COMMENT: Pakistan stands isolated in South Asia —Sunil Dutta
Pakistan stands on the verge of being left on the wayside as the US government weighs its decision about an exit from Afghanistan and a rethinking of NATO supply routes through Pakistan
As the US plans its exit strategy from Afghanistan, prospects for Pakistan and the entire South Asia look ominous. Pakistan stands to lose lucrative military and economic aid from the US, with no one else to fill the vacuum. With few friends to count on and countless violent jihadis in its territory, Pakistan is on the verge of a precipice. However, it is possible that Pakistan may turn a new leaf, turning the region into a peaceful commercial hub of transcontinental gas pipelines and a trading mecca — reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route that benefited the economy and culture of the region.
A long time ago, Pakistan’s elite and generals decided to play the Cold War game by exploiting their country’s strategic location. They played it so well that despite Pakistan’s destabilising influence in South Asia, the US ignored Pakistan’s dangerous activities, including Pakistan’s use of radical Islamists to fight a proxy battle in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and development of nuclear weapons. In a relationship of convenience, where the US used Pakistan as a proxy to fight the Soviet Union and keep an eye on Asia’s oil-rich region, Pakistan secured vast quantities of economic and military aid in return. Later Pakistan asked and received more money and more military aid ostensibly to fight terrorists in Afghanistan — terrorists that Pakistan itself had created and nurtured.
However, Pakistan military’s obsession with India as its archenemy, reliance on terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, radicalisation of its population, and a complete disregard for development of democracy and infrastructure have wrecked Pakistan’s economy, polity, and reputation. Today, the world sees Pakistan as a rogue nation on the path to becoming a failed state.
Pakistan’s sole state project since its independence has been to continue its conflict with India and wrest Kashmir from Indian control. That obsession resulted in the army ruling Pakistan covertly and overtly during the last six decades. With no attention paid to infrastructure or economic development, Pakistan needed benefactors to finance its military and proxy battles. Pakistan has essentially been a rentier state for decades, offering its territory and military to seek military and economic aid. Its army’s shackle-hold on the state has stunted every aspect of Pakistan’s development. The day of reckoning has finally come and Pakistan stands close to a dangerous upheaval.
However, standing so close to the precipice, there is also a silver lining for the people of Pakistan. The reason is simple — the entire geo-strategic calculus of South Asia has changed, painting Pakistan into a corner with no options except self-destruction or re-making itself as a positive state. It is entirely possible that Pakistan may finally end its obsessive conflict with India and make peace with its blood enemy. In fact, India will be the only useful friend for Pakistan when props from the US will end — something that is bound to happen soon.
Pakistani Generals have often complained of being used by the US and then left alone once it achieved its objectives. However, they were always confident that the strategic location of Pakistan, and the rivalry between the US, Russia and China would always keep Pakistan in the middle of Asia’s geostrategic game. However, the political and economic dynamics of the world have changed in ways Pakistan’s army could not envision. Pakistan will not be in the middle of geostrategic rivalries and there will be no one to finance its rentier state.
In the past, Pakistan’s Generals have revelled in China’s support, believing that China could provide economic and military support in the absence of the US. China, while on good terms with Pakistan, is neither capable nor interested in providing military and economic aid to Pakistan. China relies on massive trading with the US and India and will not jeopardise those critical economic relationships for Pakistan. Furthermore, China is also wary of Pakistan’s use of Islam and terrorism because of China’s own concern over the Muslim separatist movement in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Far more damaging to the Pakistan army’s strategic calculus of yesteryears is the fact that there is no possibility for Pakistan to exploit the rivalry between the US and Russia any more as they have moved a long way from their cold war days. The US and Russia share the same concerns over Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Russia not only appears unwilling to engage in treasury-draining conflicts, it has achieved its own foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and Central Asia through the US military.
The use of Pakistan’s strategic location is not going to bring Pakistan rent any more. The most lucrative economic prospects for Pakistan — oil pipeline projects originating from Iran and Central Asia — have both stagnated due to Pakistan’s own violent destabilising actions in Afghanistan and India. Now, Pakistan stands on the verge of being left on the wayside as the US government weighs its decision about an exit from Afghanistan and a rethinking of NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
Moribund thinking and obsession over conflict with India has landed Pakistan in a dark place. There is no possibility of recovering from self-sustained wounds for Pakistan unless it makes peace with India. It seems that the long-restrained civilian leadership of Pakistan is making the right moves by tamping down on rhetoric against India and attempting to initiate some semblance of a peace process. Peace with India is essential for peace in the region and the world. If this is not accomplished, once again a Mumbai-type attack will be engineered to derail the India-Pakistan peace process and the region will be forced into a conflagration.
The writer is a Lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department. These are solely his personal opinions