From the Brink

By Admiral Afzal Tahir

I claim political neutrality and ask you to consider this.
The political developments in Pakistan over the last two years cast a profound impact on the recent developments in our region. Change of political government post 2018 elections must be considered a godsend.

Pakistan had been continuously losing diplomatic ground over the ten-year period of PPP and PMLN governments. All the countries surrounding us as well as the ones that control and direct international relations were inimical to us. Iran, Afghanistan and India openly accused us of fomenting trouble in their respective countries, while ironically doing to us exactly what they all blamed us of doing, and we were found incapable or unwilling of thwarting the propaganda.
A pro-India leaning amongst the political elite was clearly visible and manifest in our criminal silence to thwart the incessant blame game being played by our core adversary.
Through our silence we gave credence to the lies and propaganda that was hurled at us particularly from India and Afghanistan.
Despite overt Indian threats, rather promises of dealing with Pakistan through fomenting terrorist activities in our country, delivered by the highest officials of Indian state, the world looked at us as perpetrators and not the victims of heinous activities of murder and mayhem that became a part of daily life of every Pakistani.
In addition to being inactive on the diplomatic front, the political elite indulged in activities in stark negation to accepted norms of safeguarding national interests.
Sadly, the political elite vocally accepted the blame for some of the terrorist activities particularly in India thus putting the state under scrutiny of all who wanted this scrutiny.
No state or a sitting government has ever accepted the kind of blames that our government accepted, even if such acts were committed by some organs of that state. This was being done despite numerous doubts having been raised internationally on the two prominent incidents, the Mumbai attacks and the Pathankot air base attack.
In the latter, the so-called terrorists went into an air base, killed a few individuals and in the process got killed themselves but did not have the sense to damage a single aircraft, what a terror attack!
It is now confirmed, this was done to undermine the armed forces particularly the army and the premier intelligence agency, which would be unthinkable in any sane functioning government. Another facet of this ugly internal rivalry was the media cell/s that worked within the Prime Minister House, was/were funded from taxpayer’s money and was actively pursuing the destabilization of the army and the intelligence agency.
It is not without reason that the army, as alleged, does not share complete information with the political leadership, particularly when one party meets foreign heads of inimical governments without the presence of authorized note takers. Add to this, the fact (now proven in courts of law, at least in some cases) that the political elite was busy plundering the state resources, buying properties and assets in foreign lands through money laundering on a daily basis and thereby, as a corollary becoming pawns in the hands of foreign governments.
They indulged in systematic and considered destruction of all state institutions and entities to further their political agenda and many of them were committing murders for their personal gains. Many of our political elite have now been legally declared criminals or have been legally declared defendants in money laundering, graft, murder and other heinous crimes. Diplomatic fiascos were common in our international relations and at every international forum from UN to all its subsidiary organs charged with monitoring and reporting upon the comity of nations. In doing so, the political elite did not even keep a thin veneer of patriotism and protectors of national interest on their faces.

It is commonly said in our country that no one should call anybody a traitor. Well, traitor is a word with its own meanings and anybody fitting the description must be called and treated as a traitor and, by definition, many among the political elite can be termed as traitors.
Under this political dispensation, can anyone imagine Pakistan’s position and response to the current India-China standoff in the mountains?
There are only two possibilities; either Pakistan would have surrendered to the dictates of the Quad or there would have been a violent overthrow of the political set up.
The current political leadership has changed all that. An atmosphere of mutual trust has been created, with both the pillars of state treating each other with due respect. In a short span of two years, the international scene, vis a vis Pakistan, has changed and international relationship has been turned on its head. Afghanistan is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in withdrawal of US forces from that country. Iran has a more understanding relationship with us. There are no calls of ‘do more’ coming from all and sundry and the political government is standing with the interests of Pakistan (and not its personal interests). There is no magic in it and the only difference between previous and current dispensation is that of loyalty to the state. And that is why I maintain that we have returned from the brink as a result of 2018 elections and that is why I believe the result of 2018 elections was a godsend.

Our region has witnessed multiple developments of far reaching consequences over the last few weeks, though behind the scenes activities were on going for a much longer period. It is important to understand these very activities to understand the casus belli of the developments that I have referred to. I will only touch upon the salient as it is difficult to encompass all this in one article because it is a material for an entire book.
Essentially it all started with Mr. Trump ascending to the presidency of USA. The US global outlook took a new direction under the new president. The salients of this direction were; anti-China and anti-Iran rhetoric, withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and recruiting India as strategic ally promised to be given the leadership role in South Asia region and beyond, extending to South China Sea. This was essentially a benign acknowledgement of the rising military, economic and strategic power of China and indicative of a need felt by US policy makers to counter it, through propping India as a counterweight. It also prompted India, or it was encouraged to enhance her relations with Israel. In the Far East, Australia, Japan and Vietnam were to form part of this alliance, this arrangement has come to be known as Quad. India was given a central position in this arrangement because it desired so and also due to her central position in the Indian Ocean and the advantages lent to it by geography in the context of containment of China, predominantly India’s perceived capability to disrupt the flow of maritime traffic in the busy East-West trade route passing along her coast and also her common border with China. A similar capability is enjoyed by India in the Malacca Straits because of her military bases in the Andaman Islands.
Some analysts also include Malaysia and Indonesia in this game plan, but I do not think these countries would have been interested in it.
Herein lay the reason for opposition by India and USA to the CPEC because this would have potentially provided an alternate route to China for her inward and outward trade and also would take Pakistan out of US orbit. It may seem implausible in the current form and shape of this undertaking but with time and development of rail and pipeline links, the route has the potential of reducing Chinese sole dependence on her trade through sea.
Additionally, CPEC provides the shortest link between China and her markets in the Middle East and Africa. It is argued that shipment through sea is the cheapest mode of transportation. Though essentially true, several other factors can make land transportation equally cost effective and feasible.
Theoretically, it was a brilliant plan. All the pawns had been set in place with India in the lead role. This is the reason that India had been quietly undertaking military oriented developments on its border with China, that prompted China to stop India from taking a decisive strategic advantage in the area and hence the current India-China standoff in Ladakh. The idea was to squeeze China (in due course of time) from the South (threatening her Sea Lines of Communication) and from the Southwest (through ground operations by India).
The other two axis, the East and Southeast were to be covered by other members of the Quad. There are also rumours that US had plans to establish military presence in the Ladakh region. It is difficult to verify these rumours but the development is quite plausible in the context of the strategic game plan and obviously, such a development would have caused serious military imbalance against China.
India under Modi fell for the bait. There are many reasons that can be put forth for India’s readiness to join the strategic maneuver. First, India has always dreamt of becoming the sole power in the region and has manifested this desire in countless undertakings against her smaller neighbours, the aim being to subjugate them through sheer military power. The only country refusing to wilt under relentless treacherous pressure is Pakistan. In siding with USA, India believed it could kill two birds with one stone. Obviously, any Chinese weakness on land frontier with India would have direct negative effects on Pakistan’s capability to maintain her borders with India in the Kashmir region. Second, Indian establishment particularly its military harboured the vain view that they were the predominant military power of the region. I say vain, because India has never fought a direct battle with any of her adversaries after the 1971 clash with Pakistan.
That was also done after nine months of preparation and undertaken only after Pakistani garrison in the East Pakistan had been sufficiently softened through fighting internal subversion. While India focused on treachery and indirect approach to realize its military dreams, Pakistan became battle hardened through fighting the proxy wars thrust upon it by India and USA spread over nearly two decades. Third, India relied too much on her propaganda machine to portray herself the mighty nation that it was not.
The only superiority it has in the context of military industrial complex vis a vis Pakistan is in the naval shipbuilding field. In the fields of aircraft manufacture and maintenance and army hardware manufacture and maintenance, the two can be considered at par.
The two are also at par in the field of strategic forces and deterrence capability. On the other hand, in comparison to China, Indian military industrial complex is vastly inferior. Prominent reason for this deficiency can be found in rampant alleged corruption in the Indian establishment with regards to military acquisitions. Further, in the crucial field of non-kinetic warfare, India has yet to show any discernable capability in the face of Chinese visible superior capabilities that can alter the outcome of a battle in any domain. The real kick off (of the grand game) was the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into two Indian Union Territories in August last year. Distinction between J&K and Ladakh is of prime significance. That the plan was two pronged, simultaneously against China and Pakistan, is verified by the war mongering carried out by India in the context of attacking Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan region. This is the overall context that defines the current standoff between India and China and Pakistan.

Pakistan cannot and must not remain aloof in all this game because the game plan is against both China and Pakistan.
In this scenario, USA cannot remain a silent spectator. However, since this is a matter of a border dispute between two regional countries, the options short of an open US-China confrontation are limited for the US.

What it can do is to bolster the Indian military capabilities through providing hardware, particularly air elements either directly or through its European allies. There are reports that India is seeking exactly that from various manufacturers. The other course of action will be to enhance Indian non-kinetic capabilities. In addition, the US will keep China under pressure through naval maneuvers predominantly in the South China Sea and Chinese Eastern Seaboard. That the matter has not been raised in the UN and UNSC can be attributed to the fact that by doing so India will be unable to justify her unilateral actions of August 2019 that are clearly in violation of a plethora of UN resolutions and thus would cause more diplomatic embarrassment to India.

This game of encircling China and thwarting her growth and potential has begun.
The teams are China/Pakistan vs the Quad.
On the bench are Iran, Russia and Afghanistan (subject to regaining fitness) and USA, Europe.
The length of play is going to be long as indeed was the preparation for it. It is going to be a bit like a basketball game; intense action interspersed with many timeouts. The game is currently at the first timeout stage.

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