Pakistan non-viable in multipolar world
by Sandhya Jain on 23 Nov 2010 33 Comments

New Delhi’s satisfaction that US President Barack Obama’s recent visit underlined its status as a rising Asian power has obscured the larger truth that the emerging multipolar world negates Pakistan’s role as a Janus-faced entity watching its east and west flanks on behalf of its Anglo-American patrons. Islamabad must realize it is a strategic real estate whose utility and value has changed.


Pakistan was carved out of India by the British Raj with devilish foresight many decades before it became linchpin of Western strategy for the Euro-Asian landmass after World War II. Originally, it had multiple uses. The common border with India (spanning Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat) helped contain the potential power of India, whose elite had an anti-imperialist, pro-communist mindset. The eastern wing (now Bangladesh) disrupted India’s links with the sensitive north-eastern states, a problem Indian diplomacy is now seeking to redress through regional cooperation.


Pakistan blocked India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It gave the West military bases to control the oil-rich Gulf region; checkmate the Soviet Union in Central Asia; and monitor China (though Islamabad also befriended Beijing and gifted it Aksai Chin for greater control of Tibet).  


Much of this is now irrelevant. Four months of vicious stone-pelting prior to Mr Obama’s visit has exhausted the Valley without dividends to the separatists. New Delhi can rein in Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the separatists by imposing fiscal discipline on the State or permitting Jammu to undertake a selective blockade of meat and eggs to Srinagar this winter!


As for Pak-sponsored terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is an issue worldwide, and Pakistan is recognised as the epicenter of global terror. By definition, it can no longer be perceived as a stabilizing feature of the world order; and anyway, the dominance once enjoyed by imperial America is over. Central Asian Republics are doing their bit to combat Islamic fundamentalism and exploit their natural resources to their own benefit.


Pakistan is useful to the West only in the war in Afghanistan, where it too seeks strategic depth. But the logic of this quest means Islamabad must turn irrevocably westwards, turn its back on India and the elusive J&K, and accept that the unrecognized implication of Partition was Islam’s physical retreat from the Indian subcontinent. Also, Kabul will not be easy to dominate, and Islamabad may well trigger further instability in FATA and Baluchistan! It cannot support US-Israel against Iran without aggravating its own problems.


At best Pakistan can help Beijing to irritate India, but New Delhi now has its own cards, with Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand all seeking enhanced Indian economic and security engagement in the region to counter Chinese dominance and secure the sea-lanes. Beijing’s rush to upgrade its military assets and assertiveness vis-à-vis neighbours like Japan, India, and Vietnam, has raised hackles. Hence naval powers like America and India are being encouraged to balance Chinese unilateral domination. Pakistan cannot help Beijing negate possible containment by Asian neighbours.


Meanwhile, President Obama in his 3-day visit sought Indian cooperation in Afghanistan, Central Asia, West Asia, East Asia, and Africa. Discussions about East Asia were definitely to counter China. New Delhi understands Washington’s concerns about the yuan and Chinese trade surplus with the US, but will not be an American tool against China.


Overall, the visit was significant as Mr Obama endorsed a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council (no matter how long UN reform finally takes, and despite the dismay of Japan and Germany). He removed restrictions for transfer of dual-use technology; supported India’s membership of technology control regimes, and of course, India’s purchase of American arms. He said nothing untoward about Kashmir! More significantly, Washington agreed in principle to a strong but limited riposte by India in the event of another terrorist attack backed by Islamabad (Francesco Sisci, Asia Times, Nov. 18, 2010).  


Since then, many things have moved in India’s favour at both the international and national level. First, on Nov. 15, the United Nations which always tilted towards Pakistan on Kashmir, suddenly excluded Jammu & Kashmir from its list of unresolved disputes, after Britain’s top diplomat Mark Lyall Grant’s speech at the General Assembly. A few days later the Secretariat clarified that Kashmir remained on the disputed list, but the damage to Pakistan had been done, as the issue was clearly on the backburner. Previously, in October, Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon was compelled to say UN would not intervene in Kashmir until requested by both nations, after a UN-sponsored conference with secessionists in New Delhi drew a sharp response from India.


The UN shift – a slap in the face of Syed Salahuddin of Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Tehrik-e-Hurriyat, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq of All-Party Hurriyat Conference (M), Yasin Malik of JKLF, Shabir Ahmad Shah of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the loquacious Home Ministry appointed interlocutors and other fellow travellers – follows Washington’s describing J&K as an “internal issue of India.”


Possibly inspired, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Wuhan (Nov. 15): “Jammu and Kashmir is to us (New Delhi) what Tibet and Taiwan are to you” (Beijing). Just as New Delhi has been sensitive to Chinese concerns over Tibet and Taiwan, Beijing should respect Indian sensitivities on J&K, Krishna insisted to a Chinese leadership not used to being ticked off.


Yet Tibet and Taiwan are not territorial disputes. Tibet was an independent nation occupied by China; breakaway Taiwan is reconciled to returning to mainland China. J&K is a kingdom that legally acceded to India and was never part of the Partition plan; Pakistan grabbed one-third of the state with British perfidy. It now remains to be seen if Beijing will understand and end the mischief of giving stapled visas to Indian citizens from J&K. Doubtless Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will continue this thread when his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao visits New Delhi in December.


Pak has exhausted its utility in the international arena; it will be enough if it can save itself from implosion. Truly, it has been a short walk from being Cold War favourite to major non-NATO ally to non-usable ally! The mills of god grind slowly…


The author is Editor,

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