Pakistan's Premier Multilingual News Agency

Emerging Technologies and their Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia

Islamabad, 13 March 2020 (GNP): “We live in a world where knowledge has become the key driver of socio-economic development. Those countries that have realised that their real wealth lies in their children through education, science and innovation, through unleashing the creative potential that lies within are the ones marching forward, leaving others behind.” This was stated by Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, the chief guest in his keynote address at the seminar organised by the Arms Control & Disarmament Centre (ACDC) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) today.

While he touched upon the military applications of emerging technologies, the thrust of his address was on its vast non-military applications. He emphasised the need to develop a knowledge economy for a country like Pakistan that lags behind in technological developments. This essentially means the need to educate the coming generations to bring Pakistan up to speed with the technological race. To do so, he said, that three task forces had been created in the present government, which are working on projects worth Rs 132 billion. He talked about the power of technological advancement in such diverse fields as taxation, agriculture, textiles, medicine, law, water resource management and military. Dr. Rahman elucidated on some of the fascinating developments taking place in materials engineering with military applications – including the development of bulletproof material, invisible cloaking technology, stealth mosquitoes and flies and 3D printing.  There is, he said, a tremendous potential for socio-economic development utilising emerging technologies that Pakistan must tap into.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, welcomed the esteemed chief guest, experts from official departments, think-tanks and academia at the seminar. He said that the 21st century is characterised by the collapse of arms control regimes and a renewed emphasis on unilateralism, news arms races and pursuit of new technologies. Developments in emerging technologies are so rapid that international rulemaking to regulate them is not keeping up pace with it. India is also investing in modern technologies and assuming an increasingly aggressive posture. Pakistan, thus, needs to understand and make wise policy choices for maintaining strategic stability.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Malik Qasim Mustafa, Director ACDC-ISSI, said that states are increasingly investing in emerging technologies. India is also pursuing a military modernisation programme and is conducting research and pursuing modern technologies to achieve military superiority that will affect the nature of war and strategic stability. Pakistan needs to understand changes heralded by emerging technologies and assess its policy options.

Major General Ausaf Ali (Retd), Advisor, Strategic Plans Division, who chaired the working session of the seminar said that emerging technologies will revolutionise offensive and defensive arenas of warfare. It will give the technologically superior state an edge in the conduct of war. It has immense potential to disturb nuclear deterrence in the region and steps need to be taken to counter instability.

Dr. Adil Sultan, Director, Nuclear and Strategic Current Affairs at Center for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), talked about the impact of military technologies on force postures in South Asia. He said that technologies like ballistic missile defence, S-400 systems, hypersonic glide missile systems and Anti-Satellite weapons that India has been pursuing have an impact on force postures and deterrence stability in South Asia. He said that these new technologies are also emboldening India to pursue counterforce posture against Pakistan and increased tendency towards surgical strikes like the one in Balakot in February 2019.  He said that technology, thus, plays an important role in shaping military postures. The Indian technological advancement has put compulsion on Pakistan to take measure to maintain the integrity of deterrence and strategic stability.

Mr. Husham Ahmed Cheema, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, enlightened the audience about artificial intelligence, cyberspace and ICT and the future of security in South Asia. He said that while the technology itself is not bad, but the potential for its misuse is immense, which is problematic. He said that this is where the future discussion needs to be focused. He emphasised that out of all the emerging technologies cyberspace is where there is the most potential for disruption and destruction. Also, autonomy in weapons system was an issue of concern. He said that whether machines decide who to kill or not constitutes a huge moral issue that needs to be discussed at international fora. Taking the human out of the loop would have immense implications for the law of armed conflict. It would lower the threshold of conflict.

Ms. Aamna Rafiq, Research Associate ACDC-ISSI, gave a briefing on understanding emerging technologies. She highlighted the immense military applications of emerging technologies. It includes impact on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, missile interception, submarine detection, innovations in biological and chemical weapons and 3D printing for military applications.

While concluding the discussion, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG ISSI, talked about the destabilising effects of emerging technologies. He said the erosion of the role of the human being as a result of emerging technologies in the conduct of the war was disturbing. He also expressed concern over the erosion of the body of international law relating to war. He said that either existing international law needed to be improved on or new law devised to regulate the change brought about by new technologies in the realm of warfare.  (GNP)