Understanding Pak’s strategic culture key

PTI file photo.

For India, the threat from Pakistan has proved to be an abiding national security priority considering Islamabad continues to provide covert support to militants in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan waged covert or guerrilla war through Qabailis or tribesmen against India in 1947-48, with Army Special Service Group commandos in 1965 and with jihadis in 1999 due to its inferior stature vis-a-vis India in terms of size of economy, military, territory and population.

Pakistan’s employment of covert and overt force against India relies heavily on its intelligence capabilities and diplomacy to promote its national security and foreign policy objectives. This has over the years shaped Pakistan’s strategic culture, which determines its military behaviour towards India.

Pakistan’s strategic culture would help to explain how the military mandarins at General Headquarters, Rawalpindi, perceive threats from India, which would range from the characteristics and quantum of military deployments, India-Israel relations, especially military technology ties and India-Afghanistan relations to India’s armament acquisitions and, of course, offensive Indian intelligence operations.

The strategic inflection points that have shaped Pakistan’s strategic culture include: the 1971 war and birth of Bangladesh, the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and the US-led Global War on Terror in 2001 that targeted Afghanistan. These are besides identification of select themes like culture and religion, principles and historical developments that shape policymakers’ outlook towards national security management.

Strategic culture is that set of shared beliefs, assumptions and modes of behaviour derived from common experiences and accepted narratives, both oral and written, that shape collective identity and relationships to other groups, which determine appropriate ends and means to accomplish national security objectives.

The considerations that shape Pakistan’s strategic culture are: opposition to Indian hegemony, primacy of national defence requirements, nuclear deterrence, acceptance but not reliance on external assistance, stability on its western border with Afghanistan, and identification with conservative Islamic ideology.

Pakistani strategic analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi highlights some other aspects of his country’s strategic culture: an acute insecurity developed in the early years of nationhood due to troubled ties with India and problems with Afghanistan, strong distrust of India and a history of acrimonious relations with India, reinforced by historical narratives of pre-Partition phase and irritant-ridden bilateral interactions with India in the post-Partition period.

Pakistan shares several commonalities with Israel, which are both post-Second World War nation-states founded on religious nationalism and perceive existential threats from larger neighbours. The Pakistani military has emulated the Israeli war-fighting doctrine of pre-emptive aerial strikes to launch wars and even prioritises special operations/commando warfare against India, as evident in the 1965 and 1999 conflicts.

Pakistan and Israel are both national security states, where the military is the largest stakeholder. Yet, what is interesting is that diplomacy remains a key tool to promote their national security interests. This is evident from the fact that Islamabad maintains close ties with Beijing, Washington and the Organisation of Islamic Countries.

Similarly, Israel enjoys diplomatic relations and open borders with its two Arab neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, after they signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994 respectively, besides close friendship with the US, which has been the linchpin of Israeli foreign policy for decades. Israel also had close relations with Iran till the 1979 Iranian Revolution which resulted in the downfall of the Pahlavi dynasty and led to regime change. Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognise Israel. Another commonality is that both these countries use religion as a tool to mobilise their financial, ideological and theological resources to promote national security objectives.

Pakistani strategic analyst Brigadier (retired) Feroz Hassan Khan writes: “Explaining strategic culture in respect of newly formed nation states –- still evolving and in the process of discovering their identity -– is in itself a challenge. Strategic culture in new states is affected by two factors: the regional security situation and the local political culture. In such cases, what might appear as “culture” could well be evolving trends within society, reactions to regional or local threats and repercussions of events elsewhere? Strategic culture assumes a connotation of quasi permanence -– a subtle attempt to identify a pattern of response or predict strategic responses or military behaviour”.

Significantly, strategic culture provides national security policymakers a conceptual lens and framework to gain insights into how nation-states have behaved in the past and will possibly do in the future. To that extent, this gives decision-makers a means to undertake reasonable and limited speculation as to the immediate-future state behaviour over perceptions, interpretation and implementation of national security policy.  

(The writer is a Professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)

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Understanding Pak’s strategic culture key

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