Tackling the two-front situation

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Situationer

M. Ziauddin

Throughout the Cold War the US had successfully used Pakistan to promote its global and regional interests while letting Islamabad believe that it was Pakistan that was using the US to neutralise the bully on the block — India.
The US had picked Pakistan to punish India for joining the Soviet camp. And to keep New Delhi under pressure Washington had enabled Pakistan to acquire military prowess more or less at par with that of India.
We basked in our ‘success’ like there was no tomorrow. We made no plan ‘B’ to meet any unforeseen contingency.
And while the US was using Pakistan to bleed the Soviet Union to death in Afghanistan it had even allowed Pakistan to build its own nuclear bomb and at the same time the CIA taught the Pakistani intelligence agencies how to use terrorism to promote one’s foreign and defence policies as that was the instrument that the former had successfully used to finish off the USSR in Afghanistan.
Now that it has finally achieved its objective of getting India where it had always wanted it to be Washington has switched sides without so much as your leave.
From June 1998 to September 2000, in what was the most extensive dialogue ever between the two countries, the then US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot and the then Indian Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh met fourteen times in seven countries on three continents.
Since then the language and the terms that characterise US-Pakistan relations have undergone a sea-change — from friendly to cordiality to neutrality to blatant hostility.
A paper on Pakistan-US relations prepared last year by Washington’s Hudson Institute adviced the new Trump Administration to review its policies toward Pakistan in order to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate, the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from Pakistan. These include stabilising Afghanistan, keeping the country from again turning into a global terrorist safe haven, and preventing the outbreak of an India-Pakistan military conflict that could potentially go nuclear.
The authors of the paper accused Pakistani military leaders of supporting terrorist groups that attack India in an effort to keep it off balance and to draw international mediation into the dispute with India over Kashmir.
Pakistan’s seemingly unconstrained expansion of its nuclear arsenal, particularly the development of tactical nuclear weapons and extended-range missile systems, also remains a cause for concern, according to the paper, especially with regard to India.
“To accomplish US counterterrorism objectives in the region and to reverse extremist trends in Pakistani society, Pakistani authorities – specifically the country’s military leaders, who control its foreign and security policies – need to take a comprehensive approach to shutting down all Islamist militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state. In the end, turning a blind eye and providing support to some terrorist groups creates an environment conducive to the operation of all terrorist groups.
“Accordingly, the objective of the Trump administration’s policy toward Pakistan must be to make it more and more costly for Pakistani leaders to employ a strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic goals. There should be no ambiguity that the US considers Pakistan’s strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic advantage as a threat to US interests. US policy must also pay attention to non-proliferation goals while dealing with Pakistan.
“At the same time, the Trump Administration should be clear in all forums that the US issue is not with the Pakistani people or the Pakistani nation. Rather, Washington takes strong exception to specific policy choices by parts of the Pakistan Government – chiefly, the military and intelligence apparatus centered in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, Islamabad – that support the existence and activities of terrorist proxies.
“Moving forward, the Trump administration must link US policies toward Pakistan directly to US objectives, especially in Afghanistan. The US must find ways to limit Pakistan’s ability to frustrate U.S. goals in Afghanistan. Likewise, the US must refuse to get involved in the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir and instead focus on diplomatically isolating Pakistan over its continued support to terrorist groups that attack India and have connections to international terrorism. The US should encourage both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and pursue measures normalising their relationship.”
Both New Delhi and Kabul have seemingly become willing promoters and protectors of US interests in the region presumably in return for Washington’s willingness to provide the two with the required defensive military/diplomatic cover against their respective self-perceived enemies — Pakistan in the case of Afghanistan and China as well as Pakistan in the case of India.
That is perhaps why Pakistan feels it is currently facing a two-front conflict situation attention to which has been drawn by our defence experts on a number of occasions.
The question is, whether closing of the Afghan border in anger is the right way togo about protecting and promoting our own national interests in the region or as has suggested by experts by mending ties with Afghanistan because as they said our future is connected with that country?
The answer is clearly by mending ties with Afghanistan which would enable us not only to end the two-front conflict situation but also help us translate into reality our vision of becoming a genuine and ‘a massive trade corridor.’
But the idea that we could become a massive trading corridor with three trade corridors running through the length of Pakistan from its northern end bordering China to its southern end in Gwadar seaport in Balochistan (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) while no trading activity is taking place across the country’s breadth running from our north-western end bordering Afghanistan as well as the western end bordering Iran to its eastern end bordering India sounds more like a non-starter.
At best, CPEC in its present design would end up becoming a conduit for the passage of Chinese exports from its land-locked western part to the world markets and imports from these markets to China with Pakistan perhaps earning nothing more than a hefty toll tax along with perhaps the Chinese-funded physical infrastructure and power stations established to keep the three corridors and the link roads, rail-roads and the pipelines well-oiled and in ship-shape.
But for decades Pakistan has been aspiring to become a busy global trading hub not just a trade corridor for China alone. For realising this aspiration Islamabad will have to create on its own conditions conducive for trading to take place not only from Casablanca in Morocco (Maghreb), Africa, to Urumqi in western China via Pakistan but also from Central Asia, via Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Myanmar and beyond in East Asia.
Both India and Afghanistan, in part justifiably, but largely because of the instigation from the US which it is doing in its own global and regional interests, especially to contain China, blame Pakistan for their respective terror woes and therefore seem bent upon squeezing Pakistan from two sides, creating for it a two-front conflict situation.
The two military campaigns against terrorism mounted by the Pakistan Army, the Zarb-e-Azb in 2014 and the Radd-ul-Fasaad early last year have almost broken the back of terrorism. This issue is not likely to remain a matter of conflict in the region for long.
Meanwhile, Islamabad on its part could take a couple of initiatives like offering Afghanistan and India a trade corridor through Pakistan for New Delhi to reach Central Asia and for Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan to reach India and beyond.
Also, Pakistan could offer to set up a free trade zone for Afghanistan in place of the current free terror zone which straddles the Durand Line, thus rendering this line irrelevant for all practical purposes fulfilling one of the ardent wishes of the Afghans who don’t recognise the internationally recognised border.
Also, India and Afghanistan know that today they are not living in a unipolar world but a multipolar one. And no matter how close they are to the US, they would be extra careful not to be perceived as its servile camp followers. Moreover, the two know that it is geo-economics rather than geo-politics that is currently guiding the policies of most of the countries.

With Pakistan adopting the right policies at the right time and in keeping with its own national socio-economic interests perhaps the right kind of environment would be created for New Delhi and Afghanistan to see the futility of pursuing Pakistan-hostile policies notwithstanding the deceitful promptings from a waning superpower.

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