An intelligence report by the US government’s National Intelligence Council has warned that miscalculations could result in a large-scale war between the neighbouring nuclear states.
The report, which was released earlier this week, is included in a Global Trends report produced every four years. Its prerogative is to predict likely outcomes within the global sphere over the next five to 20 years so policymakers may anticipate the forces that shape the world and adjust their decisions accordingly.
“Miscalculation by both governments could prompt a breakdown in the deterrence that has restricted conflict to levels each side judges it can manage,” the report read, adding that a full-scale war between India and Pakistan could have economic and political repercussions that would be felt for years to come.
Referring to New Delhi’s resolve to retaliate against Islamabad “following a terrorist attack that the Indian government judges to be significant”, the report stated that the ability of militant groups to conduct such attacks, Inda’s retaliatory inclinations, and Pakistan’s commitment to defend itself would only increase over the next five years.
The report also warned against an “abrupt US exit” from Afghanistan. It predicted that any security vacuum within Afghanistan would likely trigger a civil war between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents, which in turn would expand the freedom of movement for various regional terrorist outfits, as well as criminals and refugees flowing out of the country.
The consequence of the above-stated scenario would sharpen the differences between India and New Dehli, particularly in regard to cementing prevailing judgments about covert warfare in Islamabad and New Delhi.
The report also noted that Afghanistan is seeing an intensification of ethnic tensions between Pashtuns and other ethnic groups, a trend that is accelerating as Afghans prepare for the withdrawal of Western troops.
The US intelligence community estimates that India and China may also slip into a conflict that neither government intends, “especially if military forces escalate a conflict quickly to challenge each other on a critical part of the contested border”.
This statement was in reference to the short military conflict between India and China, wherein at least 20 soldiers of the former perished, and the incident therein heightened the rivalry between Beijing and New Delhi and sharply affected international perceptions of both countries.
While trade between South Asian countries is already among the lowest globally, the report stated that it is unlikely to improve over the next five years due to the hostilities between India and Pakistan.
The intelligence report also highlighted that Pakistan may face a state of complete water scarcity within the next five years due to poor water conservation practices, rising temperatures, and decreased rainfall.
Last month, India’s and Pakistan’s water commissions had met after two years wherein Pakistan had reiterated its objections to India’s Pakal Dul, Lower Kulnai, Durbuk Shyok and Nimu Chilling projects on the Chenab River.
While citing the circumstances that had led to the separation of West and East Pakistan, the report warned that future events could also prompt a regional crisis with enormous humanitarian, political, and security implications to which external powers probably would try to respond.
In this regard, it noted that extreme weather events such as the 1970 cyclone in the Bay of Bengal contributed to state failure in then-East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh the next year.
The report outlined that one of the reasons behind the hostility between the countries being at its highest in years may be due to the firm popular support for nationalist leaders, which have strengthened the power and yoke of both leaders. It warned that this can lead to worsening – or at least continued – threats.
Intelligence analysts from the US have predicted that there will be a sharpening in the polarisation within democratic politics in the South Asain region, stressing that even those leaders elected through free and fair processes are likely to “push majoritarian agendas that widen factional divides — potentially weakening political stability in societies already split along sectarian and ethnic lines”.
“This political polarisation is rooted in strongly felt nationalist narratives that have become prominent in recent years and met little effective resistance from opposition parties or the courts,” they warn.
The report therein stated that the rise of such schism will likely result in great abuses faced by minorities, citing the example of the Muslim communities within India and Sri Lanka.
The report also noted the role of IT in disseminating information and shaping the narratives within the countries, underscoring its role in fuelling authoritarian tendencies and influencing the population.
It points out that in 2019, India “led the world in Internet shutdowns by a wide margin” — with several months-long crackdowns to suppress protests, including in occupied Kashmir. Pakistan has deployed Huawei’s Safe Cities technology, raising public fears of increased surveillance.
Highlighting the outcomes of this so-called balancing approach and its effects on regional dynamics, the report pointed out that as New Delhi probably will look for ways to mitigate Chinese influence, other South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, will probably judge their countries “can more easily deflect New Delhi’s demands or block its regional leadership aspirations by maintaining ties with Beijing”.
In an example of New Dehli’s mitigation efforts, the report adds that, given China’s expanding foothold in the Indian Ocean, India almost certainly will continue to encourage Japan to offer economic investment and some military cooperation to other South Asian countries in an attempt to have them align more closely with New Delhi and Tokyo.
In another example of the balancing approach, most South Asian leaders will continue to cultivate and publicly tout their relationships with Washington, as the United States is the biggest export market for Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the report predicts. It maintained this perspective in spite of the countries’ growing interest in China.
The report projects that economic growth in South Asia will remain slow during the next five years and will be insufficient to employ the region’s expanding workforce, and in this regard, American intelligence analysts have predicted an increased risk to traditions of democratic and independent governance in several countries in South Asia.
It is likely that many countries will hedge their bets and balance their relations with multiple external powers, including China, Russia, Japan, and the US. Ergo, for the next five years, the report argues that South Asia will have to manage the challenges that internal security problems, the risk of inter-state war, and the effects of climate change and pollution growth.
Before the Covid-19 outbreak, unemployment in India had reached a 40-year high until the gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed markedly in the latter half of 2019, and India’s strict lockdown from March to May 2020 temporarily drove unemployment up to 23 per cent.
“No government in the region is prepared to undertake economic reforms on the scale required to generate robust growth,” the report states, outlining the reasons behind investor uncertainty, including India’s outdated legal systems, severe pollution, water shortages, and highly bureaucratic regulatory environments.
It notes that almost all the economies in the region remain focused on agriculture, with the bulk of their workforces dependent on farming. Most countries’ agricultural sectors are underproductive in relation to the large share of government funds and natural resources they consume.
According to the report, this disparity is driven by a variety of factors, including growing water scarcity, environmental damage and climate change effects, and government failure to reform agricultural subsidies that benefit rural constituents at the expense of growing urban populations.