War is no solution to the disputes that may exist between nations, though the great strategist of yore—Clausewitz called war diplomacy by another means. Clausewitz's definition could be true of the days of conventional war.
There are now nations with nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan happen to be two nations that have moved beyond the conventional means of warfare, having graduated to the nuclear field. Hence, a war between the two should be unimaginable. The fact however remains, dreadful though that Pakistan has in its kitty, what stand defined as 'Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW's)'. TNW's are meant to balance the edge that India carries in men and material in conventional field. And, India has a wider economy to back its war effort, should it ever materialize, unfortunate though it would be for the subcontinent, where poverty alleviation continues to be the major challenge.
India's pronounced cold start doctrine implying rapid mobilization and preparedness by positioning forces in a manner, where they would engage the enemy swiftly and effectively is sought to be blunted by TNW's if conventional deterrence fails. The very idea propagated as the war strategy of subcontinental opponents is a frightening prospect. The frightening prospect multiplies as nuclear powered China weighs on the subcontinental equation, as it has its interests to cater to. Pakistan for obvious reasons would like China to remain, where it has placed itself in the subcontinental power balance, and, even strengthen the position. To counter the Chinese factor, Indian strategists are working out options to take China and Pakistan together, should such an eventuality arise—the frightening prospects multiply. The contentious issues are not limited to battlefield scenarios—imagined or real, it spirals out to virtually all fields that concern nations. There are contentious economic issues, issues that concern Trade, Tariff and Transit within the subcontinent, and on a wider level within the South Asian region.
South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SSARC) is an amalgam divided with gross variance of interests. And, the countries in the combine have neither the inclination nor the heart to affect a change in attitude. Hence, to keep the organization going in its present form is like flogging a dead horse. Right from its inception in 1980's it has had failure writ largely over it. The organization has failed to evolve a mechanism to address the unresolved issues between member states. Right from its inception, bilateral issues have been kept beyond its purview, as if these issues are like the 'Holy Cow' to be fostered and preserved. The infrastructural connectivity of the region has thus suffered, with Pakistan unwilling to concede Trade, Tariff and Transit facilities to India, without addressing bilateral issues—mainly Kashmir dispute. Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers to be its backyard, is being cultivated by India to deny Pakistan strategic depth by getting behind Pakistan's back. Given the strategic reservations on either side, South Asian economic unity remains a dream unfulfilled. Instead, South Asian states, mainly the big two—India and Pakistan are pursuing different options, to keep their economies afloat.
Pakistan—a weaker economy compared to India is nevertheless basking in 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)'. CPEC, a 46 billion dollar venture initially is multiplying in investment, with 5.5 billion dollars more in its kitty following the week-long visit of Pakistan's Commerce Minister—Ahsan Iqbal to China a few days back. It now adds up to 51.5 billion dollars. The infrastructural build-up of road and rail, what is widely called 'one belt one road (OBOR)' mega-project has a greater share in providing energy to energy-starved Pakistan industry. OBOR passes through Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK) and has a maritime link at Gwadar in Balochistan. India contests CPEC on the plea of PaK and GB being parts of India under illegal possession of Pakistan. Irrespective of the Indian claim, China and Pakistan are doing everything to secure the belt, with regular joint armed forces exercises in GB since 2011. Separate Pakistani forces have been raised to safeguard the belt. Chinese deep involvement in CPEC is related to devising a long-term future route to markets in West Asia and Africa and Europe.
India has devised a multi-pronged strategy to counter CPEC. An alternate route is planned to Central and West Asia via Iranian port of Chah-bahar; however Iran has recently stated that Chah-bahar is not a counterpoise to Gwadar. Iran has additionally expressed its wish to join CPEC enterprise. India could take a leaf out of the Iranian book, and instead of being contentious strive for an 'Asian Common Market' on the pattern of European Common Market. China with all its striving for CPEC would be reluctant to give up India as a trading partner. The partnership is already evident in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa combine). However, with Indian moves for Pak-less SAARC and initiatives like BIMSTEC grouping – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka or other sub-regional groupings is bound to breed contention, rather than promote consensus on Transit, Tariff and Trade. Consensus however would entail taking a call on conflict resolution. Kashmir tops the list.
War cannot resolve issues, leaving the spat & taking the table is the way out of imbroglio.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
(Author is a doctor in medicine, a social activist & a senior columnist)