India is moving towards isolating Pakistan diplomatically and is considering punitive actions against Islamabad for its alleged support to cross border terrorism, a top American defence intelligence chief has said.
"India has sought and continues to move to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and is considering punitive options to raise the cost to Islamabad for its alleged support to cross-border terrorism," Lt Gen Vincent Stewart, Director, Defence Intelligence Agency, told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats.
His statement came a day after Indian Army announced that they launched "punitive fire assaults" on Pakistani positions across the Line of Control, inflicting some damage. Sources said the strike was carried out on May 9, nine days after two Indian security personnel were beheaded by Pakistani special forces in Kashmir.
India, he said, is modernising its military to better posture itself to defend New Delhi's interests in the broader Indian Ocean region and reinforce its diplomatic and economic outreach across Asia.
Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan worsened following several terrorist attacks in India, he said.
"Continued threat of high level terror attacks in India, violence in Kashmir and bilateral diplomatic recriminations will further strain India-Pakistan ties in 2017," he said.
Following a terrorist attack on an army base in Kashmir in September, New Delhi conducted a highly-publicised operation against militants across the Line of Control, he added.
"In 2016, Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged some of the heaviest fire in years along the Line of Control in Kashmir, and each expelled a number of the other’s diplomats amid growing tension," Stewart said.
He also told lawmakers that in 2017, Islamabad is likely to slowly shift from traditional counterinsurgency operations along Pakistan's western border to more counter terrorism and paramilitary operations throughout the country, which have had some success in reducing violence from militant, sectarian, terrorist, and separatist groups.
"Anti-Pakistan groups probably will respond to this sustained pressure by focusing their efforts against soft targets," he said.
Noting that Pakistan's nuclear stockpile continues to grow, Stewart said the US is concerned that this growth, as well as an evolving doctrine and inherent security issues associated with Pakistan's developing tactical nuclear weapons, presents an enduring risk.
"Islamabad is taking steps to improve its nuclear security and is aware of the extremist threat to its program," Stewart said.
Observing that China has long identified the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity as a "core interest," he said in the South China Sea, China has embarked on a multi year, whole-of-government approach to securing sovereignty, principally through maritime law enforcement presence and military patrols.
In 2016, China rejected the international arbitration ruling on its excessive South China Sea claims, built infrastructure at its man made outposts on the Spratly Islands, and for the first time, landed civilian aircraft on its airfields at Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef.
"China will be able to use its reclaimed features as persistent civil-military bases, which will enhance its presence and its ability to control the features and nearby maritime space. Beijing recognises the need to defend these outposts and is prepared to respond to any military operations near them," he told the lawmakers.
Stewart said a key component of People's Liberation Army strategy in a regional contingency is planning for potential US intervention.
The PLA Rocket Force has given priority to developing and deploying regional ballistic and cruise missiles to expand its conventional strike capabilities against US forces and bases throughout the region.
"In addition to the Rocket Force's fielding of an anti ship ballistic missile, China is fielding an intermediate range ballistic missile capable of conducting conventional and nuclear strikes against ground targets in the Asia-Pacific region as far away as Guam," he said.
IMAGE: A video grab of Pakistani posts destroyed by the Indian Army.