The Zero-Sum Game: An Analysis of India-Pakistan Rivalry in the South Caucasus

Document Type : Research Paper


Associate Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran



This article is based on the premise that the South Caucasus has often been the scene of competition between regional and extra-regional powers. In the distant past, this rivalry was predominantly limited to three major powers: the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire and the Russian Empire. After a period of near-total Soviet rule over this region, other contenders (e.g., China, Europe and the United States) were provided with opportunities to get actively involved in the region in the aftermath of the USSR collapse. At the same time, Iran and Turkey also decided to enter the regional competition to benefit from the power void. The military conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan which occurred soon after the Soviet government fell, gradually enabled some new rival players (e.g., India and Pakistan) to gain a foothold in the South Caucasus. The main reasons for the involvement of the great powers and the other extra-regional players in the South Caucasus are diverse, ranging from mainly economic ones (as in the case of China) to predominantly political ones (as in the case of Iran, Turkey, the U.S. and Russia). Of course, they are all interested in the economic potential of establishing closer trade and investment ties with the regional states.
The primary research question is as follows: Why have India and Pakistan been intervening in the conflict zones in the South Caucasus which is located at a distance from their own territories? In the hypothesis, it is argued that the decisions of Pakistan and India to get involved in the inter-state conflicts of the South Caucasus is a reflection of the protracted conflict between these two countries over Kashmir. The two South Asian rivals appeared on the scene after the war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and resulted in Pakistan's decision to send military forces and weapons to help the war efforts of Azerbaijan. This in turn led to India’s deep concerns about Islamabad’s adventurous moves to improve its power and influence  abroad. The  victory of Azerbaijan in the war increased  New Delhi’s worry because the victory of Azerbaijan meant the victory of foreign policies of Pakistan and Turkey, which had unfavorable relations with India. This matter was important from the point of view that the adventures of Islamabad and Ankara were not limited to the South Caucasus, and might have been extended to Central Asia and from there to South Asia. The main concern of India’s foreign policymakers was about the expansion of Pakistan’s power and influence among the regional states that might then take side with Pakistan in its Kashmir conflict with New Delhi. Furthermore, the geostrategic location of the South Caucasus has been deemed important as a suitable corridor for creating a north-south transport corridor to connect India to Russia and Europe through Central Asia and Iran. The region has the potential to meet some of India's raw material and energy needs, including oil and gas.
Utilizing the method of qualitative thematic analysis for hypothesis-testing, the findings revealed that the rules of a zero-sum game overshadow the bilateral relations of the countries that are engaged in a protracted conflict over their vital national interest. Pakistan's support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia was aimed at expanding its influence in a strategic region in the hope of ultimately strengthen its position vis-à-vis India in the Kashmir conflict situation. Not surprisingly, India has acted in a reactionary manner to neutralize Pakistan's foreign policy initiatives by taking side with Armenia.


Main Subjects

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