Pakistan’s Strategic Environment And Its Threat Perception



By Brigadier (Rtd.) Imran Malik

The strategic environment in Pakistan is evolving at a frenetic pace. There are multiple scenarios that could unfold. Is Pakistan re-assessing the multifarious threats it faces and repositioning itself accordingly? Is it choosing its enemies anew? Is the Pakistan Army in the throes of a strategic re-orientation? Or is it the subtle but sure consummation of an Indo-US grand strategic design for South Asia?

The chapter on Sub-Conventional Warfare in the Green Book appears to have generated a great deal of discussion and debate. The general perception is that the Pakistan Army may have initiated a basic paradigm shift in its strategic orientation. Its doctrine now apparently implies that the militants within pose a greater threat than India. The implication then would be that its enemy number one has ostensibly changed, that India is no longer the primary existentialist threat to Pakistan; that the internal threat posed by the militants has acquired greater dimensions than the one posed by nuclear India!

And that would make for a massive paradigm shift in our strategic orientation by any standards!


The quantum and quality of threats posed by our enemies are assessed by their respective intents and capabilities. It is always prudent to base the threat perceptions on their capabilities rather than their intents, which can change very quickly. India holds strong well equipped nuclear capable armed forces; anywhere between eighty to ninety percent of which are either deployed or poised against Pakistan. To date there has been no discernible paradigm shift in India’s strategic orientation away from Pakistan. There has been no mitigation of threat from India whatsoever. And there appears to be little reason for Pakistan to volunteer to do so.  Thus far Pakistan Army’s strategic orientation has been rightly focused on the more ominous threat – India. And that is where it should stay.

Of the two major threats to Pakistan, India poses the clearer and more potent one; it has the nuclear and conventional capability to back it up and the political will and intent to do so. The militants on the other hand could match India in the ferocity of intent but certainly not in capability. The issue then boils down to both threats being real with one (militants) being the present, immediate and tangible one and the other (Indian) being the clearer, more potent yet latent one.

So, a threat with matching intent but a far inferior capability is emerging as the primary one. Will it be prudent and justifiable for a nuclear Pakistan (with more than half a million strong army) to go in for a massive strategic re-orientation just because of the threat posed by a few thousand rag tag heretics? At best they could be considered a more immediate threat and dealt with accordingly.

However, it is critically imperative for Pakistan to retain strategic balance at all times.

As a matter of fact the Pakistan Armed Forces have the intent and capability to squash this militant threat as they have so valiantly demonstrated in Swat, South Waziristan Agency, Malakand, Dir, Khyber Orakzai, Kurram Agencies and elsewhere in Pakistan. Only the Pakistan Government must continue to demonstrate a matching political will.

If this strategic re-orientation is manifested in letter and spirit then it may have other enormous and far reaching implications for the Pakistan Armed Forces. It could well be the first step towards Pakistan’s capitulation to the US grand strategic design for South Asia.  If India were not deemed to be the primary threat then Pakistan may find it difficult to justify maintaining such large conventional and nuclear forces! It may be pressurized by the vested western interests to “right size” them to match the declared primary threats! It would certainly raise questions on the necessity of a nuclear arsenal. That will tantamount to attacking Pakistan’s center of gravity, its bedrock! And that in effect will be the manifestation of the real, the strongest existentialist threat to Pakistan!

It could also be the consummation of a deep strategic maneuver by the Indo-US Combine. If a change in Pakistan Army’s doctrine forces it to take its eyes off India and start looking inwards it would be exactly in line with what the US has always demanded of Pakistan. It was and is in the US’ larger interest that Pakistan should concentrate its total energies in combating the militant threat within even at the cost of denuding its eastern borders. This would free up India to concentrate on counter balancing China and not be distracted by Pakistan who in turn would be kept embroiled with the militants. Pakistan Army’s balance will shift westwards and away from India. And that will be to the abiding benefit of India and the US.

A reduction in Pakistan’s conventional and nuclear prowess will also confer upon India the unchallenged leadership of the South Asian region and may eventually reduce Pakistan to the status of a vassal state of India. This will then create the conditions for implementing further US designs like the New Silk Road Project (NSRP) – which is already practically operational though in a disjointed manner.  The Afghans are already trading (exporting only) with India through Torkham and Wagah, while India is exporting to Afghanistan and beyond from Karachi and Torkham/Chaman. All that needs to be done now or soon is to allow India to export goods through Wagah instead of Karachi and it will have its and the US’ dream of manifesting the NSRP fulfilled – out maneuvering Pakistan clinically without any matching quid pro quo!

COAS General Kiyani has done well to clear the air by declaring that the armed forces will cater for the full threat spectrum – India as well as the militancy. A balanced approach in our strategic orientation is the order of the day. The militants may be the more immediate and bothersome threat but India is certainly the more potent and genuinely existentialist one.

Sure as the sun rises from the East so does our primary threat!

The author is a retired Brigadier and Pakistan’s former Defence Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and currently a Faculty Member at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) – NUST Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (NIPCONS). This is article was previously published in The Nation, Pakistan. Reprinted with permission.

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