By Dr. Subhash Kapila*
Pakistan in September 2017 perceptionaly appears in an existential crisis wherein all major pillars of state stand engulfed in a systemic failure likely to endanger regional security and a crisis from which Pakistan cannot retrieve itself without a change of existing mindsets by Pakistan’s policy establishment.
Pakistan has been in varying stages of existential crises constantly in the last seventy years of its existence. But Pakistan because of contextual geopolitical factors operating was bailed out by its external strategic patrons. In September 2017, regrettably for Pakistan, the geopolitical factors in play currently do not accord that luxury. Pakistan has globally discredited itself by the reluctance of the Pakistan Army to rein-in Islamic Jihadi terrorist groups spawned by the ISI and reluctant to dismantle their safe havens.
The Pakistan Army in September 2017 seems to have overplayed its compulsive disruptive strategies against India and Afghanistan to the point where the United States and China which made heavy strategic investments in Pakistan’s utility to serve their respective security interests are having second thoughts on continued underwriting of Pakistan’s disruptive policies against India and Afghanistan.
Compounding the existential crisis that Pakistan faces today is the appearance of the first seeds of Pakistanis questioning whether the Pakistan Army has a ‘Divine Right’ to intervene militarily in the governance of Pakistan and its foreign policies. It was this which held back the former aggressive and overbearing preceding Pak Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif from a direct military coup that he was tempted to do so. It is this prevailing sentiment which probably will hold back present Pak Army Chief, General Bajwa, comparatively a less overbearing General than his predecessor, to stage a direct military coup.
Within the above outlined setting of the State of the Pakistan Nation in September 2017, this Paper now proceeds to analyse Pakistan’s foreign policy, its Supreme Court Judiciary record and the political dynamics prevailing in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s most significant existential crisis emerges in the field of Pakistan’s foreign policy wherein the whole edifice and the strategic premises on which the Pakistan foreign policy was based has crumbled by the force of geopolitical dynamics. This has its corresponding effects on Pakistan’s security and domestic policies.
Pakistan’s foreign policy dilemmas lorded over by the Pakistan Army is, best expressed by a Pakistani researcher who has stated: “Pakistan’s foreign policy dilemma has been its dependence on a major power while balancing its turbulent relations with arch-rival India. Instead of diversifying its relations with other major powers, Pakistan has always chosen to pick one and wear it like armour. There is nothing wrong with this realpolitik, except its inevitable consequence: earning masters rather than friends,”
In September 2017, Pakistan for all practical purposes has lost its individual entity under its new master, China. In the above connection, I would like to draw the attention of my readers to my SAAG Paper No 6245 dated 17 April 2017 titled “Pakistan 2017 Comprehensively Colonised by China”. Pakistan’s not only foreign policies but also its internal political dynamics in large measure are being determined through China’s prism.
In terms of Pakistan’s strategic patrons, the US-Pak relationship despite the Mutual Security Treaty and billions of US dollars in aid always persisted as a “transactional relationship” with political expediency as the predominating determining factor. In September 2017, the US-Pak relations have plummeted to an all-time low, chiefly, because the United States has opted to no longer to be permissive on Pakistan as a safe haven for Islamic Jihadi terrorist groups attacking both Afghanistan and India. The United States in 2017 recognises that India is a safer and surer bet than Pakistan for US South Asia policy calculations and that India is a credible force for South Asian stability in which USA has a vital stake.
Pakistan in September 2017 has been placed gravely at notice by the United States stating that Pakistan is being given “one last chance” to backtrack from its existing terrorism disruptive policies against India and Afghanistan or face America’s wrath. It is an unprecedented warning by the United States never heard before and indicates the changed geopolitical dynamics at play.
From 1962 onwards Pakistan and the Pakistan Army more specifically, has brazenly and proudly flaunted its ‘China Card’ as an all-protective armour, which with China-assisted nuclear weapons and nuclear long range missiles emboldened Pakistan to demand strategic equivalence with India. It also emboldened Pakistan fortified by its nuclear weapons to brazenly indulge in disruptive policies against India and Afghanistan.
In September 2017, Pakistan’s “China Armour” seems to have developed ‘metal fatigue’ as geopolitical compulsions have forced China to question its unqualified support to Pakistan’s terrorism strategies as a tool of statecraft. The BRICS Summit Statement in September 2017, found China being forced to go along with other BRICS Nations in condemning Pakistan’s terrorist groups by name.
Noteworthy is the fact that when US President Trump issued his recent widely publicised warning to Pakistan to desist from according safe heavens to Islamic Jihadi groups outlawed globally, Pakistan at the first instance turned to Russia and not China for countervailing statements against the United States.
The above is yet again an indicator of Pakistan’s reactive foreign policy determinants rather than it being determined by Pakistan’s long terms national security interest. China soon followed suit. No other nation supported Pakistan.
Russia and China have lately distinguished themselves by offering apologetic statements favouring Pakistan that it has done a lot to combat terrorism, oblivious to Pakistan’s track record.
It is noteworthy that in terms of foreign policy support base for Pakistan, the space has shrunk drastically, and is now restricted to only China and Russia. This handicaps Pakistan’s conduct of its foreign policies.
Pakistan in September 2017 is faced therefore with a serious challenge of having been abandoned by its ‘transactional strategic patron, the United States’, an uncertain and dented “Chinese Armour” so far provided by China, and its new strategic patron Russia likely again to turn into a transactional strategic patron.
Pakistan therefore has to somewhere make a major resetting of its foreign policy either by compromises or as per traditional pattern of the Pakistan Army of what I term as “Reinventing its Strategic Utility” to China or the United States. The latter, currently is more critically essential for Pakistan in view of the US recent warnings. However, both China and the United States seem inclined to no more underwrite Pakistan’s anti-India policies, unconditionally.
Politically, Pakistan in September 2017 is in a real messy situation and the respected Pakistani English daily, DAWN has asked searching questions and castigated all the organs of the Pakistan Nation for falling short in their respective functions of upholding the orderly governance of Pakistan. In an Editorial entitled “Who is in Charge of Pakistan?” (1)The Pakistan Army is blamed for not accepting its Constitutional limits and further not supporting the civilian apparatus unconditionally (2) The Pakistan Supreme Court “failed to hand a definitive and well-argued and well-grounded judgement in the existing laws”. What the Supreme Court has done is to spawn more uncertainty. (3) Pakistani political opposition parties are severely castigated that in their eagerness to displace former PM Nawaz Sharif, they drew in the Pakistan Army into their sordid political games and in the process subverting democracy.
PML-N and Nawaz Sharif have also been asked to account for as to why they are not ready to accept Supreme Court rulings on his dismissal. PML-N winning the Lahore seat in recent by-elections and the political return of former PM Nawaz Sharif to once again to formally head directly the PML-N indicates that a vast majority in Pakistan believes that his attempted political disqualification for life was an Establishment conspiracy.
In an earlier SAAG Paper I had analysed the ouster of Former PM Nawaz Sharif as a “Judicial Coup” perpetrated by the Pakistan Army with full complicity of the Judiciary. Readers may refer to my SAAG Paper No.6282 dated 31 July 2017 titled “Pakistan Army’s Graduation from Military Coups to Judicial Coups”.
Why has the Pak Supreme Court exhibited double standards? Imran Khan has not been disqualified for the same accountability offences? Why the lack of alacrity of the Supreme Court here as opposed to give a flawed judgement in case of Former PM Nawaz Sharif?
More disturbing has been to watch Pakistan Urdu TV debates where former retired Pak Army generals are taking offence on the Pak media and PML-N for having the temerity to criticise Pakistan Army and defying the Judiciary.
In short, what is afoot in Pakistan with the systemic failure of State institutions and the clamour outlined above, is building up a scenario to enable the Pakistan Army to undertake yet another military coup in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army was worried about former PM Nawaz Sharif to complete a full five year term as Prime Minister as it feared that this would embolden him to bring the Pakistan Army under some semblance of civilian control and accountability. The Judiciary became an accomplice of the Pakistan Army towards this end as the Pak Judiciary had some similar fears concerning Former PM Nawaz Sharif.
In such a dismal political environment in Pakistan, it is a pertinent question to ask as to whether there is no hope for the Pakistani people for a brighter future. Hopes can emerge if the bulk of the Pakistani people force their political leaders to unite and to organise a mass political movement to make the Pakistan Army ‘irrelevant’ to governance of Pakistan and to place the Pakistan Army under firm civilian control.
The systemic failure of Pakistan’s State institutions combined with a global recognition that Pakistan really is the epicentre of global terror and provides safe havens for Islamic Jihadi terrorist groups operating against Afghanistan and India has impacted heavily on Pakistan’s standing in the global community. Worse, the Pakistan Army stands officially censured by the United States on these two counts and this has robbed Pakistan foreign policy establishment of its traditional propaganda that India is the root cause of all Pakistan’s ills. Pakistan’s constant harangues at international forums on Kashmir hardly have any takers today.
Pakistan’s existential crisis in September 2017, in its 70th year of independence, generates grave regional security implications. In terms of regional implications, the countries heavily impacted are India, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan’s ‘Iron Brother’ China. Of the four countries listed, Pakistan can be said to be in an adversarial mode in terms of its relationships with India, Afghanistan and Iran. This by itself is a grave existential crisis for Pakistan wherein it is in confrontation with all its neighbours minus China.
India has withstood for 70 years Pakistan’s four wars of aggression, and decades of Pakistan State sponsored terrorism besides fomenting unrest in Kashmir Valley. India has asserted that it is well prepared to take on any increased military adventurism arising from Pakistan’s existential crisis either singly or as a part of the joint Pakistan-China Axis. In the event of a future military show-down between Pakistan and India, Pakistan may have to face the strategic reality that the ‘Body Armours’ which Pakistan created in terms of countervailing power of Major Powers would NOT be forthcoming. Not even China, for when the chips are down, geopolitical compulsions may impede China from a wholesale underwriting of Pakistan’s military adventurism.
In relation to Afghanistan, with United States permissiveness and respect for Pakistan Army’s sensitivities having vanished over the horizon, any new Pakistan Army’s military adventurism to undermine Afghanistan’s stability or a proxy outsourcing to its various Islamic Jihadi terrorism affiliates could invite a major American crackdown on Pakistan. As US Defense Secretary Mattis has asserted that Pakistan is being given ‘one last chance’ by President Trump to fall in line and not undermine Afghanistan’s stability and security and the US commitment to Afghanistan towards that end.
Fraternal bonds of a common Islamic identity have not prevented Pakistan from playing disruptive games against Iran either on its own volition or at Saudi Arabia’s behest. It cannot be forgotten that Pakistan geopolitically gets drawn in the major regional power tussle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and the power of Shia Iran, a reckonable military entity. Clashes have occurred on the Pakistan-Iran borders in the past and could increase.
China despite the absence of an adversarial relationship with Pakistan will be the nation most impacted by Pakistan’s existential crisis for two reasons. China’s strategic investments in Pakistan are the heaviest both in terms of strategic support, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missiles arsenal and now the $52 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan’s existential crisis will spawn considerable instability in Pakistan’s political dynamics and also military turbulence on Pakistan’s Western and Eastern Borders. In both cases, China’s major flagship project in Pakistan, the CPEC gets seriously endangered.
More significantly, if Pakistan does not feel inclined to accept and abide by American dictates on liquidating Islamic Jihadi terrorist sanctuaries that the Pakistan Army provides, then a military intervention by the United States is a possibility that cannot be discounted, notwithstanding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. In such an eventuality, would China be prudent enough not to risk a military conflagration with the United States just to save Pakistan or would it opt for the reckless path of a military showdown with the United States over Pakistan?
Concluding, one feels constrained to remark that Pakistan’s state of the nation in September 2017 is dismal and forbidding not only for Pakistan’s continuance as a ‘Viable Nation State’ but also the disruptive-potential of Pakistan as a regional destabiliser getting further amplified. Pakistan’s vital organs of State are more engrossed in safeguarding their respective turfs rather than pondering over the future of Pakistan. Pakistan’s new “Colonial Master”, namely China will neither have the will nor the inclination to retrieve Pakistan from its dismal state. Finally, it is the people of Pakistan through a widespread political upheaval that has to retrieve Pakistan from its existential crisis by a rapid restructuring of the vital institutions of Pakistan.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]