Monday, July 27, 2015

With China as friend, Pakistan is teasing India. The game has changed, leaving us behind

Pakistan is having fun at India's expense, teasing Delhi, even daring it. It flashes friendship at prime ministers' level one day, and attacks our border posts the next day. It offers cooperation on terrorists one day, and protects terrorists the day after. The generals seem to be using Nawaz Sharif as a convenient tool to needle India and enjoy the game.

Traditionally India has dismissed Pakistani bravado because (a) it has defeated Pakistan on the battlefield more than once and (b) it is miles ahead of Pakistan in size, economic resources and technological advancement. But the ground realities have changed with Pakistan building up alliances with countries that will, for different reasons, stand by it in a moment of crisis. India's alliances are weaker by comparison.

America, for example, was the mainstay of Pakistani economy for many years, its financial grants often competing with its military aid. Pakistan handled the US cleverly, making its collaboration critically important to American operations in Afghanistan. America attached so much importance to its relations with Pakistan that it frustrated Indian attempts to access David Headley in the Mumbai terror attack case.

But it is China's solidarity with Pakistan that has wider ramifications especially from an Indian standpoint. Post-independence, China had seen India as the only Asian country strong enough to be a force to reckon with. And China's leadership, the shrewdest and most far-sighted in today's world, found easy ways to nip what it saw as a potential problem. The decisive military defeat meted out to India in the border war in 1962 crippled India's self esteem. Additionally, China embraced Pakistan as a close ally and built it up as a force that could keep India pinned down.When China helped Pakistan become a nuclear power, the equation was settled with finality. It is currently constructing four civilian nuclear reactors in Pakistan in addition to the two already completed, in violation of international treaties.

Even more decisive is China's recent infrastructural advance in Pakistan. The Gwadar port it has developed in Baluchistan is now to be linked to Xinjiang with a 3000-km road network. Along the way will rise new dams, energy lines and whole new cities. Pakistan places itself at the service of China. It has even raised a whole new infantry division to protect Chinese assets in Pakistan. Just as Pakistan was key to America's Afghanistan policy, it has become key to China's new policy of silk-road networking aimed at hastening China's economic-strategic centrality. China no longer sees Pakistan merely as a counterweight to keep India preoccupied; it now sees it as a pivot against Big Brother America's own Asian Pivot strategy.

There are no signs yet that India's foreign policy professionals have come up with anything like a strategy to, not contain China which is impossible now, but to ensure that Indian interests are protected. Occasionally there are reports of Prime Minister Modi taking a tough stand. Thus, when they met in Russia recently, Modi is said to have told President Xi Jinping that Beijing's recent veto in the UN against Indian move on Pakistani terrorist Lakhvi was "unacceptable". We must assume that President Xi was duly shaken.

Actually India is now a relatively minor blip on China's radar. The way China has been asserting itself under Xi's leadership shows that its horizons have widened. The US has been talking often and loudly, but has failed to take any action to check China's boldest challenge -- reclaiming sea and building an airstrip in the disputed Spratley Islands in South China Sea. Two months ago Japan announced a $ 110 billion aid plan for Asian infrastructure projects, a carefully calculated 10 billion more than the capitalisation of China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

This is a big boys' game and Narendra Modi has to play it without the back-up of a demonstrably competent foreign policy establishment, a national security planning system or think-tank specialists with ideas. All that has emerged so far from the Prime Minister and his advisors is a distinct shift in favour of the US. To what extent will this help when, on the one hand America's commitment to Pakistan remains strong and, on the other, Russia is getting closer to China and forming a united front to raise a multi-polar world against America's self-serving unipolar world?

Big boys' game cannot be played by people pre-occupied with petty games like I-can-stall-parliament-longer-than-you and my-scams-are-lesser-than-your-scams. We fight one another, attack and condemn one another -- while the world marches on, leaving us behind.