Spearhead Analysis – 20.01.2017
China and Pakistan fully comprehend the enormous strategic significance of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor). So do Russia, the EU, the Central Asian states, Iran and Turkey. The recent revelation by US Pacific Command that the US and India are jointly carrying out surveillance of Chinese naval movements is an indication of what the CPEC is up against because Gwadar port gives China and landlocked Central Asia an alternative to the sea routes that could be choked and where the US and India are acting in concert. The magnitude of CPEC within China’s OBOR (One Belt One Road project) and its feasibility ahead of all other initiatives makes it a strategic game changer for Pakistan. It is in this context that the treats to Pakistan’s stability and Pakistan’s steps to secure its internal environment need to be seen.
A cartoon in a newspaper said it all. It showed a venom-spouting Indian Prime Minister sounding off and an Afghan President sitting at his feet diligently taking notes. Absent was a smiling Super Power in the background! The Indian Prime Minister has threatened Pakistan with Indian engineered destabilization and international isolation as well as choking off the water that it is entitled to under the World Bank brokered Indus Waters Treaty. More recently he called Pakistan a terrorist sponsoring state at the BRICS meeting– not for the first time. Even more recently a former Indian Army Chief who is venturing into politics spoke of hitting Pakistan deep in its urban areas using sponsored in-country assets. The current Indian Army Chief has come out in favor of the so called ‘Cold Start Strategy’ that aims at sudden military strikes against Pakistan if India unilaterally determines that a non state actor terrorist act is from Pakistani soil. This is probably a step up from the much trashed ‘surgical strikes’ after the attack on its Uri base. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff has called the Afghan President twice—once after the three deadly Taliban attacks — to offer joint cooperation on border management and intelligence sharing. The Afghan President has responded by blaming Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to those who carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
Under the circumstances can Pakistan think of giving up any of the capacities that can deter India? After all if India openly threatens to use in-country and Afghanistan based assets to attack Pakistan then it has to have plausible similar hit-back capability to deter such actions against it. Pakistan has already taken steps to inflict significant punishment to any sudden aggression from India—and India as the larger country knows what a failed venture against Pakistan would mean—in fact even partial success at prohibitive cost would be a failure and anything that triggers escalation up the nuclear response ladder would be catastrophic considering the strides being made on both sides in the nuclear weapons and delivery fields. The thinking that the threats from India are a political ploy for the upcoming elections or that the former chief with political ambitions is trying to muster support may well be true but Pakistan cannot act on such assumptions in the absence of any dialogue and a constant ratcheting up of tension on the LOC by India as well as the atrocities being committed by Indian security forces against the Kashmiris In Indian Held Kashmir. Nor can the Afghan President’s perceptions be dismissed as Indian inspired (even if true) or to obfuscate the rapid decline of Afghanistan and the steady rise of the Taliban. Afghanistan right now harbors a multitude of terrorist and anti Pakistan elements within its territory.
Pakistan has offered India a discussion on bilateral strategic restraint that could even address India’s concerns on China. Pakistan has offered India comprehensive dialogue to discuss all issues. Experienced voices within India are asking for a review of policies towards Kashmir and Pakistan. Pakistan has offered India a structured joint investigation mechanism to deter mine responsibility for terrorist attacks. Pakistan has offered Afghanistan dialogue, joint border management and intelligence sharing. So far there has been no reciprocity to these offers and the reason has to be the frantic urge to impede the CPEC at all costs—possibly with support from other quarters also.
Pakistan has to factor in all these considerations, threats and challenges. It needs to decide what is in its long term interest and then act to change the negative perceptions that exist and are being exploited by others. The optics of expedient politically motivated time serving actions need to be carefully evaluated if Pakistan wants to change its international image. The Pakistan military has beaten back the threats to internal stability and the country is poised to make economic progress therefore all the elements of national power—military, judicial, political, media, psycho social, economic—have to understand the stakes and act with full realization of the consequences of their actions. In a speech in Karachi the COAS has offered full support by the military. There has to be visible, discernible change.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)