By M D Nalapat
Were the brass in Beijing not so enmeshed with Rawalpindi, the Doklam road may never have been built, as it is of value only in case of an attack on India.
Since the 1950s, when Field Marshal Ayub Khan ensured that the military in Pakistan won primacy over the civilian authority, the men in khaki have evolved into a parasitic force that drains away the finances and the energy of Pakistan. It must be admitted that the army in Pakistan has shown considerable skill in finding support across the spectrum of nations. To religious absolutists in the Gulf Cooperation Council, GHQ Rawalpindi is the nuclearised spear tip of resurgent Wahhabism. To the US, it was the most effective partner in ensuring that Af-Pak gets cleansed of elements planning to attack either side of the Atlantic Ocean. To China, it has been an effective diversion, sapping the energy and attention of India, the only country in Asia with a realistic chance of matching Beijing’s success in accumulating Comprehensive National Power. To smaller members of SAARC, Pakistan is a lever that keeps those in Delhi who are prone to Big Brother attitudes, in check. Again in the case of the US, during the period when India was a “friendship treaty” ally of the USSR, the calculation in Washington was that a Pakistan military on US-provided steroids would be sufficient to weaken Delhi and finally get it to give up its nuclear and missile self-sufficiency on the premise of Islamabad doing likewise. During the Bill Clinton years in particular, US officials were unrelenting in their efforts at ensuring such a “cap, reduce and eliminate” outcome for India’s nuclear and missile systems, apart from working to ensure that Kashmir became a safe zone for Wahhabism and its practices. The Wahhabi International grew substantially in potency when Bill Clinton occupied the White House, although later, the serial follies of the George W. Bush administration only added to the problem, which finally morphed into the ISIS mutation when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. This was in an administration dominated by Clinton confidants working nominally under President Barack Obama, but actually reporting to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Both have been consistent “in deed” supporters of the Pakistan military, although “in word” their stance has often been different.
George W. Bush ensured the safety of Osama bin Laden, as well as thousands of Al Qaeda recruits during 2001-2003, thanks to the White House largely outsourcing the locating of such elements to the Pakistan army, the very agency that was sustaining them. Despite the hundreds of US troops being killed or maimed as a consequence of hostile action perpetrated by auxiliaries of the Pakistan army, only recently has there been the realisation that putting an acknowledged arsonist in charge of the Fire Department may not be the best way of ensuring that the blaze does not spread. Change was inaugurated on 20 January 2017. President Donald Trump has nominated some very capable individuals to his national security team, such as Adam Lovinger and Lisa Curtis, and hopefully others equally clued in about ground realities in the battle against extremism will follow. Unlike George W. Bush, who entrusted Pervez Musharraf with the task of eliminating the Taliban, and who instead revived it, Donald Trump publicly acknowledged in the presence of Narendra Modi the need for India to help lead the effort at ensuring stability to Afghanistan, something that had been offered in 2001 by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, but spurned by Bush-Cheney as a consequence of their trust in the Pakistani military. However, although no longer able to beguile Washington the way they have succeeded in doing for decades, the generals in Islamabad have found a new superpower sponsor, China. The Peoples Liberation Army seems in thrall to the Pakistan military to such a degree that they appear willing to risk an armed conflict with India so as to make the generals at GHQ Rawalpindi rush for the champagne bottles. Such a war would lead to a meltdown in India-China economic relations, which on present trends have the potential to cross $300 billion within five years. It would also significantly reduce the leverage of both Beijing and Delhi with Washington, which could then cherry pick among both in a manner that promotes the specific interests of the US administration. Additionally, it would create a dilemma for Moscow, which has for long been working towards close trilateral ties between Russia, China and India, and has been using SCO, BRICS and other fora to promote this objective.
In time, the PLA will realise that the Pakistan army is not a conventional force, but an army committed to global jihad. However, by then the damage to Sino-Indian relations would have been done, setting back the growth trajectories of both India as well as China. Were the brass in Beijing not so enmeshed with their counterparts in Rawalpindi, the Doklam road may never have been built, as it is of value only in case of an attack on India. The stance by the Modi government that road construction should be halted is therefore justified. However, a way out has to be found of the morass into which Sino-Indian ties appear to be sinking. The forthcoming meeting of BRICS Heads of Government in China may provide just such an opportunity. Two old friends, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping, could informally meet and discuss bilateral cooperation. Should India participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) without prejudice to issues relating to sovereignty, it may even serve to bring down tensions with Pakistan, once Indian commerce flows freely into and through that country as a consequence of India gaining full access to the China-built corridor inside Pakistan. Thanks to Prime Ministers Modi and Sheikha Hasina, a similar result has already taken place with Bangladesh. As well, a separate offshoot that links India, China and ASEAN via Myanmar could be launched. To show its good faith, China could join those countries seeking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and later an expanded UNSC, without prejudice to its stance that Japan should not be included. For decades, US-Pakistan military ties kept India and the US far apart. The same fate should not fall on relations between China and India as a consequence of the present equally grotesque alliance between a Wahhabised army and a country fighting against that same theology within its own boundaries.