On Thursday, August 9, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on strategic stability in South Asia with participation of General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee, Pakistan. The discussion was held in line with the Chatham House Rule, which contributed to openness of debate.
The meeting participants discussed three fundamental sets of issues: the strategic balance in South Asia, the peace process in Afghanistan, and the Russian-Pakistani relations.
South Asia is a region where one-fifth of the Earth’s population lives and which includes two nuclear powers with tense relations between each other. A civil war has been ravaging in Afghanistan for decades, contributing to instability on its borders. It was noted during the discussion that Pakistan will not tolerate hegemony of any country in the region and believes that the notions of counterweight and containment are dangerous. Islamabad is not against growth and rise of any country, but they must not be at its expense.
The military build-up in the region, in particular, India’s development of ballistic missile defenses, was paid a special attention to. Pakistan’s position is that BMD undermines strategic stability, propelling great power competition.
The issue of Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal was also touched upon. Discussion participants from both Russia and Pakistan believe that this move has made the security situation in the region even more fragile.
The situation in Afghanistan is a key element of the strategic balance in South Asia. Pakistan’s position is that peace in the country can only be achieved through political process. In Afghanistan, there is always a force and a counter-force, no matter what it is called, and this has been true for the past century, one of the discussion participants said, explaining why dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan is necessary. The country has never had a strong central power and peace can only achieved by power-sharing and taking the opposing force into the mainstream. It was noted that the United States was in touch with the Taliban even after 9/11: its operation in Afghanistan was directed at Al-Qaida, not the Taliban.The issue of Russian-Pakistani relations had a special prominence during the discussion. Pakistan has traditionally had close relations with the United States and China, but over the past five years its ties with Moscow have gained importance. There is a growing political interaction, in particular, in the format of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In 2017, Pakistan (as well as India) became a full-fledged member of the bloc and considers it a multi-domain regional platform. Military-technological cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad is on the rise with joint military exercises Druzhba (Friendship) held annually since 2016. Pakistan highly appreciates Russian understanding and willingness to cooperate.