Pakistan’s military-centred national security approach and the post-Cold War era

The security situation in South Asia in the post-Cold War era

Despite a rapidly changing global security environment, there were limited changes in the regional security environment of South Asia, following the end of the Cold War. The dispute between Pakistan and India has continued, and is deeply rooted in historical dynamics. This hostility had been only marginally influenced by the global rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (Rais 1991). This was unlike other conflicts such as Cambodia, Kosovo, El Salvador, and Afghanistan, where the superpowers were involved either militarily or used their proxies to advance their national interests. There was no direct involvement of the superpowers in the Kashmir conflict between Pakistan and India. The role of the superpowers was limited to the diplomatic support of their Cold War allies at the international level. For instance, the Soviet Union supported India’s position on the Kashmir dispute due to Pakistan's participation in pro-West military alliances during the Cold War (Kreisberg 1985). On the other hand, Islamabad sought to gain US support to resolve the issue of Kashmir through a plebiscite by putting pressure on India (Husain 1979). Moreover, Islamabad was successful in gaining military and economic aid to counter Indian military power in the region (Rais 1991). That aside, the Kashmir dispute remained largely unaffected by either hostility or cooperation between the two global superpowers.

Nonetheless, there was a significant decline in interstate conflicts such as Kashmir after the end of the Cold War. The UN intervened in 47 conflicts that occurred during 1988-2007, of which only 3 were interstate conflicts. These interstate conflicts were the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the 1994 Libya-Chad border dispute, and in 1998-2000, the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute (Yilmaz 2007). Some observers believed that the new global dynamics would force India and Pakistan to resolve their outstanding disputes, especially with respect to Kashmir. However, the military confrontation over the issue of Kashmir continued between the two countries after the Cold War. In Kashmir, the tension over the LoC brought both countries close to another war in 1990. Both countries moved their troops closer to the border areas. Moreover, the political leadership on both sides often issued hawkish statements about each other. On 13 March 1990, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited Pakistan-administrated Kashmir and warned India that “Pakistan was embarking on a l,OOO-year war to wrest Kashmir from India” (Cheema 2015, 57; Dwivedi 2013). In response to the threat of a 1,000-year war, Indian Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh said that “Our message to Pakistan is that you cannot get away with taking Kashmir without a war. They will have to pay a very heavy price and we have the capability to inflict heavy losses” (Hagerty 1995-1996, 99). Thus, the Indo-Pakistan regional confrontation continued between the two arch-rivals, despite the changing global security environment.

In addition to this, Pakistan had opposed what it saw as Indian hegemonic designs on South Asia since its independence in 1947. India’s regional and global aspiration to become a superpower became more apparent after the end of the Cold War. India tried to fill the vacuum left after the reduced presence of the superpowers from the region. India continued to gain military power through external arms purchasing and domestic arms production. Consequently, India’s quest for the accumulation of military power shaped regional security in its favour (Rais 1991). India also began an economic liberalization policy in the early 1990s that led to rapid economic growth and trade expansion in the last two decades (Jabeen 2010). By 2017, India’s economy was eight times larger than Pakistan’s, with a GDP of US$2.1 trillion (Gray 2017). The Indian government was able to allocate extra resources for military modernization and upgrading. Indian military spending in 2017 was seven times higher than Pakistan, and this has widened the military gap to such an extent that Pakistan would be unable to fight a conventional war with India (Prasad 2017). So India not only moved further ahead of Pakistan economically but militarily, which shaped regional security in its favour.

The economic transformation of India has created new strategic challenges for Pakistan in the post-Cold War era. Sustained economic growth has given India an opportunity to establish itself as a greater power in the region as well as in the world. More importantly, India has presented itself as the main contender for a permanent position in the UN Security Council (Jabeen 2010). As a result, it has become very difficult for Islamabad to resist the Indian hegemony in the region, which is based on its large population, economy, and military power (Memon 1994). Thus, the situation shifted further in favour of India’s becoming the hegemonic power in South Asia in the post-Cold War era.

Additionally, Afghanistan’s stability remained an important factor for regional security in South Asia. After their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Soviet forces left massive amounts of arms and ammunition in the country, while external support continued to the Afghan warring groups. The Afghan government, led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), was defeated by the warring factions in April 1992 and an interim government of the mujahedeen was established in Kabul (Byrd 2012). However, the mujahedeen failed to bring peace to war-torn Afghanistan due to infighting among the warring groups. This led to a civil war between Hezb-i-Islami led by Hekmatyar, with the support of Pakistan, and Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Jamiat-i-Islami, to take control of Kabul. In 1994, the Afghan Taliban, who were mainly madrasah

Pakistan’s post-Cold War national security 69 students, emerged under the leadership of Mullah Omer and gradually took control of major parts of Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, which ended the civil war (Collins 2011).

The Afghan civil war had serious security consequences for the South Asian region, especially Pakistan. The flow of Afghan refugees to Pakistan continued in the post-Cold War era. By 1990, about 3.2 million registered refugees were living in Pakistan, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered refugees. The influx of Afghan refugees continued in Pakistan throughout the civil war. About 74,000 refugees arrived in 1994 and then 50,000 refugees more in 1996 after the Taliban took over Kabul (Appendix 8). However, it was difficult for Pakistan to accommodate further refugees, due to its weak economy. As a result, Afghanistan remained an economic and security concern for Pakistan despite the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, a new radical Islam emerged which became a greater threat to regional security in South Asia. Nonetheless, many Islamist groups and commanders gathered in Afghanistan after the Taliban established its emirates in the mid-1990s (Howenstein 2009). Osama bin Ladin, the founder and chief of Al-Qaeda, returned to eastern Afghanistan in 1996. Bin Ladin formed a close relationship with the Afghan Taliban and provided financial support to the Taliban Emirate of Afghanistan. He also tried to unify different former warlords and commanders under the umbrella of Al-Qaeda (McNally and Weinbaum 2016). In addition, many former mujahedeen, including both Arabs and non-Arabs, returned to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime in Kabul. They had restarted their training camps on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. Thus, Afghanistan became a safe haven for international mujahedeen and a major security threat to the world, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More importantly, it had major security consequences for Pakistan due to the 2,430 km-long porous border with Afghanistan.

As explained in Chapter 2, Pakistan had received external support from the US during the Cold War to contain Soviet expansion in the region. This external support had enabled Pakistan to achieve some level of military parity with India. However, US global interests and priorities changed after the end of the Cold War. The major concerns for America were issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, democracy, human rights, terrorism, and drtig trafficking. In fact, the US Congress became very critical of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and expressed its reservations about Islamabad’s desire to develop nuclear weapons after the Soviet forces left Afghanistan (Mahmood 1997). In October 1990, President Bush senior declared that “he could no longer give the annual presidential certification that Pakistan ‘does not possess’ a nuclear explosive device, as required by the 1985 Pressler non-proliferation amendment” (Wirsing 2010). Consequently, the US had no longer the same strategic interests in supporting Pakistan in terms of military and economic aid after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In this context, the US believed that Pakistan had installed a nuclear device at the Kahuta nuclear enrichment plant. However, Islamabad rejected such allegations and gave assurances that its nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes only. Despite such assurances, the US imposed sanctions in October 1990 for pursuing a nuclear enrichment programme. The US reduced Pakistan’s economic and military aid under the rules of the Pressler Amendment. The details of the reduction in US aid are given in Table (Asif 2017).

Islamabad was unhappy with the Pressler Amendment because it was country-specific and it was only applied to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Islamabad called this amendment discriminatory as it did not cover the more advanced Indian nuclear programme. However, the US said that the Indian nuclear programme was indigenous, so it fell outside the scope of the US legislation. The Pakistan-US relationship further deteriorated due to US sanctions over Pakistan’s development of the M-II missile system in collaboration with China. The sanctions were imposed on both China and Pakistan in August 1993 when it was reported that China had transferred missile technology to Pakistan for building the M-II missile system in 1992. The US said that China had violated its commitment to the Missile Technology Control Regime programme (Mahmood 1997). Thus, American military and economic aid was almost halted which played a greater role in balancing Indian military power during the Cold War. So it appeared as if Pakistan was being abandoned by the US after the end of the Cold War.

Furthermore, India diversified its foreign and security policy in the changing global security environment and redefined its relations with the US during the 1990s. Being an emerging regional power, India was a more natural strategic ally for the US to counter China’s rise and to maintain a balance of power in Asia. Consequently, India gradually increased its ties with the US that provided the foundation for a strategic partnership between the two countries during the 2000s (Shakoor 1997). Condoleezza Rice (2000), national security adviser to

Table 3.1 US aid to Pakistan, 1990-2000 (USD in million)


Economic Aid

Military Aid





































Total US aid


Source: US overseas Loans and Grants (Green book) available at'. In Asif, M. and Muhammad, A. (2017). “Image of USA in Urban Pakistan: An Empirical Assessment.” A Research Journal of South Asian Studies 32 (2): 539-555.

the second Bush administration, explained that “the United States should pay closer attention to India’s role in the regional balance ... India is an element in China’s calculation and it should be in America’s too.” The improving US-India relationship has had severe consequences for Pakistan. During the Cold War, the US took account of Pakistan's concerns while dealing with India. However, India successfully ruled out the Pakistan factor in its relations with the US. India also tried to improve and strengthen its relationship with Russia, China, and other regional countries, leaving limited room for manoeuvre for Pakistan in the changing global security environment (Travis 1994). As a result, Pakistan was struggling to counterbalance a resurgent Indian regional power in the post-Cold War world.

In this context, the security situation in South Asia essentially remained the same for Pakistan despite the changing global security environment. Similar to the Cold War era, Islamabad has continued to confront major external security threats from its neighbouring countries, especially India. Consequently, Islamabad has continued with the military-centred national security approach it had adopted during the Cold War. Nonetheless, Pakistan was disadvantaged due to the loss of the strategic position it had occupied during the Cold War era. Therefore, Pakistan needed to have a new comprehensive national security approach that took account of the new geographic realities. For example, India maintained its relationship with Russia in the post-Cold War era, but also developed its relations with the US at the same time. Similarly, Pakistan needed to establish relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and maintain its strong relations with the West at the same time (Senator Mushahid Hussain, interview by author, Islamabad, 8 December 2017). Nonetheless, a strong government was required to form such a comprehensive strategy in dealing with emerging security challenges in the changing post-Cold War security environment.

Against this backdrop, the new global security environment offered some opportunities for Pakistan to regain its position in international politics. For instance, the major US concerns were anti-liberal, nationalistic, Islamic revisionist states, and fundamentalism. Islamabad had the potential to mediate between the US and anti-liberal and Islamic revisionist states in Muslim countries such as Iran, Libya, and Sudan (Travis 1994). Also, Pakistan was a key member of the QIC, in which it could have provided a moderating role. The emergence of Muslim states in Central Asia after the Cold War opened new economic and strategic opportunities for Pakistan. Due to their geographical proximity and cultural affinity, the new Central Asian Muslim states wanted to strengthen their relationship with Pakistan. More importantly, the landlocked Central Asian states could access Pakistan’s deep seaport in Karachi and Gwadar (Memon 1994). Nonetheless, Islamabad reached out to China and strengthened their relations by solving their territorial disputes. Other than its policy towards China, Pakistan continued with its military-first national security approach and did not take the available opportunities to change its policies at the end of the Cold War.

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