Beijing-Islamabad axis A big challenge ahead

Whither Pakistan ? Even the Almighty might not have a straight answer to this question. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, to use a Churchillian idiom, is an enigma wrapped in a riddle as it is constantly subjected to pulls and counterpulls of various Islamic forces, some known and some unknown.

There are brands and sub-brands of terrorist and fundamentalist Islamic groups who play with guns to impose their writ not only within Pakistan’s fragile civilian society but also across the borders in Afghanistan and India, Kashmir in particular.

The deadly Islamic terrorist outfits apart, the all-powerful GHO Rawalpindi calls the shots in security and foreign policy affairs. Major terrorist groups operate on its dicates through operational hands of ISI. In this setting, the Civilian authority is nothing but a symbolic mask in the name of democracy. The strings of power are controlled by generals and their hangers-on. Pakistan’s is indeed a classic example of how “democracy” could be controlled by military generals. This is how a number of elected prime ministers were dethroned in coups, including Nawaz Sharif in 1997.

Of couse, Nawaz Sharif lost his coveted position as Prime Minister by a “judicial coup”. The Pakistan Supreme court acted against him on charges of corruption against his family members as revealed by the Panama Papers. In a way, this is somewhat ironic since the whole system of Pakistan is soaked in corruption. Even the military establishment thrives on corrupt practices.

Ordinary Pakistanis talked about the greed and vulnerability of army personnel in hush-hush voices during my visit to that country in 1997. How Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf then is part of Pakistan’s turbulent history.

Once bitten twice shy. This time Sharif was very cautious and guarded. He avoided direct confrontation with the military establishment and that is how he could manage to survive for quite some time.

I understand General Rabeel Sharif has had own ideas on conducting Pakistan’s foreign and defence affairs, keeping in view changing American strategies under the unpredictable presidency of Donald Trump and China’s emergence as an assertive power under President Xi Jinping in the Asia-Pacific region, especially vis-a vis India.

The multi-dimensional Beijing-Islamabad axis does pose a big challenge to the Modi leadership. Is New Delhi ready for the onerous task ahead ? The Doklam stand-off does show that India is not going to be bullied by Beijing’s tactics and war-mongering hysteria .

India certainly wants to sort out the Doklam crisis peacefully through quiet diplomacy. At the same time, it is clear about not letting the Chinese construct a motorable road to Jampheri, which goes against India’s strategic interest in the North-East and beyond.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is right in saying that “war” is not the answer. I believe that President Xi Jinping, too, understands this basic reality. But then he seems to be suffering from arrogance of power and personal ambition to outclass Mao as an undisputed supremo, both internally and globally.

China’s imperialistic ambition cannot be taken lightly. We have suffered a lot at the Chinese hands right from 1962 simply because we have failed to learn from China’s expansionist policy.

Whether one admits it not, Pakistan is trapped in a mess of its own making. This includes its special love and axis with un-Islamic President Xi’s China. After decades of US military alliance, Islamabad has drawn itself closer to Beijing.

In fact, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as Prime Minister is viewed in certain quarters as a move prompted by Pakistan’s military establishment since it decided to opt for its strategic shift from Washington to Beijing. Pakistan’s strategic shift in global tie-ups has wider implications, specially for India. GHQ Rawalpindi sees China’s hostile postures towards India as its big advantage. This explains why Islamabad has opened up its doors to the Chinese economic corridor moves passing through PoK.

Be that as it may. Fanaticism in conduct of foreign affairs is a deadly game. When unleashed for grabbing powers, it acquires sinister overtones. A more pragmatic understanding of geopolitical realities can help Islamabad to rationalize things. Pakistan today is in a no-win situation and it will continue to be so unless it changes its course of hostility and confrontation, in concert with China, with India.

What is needed now is a two-way communication for peace, development and stability in the subcontinent without the China factor. Perhaps this is a tall order for the military commanders of Islamabad. They have a fixed anti-India mindset which suits even China.

As for India, it is certainly in a decisive stage of transformation under the Modi government. It can no longer afford to remain isolated from the regional dynamics. New realities in the neighbourhood and beyond ought to prod us to think on unconventional lines in the pursuit of our foreign policy and security objectives. Viewed in this light, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new economic and military ties-up with Israel is highly significant. This should help us in giving dynamic thrust to tackle the obnoxious Beijing-Islamabad axis.

The history of world affairs teaches us that things do not change sharply or fundamentally as newspaper headlines and political rhetoric claim they do. The onerous challenge before the South Block is how to manage Talibanised Pakistan and Afghanistan along with horrifying faces of terror activities in Kashmir as well as evil designs of communist China in our border areas.

Let me leave aside Sushma Swaraj’s impressive explanations in the Rajya Sabha. Operationally, what is needed is fresh thinking and total clarity in our security and economic goals and targets to neutralize the fallout the Beijing-Islamabad axis. Otherwise, we shall continue to suffer as we did for several decades in the past. I expect Prime Minister Modi to check the drift both at home and abroad, address the basic issues on the ground and lead the nation on to the right course. India must not be pass off as a soft power nation.

Is Prime Minister Modi ready for this onerous task? I keep my fingers crossed. The Pakistani hate-India campaign led by the likes of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and China’s anti-India hysteria over the Doklam face-off have vitiated the atmosphere in the sub-continent. What Pakistan and China are preaching and practising does not fit in the 21st century world. We cannot generate peace and stability in the region with Pakistan-style fanaticism and Imperialist China’s sweet and sour tactics.

Enough is enough. We have already paid a heavy price for goody-goody diplomacy. If the leadership has a vision for tomorrow and shows sufficient guts to translate national objectives into action, solutions of even very complex issues can be explored. To meet the formidable challenge of the Beijing-Islamabad axis, New Delhi has to be firm where firmness is needed most. It cannot opt for soft options in an area where the very edifice of India as a nation rests.

Writing in Foreign Affairs (Spring 2000) a former US Deputy Secretary of State argues that “We should not plan to redraw borders with blood.” The emphasis hereafter should be our democracy, good governance, federalism and the protection of human rights, and not only breaking up states. This exactly is the Indian position that ought to be conveyed to Pakistan’s military regime and Beijing’s one-party imperialist tantrums in our border areas.

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