Amidst such ideological and territorial divides, Pakistan and India have come to blows several times.
India may stress its ahimsa (non-violence) tradition, but it has been prepared to take the battle to Pakistan.
With both claiming moral justification over their respective causes, and with both claiming to have fought defensive wars against each other, the fact remains that conflict has been endemic since independence in 1947.
Just over a century has seen successive wars, namely full-scale conflicts in 1947–49, 1965 and 1971, the mini-war over Kargil in 1999, ongoing skirmishes over the inhospitable Siachin glacier, near-war in 2001–02 (Operation Prakaram mobilization), and cross-fire border incidents which are a continuing fact of life.
For each country, their most obvious military enemy has been the other; they have become used to thinking of the other as the military foe.
Pakistan has long sought strategic parity with India, with a sense of cultural élan compensating for numeric inferiority, the feeling that ‘one Pakistani soldier is equal to 10 Indian soldiers’.
India has long sought to establish superiority over Pakistan, militarily and diplomatically. Its Cold Start military doctrine, introduced in 2004, was ‘aimed militarily at Pakistan and is offensive-operations specific’, involving rapid deployment forces able to strike into Pakistan and crush both the Pakistani Army and terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil.
Given such adversarial mindsets, there has also been an ongoing arms race competition, within which classic IR ‘security dilemma’ dynamics operate as each tries to match and cap the other, in a spiral of spending and mistrust.
From Pakistan’s point of view, it has long sought military equipment from more powerful allies to enable competition with India. Initially such arms transfers were mainly from the USA, but in more recent years the People’s Republic of China has also provided Pakistan with ongoing military assistance.
From India’s point of view, its military links with the Soviet Union and later Russia have partly been aimed at redressing the imbalance with China, but have been aimed also at attaining/maintaining military superiority over Pakistan.
Fighter aircraft have been one aspect of their arms race, with India keen in recent years to see that US arms sales to India are not matched by similar sales to Pakistan.
Missiles have been another feature of this arms race and build-up. Pakistan’s arsenal was steadily built up during 1989–2000 in terms of numbers and range. It consists of Hatf-I (60 km–80 km range), Haft-II (aka Abdali), Hatf-III (aka Ghaznavi, 290 km range), Hatf-IV (aka Shaheen-I, 750 km range), Hatf-V (aka Ghauri, 1,500 km range and payload capacity of 700 kg), Ghauri-II (2,300 km range), and Hatf-VI (2,500 km range). These are all India-centric in terms of range and purpose.
Meanwhile, India’s own missile programme has developed over the years, with its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) set up in 1983. This has led to Prithvi-I (150 km range), Prithvi-II (250 km range), Prithvi-III (aka Dhanush, 350 km range), Agni-I (700 km range), and Agni-II (2,000 km range). The Prithvi and Agni-I missiles are all Pakistan-centric, while the longer range of Agni-II gives it China- as well as Pakistan-centric purposes, with the subsequent longer range Agni-III missile being Chinacentric alone.
The increasing range but also increasing payload of Pakistani and Indian missiles has also been entwined with their nuclear weapons programme, which indeed provides the nuclear payload for such missiles. India’s nuclear weapons programme was sparked by China’s nuclear advances in the 1960s. The 1971 defeat with India, followed by India’s own nuclear explosion in 1974 (Pokhran-I, Operation Smiling Buddha) was the spur for Pakistan to develop its own nuclear weapons programme, to try to re-establish military-strategic parity.
Such developments came to a head in 1998, when in April of that year Pakistan tested its most powerful missile to date, the Hatf-V (aka Ghauri) missile, with a 1,500 km range and payload capacity of 700 kg. India’s response was immediate: the Pokhran-II, Operation Shakti, nuclear tests in May 1998, which were immediately matched by Pakistan’s own nuclear tests, Operation Chagai, later in the month. Both sides have built up a small nuclear arsenal, with Pakistan spending proportionally more to try and match India’s bigger economic capacity.
India’s logic at the time involved Pakistan. As Prime Minister Vajpayee’s letter to the US President pointed out:
What, of course, is evident are the China-centric strands of the argument, as well as the reiteration of having to face ongoing military conflicts and sponsorship of terrorism against India by Pakistan. In addition, though Pakistan’s close links with China were of concern to India, specifically with regard to the crucial Chinese help given to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, so was Pakistan’s role as a proxy for China, as a surrogate state.
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