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  • Writer's pictureRed Line Producer

Episode 39. Pakistan's Two Front War

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When Obama left the White House he stated that the thing that kept him up at night more than anything else was the potential for Pakistan and India to stumble into an unplanned nuclear exchange. We look at Pakistan's overall geopolitical situation, and dive deep into Kashmir,



Ayesha Jalal

  • Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University

  • Author of several key books about the history and future of Pakistan

Adam Weinstein

  • Research fellow for the Quincy Institute focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan

  • Policy Associate at the National Iranian American Council

  • Researcher and Journalist for Foreign Policy

Andrew Small

  • Andrew Small is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund's Asia Program

  • Senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

  • Holds a visiting fellowship at the Australia National University Security College


Part 1: Enemies in Every Direction (02:28)

  • Ayesha Jalal takes us around the historical and present day borders and geography of Pakistan, to give us context to Pakistan's internal and external tensions, including Bandgladesh's split from it in 1971.

  • We overview Pakistan's historical foreign relations with its neighbours and the world's great powers, and trace how Pakistan became a nuclear state.

  • Ayesha also takes us through the various provinces of Pakistan and their relationships with the central government, as well as their unique characteristics and ethnic makeup.

  • Finally we analyse the strategic strengths and weaknesses of Pakistan; its reliance on the Indus river, a lack of natural geopgrahic boundaries, the constant chaos on its northern border, its ethnic groups and its relationship with the Taliban.


Part 2: New Winds, for an Old Sail (25:50)

  • The Pakistani government has unique characteristics that must be understood to appreciate how it will act. Adam Weinstein takes us back through the history, looking at the military has with the government in Islamabad, and breaks down the interests at play in government.

  • We look at why it is that this region of the world kept Obama awake at night above all else; the nuclear powered opponents of India and Pakistan are vastly closer to each other than the US and USSR were during the cold war, and the chaos of Pakistan's neighbourhood and its relationship with the Taliban should keep one on edge.

  • We look at the relationship that Islamabad and Washington have, and what each seek to have in the long term.

  • The Taliban and the Pakistani government have a long and tumultuous relationship. We track how it has changed over time, and analyse its impact in the current geopolitical climate.


Part 3: Deep Ports, and Deeper Pockets (45:48)

  • Andrew Small takes us through Pakistan's global position and relationships, particularly diving into their relationship and development with China.

  • First we look at what potential war between India and Pakistan would look like, and when the nuclear option would come into play.

  • We meet Pakistan's closest friend in geopolitics, Saudi Arabia, and break down the nature of their relationship and its nuclear implications. We also look at their tumultuous relationship and work with the United States over the past few decades.

  • Pakistan's stability and strength in the region has often been in the mutual interest of both the United States and China. We trace these relationships up to the present day, where Chinese investment and ownership in Pakistan is enormous and growing, and constitutes a large portion of both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the two halves of the Belt and Road Initiative.

  • In the Pakistani city of Gwadar the world's deepest port can be found, one which China has a 99 year lease on due to failure to repay debts. We look at the importance of the port and its place within the wider scope of Pakistani Chinese relations, and naval and maritime cooperation.

  • Finally we evaluate at the role Pakistan has to play in some of the wider issues in the area, including Afghanistan, Iran, the development of the Quad and the Belt and Road Initiative.


The Red Line's Pakistan Reading List:

We’ve put together some further reading for those of you looking for more resources to help you get across the geopolitics of Pakistan.


The China-Pakistan Axis

Andrew Small

Modern South Asia

Ayesha Jalal

The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Precarious State

Declan Walsh



For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:

This episode is dedicated to Patreon member Matthew UI.


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