Realism: Pakistan And India – OpEd


The ‘Realist’ school of thought rests in the idea that states are only ever bothered about issues that concern them – and therefore are more inclined towards pursuing their self-interest. These ‘National interests’ are a complex blend of historical, geopolitical, and strategic factors that shape their foreign policies. A case in point is the longstanding conflict between India and Pakistan – marked by years of animosity, obdurate struggle over the disputed land of Kashmir, four wars, a multitude of armed escalations, and the competitive purchase of arms here and there.

The Neo-realist framework underpinning the defense policies of the two is a result of the insecurity and perpetual fear instilled by the other – Aparna Pande, in her work, went as far as saying, “Since independence in 1947, Pakistan’s identity and foreign policy have been framed around India.” To make matters worse, the two operate in an International Arena dominated by anarchy, and therefore, have to naturally, put their interests above everything else, if it means securing their future.

The Realist ideology posits that the concept of “anarchy” dominates the global arena, and refers to the absence of an overarching central body overseeing countries, thereby putting in place regulatory mechanisms. With a lack of oversight, countries all over tend to engage in activities that are violent in nature, and unbridled aggression becomes prevalent. Additionally, this nonexistence of an overarching body is exploited by the same countries to advance their interests. 

Take Pakistan as an example; in 1988, the country quickly shifted from being a covert nuclear country to an overt one, because India had managed to conduct successful nuclear tests as part of ‘Operation Shakti,’ – the Hindi word for ‘protection.’ Protection against who? India’s decision to declare itself a nuclear power compelled Pakistan to follow suit and demonstrate its nuclear capabilities to the world. This sudden outburst could only be attributed to the surge of insecurity that swept through Pakistan the moment those nuclear bombs underwent tests on the other side of the border. On May 28th and 30th of the same year, nuclear tests code-named “Chagai-I” and “Chagai-II, were carried out in the Chagai district of the Balochistan province in Pakistan. These facts are evidence of how the two neighboring countries in South Asia perceive the other as a consequential threat, and thus, take steps to ensure uptight security for definite survival, in what Realists term a “security dilemma.”

A branch of realism, as a “security dilemma,” unfolds when a state attempting to enhance its security, unintentionally propagates insecurity in the other state. This leads to a vicious cycle of both states trying to bolster their security measures, not being privy to the consequences such measures will bear. Jumping back into India-Pakistan relations, India holds a dominant position in South Asia, with a larger military force and a hefty defense budget of 55.2 billion USD compared to Pakistan’s 7 billion USD. This military “edge” held by India has prompted Pakistan to accelerate its development and production of nuclear warheads and weapons. As T. Powers notes in his book, currently Pakistan possesses an estimated 170 nuclear warheads, surpassing India’s nuclear arsenal in scale. 

This ongoing arms race between India and Pakistan has its roots in the security dilemma, where each state is driven by the desire to protect itself against the perceived threat posed by the other. India’s military dominance has created a sense of insecurity in Pakistan, leading it to invest heavily in arms to counterbalance India’s military might, creating perpetual tension with the potential for catastrophic consequences in the event of a conflict. Years of conflict, failed ceasefires, and baseless agreements later, India and Pakistan, are still entrenched in cycles of mistrust and have resorted to external powers to gain strategic advantages.

Talking about national interests, India and Pakistan have been embroiled in a long-standing conflict over Kashmir; fighting 3 wars, yet the territory remains a major point of contention, with neither state willing to relinquish its claim to the region as it goes “against their national interests.”  This deadlock increases the likelihood of a full-blown war if tensions were to escalate. While India holds a position of strength in terms of land and population, Pakistan faces a significant disadvantage in sharing a 2,300-kilometer border with India, making it susceptible to simultaneous attacks.

However, to counter this geographical vulnerability, Pakistan benefits greatly from its strategic alliance with China – a rising superpower with a world-class military. Siachen, a former battleground between Indian and Pakistani forces, now could be used to launch a joint attack against India, due to the proximity of Chinese forces along the border. In 2011, the Indian Army issued a warning to its headquarters in Delhi, highlighting the strategic implications of Pakistani troops’ presence in the region near the Chinese border. The warning signaled a cause for concern, particularly since the 1965 war on Kashmir, highlighting the need for India to assess and re-evaluate its strategic priorities in the region, as stated by Ibid in his work. All Pakistan is doing here is pursuing its interests in safeguarding National Security, which naturally does not sit well with India, making the country incapable of adopting a “liberal approach” to International Relations, when it comes to Pakistan, according to Dwividi. 

The dynamic of Pakistan, and India is best understood through the world-view of Realism, for both perceive each other as threats, and therefore engage in practices that are marred by a deep-seated sense of mutual mistrust, enabling them to gain an advantage over the other. Since their independence, India and Pakistan have consistently acted in their self-interest, with little regard for the consequences of their action.

Ayesha Mirza

Ayesha Mirza is a Governance and Public policy scholar at NUST and affiliated with the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

One thought on “Realism: Pakistan And India – OpEd

  • February 15, 2024 at 11:54 am

    The only reason for creating Pakistan was to oppose Hinduism and India. Ever since, the Pakistanis have wasted enormous resources in the futile effort in wanting to destroy India. If only Pakistan had chosen a policy of cooperation and not confrontation with India, Pakistan would not be an impoverished State that it is today.


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