Long back, when the erstwhile Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan, the US was worried that Pakistan could be rolled over next and join hands with India. The US would then lose not only its base but the region also; having lost Iran and being inimical to India. In 1979, the Carter administration panicked. It offered a $400 million military and economic package, to beef up Pakistani defences. Zia-ul-Haq famously turned down the offer as ‘peanuts’. Later, the Reagan administration gave in. It parted with about $3 billion in economic assistance and $2 billion in military aid. It also gave $3 billion to Afghan jihadis. These funds were funnelled through the ‘sticky hands’ of the ISI. This tee-d off the signature Pakistani strategic behavior where ‘it negotiates with the world by holding the gun to its own head: Give me what I want, or I will blow my brains out. You then handle the mess’. A combination of nuclear Poker and Russian Roulette. It also learnt to divert funds to arm itself against India, build nuclear weapons and start its military business empire. The third trend line was to hunt with the hound and run with the hare through its Military Jihadi Complex ably created by the very funds given by a naive US to fight the jihadis. Zia invented the process and Pervez Musharraf fine-tuned it later. Now they distribute PhDs on this subject.
Through all these years their whisky drinking generals, their ranting mullahs and greedy befuddled politicians consistently blackmailed the world through imaginatively crafted and horrific doomsday scenarios. ‘We are also the victims of terror . If you do not help us, our nukes will fall into the hands of terrorists who will blow the world apart’. ’If you do not stop India from attacking us, we have no option but to use our nuclear weapons and cause a holocaust’. To India–‘if you attempt to destroy terrorist camps or attack us we will use nukes’. Periodically, they reminded us about their deadly capability through ghastly demonstrations. Bringing down the Twin Towers, an attack on the iconic Taj, the shoe bomber and more were just some public examples. Everyone succumbed to Pakistani blackmail with a gun to its head. Money and patronage kept flowing. As the flow increased so did the businesses of their Generals and the arsenal of their terrorists while emptying the coffers of the state. This process was interrupted only twice. Once when the USSR collapsed up to the time Twin Towers were brought down. Secondly, when their nuclear bluff was called after the cross LOC surgical strikes (2016) and Balakot air strikes (2019). The US finally stopped serenading Pakistan. President Trump along with FATF pulled the financial plug. Pakistan promptly rolled into the waiting embrace of the Chinese while going down the path of impoverishment. Ever since then only one item of Pakistani exports has gone up—Pakistani brides for ‘Horny Hans’.
With the new administration in place in the US, an article titled ‘Pakistan Could Make or Break America’s South Asia and China Strategies’ appears in National Interest… The US needs to pay more attention to how Pakistan has become virtually the sole strategic partner of China in Asia. Pakistan is not only serving China’s interests in South Asia but also enabling it to side step the US-India Pacific Strategy. US policy on Pakistan, created a vacuum happily filled in by China. The USA seriously needs to rethink its Pakistan policy. China’s greater involvement in Pakistan may advance US’ own interests as long as it also remains engaged. In sum, Washington’s Pakistan policy should reflect a South Asia strategy that balances US geopolitical competition with China, regional interests, and bilateral relations because all are interlinked. How does it sound?
Very simply, Pakistan is back with a gun to its head. It is clearly telling the US that unless you play my game I spoil your Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific and India-US strategies from China’s lap. Implicit in this is the hidden joker: The nuclear wild card; which will be released through its terror minions. Who are the terror minions? ISIS, which is the latest threat to radical Islam in Pakistan but operating in conjunction with the Afghan Taliban which has links with the TTP and is supposedly sponsored by India but actually listens to ISI. My My! The pious leaders of LeT and JeM are supposedly jailed, and Daniel Pearl›s killers are set free in this land of the pure! Pakistan is a victim of terror as much as Brutus was a nobleman in Mark Antony’s speech. Pakistan’s next demand–taking it off the FATF grey list and IMF compensation for its suffering! Other demands later.
What will Pakistan tell China? The US and India are bearing down on us. See the pressure we are under. You want to be a superpower and want an alternative to Malacca? Don’t you want access to the mineral wealth of Afghanistan? Don’t you want our silence on your atrocities on brother Muslims in Xinjian? Do you want Uyghur terrorism to commence? ‘All weather’ means all this. Enable us by giving more military ware. Convert our loans into aid. The Chinese will also have no option soon. They will also learn as the US did. What did General Mattis say? …something about… the most dangerous place on earth?… Hmm.
Of course to India the standard line will be …attack us and we will use the nuclear option. Oh yeah! We have heard it all. We heard their prime minister promising the world a nuclear holocaust during his crisp half a day waffle at the UN. Spare us you buffoons.
Should we buy into this? Of course not! What should we do? First, we should have a frank talk with the US. We should decide if we are strategic partners or not. It cannot be that for one purpose we are and for another we are not. The Indo Pacific includes Pakistan and China does it not? We must gently remind the US what its own commentators say. Seven decades back, the US became Pakistan’s benefactor and poured billions of dollars into its economy, military and intelligence services. It hoped for an ally—reliable, modern and democratic. The country it spurned was India. The irony is that India became what the US wanted Pakistan to be. Pakistan became what USA dreaded—a toxic, radical Islamist ‘militrocracy’ which sponsors terrorism with support from a repressive, revisionist communist autocracy. The ‘militrocacy’ developed nuclear fangs when the US winked willingly. Those nuclear fangs will bite the US if not defanged. I hope the US does not make poor choices once again. If it does it might as well shoot itself in the head rather than Pakistan shooting itself in the head.
If that is not to happen we should have an India-US strategy for this region respecting each other’s interests, capabilities and constraints. While there are many devious options available to upset the Pakistani apple cart, I will highlight only a few. At the outset, if Pakistan puts a gun to its head again, we must load it with bullets and press the trigger. If that is made clear, it will stop throwing tantrums. Next. The best Pakistan is one which keeps looking inwards. It will then stop meddling in Afghanistan, Iran and India. Also the better Pakistan is one which becomes China’s Afghanistan. How can that be achieved? Turn the screw on the joint Sino-Pak mega inter-test—CPEC. The CPEC is the vulnerable third front of Pakistan. It is an open wound which needs some salt to be rubbed into. The common man of Pakistan does not benefit from it. The local businessmen are being kept out by the Chinese. The infrastructure is of no use. The Baluchis, Sindhis, Baltis, Gilgitis are up against arms. There is all round corruption. Fertile ground for disruption. China cannot leave. Pakistan cannot swallow it. Focused action on CPEC will be very good. I am sure the US knows how to do the needful.
Complement this with targeting the military business empires and the riches of Pakistani Generals. An expose like the Panama papers is in order. With the developments in the Gulf, all properties of the Pakistani elite can be appropriately dealt with. Also their tawny flats, pizza joints and niche carpet and antique dealerships in the UK and the US are adequate collateral for good behaviour. Look I am only pointing a finger. Finer details can be worked out. Very soon the Pakistanis are going to get into their Narco business which flourished in the 1990s. As it is drugs are flowing into Punjab from Pakistan. Breaking this ring will go a long way. Durand line politics is a good antidote. We just have to kindle the embers.
No vaccines. No oil. No money. Pakistan realises where they are heading. That is why their COAS has started talking with an olive branch. Desperate times? We should not swallow the bait. Let them stew in their own juices. In one sense it will be good if Pakistan shoots itself in the head. It will contribute to cooling the environment, reversing climate change and would help by making others also look inwards.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read onwww.gunnersshot.com.