India, Pakistan Missile Launches: Game Changers or Mere Posturing?

This post is part of our special coverage International Relations & Security.

On April 19, 2012, India successfully test-fired its Agni V inter-continental ballistic missile (IBCM). With a range of over 5,000 kilometres, the Agni V places India’s missile capabilities increasingly in line with the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China. The following week, neighboring Pakistan successfully test-launched its nuclear capable ballistic missile, the Shaheen 1-A.

These back-to-back missile tests received widespread coverage and comment on mainstream and social media outlets. In particular, netizens have been engaging in lively online discussions regarding the escalating arms race in South Asia and its impact on the overall security of the region.

While many netizens across India and Pakistan, fuelled with nationalistic fervor, engaged in hyperbole regarding the respective missile launches, there has been some strong criticism in the Pakistani blogosphere regarding the United States’ response to India's missile launch. Labeling it as “double standards”, Yasmeen Ali, a university professor based in Lahore, wrote on Pakpotpourri2's blog:

The Agni V missile being launched off the coast of Odhisa, India, on 19th April, 2022. Image courtesy Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)

The Agni V missile being launched off the coast of Odhisa, India, on 19th April, 2022. Image courtesy Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)

The need here is to support a country within the region to act, or seem to act as a deterrent to China. Obvious choice: India.What USA had completely overlooked in this game of regional hegemony is when you let the genie out of the bottle, it will refuse to go back in the bottle. It can one day, turn upon the master, once his heart’s desire of being let out is fulfilled.

However, a section of netizens felt that these missile tests were not going to escalate security tensions among India, China and Pakistan. On his blog Chaturanga, Jaideep Prabhu pointed out that India's policy was to acquire a ‘minimum credible deterrent’ and not to escalate an arms race, as was being loosely discussed in a section of the media.

He commented:

The launch of the China-specific Agni V has generated much talk about an arms race between China and India, and consequently, India and Pakistan. The Chinese media (and hence the government) has taken exception to this, reacting sharply to the test and labeling it as India’s missile delusion…But unless India has abandoned its old policy of MUD (Mutually Unacceptable Damage), analysts and Beijing have jumped the gun.

On the blog Rolan San Juan, Rajesh Basrur, a Senior Fellow and the Coordinator of the South Asia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), argued that the Agni-V launch was “inconsequential” in that it would not change India's “deterrence game vis-à-vis China.

In his post on The Christian Science Monitor, Scott Baldauf referred to the chain of events as ‘ritual aggression’ between India and Pakistan, a posturing more out of habit than actual security concerns, especially given that the two countries were currently trying to develop closer ties.

He wrote:

These tests follow an extraordinary set of meetings between the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi earlier this month, in which the two nations pledged to increase trade ties and to fight against extremism. While these missile tests might have seemed to be a setback in earlier times, they have now become a kind of theater of virility, separate from any political discourse.

There were hardly any major security concerns expressed in the social media of neighbors such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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