Globe: The Deadliest Rivalry


Last August marked the 70th anniversary of the changing of the world. 70 years ago, the British Empire expired. The cost of retaining so much territory after the crucible of the Second World War was too much for British Empire and Britain was forced to relinquish the crown jewel of the Empire: The Raj, or British India. The Raj consisted of what is modern day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. As like many other imperial departures, the British retreat from India was done so at haste; the borders between the two nations were quickly drawn up, and the people in the borderlands of the former Raj would have to deal with the consequences of the hurried withdrawal.

The results of which, the partition of India, resulted in one of the greatest human catastrophes of the 20th century. Estimates of around 10 to twelve million people were displaced in the partition, and hundreds of thousands were killed in the subsequent violence. Out of this tragedy came one of the great rivalries in world history: the geopolitical conflict between Indiaand Pakistan. That conflict exists to this day.

It is in the classical Thucydidean tradition; national interest, historical resentment, religious differences, and territory have factors into the world’s most dangerous geopolitical rivalry. Unlike the other contemporary geopolitical conflicts that dot the world, the two adversaries in this scenario are armed with nuclear weapons. Despite theories of nuclear deterrence, India and Pakistan have shown armed hostility towards one another, regardless of the threat of South Asia being covered in nuclear fallout.

India revealed their nuclear weapon in 1974 under the codename Smiling Buddha, and Pakistan ascended the nuclear states club when the Islamic Republic tested its first nuclear weapon in 1998, as a response to tests conducted by India. As common with nuclear states, US intelligence sources believe Pakistan contained nuclear weapons years before the first nuclear test. In 1999, during the Kargil War, India and Pakistan became the first nuclear states to fight an open conflict with one another.

Since the dissolution of the British Raj and the subsequent partition of India in 1947, India and Pakistan have been at war with one another four times: in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Between periods of open conflict, India and Pakistan have witnessed numerous skirmishes, standoffs, and other incidents, the most recent of which occurred last September after 19 Indian soldiers were killed when militants attacked an Indian army brigade headquarters in Kashmir.

Terrorism has been a major source of contempt between the two states. Both India and Pakistan have endured conflicts with terrorists and other militant groups, but Pakistan’s conflict with Islamic extremists such as the Taliban have taken toll both on Pakistan and the geopolitics of the region. India often allocated blame towards Pakistan for attacks on Indian territory. Especially in disputed border areas such as Kashmir, militants from Pakistan would cross into Indian territory and commit acts of terrorism. India in return would blame Pakistan for allowing militants to operate from Pakistani territory, or at times, blame the Pakistani government itself.

It is not unusual for strikes from militants to esculetin into a diplomatic crisis; after the attack that occurred last September, India conducted military strikes in Pakistan, the latter of which accused the Indian military of killing two Pakistani soldiers. As accusations on both sides of the conflict are fueled by a history of resentment, it has been difficult for media sources to frame the truth in the incident.

The United States most balance out the interests of the world’s two most irreconcilable adversaries. Both nations are vital in an area where two of the most contested regions come together. The United States needs Pakistan to continue fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan. As the other major power in the region is Iran, the United States needs Pakistan to play a leading role in the region if the United States were to eventually withdrawal. There are numerous challenges the United States and Pakistan must confront; Pakistan faces many of the same threats that Afghanistan faces. The Taliban has continually proven to be an unrelenting enemy to the Pakistani government, and the government has found defeating the Taliban to be difficult.

 The Afghan Taliban is prone to retreat into Pakistan after facing losses from the United States military. After recuperating in Pakistan, the Taliban returns for another campaign in Afghanistan, prolonging the war there. There have been accusations of Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistani government, which complicates the situation even more. The United States has an interest in protecting Pakistan from the Taliban due to Pakistan’s increasing nuclear capacity. A Taliban takeover of Pakistan, however unlikely, would result in a nuclear-armed Taliban.

Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan are also problematic. In much of the same way the Pakistan’s rivalry with India the result of British imperialism, so too is Pakistan’s adversarial relationship with Afghanistan. Though not on the scale of India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan have had open conflicts with one another as well, and border skirmishes often occur. Some have accused the Pakistani government of using the Taliban as a power check against Afghanistan.

As Pakistan is vital to helping America with its asymmetric threat, India is vital to support the United States in its conventional threat. Both the United States and India share a common rival: China. India and China have fought armed conflict over disputed territory in the past, and both nations are becoming increasingly influential members on the world stage.

In the past, India has had an unfavorable view towards the United States; in the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was pitted against the United States and China, India sided with the Soviet Union, both for ideological reasons (India used to be openly socialist) and for strategic reasons, namely the shared enemy that was China. Now that the Soviet Union has dissolved and the nature of the India government and economy are more capitalist, India is open towards a more favorable relationship with the United States. Such a move would empower both nations in the region. China has responded by strengthening ties with Pakistan, complicating the American position in the region even further.

The prospects of peace between India and Pakistan are not promising. One of the great ironies of the human condition is that logic is often taken captive to the realities of human passion. The resentment between India and Pakistan runs deep; everything from nuclear tests to films to cricket matches are done under the cloud of a South Asian conflict.

The stakes could not be higher; South Asia remains one of the most populated regions of the world, and the two nations in the standoff both possess the ability to obliterate the other. The United States must balance out the interests of these two nations not only because it benefits America, but because it might spare Asia a nuclear confrontation.