02 July, 2010

Sun, Clear Sky and Cold Weather : The Indo-Pak-China Triangle

Published in Uday India, pp 21-23, Vol.1 No. 32, July 24 2010.


Abstract: The Indian Military has evolved a new doctrine of Cold Start, having Pakistan at the focal point. Fresh research indicates that Pakistan’s ISI is not only colluding with but basically pumping the Afghan insurgents. Pakistan defends itself by citing the Indian Threat. In the midst of this Indo-Pak Hate cycle, will the People’s Republic of China steal the show?

At times, one may draw strange correlations. Rays of the Sun represent beaming energy. They are rejuvenating and invigorating. How can they give rise to a cold climate?

This June, Matt Waldman of the Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government) has come out with a discussion paper on the Taliban-ISI nexus. He is obviously not in any manner a pioneer in this regard to have weaved a connection between Pakistan’s intelligence agency and the theocrat-jihadists. Leaving apart scholars, more or less anybody minimally concerned about South Asian Politics appreciate the fact that the ISI is in some way or the other linked with the jihadi agenda in the region. However, Waldman stresses on two aspects which make his paper stand apart and force attention.

He quotes Taliban commanders as saying: “the role of the ISI is as clear as the sun in the sky”. Waldman continues to assert in his findings that the ISI is strongly backed by the Pakistani Civilian government in fomenting the Afghan insurgency. He opines that the ISI may not be ‘actually controlling’ the insurgency in Afghanistan but they have their ‘physical’ presence even in the decision-making Shuras. The civilian-military combination of Pakistan seems to be playing a ‘double-game’ with the Americans and hence is backstabbing their ‘global war on terror’.

The paper appears to carry a veiled threat to the democratic government of Pakistan.

Nonetheless, about one thing the author is unanimous with even the by now ‘infamously leaked’ McChrystal Report that Pakistan is basically into this act of duplicity because of the ‘existential threat’ from its ‘childhood enemy’ India. The now sacked McChrystal had echoed this finding in his sixty-six page report under the section on ‘External Influences’.

Whether the Pakistani government and the ISI are really playing Judas or are sabotaging the ‘war on terror’ is definitely a matter of scholarly debate and discourse but is in no way a matter of profound concern to the common man in South Asia. Nevertheless, if Waldman’s thesis, minus his hyperbole is indeed the scenario, then it defies logic that a ‘nuclear capable’ Pakistan still has to rely on mercenaries and a neighbouring territory to thwart India’s designs.

Doesn’t it seem quite improbable to even a semi-literate subaltern in the streets of Lahore to conjure up the fact of an existential threat from across the eastern side of the Indus? Or may be his psyche has been thoroughly programmed over decades by the military regimes of his fatherland?

Or is it that the very existence of the civilian-military regimes of Pakistan depends on the Indo-Pak Hate cycle?

Though New Delhi has had a more or less stable democracy since its inception as a modern multicultural nation-state, it simply could not come out of the yoke of the ‘perceived’ Pakistani terror. With time, that ominous factor turned out to be a national obsession. One political dispensation after another kept on fuelling that psychoneurosis, even if price per barrel of oil kept on skyrocketing.

Regimes in both the countries can offer some explanation though. It can be either the Kargil War (1999) for the Indian side or the Bangladesh War (1971) for the Pakistanis. It can be the ‘core’ Kashmir issue for the Pakistani side or the ‘exportation of terrorism’ for the Indians. And if both dig history, they can surely come to defend themselves with a plethora of data mutually antagonistic to each other.

In Bharat, the military is accorded a peripheral status though used as a ‘scavenger’ in filthiest of quagmires; be it 26/11 or the North-East or external invasions. Hence it was natural that it was the military which had to construct a new war path to tackle the Pakistani paranoia. And India’s response has been technically termed as ‘Cold Start’.

According to this doctrine, the bulky armoured divisions and brigades are envisaged to be re-located to the forward positions of the Barmer-Jaisalmer-Bikaner-Suratgarh arc. The aim is to have a strike capability against Pakistan in ‘blitzkrieg’ fashion without awakening Pakistan’s nuclear capability. This appears to be an asymmetric post cold war version of the Schlieffen-Moltke plan of the First World War.

The scars of the Bangladesh War run deep in the minds of the Pakistani regime. Hence, even in the midst of the battle in Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the military could organise its biggest mobilization along the eastern border, contiguous with the Indian provinces of Rajasthan and Punjab. On the other side, the Indians ‘responded coldly’ with their new military doctrine.

What this author fails to assimilate is the ‘obsession’ on the part of both the countries regarding each other. Pakistan supposedly has many problems to be really anxious about. The insurgency and Talibanisation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the Quetta Shura Taliban and the sectarian clashes involving Shia-Sunni and Ahmadis are enough to keep it busy; economic woes notwithstanding.

India’s concerns, rather ‘over concerns’ regarding a conventional war with Pakistan are baffling, if not ludicrous. If after six decades of nationhood, she is still unsure to score a decisive military victory on ground and in air over her ‘conjoined twin’, then the budgetary allocations with respect to defence procurements may be done away with.

China is ogling at the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It is pumping in resources and finances to build the ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka and also infiltrating in the Coco Islands of Myanmar. The aim is plain and simple: encircle India. Thus, the INS Karwar (Project Seabird) just below Goa has its job cut out. The Prithvis and Agnis must be ‘ready for impact’ and not just warming the Bay of Bengal region near Balasore.

The geopolitics of South Asia has already been heavily perturbed due to the Indo-Pak Hate cycle. But that ought to be a relic of the past now. Geographically speaking, China is progressively coming downwards. Nepal is no longer a stable ‘buffer state’ for India. Pakistan-China bonhomie (the nuclear reactor supply was the recent most addition) is definitely itching the largest democracy on earth. The External Affairs Ministry may keep on uttering that ‘there is enough space for both India and China to grow’ but the very fact remains that two swords cannot lie in a single scabbard. One has to grow at the expense of the other. It can be economic subjugation or military or technological or cultural or even ideological. In Europe, France and England could never co-exist peacefully for ages. Britain’s reluctance, even today after two devastating world wars, to be a part of the common currency regime bears testimony to the fact.

However, anti-theses abound. French-English animosity was of the days of Imperialism, when nation-states were concerned in expanding and preserving their colonies. In the post-colonial era, in the period of the WTO and laissez faire capitalism, in the age of the nuclear war, direct military confrontation is out of question.

But should we neglect Kwame Nkrumah’s proclamation of the age of ‘neo-imperialism’; colonization on the basis of economic subjugation? To add onto it, if we collate the policy of dumping and currency manipulation, the Chinese dragon appears as an inflated creature.

It turns out to be a struggle for the existence of two groups of one billion people each. It is a competition between Olympics and Commonwealth. It is a fight between hardware and software. It is a fisticuff between Mandarin and Hindi.

Hence, if there has to be a ‘Cold Start’, then it must be for China and not just for Pakistan. In fact, the implementation becomes much more challenging, considering the coverage of North-East and the Himalayan terrain. Indian army needs to be battle ready on three fronts simultaneously: north-east, central Himalayan range-Ladakh border and the traditional north-west. And if the Chinese presence is compounded in the IOR, then India’s job is further extended.

Cold Start stands justification if and only if Pakistan is used as a ‘pilot project’ and not the final destination. Similarly, on the other hand, ISI’s involvement in the Afghan insurgency, if true and proved, can sound the death-knell for US-Pakistan camaraderie. Thus Waldman’s paper ought to be a timely warning for the authoritative structures of Pakistan to veer away from the ‘decrepit model’ of “Indian Threat and Strategic Depth”.

The ISI’s sun is undimmed, the Chinese ‘constellations’ are clearly visible in the sky and the Indo-Pak political climate is still cold. Things need to change. Shall US be the fourth vertex of the quadrilateral?


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