CISS-IISS 8th Workshop on strategic stability in South Asia

CISS-IISS 8th Workshop on 2

Lt. Gen. Khalid Kidwai address on strategic stability in South Asia in workshop of CISS-IISS 21st September 2022

Key note address by Lt. Gen. Khalid Ahmed Kidwai, NI, HI, HI(M)

1.Assalam Alaikum and good morning to all of you ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure as always to be amongst friends and top international and national academics, intellectuals at the 5th CISS-llSS Workshop. For someone who has been associated with this excellent initiative from the very beginning for almost a decade now, I find it most satisfying to see that the joint professional forum of the two leading think tanks of Pakistan and the United Kingdom continues to strengthen year after year.

The forum has matured and it has maintained a strong forward momentum while focusing and remaining engaged with the dynamics of a delicately balanced state of strategic stability in South Asia. It has kept with the times as it grapples with rapidly changing geo-political scenarios emerging out of evolving strategic global play  and  technology developments.

2.Amongst others, the one thing that I find reassuring and comforting about the forum is consistency and continuity, in that, the highly regarded members of the forum of intellectuals and academics from both sides have seen the decade through providing quality inputs because of what one may term as institutional approach with institutional memory. I think the DNA of the forum has developed well.

3.At -international intellectual forums like the llSS-CISS, I strongly believe that freedom of  thought and expression of a variety of  views, sometimes opposing, play a pivotal role in  contributing meaningfully towards arriving at a rich mix of objective strategic thought. I pray that the forum will continue to have a bright future and go from strength to strength in carrying on the good work.

4. I warmly welcome the International Institute of Strategic Studies delegation from the UK.

5.At the outset I would like to recall a fundamental strategic reality prevailing in South Asia with reference to the swinging pendulum of the strategic stability-instability paradigm. In February 2020 in London, I had pointed out, with specific examples from five decades since the 1971 War between India and Pakistan, that over time it had become, by default, Pakistan’s responsibility to ensure that the delicately poised balance of the state of strategic stability in South Asia will not be allowed to drift into a state of strategic imbalance or strategic instability thereby threatening regional peace.  I had enumerated in some detail a consistent pattern in India’s attempts to create strategic imbalances in futile attempts to disadvantage Pakistan and its security under the convenient cover of a China threat. I had mentioned seven destabilizing events which had nothing to do with the so called China threat when India chose to induce strategic instability in the region, on an average of once every decade.  These included a variety of provocative conduct like repeated induction of destabilizing weapons and systems, conventional and nuclear; adoption of offensive and destabilizing doctrines, conventional and nuclear; conducting threatening military exercises with live ammunition and logistics close to our international borders which brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war on at least two occasions requiring the sanity of international interventions to impose calm; conduct of nuclear tests, ballistic / cruise missile tests; conducting recklessly ill-conceived and poorly executed military operations pompously labeled as surgical strikes on land and air; and now for some years, willingly becoming the cat’s paw through joining destabilizing alliances and groupings, conceived, fuelled and encouraged by international powers in their attempts to contain China.

6.In the same context I had also stated then in February 2020 and would like to reiterate once again that all through these five decades long Indian attempts at generating strategic instability to Pakistan’s disadvantage, Pakistan did not remain oblivious to the resultant induced and enhanced threat spectrum of any manner. Pakistan has in the past and will continue in the future to respond through its own calm and calculated strategies evolving pragmatic and cost effective response options to correct the imbalance and re-establish the disturbed strategic stability very quickly.

7.As an example of not too long ago, I can refresh memories by recalling Pakistan’s strong riposte of 27 February 2019 when the Pakistan Air Force, under the policy of Quid Pro Quo Plus, took tile Indian Air Force to task in less than 24 hours for its sub-professional transgression against Pakistani sovereignty at Balakot.  The Quid Pro Quo Plus retribution included two fighter planes downed over Kashmir, one of the pilots captured (and repatriated), senior military leadership present in a Brigade Headquarters spared during the Rajauri counter strike, an intruding submarine detected in Pakistani waters ordered to return home unharmed by Pakistan Navy, and a helicopter crash with seven casualties in an internal fratricide. The retribution ought to have conveyed Pakistan’s policy, intent and determination to ensure that strategic stability will be maintained at all cost.

8.The bottom line has always been and will continue to be that Pakistan will never, and I repeat that Pakistan will never compromise on its national  security and vital national interests. You can therefore be certain that Pakistan will fulfill its responsibility to ensure that strategic stability in South Asia will continue to prevail in the interest of peace. I am sure the message will be noted.

9.It has been a little over two and a half years since this forum last met in London in February 2020. The broad agenda drawn up for today’s workshop most aptly reflects and encapsulates some of the major issues and developments during the period. Within the parameters of the agenda, by the end of the day, the forum would have reflected and discussed in two sessions important drivers of strategic stability and instability in South Asia both political and technological.  Before these in the inaugural session one can expect a stimulating discussion on the painstakingly prepared llSS Monograph titled “Nuclear Deterrence and Strategic Stability in South Asia: Perceptions and Reality”. While reserving my right to differ on certain views and opinions expressed in the Monograph I would like to extend my sincere compliments to the eminent authors Mr. Antoine (Antwine) Levesques, Mr Desmond Bowen and Mr John Gill on the high quality of the intellectual work and the academic effort that has gone into preparing the study. The two eminent speakers of the Inaugural Session will have much more to say on this.

10.If we look back on the two and a half years that have gone by, you will agree that the Covid-19 pandemic though a massive global health disaster, did not prevent the world from moving on, on the international gee-political mosaic. The global challenges of super power rivalry and jostling for competition have only sharpened global and regional fault lines leaving a large number of affected  countries  to  generally  fend  for themselves in an effort to prevent ending up on the wrong side of history and events.

11.Largely, the major development during the period has taken place in Europe with the outbreak of war in Ukraine. We have seen that just as the US was preparing to focus more sharply on China and the Asia-Pacific region by winding up in Afghanistan and reducing its footprint in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine suddenly became the central politico-military issue that has taken away the focus, at least for some time now, from the US ­ China competition and rivalry and refocused on the US-Russia rivalry; in many ways, a US versus Russia-cum-China rivalry as the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting demonstrated. The Ukraine war has had fallout effects most certainly in South Asia – strategic, political and economic; the full impact of these is yet to be determined.

12.Additionally, super power rivalries and competition also cast a shadow in our region because groupings like AUKUS and Quad encourage arms buildup and destabilize South Asian strategic stability. In this context it is important to state that true to tradition, India has chosen to play a double game with the west by playing on both sides of the fence.  India draws all the benefits of the western compulsion to prop it up as its cat’s paw against China without undertaking any meaningful obligations or commitments. When it is payback time, India’s policy of neutrality in the Ukraine war and disconnect with the west on sanctions against Russia are real life examples of hardcore realpolitik at play with the west watching quite helplessly. We are not impressed by Prime Minister Modi’s recent lecture to President Putin’s face on the Ukraine war. Russia understands India’s need for a diplomatic double play.

13.As for AUKUS, India and its lobbyists are already sending out feelers wherein they see an opportunity to replicate to India’s advantage at some point in time in the future the nuclear proliferation exemption that is going Australia’s way with the supply of eight US built nuclear submarines by 2040.  If the instability pendulum were to swing that way in South Asia once again because of yet another play in exceptionalism, it is not difficult to foresee the strategic effects .that will be generated on strategic stability and on Pakistan’s security. I have no hesitation in stating that minimL1m Pakistani counter measures would be put in place if a reckless imbalance is induced in South Asia.  It is not a warning; it is a contingency foreseen. There are examples from the past when international exceptionaiism has repeatedly been employed in South Asia without a consideration given to Pakistani security concerns. But then there are also examples when Pakistan did not let international exceptionalism stand in its way to redress imbalances.

14.In this context I would like to say that much has been made of India’s exaggerated notions of a so called threat from China as a convenient cover for masking India’s build up against Pakistan and ambitions as a regional power. India is being wishfully propped up by the west as a potential counter weight to China giving short shrift to strategic stability in South Asia.  History is quite clear that the China card has been played, perhaps overplayed, repeatedly by India to the western gallery for acquisition of modern western weaponry, high technology and proliferation exemptions. History also tells us the unfortunate outcomes of India’s strategies, military ambitions and the weaponries in 1962 and lately in Doklam and Ladakh. Even the latest so-called disengagement agreement in Ladakh is essentially formalization and freezing of the reverses that India suffered in 2020. I shall leave it at that.

15.I want to move on to another issue that I had raised in London in 2020 with regard to the seriousness of a new factor as an emerging threat to strategic stability not only in South Asia but one that would pose in due course of time an extended threat to the region and to the world alarge. In the two and a half years. gone by, the threat has only hardened and assumed a real life character and momentum of its own. I refer to the toxic and lethal mix of the rise of hard core and ruthlessly aggressive Hindutva fundamentalist ideology which has permeated all sections of Indian society, the Indian government and has found welcome resonance amongst the Indian diaspora in the west, together with the custodial controls of India’s large triad of the nuclear arsenal now having fallen firmly in the hands of an extremist fundamentalist leadership. This toxic mix of poisonous ideology and custody of nuclear weapons is a relatively new phenomenon and poses serious threat to strategic stability in South Asia putting it on edge.

16.The intoxication of the extremists was put on full display at the highest levels of India’s BJP leadership when it opted to attack Pakistan’s mainland territory, not disputed territory but mainland territory, in February 2019 at Balakot, oblivious to the serious consequences of committing aggression against a nuclear weapons power. That Pakistan responded with a measured but strong riposte that I have mentioned earlier was a sign of Pakistan’s maturity and restraint.

17.Fast forward to March 2022 earlier this year to yet another Indian military aggression inside three years against Pakistan’s mainland territory. The now BJP-Oriented Indian military launched deep inside Pakistan a nuclear capable Brahmos missile with a controlled trajectory, pre-planned vertical and horizontal way points coordinates fed into the onboard guidance and control computer along with the geographical coordinates of the launch point and the target. The objective was very clear; to test Pakistan’s air defence alert levels and operational responses. India did not particularly care that the missile posed a destructive threat for some 7-8 minutes to at least a dozen commercial airlines in the air at the time.

18.I would like to state with complete responsibility and confidence that the launch was no accident as claimed slyly by India. The launch could not have taken place without political clearance at the highest level and detailed planning over a number of days and weeks in the military chain of command to include technical preparations of the missile, the missile launcher, storage and ground deployment drills with full involvement of the immediate missile launch crew of at least 10-15 odd personnel besides the hundreds of other personnel that comprise a Brahmas strategic missile group.

19.Ladies and gentlemen. I have lived, breathed and conducted test and training launches, with troops on ground, of an array of strategic ballistic and cruise missiles for 15 years as DG SPD; perhaps over 50 in number. I know my missiles and missile technology. I know the sequence of technical preparations, the sequence of deployment drills and SOPs that just have to be followed without which a missile launch can never take place. Nuclear capable ballistic and cruise missiles are highly complex state of the art machines with meticulously detailed and controlled launch procedures and SOPs including the capability to self-destruct if things go wrong. These do not fire off accidentally like infantry rifles during weapons cleaning drills. India put out a well-rehearsed though laughable cover story of an accidental launch, which is technically and operationally speaking entirely mischievous, to pull wool over our eyes and the world’s. No serious professional will buy the silly story. Three IAF officers have reportedly been made the fall guys for what essentially was a military operation conducted against Pakistan. I recommend strongly that India look after them and compensate them well for their silence. On both occasions, at Balakot 2019 and Shorkot 2022, Pakistan displayed restraint and maturity in difft:tSing the irresponsibly generated tensions thereby preventing South Asia from spiraling into potential catastrophes. It will be foolhardy to take Pakistan’s restraint and maturity as a weakness and continue to test the limits of strategic stability. Perhaps India is attempting to establish a pattern of incidents over time as a strategy in order to desensitize the international community  For Future Operations.

20.No address on strategic stability by a Pakistani speaker can be complete without drawing attention to the criticality of conflict resolution for peace and stability in South Asia. Peace and stability in our region will unfortunately remain ever-elusive till a just and honourable resolution of the Kashmir dispute is found to the satisfaction of all parties to the dispute; India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. India (and the world) can continue to delay the resolution of the Kashmir conflict for another day through brutality, suppression, political engineering, apartheid of the worst kind, and what have you, but Kashmir can never be brushed under the carpet forever. Kashmir will remain a bleeding wound.Human spirit has resilience the ferocity of which has come back to haunt the oppressor at various points in history. India might consider taking a lesson or two from a variety of freedom movements around the world for centuries past. Being at the core of South Asian peace and stability, the Kashmir dispute will have to be addressed with maturity, dignity and statesmanship. On its part Pakistan will continue to extend moral and political support to the Kashmiri freedom movement till that happens. There are benefits in strategic Patience.

21.I have highlighted issues that affect strategic stability in South Asia subjecting the stability-instability paradigm to swing either way, sometimes dangerously and to the brink. These are Pakistani perspectives. I quite understand that there are Indian and international perspective$”” on the issues as well as geo-political pulls and pressures which cast their shadows in our region.  Many of the earlier workshops conducted at this forum, which carries an important voice worldwide, have discussed and debated the issues of South Asian strategic stability from a variety of angles. Today again is an opportunity to examine these not only from angles as planned in the agenda but also in the discussion sessions to go beyond the agenda if necessary in search of ways and means that might be helpful in furthering the goal of bringing the elusive strategic stability to a region where two nuclear powers continue to remain locked eyeball to eyeball.

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