Globally, 2020 is likely to be remembered as the year of COVID-19. In South Asia and around the world, governments have worked to balance large-scale lockdowns with economic strain, and massive undertakings for treatment and contact tracing in their healthcare systems. Amidst the pandemic, South Asia also witnessed an ongoing border standoff between India and China, the beginnings of the intra-Afghan dialogue process following a nearly two-decade long war, shifting dynamics in Pakistan’s relationships with the Middle East, and multiple countries across the region balancing between an increasingly competitive U.S.-China relationship.

As 2020 comes to an end, we recap some of these events by highlighting the most widely-read South Asian Voices articles over the course of the year. Here is a list of some of our most popular topics and the top articles that drew readers’ attention in 2020.

Nuclear Issues & Deterrence Dynamics

Articles analyzing nuclear issues and deterrence dynamics on the subcontinent featured prominently in SAV‘s most popular articles for the year. The top articles in this topic include:

SAV Review: The New Era of Counterforce in South Asia
by Sufian Ullah 

Sufian Ullah reviews The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Challenges and Future of Nuclear Deterrence by Keir Lieber and Darryl G. Press, and its implications for nuclear security dynamics between India and Pakistan. As Ullah argues: “Powerful states are likely to lead the technological race in this new era of counterforce. Nevertheless, these states must realize that they have a greater responsibility to show restraint and denounce strategies and capabilities that make war more likely and increase the chances of inadvertent uses of nuclear weapons.”

Pakistan’s Full Spectrum Deterrence: Trends and Trajectories
by Sannia Abdullah 

As part of the 2018 SAV series “Strategic Direction or Drift?” Sannia Abdullah examines the evolution of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and force structure and the meaning of full spectrum deterrence (FSD). Abdullah explores the key assumptions of FSD, noting: “FSD involves deterrence of all forms of aggression through a combination of conventional and strategic forces.”

India-Pakistan Dynamics After Balakot: A Different Deterrence Equation?
by Rajeswari Rajagopalan

In the SAV “Looking Back at Balakot” series, Rajeswari Rajagopalan examines escalation dynamics during the Pulwama/Balakot crisis, including the implications that conventional escalation can be taken under the nuclear umbrella as well as the new role that international actors are playing in crisis dynamics in South Asia.

Lessons Learnt from the Balakot Strikes: The View from Islamabad
by Saima Sial

Also part of the SAV Looking Back at Balakot” series, Saima Sial examines the lessons that Pakistan took from the Pulwama/Balakot crisis, arguing that the strikes affirmed Pakistan’s “need for a full-spectrum deterrence doctrine…[and] that India’s desire to pursue kinetic options against Pakistan and the latter’s resolve to respond with ‘Quid Pro Quo Plus’ could create the potential for dangerous escalation in the future.”

Maritime Competition in the Indo-Pacific

While India and China’s disputed land border drew headlines once again this year, SAV articles examining competition in the maritime sphere also featured prominently among 2020’s most popular pieces. Top articles in this issue area include:

Strengthening the Indian Chakravyuh: Optimizing India’s Strategic Advantages in the Maritime Domain
by William C. McQuilkin

In a piece republished from the Hudson Institute’s South Asia Program, Rear Admiral (retd.) William McQuilkin assesses India’s maritime strategy in the Indian Ocean Region, and strategic options for greater Maritime Domain Awareness, sea control, and power projection.

Understanding the Indo-Pacific: A Case of Two Rivalries
by Udayan Das

Udayan Das argues that along with being an oceanic region, the Indo-Pacific is also: “a political entity best understood as a case of two rivalries on either end of the region. In the Western Pacific, the rivalry is between the United States and China, and in the Indian Ocean, Sino-Indian competition shapes strategic calculations. These distinct rivalries—and the emerging interactions between them—are likely to decide the geopolitics of the region.”

Geopolitics of Indian Ocean Islands in 2019: Takeaways for Traditional Powers
by Darshana M. Baruah

Darshana M. Baruah examines the role of island nations in shaping the security architecture of the Indo-Pacific. She notes that traditional powers have increasingly highlighted the strategic values of islands in the Indo-Pacific while “island nations have been vocal in highlighting their priorities and challenges, pushing back against traditional players and actors in the region to carve out their national and strategic interests.”

Sino-Indian Maritime Competition: Shadow Fighting in the Indian Ocean
by Tuneer Mukherjee 

As part of SAV‘s series “India-China: 70 Years of Diplomatic Relations,” Tuneer Mukherjee examines the two countries’ increasing competition in the Indian Ocean Region and assesses their respective naval capabilities.

China-Pakistan Relations

2020 was an eventful year in China-South Asia relations, from the standoff on the Sino-Indian border to the impact of increasing U.S.-China competition on the region, and SAV articles analyzing the China-Pakistan relationship drew a wide readership. Among the top articles in this topic were:

The U.S. Response to China-Pakistan Ties: A View from Islamabad
by Muhammad Faisal

Muhammad Faisal reviews South Asia analyst Daniel Markey’s policy memo on recommendations for the U.S. approach to China’s relationship with Pakistan. Both noting that while Pakistan would be reluctant to take sides in an increasingly competitive U.S.-China relationship, a U.S. policy that is narrowly focused on criticizing the Pakistan-China economic relationship and CPEC risks overlooking necessary areas of cooperation on issues like South Asia crisis management and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. As Faisal emphasizes, while CPEC is a component is Pakistan-China relationship, bilateral ties have increasingly hinged on additional areas of strategic convergence.

An Insight into Pakistan’s Views on Sino-Indian Relations
by Riaz Khokhar

As part of the SAV series on the 70th anniversary of India-China diplomatic relations, Riaz Khokhar revisits the history of Pakistan’s perspective on Sino-Indian ties, as well as current perceptions of the border standoff in Ladakh.

Gilgit-Baltistan: China’s Golden Opportunity
by Hamna Tariq

In light of proposals to grant Gilgit-Baltistan provisional status, Hamna Tariq examines China’s role and CPEC projects in the region noting that “it is high time this regional border crisis is humanized and centered around the needs of Gilgit-Baltistanis.”

China-Pakistan Nuclear Energy Cooperation: History and Key Debates
by Asma Khalid

Asma Khalid explains China-Pakistan nuclear energy cooperation, and revisits the history of the relationship, its role in Pakistan’s power supply, key debates surrounding nuclear power agreements, and the potential future of the relationship.

Foreign Policy and India-Pakistan Bilateral Relations

Finally, SAV‘s analysis of India and Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities and their bilateral relationship was also widely-read among SAV‘s readers. Top articles in this area included:

Dr. C Raja Mohan on Multialignment in Indian Foreign Policy, Afghanistan, and More
by SAV Editorial Team

In this SAV  Q&A from March 2020, Dr. C Raja Mohan discusses India’s foreign policy, strategic relations with China and the United States, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the impacts of India’s domestic politics on its international relations.

Exploring the Impulses in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy
by Farhan Hanif Siddiqi 

In this article, Farhan Hanif Siddiqi explores the evolution of Pakistan’s foreign policy since independence. He argues: “Pakistan’s foreign policy can be understood with respect to three impulses: the normative, statist, and structural…[and that] these three imperatives provide insight into Pakistan’s two key foreign policy goals: achieving economic redemption and regulating traditional security.”

The Kartarpur Corridor and its Impact on Indo-Pak Relations
by Rushali Saha

In light of the November 2019 inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor, Rushali Saha explains the history and significance of the corridor and its potential implications for India-Pakistan relations in the years ahead.


Image 1: Jack Zallium via Flickr

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