The removal of Imran Khan as prime minister in April almost certainly signaled a period of political instability, with the Pentagon’s top spy master telling lawmakers that Islamabad would continue to develop new nuclear weapons systems.
“Pakistan considers nuclear weapons to be the key to its national survival because of the superiority of India’s nuclear arsenal and conventional energy,” Lt. Gen. Scott Barrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a recent congressional hearing. “Pakistan will most likely continue to modernize and expand its nuclear capabilities in 2022 through training with its deployed weapons and the development of new delivery systems,” he said.
In his testimony, he said that Shahbaz Sharif was elected as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan on April 11 after Imran Khan was removed from office in a no-confidence vote. In his first speech as prime minister, Sharif called for a resumption of US-Pakistan relations and condemned Khan’s conspiracy theories that the United States had removed him.
“Sharif will probably prioritize dealing with Pakistan’s economy and push the military back on security issues for at least the first six months of his term. Khan’s removal almost certainly marks a time of political instability when the Sharif government is in crisis and Pakistan is preparing for elections after August 2023, “he said.
Pakistan, he told lawmakers, sees instability in Afghanistan as its most important concern at the moment and will probably prioritize preventing it from spreading to Pakistan next year and beyond. Although Pakistan has not formally recognized the Taliban, Islamabad wants to maintain a positive relationship with them and is providing humanitarian assistance, international publicity and technical assistance to achieve this, Barrier said.
“Pakistan sees the Taliban as a strategic asset that is needed to protect its interests in Afghanistan. However, Islamabad’s ability to shape Taliban behavior is likely to decline as the group no longer relies on its safe haven in Pakistan, ”he said. Pakistan is at risk of being attacked by various anti-Pakistan militant groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. (TTP), ISIS, and Baloch separatists.
Pakistan’s military continues to crack down on these militant groups and is concerned about their ability to conduct small-scale and occasional high-profile attacks inside the country. He said, “Since 2020, the TTP has mobilized forces and stepped up its attacks. On November 8, 2021, the TTP agreed to a one-month ceasefire with Pakistan, but announced that it would not be extended due to Pakistan’s violation of the terms of the agreement.” The fight against deadly attacks has resumed and will probably continue, “he added.
“Islamabad’s strained relations with India will drive Pakistan’s defense policy. Pakistan’s relations with India have been strained since a high-profile anti-India militant attack in the Union Territory of Kashmir in February 2019. “New Delhi’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in August 2019 has added to the tension,” he said. However, cross-border violence has declined since February 2021, when both countries reaffirmed their commitment to a ceasefire, Barrier said. “Since then, India and Pakistan have not made significant progress towards a lasting diplomatic solution.”