Should the Pak military be unable to ensure safety and governance support for the CPEC, China would be in trouble, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
Concerns in Beijing over the security of the large number of PRC citizens living and working in Pakistan are what is behind a slowdown in moneys coming from China in order to fund expansion and completion of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The CPEC cuts through Indian territory at its very start. General Secretary Xi Jinping had brushed off worries about (a) the financial viability of the CPEC once completed, (b) the wisdom of making such large investments in a country that is seeing a persistent widening of societal fissures, and (c) the impact of the CPEC on Sino-Indian relations.
Xi has long had unusual confidence in the Pakistan military, an institution that has been valuable to the PRC because of the information and assets that it transferred to the PLA concerning US kinetic capabilities. As for Indian sensibilities, the CCP General Secretary was confident that the lobby in India of businesspersons, politicians and others serving the interests of the PRC at the expense of their own country would prevail in decision-making thanks to the influence of the Lutyens Zone. Judging by his actions from 2017 onwards especially, Xi has bought on to the CMC strategy of detaching large chunks of territory in Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, and giving slices of that to his “all-weather” satellite, Pakistan.
Unfortunately for the higher authorities in the CMC, events on the ground are not following the script predicted by its experts in consultation with GHQ Rawalpindi. The Indian military has shown a resolution and resilience that was unexpected by the foe, while External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has made it clear that normalisation in matters of trade can only happen once the outcomes of PLA aggression along and across the Line of Actual Control get reversed.
India’s Army, Navy and Air Force are eager to show the PLA that India has come a long way from the self-inflicted chaos of 1962. Such an outcome that would be welcome news in Washington, Canberra, Tokyo and numerous other capitals thus far chary of openly declaring the extent of their unease and resentment at the Zero Sum mentality that has been on open display since the PLA-centric Xi Jinping took charge as CCP General Secretary in 2012.
It was expected in Rawalpindi, Moscow and Beijing that India going ahead with the purchase of S-400 systems from Russia would lead to a strategic break from Washington, but to their dismay, this is not happening. Should there be a matrix of policy in the US and India and Tokyo that is based wholly on 21st century realities rather than on confusing the past with the present, it is likely that India and Japan will have their own AUKUS-style agreements with the US, a JUSI (Japan, US, India) partnership in the nuclear underwater domain field that would inter alia utilise technology developed in India along with that from its other two JUSI partners.
AUKUS member Australia is already linked to Tokyo and New Delhi through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that was initiated in 2007 but failed to take off until 2017, and which is expected to be formalised and expanded, with an allied undersea and surface tracking centre based in the Andaman Islands, and a headquarters located within one of the four partners, for reasons of geography, preferably India.
PAK MILITARY’S REPUTATION IN DECLINE
Lavish attention including in the form of diplomatic support (to the extent of shielding terror groups and preventing Pakistan from getting into the FATF black-list) and expenditure has been given to Pakistan under General Secretary Xi. The problem is that the Chinese side has only a single guarantor and interlocutor on the Pakistan side, and this is the military. Since the Kargil fiasco of 1999, which even a master of PR such as Pervez Musharraf could not convincingly whitewash as a “victory sabotaged by the surrender of Nawaz Sharif to Vajpayee”, the reputation of GHQ Rawalpindi has been in decline internally, especially within the moderate element in Pakistan unhappy at the control exercised by the men in khaki over the country and its disastrous consequences.
Should the military lose its ability to ensure safety and governance support for the CPEC, China would be in trouble. The US seems to have abandoned its role since the 1950s of Sugar Daddy to the Pakistan military, presumably because of better knowledge about the information and activity flow between GHQ and PLA about US assets and capabilities, including the trove left behind in Afghanistan three months ago by US forces made to withdraw by President Biden. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman appears to be succeeding in staving off efforts at denying him the succession once venerable King Salman’s era ends.
MBS is the first Al Saud in three centuries to break with Wahhabism. Such a distancing is essential in the effort of MBS at ensuring that Saudi Arabia remain prosperous even when fossil fuels disappear. This is good news for the US and India but bad news for the generals in GHQ Rawalpindi, who remained anchored to the Zia-era policy of going by the dictates of the Wahhabi International rather than the overall interests of the Ummah. These interests require a reconciliation with India through mutual acceptance of ground realities. Keeping alive the fiction that India has aggressive intentions towards Pakistan is essential to secure public acceptance of the bloated budgets and privileges of the Pakistan military, but is increasingly being exposed as fiction.
PAKISTAN AT THE PRECIPICE
The GHQ Rawalpindi-sponsored delusion since the 1950s is that its eastern neighbour is poised to invade and occupy Pakistan, and that it was only the men in khaki who are standing in the way of that taking place. Such a phobia about India persisted for decades despite India remaining firmly in the grip of policies formulated in the Lutyens Zone, until the 2019 Balakot strike. The consequence of such unrealistic and harmful policies in India was that concession after concession was given to Pakistan, including the ceding of a third of Jammu & Kashmir to Pakistan in 1948 against the advice of the Indian component of the higher leadership of the Indian Army at the time.
Another example of reckless and harmful concessions made to a declared foe was the extreme generosity shown by New Delhi to Karachi in the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, the conditions of which are more generous to the lower riparian state than all other water treaties across the world added together. To add salt to the wound, political shenanigans have ensured over the past six decades that even the limited supply of water that India allocated to itself has not been made use of to a considerable extent. While the propensity of the Lutyens Zone is to retain much of the sadism towards the people of India that was ubiquitous during colonial rule, there is an equally obvious streak of masochism that benefits those powers that damage the interests of India.
Taking friends for granted while lavishing favours on foes is the Lutyens Zone motto. Despite such dysfunctionality, the sheer wealth of talent and grit in the population of India is ensuring that the country make progress. Conversely, with each twist of the control screw of the military over the foreign policy and economy of Pakistan, that country is closer to the precipice. The impact on livelihoods has been devastating, so much so that resentment has built up in Pakistan against China, the country regarded as the principal pillar of support for the military establishment in Pakistan and its associated business and extremist entities. Wherever there are pools of Chinese citizens living in Pakistan, the surroundings resemble an armed camp, much the way US settlements are in Iraq. While there is anger at the PRC for backing the generals in Pakistan, there is equally frustration at GHQ Rawalpindi’s subservient role while dealing with its Chinese counterpart.
CCP ILLUSIONS ABOUT WAHHABIS
The CCP leadership has fallen prey to the same delusion that earlier had caused much grief to the US, which is that the Wahhabis they cosset are their friends. Both in the case of US and PRC service personnel, even such personal choices as a preference during mealtimes of pork and a tendency to take a glass or more of alcohol are causing heartburn amongst the Wahhabis, as are reports of what is taking place in Xinjiang. Although the Sino-Pakistan alliance has been successful in creating the Red Herring of India’s imaginary “genocide of the minorities” as a way of diverting attention from what has been happening to them in Pakistan and China, more attention has begun to get paid to the two partner countries, diluting their effort to keep the international spotlight exclusively on India by conflating a few unpardonable but isolated actions of a handful of majority community fanatics as being commonplace within the overwhelmingly moderate population of India, whatever be their faith.
No mass graves have been found in India despite the torrent of reports even in well-known publications such as the New York Times or the Washington Post that echo the line of the Sino-Wahhabi lobby that the world’s most populous democracy (with its ever increasing number of minorities) is waist deep in genocide of Hitlerian proportions. This is because no such graves exist, although this does not stop the traducers of India and its people from continuing a tirade that only benefits the Sino-Russian and the Sino-Wahhabi lobby at the expense of their own countries. The pressure cooker that is gathering steam within Pakistan where PRC interests are concerned is creating a situation where there may soon be further manifestations of public anger at the way in which the people of Pakistan regard themselves as vassals of a predatory military and an external power.
Such rumblings are what is behind a slowdown in the investment and enthusiasm in the CCP higher leadership for the CPEC. Not to mention the fact that the new Spiritual Guide, Prime Minister Imran Khan, has not been very convincing at persuading the Chinese that he is no longer the pro-western man about town that he was throughout his cricketing career. The continuing linkages between Imran Khan and his friends in the UK in particular are making elements in the PLA uneasy, although to GHQ Rawalpindi, the former cricketing champion remains a far more reliable bet than Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari. The handover of Afghanistan to the Taliban by President Biden was expected to give Pakistan the “strategic depth” it craves, and gift the PRC unlimited access to the mineral wealth of that country.
Unfortunately for such expectations, much of the Pashtun community refuses any more to accept joint Sino-Pakistan overlordship over Pashtun territories, and makes that obvious in a rising crescendo of incidents. Substantial elements within the Pashtuns are asking themselves why they cannot drive the Pakistan military from Pashtun territory south of the Durand Line, when their brothers in the north got the better of the far better equipped NATO forces, making them scurry away from Afghanistan leaving behind their equipment and prestige. There is resentment at the PRC and at Xi in particular for backing the Pakistan military over the people, and this is reaching tipping point.