May 14, 2021
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Four Scenarios

Pakistan 2020-25: Handling a 61 year old India-centric Pakistan military mindset might require more than just two visits; it will perhaps require a deep understanding of the future scenarios that Pakistan and its military sees for itself in the next

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Four Scenarios

The April 4 attack on the paramilitary camp in Islamabad which killed 8 people is claimed to be the handiwork of the Pakistan Taliban. This suicide attack was preceded by an earlier attack on a police academy in Lahore on March 30. Last month, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore had focused global attention on the unstable state of affairs within Pakistan. Amidst these frequent attacks, the worrisome aspect is that the Pakistan Taliban Chief Baitullah Mehsud has vowed that the Taliban will continue with suicide bombings across Pakistan unless the US stops its drone (predator) attacks on Pakistani territory. Mehsud further warns that two such suicide attacks will be orchestrated per week in order to deter US aerial bombings inside Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

This kind of  "costly signalling" (intent to do harm by use of force) by a terrorist organization indicates that the Pakistan Taliban wants to drive home the fact that it means business. The target audience is not just the US or the international community but also the Pakistan military and its own target audience (support base). The messages that can be inferred from these attacks are the following:

  • Take us seriously when we state that we will utilize suicide attacks to coerce US policy change towards Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama Administration;
  • The US policy of aerial bombing in NWFP will only encourage us to carry out random suicide attacks;
  • The Pakistan military must be wary of collaborating with the US counter-insurgency efforts in the NWFP, FATA and SWAT valley as such cooperation forestall violent attacks on the Pakistan military and the Frontier Constabulary by us (Significantly, the April 4 attack was on the Frontier Constabulary); 
  • We are indicating through these coercive measures that we are in territorial control of NWFP, FATA and SWAT valley.

Added to these coercive messages, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan is facing a situation of internal crisis concerning insurgencies in its tribal areas. In a testimony to the Pakistan National Assembly’s Standing Committee, NWFP Police Chief, Malik Navid stated that the Pakistan Taliban was spreading to almost every area in Pakistan, especially to major cities like Lahore and Karachi. The aim of the extremist organizations was to create seamless webs of inter-connected cells spreading out from NWFP and Waziristan to Southern Punjab and the financially dynamic city of Karachi. 

The spread of the Taliban to Karachi is an existential threat for India as well given the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai was staged from Karachi via the sea. What is even more startling is Navid’s assertion that the al Qaeda and the Taliban are planning to stretch their networks from the base areas in Pakistan to the Middle East from where they plan to target the West in 9/11 type attacks. The police chief also stated that the al Qaeda’s speciality lay in utilizing 5 to 10 per cent of Pakistani Madrassas in training suicide bombers in just a matter of three months. In his Congressional testimony last week in Washington D.C., General David H. Patraeus, former Commander of US troops in Iraq stated that Pakistan could be facing internal collapse within six months due to a growing internal insurgency.

Added to this growing internal problem is the fact that the Pakistan military is infested with elements sympathetic to the Taliban in the hope that this linkage will build a favourable regime in neighbouring Afghanistan and support cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, suspected to be behind the Mumbai attacks, has established links with the Pakistan Taliban and is continuing to publish propaganda material stating that the liberation of Kashmir from India is its political goal; this has many takers within the Pakistan military. The enmeshment of Deobandi and Wahabi groups within the Pakistan military and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is also creating more obstacles towards carrying out the fight against extremist groups. Also, since the "idea of India" as a threat to Pakistan’s existence occupies centre stage in the Pakistan military’s thinking, the extremist organizations are viewed as a useful proxy by the military in an eventual war with India.

In order to deal with Pakistan’s layered strategic thinking and the growing Taliban presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border areas, the current mantra of the Obama Administration is troop surge in Afghanistan similar to the Bush Administration’s troop surge policy in Iraq last year. Pakistan is viewed as deeply connected to the US’s fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan due to the presence of Taliban bases in Pakistan’s NWFP and FATA. Consequently, US air strikes within Pakistan are high priority on the US counter-insurgency table menu. Incidentally, a recent article in the Sunday London Times dated March 29, 2009 asserted that Bush’s troop surge policy has resulted in "'the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror". It has been able to reduce a 12,000, strong insurgency with strongholds in the west and central regions of Iraq to merely 1,200 cadres. "Operation Lion's Roar" activated by the Iraqi Army and the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment has destroyed al Qaeda strongholds starting from the Anbar Province right down to the urban areas in Mosul.

Propelled by the success of the troop surge counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq based on the conceptual framework of "clear, hold and build", the Obama Administration has put its heart and soul towards influencing the Pakistan military to fight the insurgency in its tribal areas and the NWFP based on a similar strategy. However, though Pakistan is happy with the new infusion of American money amounting to US $ 3 billion in counter-insurgency aid, the threat perception of both countries appear at loggerheads. 

While the US would like the Pakistan military to invest all its energies in fighting the insurgency, the Pakistan military do not appear to think that the Taliban is so much of a threat to its viability or existence as a state. The real threat, for the military, comes from India. And there are divisions between the Pakistan civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and the military on this vital aspect. While Zardari and significantly enough, the Pakistan military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani views the Taliban as potentially a larger threat than India, many in the military hierarchy do not share this view. The change of this India-centric military culture remains a challenge that will not go away easily. Changing this generational Pakistani military psyche is going to be a tough call for the US Special Envoy to the Region, Richard Holbrooke and Mike Cullen, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during their visit to Pakistan this week. Handling a 61 year old India-centric Pakistan military mindset might require more than just two visits; it will perhaps require a deep understanding of the future scenarios that Pakistan and its military sees for itself in the next 10 to 15 years.

Four Scenarios for Pakistan-2020-25

Scenario 1: Encircled Pakistan

In this scenario, by 2020-25, Pakistan views itself as being encircled by a growing India-US strategic partnership buttressed by the July 18, 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, heightened economic and military partnership and the rise of India on the international stage . The Indian presence in Afghanistan, the American distrust of the ISI, US suspicions of possible Pakistan military linkages with the Taliban, counter-intuitive US pressure on the Pakistan military to perform counter-insurgency operations in Pakistan’s Taliban infested areas, and international fears about the safety of its nuclear weapons is giving the Pakistani political elite a feeling of being under siege. The opening of two Indian consulates since 2001 in Afghanistan and the building of Afghan roads by India is seen as strategy of encirclement of Pakistan by the US and India. Further, America’s refusal to allow Pakistan to operate its remotely piloted aircraft known as Predator drones has created a sense of distrust between the two sides. The US suspicion of the ISI’s linkage with the Taliban is also viewed by the Pakistan military as another element of distrust as stated by former ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf. The American unwillingness to deliver counter-insurgency equipment like helicopter gunships and night vision goggles to the Pakistan military is also driving in the point that the US military’s strategic aim is to encircle Pakistan. 


There are two implications of this scenario. 

  • First, the Pakistan military and government will utilize classic balance of power approach by remaining close to China, the emerging Asian giant. China’s clout on the world stage was never more visible than during the recent G-20 summit when its leaders called the shots on economic issues side by side with US President Barack Obama. The comforting presence of China and its growing power is going to attract the Pakistan government to develop stronger ties with it in order to ward off the growing US pressure to fight Pakistan’s internal insurgencies and stronger US-India ties. 
  • Second, the growing presence of India in Afghanistan will inadvertently strengthen the bonds between the Pakistani establishment and the extremist groups. Though such a linkage has negative consequences for the Pakistani state in the long run, the short term vision of the decision makers centred on a threat perception from India across the international border render them vulnerable to such tactical linkages.

Scenario 2: Fragmented Pakistan

In Scenario 2, Pakistan fears that by 2020-25, it might end up losing the NWFP, Baluchistan and Waziristan areas. The growing insurgencies in these regions, the large number of desertions and court martials in the military and Frontier Constabulary as soldiers refuse to take part in counter-insurgency operations in these areas, and growing resentment amongst the officer corps in fighting a war termed as the US "war on terror" are the key drivers for this scenario. Also, the US policy of intervening forcibly within Pakistan and aerial strikes in its tribal areas creates a feeling of being insulted in the Pakistani national psyche and results in local people favouring armed extremists in their midst.


There are four implications of this scenario. 

  • First, the fear of fragmentation due to weak civilian government structures, feudally structured political parties and rising militancy might result in the military coming back to occupy centre stage in Pakistani political life. The military is trusted as the only viable actor disciplined enough to keep the Pakistani state together. 
  • Second, the Pakistani government and military will prefer signing truces with the Taliban rather than fighting it in order to ensure that there is some dialogue process in place with the extremist groups in order to safeguard Pakistan’s territorial integrity. 
  • Third, the imagined threat from India will be over-emphasised to ride over internal divisions and dissensions within Pakistan. 
  • Fourth, the anti-US feeling will rise especially since the aerial attacks are seen as being conducted by outside forces. 

Scenario 3: Militarised Pakistan

By 2020-2025, Pakistan continues to view India as priority threat number 1 despite US pressure to fight an internal insurgency and Indian assurances that it does not pose a threat to Pakistan’s internal health and external viability as an actor. The rise of India on the global stage and its military modernization creates more insecurity as the Indian intentions for such military modernization is seen as targeted at Pakistan by Pakistani strategists and policy makers. The importance of nuclear weapons as a deterrent against Indian conventional superiority continues to be viewed as a potent tool for statecraft by Pakistan vis-à-vis India.


There are three implications of this scenario. 

  • First, the Pakistan military continues to train and equip itself in its traditional conventional mode towards fighting an imagined war with India in the near future.
  • Second, the democratic forces in Pakistan are discredited due to their ineffective governance and inability to lead Pakistan to global prosperity as compared to India. 
  • Third, nuclear weapons are seen as a strategic national asset in the deterrence game.

Scenario 4: Democratic Pakistan

By 2020-2025, Pakistan views itself as a democratic state with its political parties established on well entrenched principles of liberty, equality and fraternity instead of their current feudal moorings. Politicians like Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif develop their democratic political constituencies and ensure that justice is done in society in a visible and viable way. Insurgencies are on the wane and the state is better institutionalized in its tribal areas. The threat perception from India is also managed through a process of cross-border dialogue at the Track I and Track II levels between the two countries. The US also enables the development of democratic institutions and helps Pakistan develop its education and health sectors. The Pakistan military limits itself to the traditional role of guarding its borders and not getting enmeshed in establishing linkages with extremist groups as a proxy against India. Media is free, liberal and dynamic keeping a vigilant watch on the civilian institutions and the military within Pakistan.


There are three implications of this scenario. 

  • First, Pakistan becomes more confident as a state in the international system with a well honed internal democratic process. 
  • Second, extremist groups find it difficult to spread their radical violence prone ideologies. 
  • Third, the Pakistani national negative India centric narrative takes a back stage liberating Pakistan from its 61 year old petty hyper sensitive and debilitating focus on India which has paralysed the country and come in the way of developing its economy and other aspects of human security.

These four scenarios are a set and are inter-related. They are also informative in terms of what the US or India needs to do in order to ensure the existence of Pakistan as a stable and prosperous state in the system. The US must be seen as consulting and not dictating the Pakistan government in its fight against extremist forces like the Taliban. It is also a bad policy posture on the part of the US to pressure India to send its troops to Afghanistan as is being articulated in certain policy circles of the Obama Administration. 

The presence of Indian troops along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border will only create more fear within the Pakistani establishment of encirclement and will lead to side-stepping the core issue of fighting the growing Taliban insurgency with its overt consequences for both India and the US, more so India, with a physical border with Pakistan. 

Finally, though bringing about a generational change in the Pakistan military’s fear of India is a tough call, the US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke needs to convey to Pakistan that India wishes and aspires for better relations with all its South Asian neighbours including Pakistan in order to usher in a more prosperous and confident South Asian region. For its part, India has a responsible role as well in ensuring that its South Asian neighbours are aware of its intentions as a rising state in the international system. 

This can be done in three ways: 

  • A national narrative within India needs to spell out India’s peaceful past and future intentions. 
  • Second, a strong South Asian institutional cooperation on issues of terrorism, trade, drugs and insurgency besides SAARC needs to be established to resolve issues of contention through a process of dialogue and consultation between the states of the region. 
  • Finally, Pakistan must also learn to ‘unlearn’ its self created fears of India and conceptualize its own positive narrative of nation-building based on self confidence, progress and hope for its people. 

To this end, the final scenario is ideal but the first three scenarios must be kept in stark focus during any policy engagement by the international community with a seemingly unstable Pakistan.

Dr. Namrata Goswami is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University, Melbourne and Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. The views expressed here are that of the author and not that of the institutes.

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