Between America and China ...

Pakistan at the Crossroads!

Caught between the conflicting pressures of America and China, Pakistan stands at the crossroads of its destiny. Neither the world, nor the neighbourhood, nor Pakistan itself can tolerate indefinitely the terrorism unleashed from its soil. Pakistan is clearly divided between a liberal civil society seeking democracy and a fundamentalist hard core encouraging terrorism. That is why it has been repeatedly stressed in these columns that the choice for Pakistan lies between a democratic accommodation with its South Asian neighbours and balkanization. The status quo cannot continue.

The dire prospect of balkanization does not arise from a fevered imagination. As pointed out earlier, the redrawing of international boundaries to create the New Middle East published in Armed Forces Journal which reflects Pentagon’s views has ominous implications for Islamabad. However, political compulsions are persuading the US to attempt a safer and more peaceful option.

Beijing’s core interests lie in Afghanistan due to its mining and mineral interests. If the Pashtuns break away from Pakistan to create a greater Afghanistan it would in no way conflict with these interests.

By mid-July this year President Obama has committed commencement of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. If he reneges on that promise it would seriously mar his prospects for a second term. It is confirmed now that back channel talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban are under way. If the talks succeed it most likely would lead to an institutional arrangement between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That Pakistan is cooperating in the effort becomes clear from the latest development. Islamabad has become reconciled to accepting Indian relevance in Afghanistan.

As early as next month Turkey is expected to host the next round of talks with the Taliban. But unlike previous rounds that confined the talks to a few Muslim nations such as Pakistan , Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this time the US, UK and even India will participate to formulate a reconciliation package. The softening of Islamabad’s attitude regarding an Indian role in Afghanistan can safely be attributed to American persuasion. This also indicates that New Delhi has changed tack to acknowledge that a dialogue with the Taliban can be undertaken leading to mutual advantage.

Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad quotes a senior Indian security official telling Asia Times:

"We appreciate the Taliban as the future force in the Afghan government and therefore we want to open a channel of communication with the Taliban so that Afghanistan is not used against India in the future, like happened in the past.

However, at the same time as moves towards an India-Pakistan-Afghanistan reconciliation is under way another development is taking place in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Indian army sources reported that Chinese troops were sighted in POK. Beijing quickly denied the report. Now US intelligence agencies have confirmed the presence of Chinese troops in the area. This would embolden the hard liners in Pakistan to stick to their uncompromising stand. Indeed, Pakistan’s ability to defy the US can be attributed to Islamabad’s confidence that China can always be relied upon as an effective counterweight to Washington which owes trillions of dollars to Beijing. However, this assumption by Islamabad could be fatally wrong.

The rulers in Beijing are hard headed realists ferociously focused on China’s core interests. They cannot but conclude that given the hardening global opinion against Pakistan being used as a hub of terrorism the present arrangement cannot last. Therefore Beijing too would coolly calculate about whether Pakistan integrated with the rest of South Asia would suit it more or Pakistan balkanized into smaller states. And it is the assessment of this question that should make Islamabad sweat.

Beijing’s core interests lie in Afghanistan due to its mining and mineral interests. If the Pashtuns break away from Pakistan to create a greater Afghanistan it would in no way conflict with these interests. Beijing’s other core interest lies in Baluchistan which is the gateway to Gwadar port. Present NWFP and Baluchistan comprise the territory through which any future pipeline transporting energy from Iran to China would have to pass. Punjab and Sind are a burden to Beijing offering no core strategic value. The disappearance of India-Pakistan problem might boost India-China trade! So how would Beijing react if events actually threaten the disintegration of Pakistan? 

Islamabad would do well to make a cold and realistic assessment.


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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