The Indo-Pakistani border
The most dangerous border on Earth, with the greatest potential for a massive war, is not the North Korean-South Korean border. It is not the US-Mexico border. It is not the Russia-Ukraine border. It isn’t even the Iraqi-Syrian border. No, it is the India-Pakistan border, which stretches 3323 kilometers, from the western end of the Himalayas to the Arabian sea.
The primary point of conflict between these two powers lies in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been disputed since the Partition of India in 1947. Jammu and Kashmir have a majority muslim population, and many yearn for either independence from both India and Pakistan, or a union with Pakistan. In response, Indian forces often use tear gas or rubber bullets against protesters, and blame Pakistan for funding rebels. At the same time, Pakistan often funds and directs terrorist operations in India, including a deadly attack in Mumbai that killed hundreds.
On the Indian side of the border lies a nuclear armed state. On the Pakistani side of the border lies a nuclear armed state. The two countries combine for around 250 nuclear weapons. This number, while unimpressive compared the United States’ or Russia’s 7000 nuclear weapons, these nuclear arsenals have the potential to create global famines, and cripple both countries. A study from Rutgers shows that this war could kill up to 20 million people in an initial nuclear exchange, followed by the deaths of hundreds of millions of people due to global famine as the result of the debris from the nuclear explosions.
In addition, both countries have huge standing armies, and huge populations. India has an army of around 1.3 million people, double that of Pakistan’s 625,000 people. However, India has roughly 6 times as many people as Pakistan, with 1.26 billion people, compared to 201 million Pakistanis. India also has a 2-1 advantage in nearly every weapons system, and outspends Pakistan almost 7-1 on the military. However, India’s greatest advantage lies in its powerful navy. It has 3 aircraft carriers, compared to none for Pakistan. It also has 11 destroyers, compared to Pakistan’s 0. This means that in any naval war, Pakistan will likely face an Indian blockade that would cut Pakistan off from its oil supply. Despite this, Pakistan’s geography, general hatred of India, and high gun ownership make it a formidable enemy for India.
However, the greatest advantage that Pakistan holds lies outside of Pakistan, to the north east. This advantage, of course, is the People’s Republic of China. The Sino-Pakistani alliance has no doubt been strengthening, as China in 2015 announced plans for 46 billion dollars worth of investment in Pakistan, as well as an economic corridor that would connect China to its Arabian port. China is also one of the most powerful countries on Earth, both economically and militarily. China and India have similar populations, however China is much more industrialized and urban. China’s major population centers lie far away from the Indian border, whereas major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi lie in striking distance for any medium ranged missile. China’s military has roughly one million more soldiers, double the amount of fighter and attack aircraft, and outspends India roughly 3-1 on defense.
India’s savior here is geography. India has the Himalayas, the largest mountain range on Earth, sitting between India and China. In addition, India could easily cut off the Malacca straits in the event of a war, which would almost entirely cut off China’s oil supply from the middle east. This is precisely why China will never fight a direct war with India. The logistical situation is a nightmare, and the risk of opening up wars against other Indian allies, such as Japan and Vietnam, is simply too great. Nevertheless, the aforementioned Sino-Pakistani alliance, as well as the ongoing border dispute over Askai Chin with India, does not bode well for India in the event of a war. China could very well supply both troops and arms to Pakistan, and impose crippling sanctions on India. China, in fact, could very well be an equalizer in the event of war in Southeast Asia.
This puts the United States in a very awkward situation. China is the largest trading partner of the US, with roughly 663 billion dollars worth of goods and services exchanged annually. However, the United States and China have had competing interests elsewhere. As mentioned in a previous post, the “Case for Pressure on China”, China is still a backer of the North Korean regime. North Korea is still a valuable asset for China, as it serves as both a bargaining chip and a buffer against a US backed South Korea. China’s island building campaign in the South China sea has also come under US criticism.
Meanwhile, Pakistan and the US are growing more and more distant as the war on terror continues. Pakistani officers may have held knowledge about Osama Bin Laden’s hideout, and even the chief ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) officer is accused of holding knowledge about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The compound that Bin Laden was hiding in was less than a mile from an elite military academy. Pakistan is also relatively unstable, and is plagued by corruption, instability, drug trafficking, and terrorism.
In contrast, the relationship between India and the US seems to only be growing stronger, as the cold war tensions that resulted from the India-USSR alliance ease. The United States recently reaffirmed its ties to India, calling India a “Major defense partner”. In 2012, the Obama administration implemented the Defense Technology and Trade initiative (DTTI), which seeks to expand co-operation in business, science, and create a vision for the entire Asia-Pacific region. As the Indian economy continues to grow at a strong 7%, American investment in India will continue to grow, as well as the strategic ties between the two nations.
The United States needs to avoid a war at all costs. That much is clear. A war will cripple trade relationships, and, in the worst case, could kill millions of people. If Pakistan feels emboldened enough to start a war, they might. Pakistan has fought 4 wars against India over Kashmir, but these wars have not involved full scale fronts of battle. However, if China continues its alliance with Pakistan, it is entirely possible that the next Indo-Pak war will be a full scale front that stretches along the entire border.
Therefore, the United States must strengthen ties with India. It must sign new arms deals, new commitments, and help the largest democracy on Earth in a military build up. The US needs to balance power in Asia, or it will face a more emboldened China, and a more emboldened Pakistan. And while the Trump administration is anything but predictable, the signs coming out of Washington seem promising.