Taliban have mercifully vowed to respect ethnic and religious minority rights as well as women’s rights. Observers from countries as diverse as China, Russia and Iran all appear to have confirmed this new reality.

For America’s part, Washington appears to be inching closer to a phased troop withdrawal that one way or another will pave the way for a new government in which a reformed Taliban will be the main party of government.

Within this context, Pakistan should persuade the US to be more like the America of Ronald Reagan and less like the America of Bush and Obama. Pakistan is the natural gatekeeper of the Afghan situation and Washington should realise that as the destroyed country will need a great deal of foreign investment to normalise itself, Pakistan must be allowed to play a vital role in securing the situation by any means necessary. This reality would benefit anyone who seeks to peacefully invest in post-war Afghanistan whether it be the US, China or anyone else.

To put it mildly, if the US wants to transform Afghanistan into a normal country, this can only be done by allowing a non-hostile Kabul regime to take power, one that would be forced by Washington to recognise the Durand Line and then cooperate with Pakistan to combat lawlessness.

Weapons tests with a purpose 

Indian politicians can only get away with aggressive rhetoric if Pakistan allows them too. Recently, Indian Premier Modi stated that his country’s nuclear weapons aren’t just reserved for Diwali. This crude remark was met with a feeble and equally stupid remark from Pakistan that Pakistani nuclear weapons are not there to celebrate Eid.

Pakistan should take a completely different approach to Indian threats. Pakistan must enshrine into its national security policy that any threat made by an official from the Indian government against Pakistan will be met with a major weapons test on the North Korean model. As such, Pakistan should give 48 hours warning to China, Russia and the United States of such a test with the corollary that if all, some or one of the three major superpowers is able to get India to officially retract its remarks, Pakistan will refrain from conducting a weapons test. Pakistan should in any case pursue the acquisition of ICBMs as at present, this is one area where India holds a dangerous advantage in terms of international leverage through cold war style brinkmanship.

Insofar as this should be the new policy, Pakistan should likewise enshrine into law a policy stating clearly that any act of Indian military aggression whatsoever against Pakistani territory will result in the deployment of a retaliatory tactical nuclear weapon. The corollary to this is that Pakistan is willing to sign a non-aggression pact with India that would abrogate this new policy only after a UN supervised plebiscite for self-determination is conducted in Kashmir. Such a non-aggression pact would also prohibit Indian politicians from promoting Akhand Bharat under penalty of UN sanctions. Pakistan has far more leverage in this area that most Pakistan politicians care to believe. There is no reason why these leverage cannot be tactfully used.

In such an instance, the wider international community would have to make a decision – take steps to push for peace in Kashmir and between India and Pakistan or otherwise live with the reality that after decades of sheepishness, Pakistan will defend its sovereignty using the same threat of tactical nuclear deployment that the United States itself enshrined into its national security policy beginning in 2018.

Triangulate Iran and Saudi Arabia – triangulate Russia and the USA

Thus far under the premiership of Imran Khan, Pakistan has been able to balance its partnerships prudently between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This has been made all the more apparent after Iman Khan secured an Iranian agreement to jointly patrol borderlands exploited by foreign backed (generally India backed) terrorists whilst also securing billions worth of Saudi investment into an important oil refinery in Gwadar.

At a time when Saudi Arabia is looking to pivot its economic interests to the east as part of the long term Saudi plan to diversify is geo-economic portfolio, many of the brighter minds in Riyadh realise that Pakistan is the all important gateway to the kind of Belt and Road connectivity that Saudi reformists desire.

This makes some in Iran nervous whilst leading others to overtly quote Indian propaganda at Pakistan as was seen in the early months of this year. The solution therefore is for Pakistan to sign a non-aggression pact with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Such a pact won’t change anything on the ground as it remains unlikely that Saudi Arabia and Iran will actually fight a traditional war. That being said, such non-aggression pacts could assures both sides that Pakistan does not want any part in someone else’s fight.

At the same time, Pakistan can play Russia against the United States in terms of all important weapons sales. At present, Russia and the United States are playing a game of cat and mouse when it comes to selling weapons to India. Each side wants India to buy its weapons whilst the US in particular is able to exert the power of sanctions to dissuade countries like India from buying Russian weapons.

That being said, because of India’s strategic location, its anti-China policy that the US shares and encourages and its unavoidable reliance on Russia to repair and replace older weapons, the US tends to go easier on India than it does on other countries when it comes to sanctions over Russian weapons purchases.

Pakistan can take advantage of this by telling the United States that it is willing to buy American weapons that rival some of the Russia products used by the Indian military. If the US is unwilling to cooperate, Pakistan can immediately turn to Russia and attempt to place itself in a position whereby both major weapons manufacturers seek to balance out their mutual frustrations with India’s awkward attempts at non-alignment by selling Pakistan the equal and opposite of any weapons systems sold to India by either the US or Russia.


Pakistan’s 1980s partner Ronald Reagan was famous for building up an arsenal of weapons designed to destroy the USSR that instead of being deployed, actually led to the collapse of the USSR. If India is to advance as a state, it must also abandon its expansionist aims and aggressive policies towards Pakistan and occupied Kashmir. In order for a stubborn New Delhi to reach a win-win relationship with its neighbours, Pakistan must take seemingly drastic steps which force the issue of peace, just as was done during the 20th century Cold War.

While India remains on a cold war style footing in all of the aforementioned respects, Pakistan has thus far only responded with reactive measures. By taking the above proactive measures, Pakistan can help to wake up an international community that for too long has allowed the south Asian cold war to unilaterally advance in the favour of the most aggressive party. Pakistan can redress this balance by positioning itself as a country that no side wants to alienate, all sides can gain something form and lastly, a country that like other nuclear powers, is not afraid to use its weapons as diplomatic leverage when dire situations call for such measures.

By Adam Garrie
Source: Eurasia Future

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.