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The China basket

Updated June 12, 2016

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THEY seem to come out of nowhere. These technical spats that are packaged for the laymen here in warlike terms.

All week we’ve heard that the NSG — a nuclear group that few had ever heard of before — is proof of the US trying to screw over Pakistan and instal India as a hegemon over us.

It didn’t actually come out of nowhere — India-in-the-NSG is a wheel that was set in motion in 2005, with the genesis of the Indo-US nuclear deal, and that has built up speed since 2010.

And, to be clear, the US is being tricky with this India-NSG business. There is nothing principled — principled in a principled definition of the term — about the American position.

Also read: India wins Obama’s support for NSG bid

But let’s strip away the wonkish complexities and technicalities of the NSG and try and get to some of the basics here.

The NSG exists because in 1974 India tested a nuclear device. That, according to the NSG, “demonstrated that nuclear technology transferred for peaceful purposes could be misused”.

You know something funny is up when, 40 years later, the very organisation created because India did something to upset the world is being forced to wrestle with the possibility of Indian membership.

Essentially, if it weren’t for the US, India would never be in with a shot at NSG membership.

That quite remarkable reversal has occurred for at least two reasons that everyone — Indian, American, Chinese and Pakistani — agrees on:


Let’s strip away the wonkish complexities and technicalities of the NSG and try and get to some of the basics here.


One, the US and India are wary of China and seeking ways to work together over the long term to restrain or counter Chinese influence.

Two, the US, and other countries that support Indian membership, see commercial opportunity in India’s entry to the NSG; while India sees membership as a step towards joining the big-boys club globally.

In neither of those reasons is there a role for Pakistan — hence, no US or NSG deal for Pakistan.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Pakistan complaining about what India and the US are up to.

If we don’t have the advantage that India has with the US, we may as well make as much noise as we can to try and prevent ourselves from being further disadvantaged.

And there’s everything right in Pakistan turning to China for support — in the world out there, you use what you have to try and achieve what you want.

But there’s a smart way to go about things and then there’s the Pakistani way. Even from a security-state prism.

Believing that we are at the end of a US-China-India chain, and having to deal with the trickle down of their three-way rivalry, we’ve latched on to China as the answer to our problems.

That’s fine. The way the board is now configured — leaving aside why it’s configured that way in the first place — it makes a kind of sense.

It’s not like we can convince the Americans of strategic convergences or allow ourselves to be friends with India.

But it’s a long game this and the problem is we seem to be playing it at warp speed.

Ever since the CPEC stuff came around, we’ve gone so all-in with the China card that it’s left a lot of folk puzzled, even the Americans and a bunch of the Europeans.

The US still wants to engage us, both militarily and otherwise. As long as we have nuclear weapons, terrorists and 200 million Muslims, the Americans can’t afford not to.

And the Americans are long used to balancing between a squabbling India and Pakistan.

So the base line security-state equation should be: pull China closer while sticking with the US and managing relations with India.

And yet — we only seem to be getting one part right. CPEC may be the eventual key, but there’re other doors still open.

Somehow, and for reasons unclear, we seem determined to shut those other doors.

The NSG hysteria this week is another clue in what is emerging as a determined effort to steer national-security and foreign policy into wholly Chinese waters.

It’s not like that silliness with Russia of a few years ago, when miffed at the Americans we pretended we had the Russian option to embrace.

With the Chinese, it looks both deliberate and real. The thinking appears to be, in the US-China-India chain, we’re at the trickle-down end of things.

And since we’re not a part of the economy-competition-trade triangle that the US, China and India are locked in and since our relationship with India is different to what the US, China and India have, we can’t leverage our economy to engage in strategic competition and can’t use trade to blunt that competition.

That means grabbing the One Belt, One Highway lifeline and riding it all the way to wherever it can take us — because of India. And the US is on India’s side.

Which is already turning out to mean two things.

One, even as One Belt, One Highway offers historic economic possibilities — and not just the CPEC road and energy stuff — our security-centric world is nudging it towards becoming primarily a security-based project.

Two, we seem prematurely willing to ratchet down ties with the US — and wholly closed off to the idea of being a valued and valuable interlocutor between China and the US down the road.

Run with the American hare, hunt with the Chinese hound and keep both eyes on India — it should not only be possible, but the goal itself.

But the security state seems to have other ideas.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2016