Sharif must take advantage of the situation
When Barack Obama and Narendra Modi sat down last month in New Delhi, to discuss ways to contain China’s ambitions in Asia Pacific, neither had any idea about the counter-punch that was about to come.
The Indian establishment apparently wanted to keep the plan secret, and it was the US media which spread the word, exposing Modi and Obama’s meeting as ‘China centric’. A joint statement following the meeting also vindicated the game plan, as the leaders made a ‘veiled reference’ towards the plan to counter China’s territorial claims.
Other than discussing China, US and India also agreed to a 10-year framework for defence ties and struck deals on cooperation that included joint production of ‘drone aircraft’ and equipment for Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130 military transport plane. However, the premature leak of ‘China-centric’ ambitions left New Delhi shaken. As a damage-control measure, Modi initially sent India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Beijing to clear the air. Modi himself is planning to visit Beijing in May this year but it seems the damage has already been done. The India-US deal has not only alarmed key regional players but it also has the capacity to trigger an arms race in South and East Asia.
Experts in Islamabad believe that the US and India are planning to thwart the rise of China by encouraging its immediate neighbours to resist Beijing’s economic ambitions. So the game-plan would be to counter Chinese plans of Silk Road through Pakistan and Afghanistan; and the Maritime Silk Road, which aims at linking the ports of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. Though India itself would be the greater beneficiary of the Maritime Silk Road, the US wants Modi to frustrate this move by using its influence on Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Since Pakistan is the only obstacle in the way of India’s regional ambitions, as it claims US support, China and Pakistan are set to launch joint efforts to counter Indian ambitions. This was perhaps the main reason that Islamabad had already planned a visit by army chief General Raheel Sharif to Beijing in the last week of January.
So when Obama and Modi had the ‘historic embrace’ in New Delhi, almost at the same time, Chinese army chief General Qi Jianguo and his Pakistani counterpart General Sharif discussed ways and means to further cement bilateral defence cooperation.
A day later, when Obama and Modi read out a joint statement, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met with General Sharif and termed China and Pakistan ‘irreplaceable’ friends. Both also vowed not to allow any country to have hegemonic designs in the region.
In a tit-for-tat move, Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning to visit Islamabad on March 23, the National Day of Pakistan, probably to replicate what happened in New Delhi in the last week of January.
There are reasons for choosing Pakistan to contain India. It is the only nuclear power in the region, other than China and India, which has a considerable military muscle to counter the ‘hegemonic plans’ of any regional power. However, the civilian leadership in Islamabad has failed to understand its importance in the South East Asia scenario.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was so inclined to please Mr Modi that during his first visit to New Delhi he even refused to hold a traditional summit with pro-freedom leaders of Indian-held Kashmir.
However, soon Nawaz Sharif realised the bitter truth about Pakistan-India relationship and returned to the old mantra on Kashmir. The change of heart by Sharif could be gauged by the fact that on February 5, a traditional day dedicated for support to Kashmiri freedom fighters, Sharif claimed that India was ‘insincere’ in talks with Pakistan.
Not only has India a history of conflicts with its neighbours, Premier Modi is also linked to the fanatic and extremist Hindu outfit RSS. He has on his hands the blood of around 3,000 Muslims who were massacred under his rule in Gujarat.
An alarming increase has been witnessed in the acquisition of arms and ammunition on the part of India. India is likely to spend around 250 billion on acquisition of weapons in next few years. The appetite is regional specific with Pakistan being the prime target.
India has developed considerable nuclear weaponry and delivery systems. Experts believe India’s eagerness for entry into Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) and other arms regimes is aimed at enhancing defence-related capacities rather than meeting energy requirements.
There are apprehensions among top policymakers in the US about Indian designs as Delhi may use nuclear fuel covertly for weapons’ purpose. Since independence India is busy in acquisition/production of weapons of mass destruction.
India however is being projected by the US as a challenger to the economic ambitions of China so the smaller states of region could be lured into an alliance with Delhi rather than Beijing.
India would take advantage of the situation in the way it did in the Cold War era. After having secured the US nod, India now wants a bigger regional role with an assertive policy.
Noted analyst Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi says the US wants to contain China in East Asia by encouraging Beijing’s immediate neighbours like Japan, Vietnam and South Korea, who have a long history of territorial conflicts with China.
Rizvi sees further escalation on the Pakistan-India borders as in his view India aspires to build its stature as a key regional player with hegemonic designs.
“The recent border conflict triggered by India should be taken in its original perspective. India now plans to treat Pakistan like its colony and the use of fierce shelling at the working boundary reflects that Indians now want to teach Pakistan a lesson,” says Rizvi.
He said that India’s use of force against Pakistan would further increase in the near future and there is no willingness in New Delhi to hold talks with Islamabad anymore. India under Modi plans to remain more assertive.
“Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal don’t challenge India. They are too dependent on India for their economic and trade requirements. Pakistan would have to activate its diplomats to counter the Indian onslaught,” he added.
Moreover, the nature of the relationship of Pakistan with the US and the rest of the western world needs a quick review. We need to materialise the slogan of ‘no aid but trade’ into practical steps. There is a need to shun policy of seeking loans from the west of the IMF and rather trade should be the option. This would not only help us get rid of ‘dictation’ from the west but also it would also jumpstart the paralysed economy of the country.
China can only assist Pakistan boost its regional stature if Prime Minister Sharif shifts focus from the shady business deals he and his family members are involved in. Islamabad has a long list of things to do. While the army is already engaged in a ‘first of its kind’ massive operation against terrorists, the civilian leadership needs to get into serious business of running the country.
Islamabad would have to develop its diplomacy on modern trends in order to engage regional states to foster bilateral ties.
The operation against terrorists has provided the civilian leadership an opportunity to market its brand among the comity of nations. While President Obama has reiterated his pledge to resolve Pakistan-India ties, Nawaz Sharif needs to take advantage of the situation.