Pakistan’s strategic interests
Debate has been raging since 1950s whether Pakistan should have joined defence pacts with the West – Seato, Cento and bilateral agreement with the US. After Soviet forces landed in Afghanistan, what they said on the invitation of Afghan government, Pakistan jumped into the fray and joined the Afghan jihad, which many believe resulted in bringing Pakistan to the present pass. The question also arises as to why Pakistan leadership buckled under pressure when America threatened to consign Pakistan into stone-age. In hindsight, one could say that all those decisions were big blunders, as Pakistan could not achieve any of its objectives vis-à-vis integrity of the country, resolution of Kashmir dispute and a sound industrial base. It is true that at the time of independence, Pakistan had meager resources, not enough to build a strong defence force. But had the then leadership and bureaucracy used their cerebral faculties, they would have succeeded in making Pakistan self-reliant. In fact, Pakistani leadership looked outside for help and depended on the West; and it was dependency syndrome that Pakistan was coerced into joining the war on terror, which resulted in enormous and death and destruction.
Pakistan is indeed a resourceful country, but corruption, ineptness and lack of visionary leadership were the causes for bringing Pakistan on the verge of collapse. Quite a few Pakistani pseudo-intellectuals, anchorpersons, journalists and media men started saying that Pakistan is a failed state. In print media, articles are published leveling the same accusations which Indian and American leadership do. For example, they continue blaming Pakistan military and its intelligence agencies for their clandestine connection with militants and banned organizations like Lashkar-i-Taiba. In TV talk shows, one often listens to ‘brilliant’ analysts, panelists and anchorpersons who remind Pakistan government that it should conduct in a manner that America, European countries and India start trusting Pakistan. Instead of identifying the causes for the degeneration and supineness that have crept in society, and suggesting measures to make Pakistan economically and militarily strong, they are on a self-destruct course. They make a mockery of the term ‘strategic depth’ used by our political and military leadership by giving a spin or misinterpreting it as if Pakistan wants to install a government of its choice in Afghanistan.
In 1960s also this term was used for Iran conveying an impression that in the event of enemy’s attack Pakistan could withdraw to the Iranian territory to prepare for counter-attack. Anyhow, Pakistan’s desire to see a friendly government in Afghanistan is logical because from King Zahir Shah to Najibullah, Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan had remained strained. Now, when Pakistan has suffered in men and treasure during Afghan jihad, and when America and India see their strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics sitting more than 11000 and 2000 kilometres away respectively, Pakistan has genuine concern over being surrounded by India from the East and West through its clout with Afghan government. Russia was unhappy over Pakistan’s help to Afghan resistance, and secondly for having recognized the Taliban. But Pakistan never condoned the acts of the Taliban or their ‘passion’ for exporting Islam. Russia does not like to see the Taliban coming to power or share power in Afghanistan; which is why it has offered transit route for supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and also training the Afghan forces. Having that said, Russia would not like to see America firmly entrenched in Afghanistan.
America should bear in mind India-Russia nexus, as during Cold War era India had never opposed Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. In a meeting in Dushanbe the other day, Russia’s Director of Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov has said: “Pakistan and Afghanistan have become ‘incubators’ of terrorism, and pose a threat to Russia and all constituents of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) of former Soviet republics”. In 2001, India joined the New Great Game being played out in the Central Asian Region (CAR), where fierce competition for the area’s vast energy resources was intensifying. Rahul Bedi, quoting military and diplomatic sources, had written in the Frontline in September 2002 that a military base was operational since May in Tajikistan in Farkhor close to the Afghan border. The Farkhor base was also being used to funnel relief assistance that India pledged to Kabul after the Taliban’s ouster. Farkhor base was set up following a bilateral agreement signed during then defence minister George Fernandes’ visit to the Tajik capital Dushanbe in April 2001. It was agreed that India will train Tajik defence personnel, service and retrofit their Soviet and Russian military equipment and teach its army and air force personnel English.
Indian army had been running a 25-bed hospital at Farkhor since 2001, even before 9/11 during the civil war in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance military commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated two days before 9/11 ie on 9th September 2001 by two Arab suicide bombers posing as journalists, died in the above India-run hospital in Tajikistan. Through Tajikistan, India had also reportedly supplied the Northern Alliance (NA) high altitude warfare equipment; helicopter technicians from the clandestine Aviation Research Centre (ARC) operated by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), repaired the NA’s Soviet-made Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The ARC operated a fleet of spy aircraft that provide the RAW aerial reconnaissance, communications and electronics intelligence and imagery analysis. India however says that it does not have any base as per today. Since Pakistan has given tremendous sacrifice during Afghan jihad, and played host to more than three million Afghan refugees, and in the process suffered from drug and Kalashnikov culture, Pakistan is justified in desiring that it should not have a hostile government on the western border.
Viewed in the context that objective of a foreign policy for any country is to have cordial relations with all countries of the world especially the neighbouring countries, and to safeguard its national security, independence and sovereignty, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been a dismal failure since its inception. In 1950s, the Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya etc., were unhappy with Pakistan because of joining the Cento and Seato pacts, and for entering into bilateral agreement with the US. The newly independent and non-aligned nations were suspicious of our role; the socialist block considered Pakistan as their enemy and the US-led western powers thought of Pakistan no more than a pawn on their international political chessboard. America has in the past ditched Pakistan after achieving its objective. And this time it would not be different.
Pakistan should, therefore, review its foreign policy, and enhance strategic relationship with China. Pakistani leadership should not have fears that building up trust with China would annoy America. And in the event of a war between the US and China, Pakistan could suffer because of India being strategic partner of America. When we say that there could be no war between India and Pakistan, as war between two nuclear states is not an option, then there is not a remote possibility of war between India and China or America and China.