By Dr Subhash Kapila
Providence and the United States have in an uncanny manner periodically facilitated the reinvention of Pakistan Army’s ‘strategic utility’ to United States strategic interests in both South Asia and in the Gulf Region. Both are contiguous geographical regions of geostrategic significance.
The recent political upheaval in the Arab World from North Africa and now engulfing the Gulf Region monarchial kingdoms has shaken the very fundamentals of the underpinnings of United States security framework in the Gulf Region. The United States security architecture in the Gulf Region rested on the continuance of existing autocratic US-friendly monarchies presiding over the oil riches of this Region.
With the political upheaval in the Arab World seeking governance transformation and political reforms, which means regime changes in the Gulf Region, both the United States and the Gulf Kingdoms have a strategic and political convergence to maintain the ‘status-quo’.
The United States is militarily over-stretched and limited by domestic political compulsions to adopt a military proactive role in maintaining the status-quo in the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf Kingdoms are not militarily capable of securing the status-quo.
Herein emerges Pakistan Army’s strategic indispensability and strategic utility to both the United States and Saudi Arabia in securing the status-quo in the Gulf Region for all of them
Media reports have widely publicized the Pakistan Army earmarking two Pakistan Army Divisions on standby alert for immediate deployment to Saudi Arabia fearing outbreak of political upheaval in that country.
Media reports also indicate that Pakistan Army’s Fauji Foundation is recruiting Pakistan Army retired soldiers for service in the Bahrain National Guard at exorbitant salaries. This is to boost up the strength of the Bahrain National Guard to deal with the majority Shia population spearheading political upheaval calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Pakistani media also indicates that this recruitment is being restricted to Sunnis only and that too the Mashnavi Syeds and its sub-clans of ManiKhel, SahibKhel, DeraKhel and RahatKhel. Shias are not being recruited.
It would be recalled that Saudi Arabia had militarily intervened in Bahrain last month by sending Saudi military forces when Bahrain was being virtually taken over by an Egypt style upsurge.
Saudi Arabia can ill afford a Shia takeover of Bahrain which is just a causeway away from oil-rich Saudi Arabian oilfields. United States can similarly ill afford such an eventuality as the Headquarters of the US Navy Fifth Fleet along with other military installations are located in Bahrain.
Pakistan seems to have now taken the first tentative steps to reassert its intrusive military presence in the Gulf Region, as earlier visible in the 1970s but later diminished. The way the political dynamics are churning in the Gulf Region, one can foresee the Pakistan Army being sucked-in into the Gulf Region, both because of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Pakistan Army would relish such a foreseeable eventuality but Pakistan itself as reactions in the media there, seem to be inclined for a more detached involvement.
Pakistan Army’s military moves in the Gulf Region are fraught with regional implications and for Pakistan itself and which this Paper intends to examine under the following heads:
- United States Strategic Dilemma in Facilitating Pakistan Army Military Intrusiveness in the Gulf Region
- Pakistan Army: Can it Afford a Sizeable Politico-Military Role in the Gulf Region?
- Pakistan Army’s Transformation: From “Frontline State Against Terrorism” to “Frontline State of Sunni Islam”
- Pakistan Army’s Military Intrusiveness in Gulf Region Generates Strong Regional Implications
United States Strategic Dilemma in Facilitating Pakistan Army Military Intrusiveness in the Gulf Region
The United States may perceive a tactical advantage in facilitating Pakistan Army military intrusiveness in the Gulf Region, if US perspectives are solely confined to viewing the securing of the status-quo in the Gulf and Saudi pressures on USA to do so. But the United States strategic perspectives cannot be solely confined to the Gulf Region only. The United States has to also focus on the lateral implications of such facilitation on the overall security situation in the Middle East and more importantly in South Asia and Afghanistan.
Overall, such a development places the United States in a piquant situation in South Asia and it could even be accused of ‘doublespeak’
India has been under constant US pressure to lessen its military postures and deployments so that the Pakistan Army Chief could feel more secure in diverting Pakistan Army formations from the Indian border to he Afghan border to assist US military operations in Afghanistan. If that be so, how can the Pakistan Army divert two of its Army Divisions to Saudi Arabia?
Further, if that be so how can the United States expect the commencement of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan by July 2011? After all such planning was predicated on Pakistan Army’s reinforcement of the Pakistan-Afghan border by moving troops from the India border?
In South Asia can the United States afford to diminish the US-India Strategic Partnership by strategic doublespeak and further distort India’s emerging sizeable politico-military profile in the Gulf Region?
The call is on the United States also in terms of getting involved in the Gulf Region in an emerging internal Islamic Sunni- Shia civil war, in the absence of a better word?
Pakistan Army: Can it Afford a Sizeable Politico-Military Role in the Gulf Region?
Pakistan Army has the propensity to box much above its weight. To be drawn into a sizeable role in the security of the Gulf Region would be more than welcome to the Pakistan Army hierarchy. Moreso when such a role will take place at the behest of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The crucial question that arises is that against the backdrop of the contextual domestic situation within Pakistan and the Afghanistan turbulence, can Pakistan Army extend its reach to the Gulf Region? The Pakistan Army is yet to gain firm control of the internally driven insurgency within Pakistan’s borders
Pakistan is seriously beset with sectarian divides not only between Sunnis and Shias but also sects within each of them. The Baluchistan insurgency is still very much active and with its geographical contiguity to Iran may emerge even hotter to handle.
But then the Pakistan Army has all along been a rentier Army whose services could be requisitioned by the highest bidder. An invitation to play a bigger role in the Gulf Region coming from the United States and Saudi Arabia carries the promise of sizeable inflow of petro-dollars and advanced military equipment for services rendered.
Pakistan Army’s Transformation From “Frontline State Against Terrorism” to “Frontline State of Sunni Islam”
Pakistani media reports indicate that immediately after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the Pakistan Army hierarchy had undertaken contingency planning for earmarking of two Pakistan Army Divisions for Saudi Arabia in the event of political disturbances breaking out there. The process was reinforced by the visit of the Secretary General of the Saudi National Security Council to Islamabad thereafter.
The significant point to note is that both in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where the Pakistan Army is getting involved in the Gulf Region, the Shia majorities on the Gulf littoral are pitted against the conservative entrenched Sunni monarchies
Pakistan Army is not getting involved in these two countries to begin with, for ‘boy-scout’ duties. Any escalation of political upheaval in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to begin with, would require Pakistan Army soldiers in Saudi Arabia and its ex-soldiers in Bahrain National Guard to take military action against Shia protestors.
In effect, what it amounts to is that the Pakistan Army will be actively involved in perpetuating the Sunni monarchies status-quo in the Gulf against overwhelming political upheaval for regime change from the Shia majorities.
No wonder in the Pakistan media some higher-up has wryly commented that in such a process the Pakistan Army gets transformed from a “Frontline State Against Terrorism” to “Frontline State of Sunni Islam”
The ramifications of the above transformation in the Islamic World carries its own consequences for Pakistan, and domestically too.
Pakistan Army’s Military Intrusiveness in the Gulf Region Generates Strong Regional Implications
Strong regional implications are likely to be generated by Pakistan Army’s military intrusiveness in the Gulf Region. It would require a separate Paper to effectively analyze them in detail. For this Paper it would suffice to highlight the salient implications.
In the Gulf Region there is an ongoing political and military rivalry for regional predominance between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Iran has a sizeable edge over Saudi Arabia but for the security ballast provided to it by the United States.
Pakistan has been so far following a ‘hedging strategy’ in relation to Iran which has a sizeable geographical contiguity with Pakistan. Pakistan Army getting transformed into a “Frontline State of Sunni Islam” is not going to be lightly taken by Iran which has the capability to create turbulence against Pakistan in Baluchistan.
Pakistan’s nuclear bombs are no longer to be viewed as ‘Islamic Bomb’ but a ‘Sunni Bomb’ and that would spur Iran to full scale nuclear weapons capability.
Pakistan has a large workers population in the Gulf States and these would stand endangered by the wrath of Shia minorities in these kingdoms enraged by the involvement of Pakistan Army in suppression of Shias. Reports already exist of some Pakistanis being killed in Bahrain in the recent disturbances. Foreign exchange remittances to Pakistan from the Gulf could be drastically affected.
Turkey would have to take a tough call in relation to its strengthened relations with Iran and its restive Shia population in the South and its revival of warmth towards Pakistan. A Turkish break with Iran diminishes its increasing Middle East profile
Iraq carries the most damaging potential for the United States should it even remotely facilitate an intrusive Pakistan Army presence in the Region in whatever form. Iraq has a sizeable Shia population which would not take kindly to Pakistan Army bolstering the autocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Iraq is already noticeably restive on the Saudi Arabian military occupation of Bahrain.
In South Asia, it is India that has to worry more and be upfront in pointing out to the United States of yet another tactically expedient initiative facilitating Pakistan Army military intrusiveness in the Gulf Region. In effect India would have to face two sets of pressures from the resultant situation.
India in the ensuing developments would have to face more intense United States pressures on its Pakistan policy approaches as Pakistan Army Chief would demand quid-pro-quos more strongly in relation to Kashmir and also maintaining ‘balance of power equilibrium’ with India That translates into more advanced weapons systems and increased military aid. It also translates into increased US pressures on India on Kashmir.
Additionally Pakistan Army can expect greater under the table financial payments from Saudi Arabia to bolster its military machine with possible payments for raising two additional Pakistan Army Divisions to offset deployments in Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf Region today is sitting on an explosive powder-keg where long suppressed aspirations for political transformation and political freedoms were ignored by the autocratic Sunni monarchies sitting on unparalleled oil wealth. Introduction of Pakistan Army in whatever backdoor entries would amount in Shia perceptions of perpetuating the oppressive political systems as existing.
More than any country, it is the United States which needs to steer clear of Islamic World internally driven civil war divides between the Sunnis and the Shias. In no case the United States can afford to be seen as the mover of the transformation of Pakistan Army to a “Frontline State of Sunni Islam”