Why should the Pakistanis be worried? Well, you must first accept that you’ve not experienced severe and durable paranoia until you’ve experienced that of Pakistani officials and generals toward India, and vice versa. Indeed, in the midst of a nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan and a 5-year-old civil war in the country’s tribal agencies, Pew Research reported in July 2010 that its polling found 53 percent of Pakistanis view India as their number one enemy, with 27 percent naming the Taliban and 3 percent al-Qaeda. With this mindset, then, the Pakistani government and military believe that India’s expensive, extensive and growing Afghan presence is a direct and even existential strategic threat to their country.
In their one-sided confrontation with India‘s overwhelming military power, Pakistan’s political leaders and generals have long prized Afghan territory as an area where Pakistani forces can retreat and regroup if India invades from the east. This idea has long been ridiculed by Western strategists, but it’s a central tenet of Pakistan’s strategic doctrine. And now, in less than a decade, this area of limitless strategic depth has been transformed into a second military frontier with India, one that puts Pakistan in a strategic vice with Indian forces on each side.
The seriousness with which Islamabad views this issue is seen in the fact that, per the media, up to 30 percent of Pakistan’s ground forces are now stationed on the country’s western border. This redeployment degrades the country’s strength on its border with India and has been made to fight what Islamabad believes are rebellious, India-supported militants in its tribal agencies and Balochistan Province.
Pakistan’s military considers India’s embassy and consulates as intelligence centres that are running covert operations into Pakistan’s Pashtun agencies and—with the help of Indian army engineers and border police—are training, arming, funding and picking targets for Balochistan’s tribal insurgents in their low-level war against Islamabad. (NB: It’s likely that Islamabad is even now responding to its perception of India’s intervention by stepping up the tempo of the Kashmir insurgency.)
Pakistani generals also worry that India’s growing and deliberately flamboyant military ties with Israel—that the Pakistani media call the ‘Indo-Israeli nexus’—means the two countries are working together to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear capability, and will use Afghanistan as a base from which to do so. ‘We have strong evidence,’ a Pakistani foreign ministry official said in March, 2010, ‘[that India] is using Afghanistan against Pakistan’s interests and do destabilize Pakistan.’ Now none of this need be true, of course. But it clearly is how the Pakistanis perceive the intent of India’s presence in Afghanistan. And perception is always reality.