The COAS, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said: “The armed forces remain fully prepared to defeat any external direct threat.” This was, indeed, an apt, timely and direly needed statement. Undoubtedly, its primary task is to defend Pakistan from external threats. This threat from 1947 till date has been from the east – i.e. India. Despite this, since 9/11, both by default and design, confusion was added to the threat perception. After the US-Nato invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was embroiled on its western borders. More so, due to a tragic, yet ferocious terrorist campaign within Pakistan, the threat perception was engulfed by fog.

Anyway, the existential threat to Pakistan is from external foes, who likewise comprise an indirect internal threat. India also supports asymmetrical war or covert operations against Pakistan; more so, on its western border and Balochistan.

The Pakistan Army has bravely dealt with great challenges and defeated the strongest antagonists. In the 1980s, Pakistan was hemmed in between the Soviet occupied Afghanistan and hostile India. The Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and the Indian failure in Operation Brasstacks was due to its valiant military and the ISI. Since 2001, if the Nato forces did not cross Pakistan’s western border, and India its eastern border, it was all because of the army’s vigilance, supported by brave tribesmen in its West and freedom-loving Pakistanis in its east. Nuclear deterrence and an alert ISI, however, were part and parcel of the national defence effort.

September 2001 to 2012 has been a very challenging period for Pakistan. On its eastern border, the Indian military threat was gradually increasing; whereas, on its western side, the US-Nato forces were bogged down in a protracted, unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Besides an internal terrorist campaign, led by local extremists and sponsored by foreign hostile forces, was growing worse. Fortunately, the worst part is over for Pakistan and it is regaining its strategic balance. Indeed, the Pakistan Army’s resilience and the ISI’s fortitude is paying off.  In addition, the geopolitical winds are in Pakistan’s favour.

Afghanistan: The US and Nato plans to withdraw a bulk of their troops. Keeping in view our national interests, Pakistan must support their exit strategy; indeed, it will help reduce the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s army must avoid being entangled with the Afghan militants, as its enemies would desire. Pakistan must have friendly relations with the Afghan Taliban. It is important to realise that the Americans are leaving, but the Taliban are staying.

USA: It will need Pakistan for peace-making in Afghanistan. Besides, the US is likely to be busy with numerous other global concerns, including North Korea.

Iran: With Iran, the geo-economic confluence should proceed. The gas pipeline linking Iran and Pakistan would benefit both nations.

China: The emerging global giant and Pakistan’s strategic ally should be further embraced. With China developing and managing the Gwadar port, Pakistan’s economy will boom.

Turkey: With Turkey, the relations can only grow stronger that is in the mutual interest of both nations. Turkey is a rising power and Pakistan’s future strategic ally.

Saudi Arabia: The Pak-Saudi relationship is not only historical, but also futuristic; not only religious, but  also geopolitical.

Russia: It is Pakistan’s new friend. In the world of tomorrow, the past will be buried and the Moscow-Islamabad relationship will take a tangible shape.

Keeping this in view, Pakistan’s geopolitical future seems bright. But the three major problems for it will be economy, militancy and India. The economy will improve and militancy will reduce, but after the Afghan war ends. Yet, it is necessary that the Pakistani military pursues reconciliation with both the Taliban and Baloch militants. Ultimately, except for a minority of hardliners, the bulk should be brought back to the national mainstream.

Against this backdrop, the external direct threat to Pakistan is from India. The Hindu-Muslim animosity of 1,000 years did not end with the creation of Pakistan; in fact, it worsened. This was primarily because of the Indian stance of ‘Akhand Bharat’ or ‘Mother India’, and the incorrect notion that the subcontinent or South Asia was indivisible, which was negated by the Two Nation Theory. This is why the Indian atrocities in Kashmir and wars against Pakistan have now reached a new level, creating difficulty for New Delhi to seek peace with Islamabad. On the contrary, as the world’s biggest arms importer, India is preparing for ‘Cold Start’ or a surprise offensive war against Pakistan. The recent Indian tirades against Pakistan were reflections of the same.

Pakistan, however, should opt for ‘Cold Peace’; it means peace, but no friendship. While stressing India to resolve the Kashmir issue, its efforts to destabilise Balochistan and Gwadar should be thwarted. Pakistan should forge unity at home and redeploy its army in the east, once the USA exits from Afghanistan in 2014. The world must know that our army can do more than defend Pakistan.

The writer is a retired brigadier  and has authored a book titled Gwadar on the Global Chessboard.