“The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is likely to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards” (William Francis Butler)
Pakistan is facing a complex multi-dimensional situation with multiple possibilities after its stand-off with India. Only few weeks earlier, Pakistan was intensely engaged in the Taliban-US negotiations with the Saudi Arabia in the backdrop. Then, the twin suicide attacks, one in Sistan, Iran and the other in Pulwama, India-held Kashmir, left Pakistan in a diplomatically vulnerable position. A closer analysis will reveal whether these events were part of a greater plan or did they form a pattern leading to a shift in the regional politics.
India is strengthening its relationship with Israel and the USA on many issues, including defense, terrorism, and perhaps against the Pakistan-China-Russia alignment. According to an article by Robert Fisk in The Independent UK, Israel is playing a big role in India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan. However, the attack has certainly brought Iran and India closer on the diplomatic end, if not defense and terrorism. Iran, which is on the other end of the spectrum, has had strained relations with the USA and none with the Israel, but with this incident Iran has been drawn closer to India on the issue of terrorism. Iran and India are also not happy with the Saudi Arabian visit or Saudi investment in CPEC. The reason for India and Iran not liking the above to happen may be different, but Pakistan, Gwadar, CPEC, Saudi Arabia, has given India and Iran reasons to come closer while the suicide attacks provided the missing motivation.
The global strategic lines for the 21st century are being drawn. The ‘blocks’ proposed by Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilizations have started to form with India, Iran, Afghanistan and the US on one side and Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and China on the other. In a regional sense, complex politico-economic interests are also remerging. China has condemned the terror attacks and does not approve of extremist elements destabilizing the region, CPEC, BRI or any of its other strategic plans. So, China is obviously being strategically targeted. Indian aggression in Doklam with the US fully backing India against China confirms that Indo-US coordination regarding Pakistan and Afghanistan is part of a much larger theatre of strategic cooperation, competition and confrontation. Indo-US pressures on Pakistan are set to build. A normally cautious China and Russia have sprung to the defense of Pakistan after the events.
Pakistan has barely managed to survive after reaching the brink of an economic collapse however the escalation with India again threatens to take it back into a bigger financial crisis. Pakistan, which barely won a few billion dollars from friends, can find these precious dollar ‘support’ and investments, ‘evaporate’ in case of an escalation with India or even a standoff at the borders. There are no marks for guessing as to who the ultimate beneficiaries would be if Pakistan undergoes a financial crisis due to escalation.
In the coming days, Pakistan will be under pressure to act and that too as per the ‘prerequisite’ set around it by Iran, China, Russia and perhaps the USA as well. Iran will exert its pressure for Pakistan to take some ‘concrete’ steps. On the other hand, India will exert pressure through global and regional players, especially around the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). FATF is another point where Pakistan has been, and will be, vulnerable and current geopolitics will be played around this point.
It is, accordingly, critical for Pakistan to formulate and follow an integrated Afghanistan, India and Kashmir policy. Strategic coordination with China will be essential. China is, incidentally, a better interlocutor for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region than the US. Finally, a short-sighted India-centric Afghanistan policy will be disastrous for Pakistan-Afghan relations and for the strategic development of Pakistan-China relations.