Pakistani Perspective on AI, Indian Elections, and Mitigating Technological Risks

by Zohaib Altaf

The rapidly evolving landscape of global security, characterized by the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber defense into military strategies, is transforming the nature of warfare. At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, Lieutenant General Ahsan Gulrez of Pakistan articulated the complexities and implications of AI in military applications, emphasizing the challenges surrounding sovereignty in the cyber domain. Pakistani policymakers, recognizing these ambiguities, are pushing for a rule-based international order to mitigate the risks of cyber conflicts escalating into full-scale wars. With India soon to be free from elections, the time is ripe for both nations to consider the technological risks and opportunities for cooperation.

The ambiguity surrounding what constitutes an act of war in the cyber domain presents a significant strategic dilemma. A cyberattack on critical infrastructure could have catastrophic implications, but the response to such an attack remains uncertain in the absence of a universally accepted framework. By initiating dialogues and mutual understandings, Pakistan and India can work towards developing a common framework to handle such issues, reducing the risks of misinterpretations and unintended escalations. This cooperative approach can set a precedent for managing cyber threats in a way that preserves regional stability.

Moreover, transparency and data sharing between nations and commercial providers are crucial for a robust cyber defense strategy. Enhanced cooperation can help analyze threats more dynamically and provide a clearer understanding of the cyber threat landscape. Establishing robust partnerships with global tech firms and other nations can improve cyber defense capabilities. For Pakistan and India, creating joint platforms for data sharing and transparency would enable them to address shared threats while maintaining their respective security. This mutual transparency could be the foundation for trust-building measures, essential for long-term regional peace.

Equally important are the ethical implications of AI-based weapon systems, a significant concern in military applications. Autonomous systems capable of making decisions without human intervention raise moral and legal questions. These systems lack an ethical compass and must be governed by a regulatory framework. International legal standards that ensure AI systems are used responsibly must be advocated, including preventing the use of AI for unlawful killings and ensuring compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Collaborative efforts by Pakistan and India to push for such international standards can enhance regional security and establish a joint front in advocating for global norms.

India’s development in AI technology has been robust and strategic. The formation of the Artificial Intelligence Military Council in 2022, with a USD $12 million annual budget for the Defense AI Project Agency (DAIPA), exemplifies India’s commitment to advancing its AI capabilities. The Indian Navy developed 30 maritime AI projects in 2022, and DAIPA expects to develop 25 more AI military products by end of this year. This strategic investment in AI has significantly improved the synergy between India’s nuclear and conventional arsenals, with AI-driven technology, such as swarm drones, enhancing real-time decision-making and situational awareness.

In contrast, Pakistan’s AI military spending remains minimal, with technologies not indigenously produced. However, recent developments indicate a shift in priorities. In 2018, Pakistan allocated USD $1.67 million to the National Center of Robotics and Automation for three AI projects. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) established the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC) in August 2020, focusing on big data, machine learning, deep learning, predictive analytics, and natural language processing. Moreover, in 2022, the Pakistan Army formed the Army Centre of Emerging Technologies within the Cyber Command to intensively research AI’s role in cybersecurity. These initiatives aim to use AI and Machine Learning to enhance decision-making across Pakistan’s military and civilian sectors.

Given these developments, the precise targeting capabilities afforded by AI heighten the risk of nuclear escalation during crises. AI’s rapid data processing can accelerate decision-making in high-stress scenarios, increasing the likelihood of hasty decisions based on limited information. This is particularly concerning for Pakistan, given its close geographical proximity to India and compact size. The presence of Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS) along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan introduces additional risks. AWS misinterpreting military activities could quickly escalate to a nuclear crisis. Cybersecurity is also a critical risk factor, as AWS are vulnerable to hacking, heightening the unpredictability of conflicts. Compromised AWS could inadvertently trigger military actions, complicating crisis management and potentially sparking a technological arms race in the region.

Furthermore, after elections in India and the formation of a new government present a unique opportunity for both nations to find a middle ground on managing the risks associated with AI and cyber technologies. The transition to a new government could initiate talks with Pakistan, creating a conducive environment for technological cooperation and risk mitigation. This period of political change is a critical window for establishing confidence-building measures (CBMs) specific to AI and cyber capabilities. Such measures could include agreements on the non-deployment of autonomous weapons, the establishment of hotlines for crisis communication, and mutual transparency measures to prevent misunderstandings.

In addition, proactive engagement from both sides can lead to a more secure and stable South Asia. The new Indian government could seize this opportunity to collaborate with Pakistan, addressing mutual concerns about AI and cyber risks. This collaboration could foster a spirit of cooperation, moving beyond traditional rivalries to tackle the shared challenges posed by emerging technologies.

The path forward requires both nations to embrace cooperation, transparency, and a shared commitment to developing a secure and stable region amidst emerging technological challenges. The complexities of AI and cyber warfare demand innovative solutions and robust international cooperation. Finding common ground and establishing mechanisms to manage these emerging threats will be crucial in maintaining strategic stability in South Asia. Through collaborative efforts and mutual understanding, India and Pakistan can navigate the challenges posed by AI and cyber technologies, ensuring a peaceful and secure future for the region.

Ultimately, the successful management of AI and cyber risks will depend on the willingness of both nations to engage in meaningful dialogue and cooperation. The establishment of a rule-based international order, robust data-sharing mechanisms, and ethical standards for AI use are essential steps toward achieving this goal. As the political landscape in India shifts, there is an opportunity for renewed efforts to address these issues collaboratively, paving the way for a more stable and secure South Asia.


Writer is Research Officer at Center for International Strategic Studies AJK

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir