Pakistan & Sino-US cold war

Updated June 09, 2019

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The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

AFTER the secretive Bilderberg meetings in Switzerland last week, Martin Wolf, the respected Financial Times economic columnist, wrote an op-ed entitled: ‘The 100 year fight facing the US and China’. Wolf’s conclusions are significant:

“...[R]ivalry with China is becoming an organising principle of US economic, foreign and security policies”; “The aim is US domination. This means control over China, or separation from China”. This effort is bound to fail. “This is the most important geopolitical development of our era. ...[I]t will increasingly force everybody else to take sides or fight hard for neutrality”; “ Anybody who believes that a rules-based multilateral order, our globalised economy, or even harmonious international relations, are likely to survive this conflict is deluded”.

Pakistan is near if not in the eye of the brewing Sino-US storm. Neutrality is not an option for Pakistan. The US has already chosen India as its strategic partner to counter China across the ‘Indo-Pacific’ and South Asia. The announced US South Asia policy is based on Indian domination of the subcontinent. Notwithstanding India’s trade squabbles with Donald Trump, the US establishment is committed to building up India militarily to counter China.

On the other hand, strategic partnership with China is the bedrock of Pakistan’s security and foreign policy. The Indo-US alliance will compel further intensification of the Pakistan-China partnership. Pakistan is the biggest impediment to Indian hegemony over South Asia and the success of the Indo-US grand strategy. Ergo, they will try to remove or neutralise this ‘impediment’.

The US is arming India with the latest weapons and technologies whose immediate and greatest impact will be on Pakistan. India’s military buildup is further exacerbating the arms imbalance against Pakistan, encouraging Indian aggression and lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons in a Pakistan-India conflict. Washington has joined India in depicting the legitimate Kashmiri freedom struggle as ‘Islamist terrorism’.

The China-US confrontation is likely to escalate further in the foreseeable future.

A hybrid war is being waged against Pakistan. Apart from the arms buildup, ceasefire violations across the LoC and opposition to Kashmiri freedom, ethnic agitation in ex-Fata and TTP and BLA terrorism has been openly sponsored by India, along with a hostile media campaign with Western characteristics. FATF’s threats to put Pakistan on its black list and the opposition to CPEC are being orchestrated by the US and India. The US has also delayed the IMF package for Pakistan by objecting to repayment of Chinese loans from the bailout.

Although the US has moderated its public antipathy towards Pakistan while it extracts Pakistan’s cooperation to persuade the Taliban to be ‘reasonable’, it is likely to revert to its coercive stance once a settlement is reached in Afghanistan, or if the negotiations with the Taliban break down.

The Sino-US confrontation is likely to escalate further in the foreseeable future. US pressure on smaller states to fall in line will become more intense under the direction of US hawks. Under Xi Jinping, China will not “hide its strength or bide its time”. Beijing has retaliated against Washington’s trade restrictions. It will “defend every inch” of Chinese territory.

Likewise Narendra Modi in his second term is unlikely to become more pliant towards Pakistan. He has been elected on a plank of extreme Hindu nationalism and hostility towards Muslims, Kashmiris and particularly Pakistan. Modi will not shift from this posture since he needs to keep his people’s attention away from the BJP’s failure to create jobs and improve living conditions for anyone apart from India’s elite. India’s economy is facing headwinds and growth has slowed. There are multiple insurgencies across the country, apart from the popular and sustained revolt in disputed Kashmir against India’s brutal occupation.

The Pulwama crisis has confirmed the imminent danger posed by the Kashmir dispute. In their resistance to Indian occupation, Kashmiris groups will at times respond violently to India’s gross and systematic violations of human rights. India will blame Pakistan for such violence and its failure to put down the Kashmiri resistance. The next Pakistan-India confrontation could lead to general hostilities. These could escalate rapidly to the nuclear level.

The most dangerous scenario for Pakistan would be an Indian conventional attack under a US nuclear ‘umbrella’. Pakistan’s second strike capability is the only certain counter to this catastrophic scenario.

Some in Pakistan may be sufficiently disheartened by its imposing challenges to advocate peace with India at any cost. But, for Pakistan, “surrender is not an option” (to quote the title of John Bolton’s book about the UN).

Accepting Indian domination over South Asia will compromise the very raison d’être for the creation of Pakistan. The current plight of India’s trapped Muslims should be an object lesson to those who believe that displays of goodwill will buy India’s friendship. A thousand years of history refutes that thesis.

In any event, irrespective of what Pakistan does, the Kashmiris will persist in their struggle. They have survived periods of Pakistani indifference. If Modi’s government attempts to fulfil its campaign pledge to abrogate Jammu & Kashmir’s special, autonomous status, the Kashmiri resistance will further intensify. Islamabad will then face a choice of supporting the just Kashmiri struggle or cooperating with the Indians to suppress it (just as the Arab states are being pressed to do to the Palestinian struggle for statehood.)

Even as it seeks to stabilise the economy and revive growth, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership must remain focused on preserving Pakistan’s security and strategic independence. The alternative is to become an Indo-American satrap.

A better future is possible. But it is not visible on the horizon.

Against all odds, presidents Trump and Xi may resolve their differences over trade and technology at the forthcoming G20 Summit or thereafter. Or, Trump may be defeated in 2020 by a reasonable Democrat who renounces the cold war with China. Alternately, Modi may be persuaded by Putin, Xi and national pride not to play America’s cat’s-paw and join a cooperative Asian order, including the normalisation of ties with Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan cannot base its security and survival on such optimistic future scenarios. It must plan for the worst while hoping for the best.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019