Three political war-gaming scenarios Pakistani establishment must consider

national security

Hassan Zaheer |

International politics in contemporary time is characterized by chronic instability and global disorder which are embodied by arch of strategic warfare spread across various continents resulting in destabilization of nation-states; plunging countries into civil wars and anarchy, triggering political conflict by disrupting power play within and economic warfare with additional components of cyber tactics and information control.

These strategies represent fourth and fifth generation of warfare (4GW and 5GW) compelling countries to rethink their national security paradigm and develop strategies corresponding to the threats to their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

As the dynamics of war drastically changes in modern times so are the imperatives to overhaul national security grid of the countries. Nation-states cannot afford to undertake a prolonged deliberation on critical national security matters upon the emergence of the threat. It is vitally significant for the nation-states, particularly those with a “cursed” geography, to evolve their policy-making framework and respond preemptively to the critical threats by adopting political war-gaming as a primary mode of behavior in national security policy development.

Pakistan is one of those nation-state blessed, and paradoxically cursed, with a geography with extends to China to its northeast, Iran to its southwest, Afghanistan to the west and its arch-enemy India to the east alongside a privilege coastline of 700km to the Arabian sea. This contentious geography of Pakistan has been problematic since the inception and played a pivotal in the national statecraft.

However, the purpose of this article is not to deliberate upon those geographic imperatives but to present a set of war-gaming scenarios which the national security establishment of the country with newly-elected government should consider with immediate effect to deal promptly if any of those scenarios emergences in the future.

The neighborhood surrounding Pakistan is relatively stable contemporarily but with a triggering event it could ignite the region leading to death and destruction. Pakistan national security grid under its newly-elected government should contemplate over the following regional ‘black-swan like’ scenarios and develop relevant strategies to cope with the circumstances if they emerge.


The First war-gaming scenario should focus on developments in the neighboring state of Afghanistan, wherein instability is the order of the day and internal factional infighting coupled with vying for control by international powers is exceedingly complicating the imperative for the conflict resolution. Afghanistan will enter its electoral phase early next year. This may serve as an avenue of opportunity to accommodate the Taliban insurgency in an inclusive government.

The recent opening of talks between the United States and Taliban seems to guide peace process into this trajectory before elections. A breakthrough was reported that the Taliban is even open to the idea of US forces staying in the country if the decision is reached by a Taliban-inclusive government.

But the peace process in Afghanistan is always an arduous challenge. Given the rashness and non-strategic decision-making of Trump’s Whitehouse and emergence of Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), notwithstanding its recent weakening ,may embroil the country in a downward spiral of intense violence as election nears and both state & non-state actors’ fights to control the outcome of any resolution.

Moreover, the recent moot of regional intelligence chiefs to deliberate upon the IS-K security challenge also play a critical role in Afghan War Theater. These developments collectively will naturally have a spillover effect in Pakistan with profound consequences.


Iran represents a second war-gaming scenario which the Pakistani state should consider in its national security policy planning. Recent exchange of verbal threats between the United States and Iran linked with potential resumption, and additionally, a barrage of strict sanctions may unravel a situation beyond control of any singular state actor.

Iran recently confronting a glimpse of popular unrest and increasing squeezing of Iranian economy may precipitate country-wide mass protests against dire economic circumstances. President Rouhani has already been summoned by Iranian Parliament to answer questions pertaining to the state of the economy.

But a disturbing development in the Iranian case is Tehran’s signaling of closure of the Strait of Hormuz – a narrow waterway responsible for approximately 20 percent of global oil export and region’s 90 percent energy exports – at a time when regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia is beset with troubles arising in Bab-el-Mandeb strait of the coast to Yemen.

If Iranian key decision-makers are cornered by the United States, and lack of European economic relief, to make the decision of disrupting Strait of Hormuz then Pakistan, like rest of the world, would be caught in a dangerous predicament.

An Internal sectarian fault line will be accompanied by factors such as migration in-flow and delicate international relations. Arrival of such an occasion will be intractable and radically test the strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.


The last war-gaming scenario which the Pakistani national security establishment should ponder over emanates from its eastern border with India. The Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan traditionally flares up whenever Indian elections approaches. But contrary to tradition, this time situation might be more dramatic than usual.

The ideologically populist government of Narendra Modi, with seemingly mediocre performance with economy ,may seek to score electoral victory in 2019 elections by not only ratcheting up anti-Pakistan rhetoric but also acting machismo by surging violence at LoC and may even contemplate on undertaking another façade of cross-border strike to appeal to internal political constituencies. Traditionally, when economics do not give the desired results, populist governments usually inclined toward exogenous factors to shore up electoral support. India is no exception to this populist playbook.

In view of these disconcerting challenges, the national security grid of the country should undertake various political war-gaming exercises to cope appropriately if any of these occasion arises. The point of political war-gaming is not hope for the worst but to prepare the country to deal with insurmountable odds. Anticipation of such crises in the neighborhood may allow the country sufficient time and space to marshal necessary resources, should the occasion arrive in order to respond to these unpalatable circumstances.

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