US intelligence report foresees ‘current calm’ continuing in India-Pakistan relations; China threat has the ‘potential to escalate’, it warns

“The expanded military postures by both India and China along the disputed border elevate the risk of armed confrontation between two nuclear powers that might involve direct threats to US persons and interests, and calls for US intervention,” it said.

Arul Louis Mar 10, 2023
Representational Photo

A United States intelligence report dials down on the level of threat between India and Pakistan foreseeing “the current calm” in their relations continuing, even though the risk of a conflict sparked by terrorism remains.

The Annual Threat Assessment Report by the US Intelligence Community released this week in Washington said, “New Delhi and Islamabad probably are inclined to reinforce the current calm in their relationship following both sides’ renewal of a cease-fire along the Line of Control in early 2021.”

It was a departure from last year’s report that only carried a warning, which was added almost verbatim in this year’s report as a caveat, “Pakistan has a long history of supporting anti-India militant groups, and under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is more likely than in the past to respond with military force to perceived or real Pakistani provocations.”

“Each side’s perception of heightened tensions raises the risk of conflict, with violent unrest in Kashmir or a militant attack in India being potential flashpoints,” it said, adding, “Crises between India and Pakistan are of particular concern because of the risk of an escalatory cycle between two nuclear-armed states.”

Turning to India’s eastern flank, the report released issued by the Office of the Director of Nation Intelligence, which coordinates the various agencies, reiterated the risk that a heightened confrontation between India and China might directly threaten Washington and its citizens and lead to calls for intervention by it.

“The expanded military postures by both India and China along the disputed border elevate the risk of armed confrontation between two nuclear powers that might involve direct threats to US persons and interests, and calls for US intervention,” it said.

“Previous standoffs have demonstrated that persistent low-level friction on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has the potential to escalate swiftly,” it added.

“In the wake of the countries’ lethal clash in 2020, the most serious in decades,” the report said that “relations will remain strained” despite their bilateral border talks and “resolved border points.”

This assessment is virtually the same as that in last year’s report except for the mention of the talks and the resolution of the border points.

The report again did not give any details about the possible “calls for US intervention” and it remained unclear where the calls could emanate from and the nature of the intervention.

US and India do not have any military pact – something New Delhi has categorically said it will not seek – and the Quad arrangement that includes Japan and Australia has made clear that it had no defence angle despite Tokyo’s and Canberra’s pacts with Washington.

The last time that the US stepped into a conflict involving India was during the 1999 Kargil conflict when President Bill Clinton intervened diplomatically to defuse the situation by persuading Islamabad to withdraw its troops.

The US does not have similar clout with China.

The report makes China the major threat to US interests worldwide, calling it a “near-peer.”

“China has the capability to directly attempt to alter the rules-based global order in every realm and across multiple regions, as a near-peer competitor that is increasingly pushing to change global norms and potentially threatening its neighbours”, it said.

But it said that while “China’s Communist Party (CCP) will continue efforts to achieve President Xi Jinping’s vision of making China the preeminent power in East Asia and a major power on the world stage” it will also “probably will seek opportunities to reduce tensions with Washington when they believe it suits their interests.”

“Beijing is accelerating the development of key capabilities that it believes the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) needs to confront the United States in a large-scale, sustained conflict,” the report said.

The report said that “the PLA will continue to pursue the establishment of overseas military installations and access agreements in an attempt to project power and protect China’s interests abroad.” 

While continuing to develop its existing military base in Djibouti, “Beijing reportedly is pursuing potential bases in Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, and the United Arab Emirates,” it said.

The report listed South Asia among the areas where the threat to US citizens and interests from the Islamic State terror outfit known by the initials ISIS or as Da’esh “is greatest.”

On Al-Qaeda, it said that it “probably will gauge its ability to operate in Afghanistan under Taliban restrictions and will focus on maintaining its safe haven before seeking to conduct or support external operations from Afghanistan.” 

(The author is a Nonresident Fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be reached at and followed at @arulouis)

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