It is my perennial lament. I pen it again, with sorrow, on the country’s 73rd Republic Day. (Yea, I watched the parade — but what’s with the marching columns with .303 rifles of World War I vintage, or the 60-year old Centurion tanks on carriers? And, how come every imported flying object was featured in the massive fly-past but not the home grown Tejas LCA?)
The lament is about the Indian government being so addle-brained it still doesn’t know which is its one true enemy — Xijinpingistan, a fact that, in one sense, is at the root of all our external problems and the country’s subordinate status. [The suffix ‘stan’ to denote the orientalizing of the Communist Chinese state as a cult along Stalinist lines!]As a people, we are so blinded by traditional prejudices and cultural bias, rational strategizing goes out the window. I am referring to the anti-Muslim sentiment, of course.
This factor has shaped India’s foreign policy, undermined vital national interests, and shrunk the country into a dependency and a pawn in the global chessboard of power politics. It offers an object lesson for other well endowed states on how not to screw things up and connive at one’s own reduction. The real tragedy, however, is that no one — not the people at-large, not the government, and not the policy establishment, has learned from this still unfolding fiasco, because no one thinks anything is seriously wrong!
Antipathy to subcontinental Islam, Muslims, anything remotely local Muslim-related (and even Urdu language, aka Hindustani — a mellifluous hodge-podge of Arabic, Farsi, and a host of dialects of the Gangetic Plains that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was barely able to mouth it but imposed it as state language on Pakistan where it was alien to both its western and eastern wings!) is real, and a horrendous liability. Externalized and cemented into India’s Pakistan policy, this antipathy has diverted the country from taking on Xijinpingistan by criminally frittering away national resources and effort. If, as I keep saying, New Delhi misperceives Pakistan, which is at most a military nuisance, as a full-blooded threat, then it is no surprise it gets very little else right in the national security sphere either. The result is the Indian government and the Indian military have saddled the nation with the problem of a menacing Xijinpingistan which, frankly, they seem incapable of handling but, curiously, makes them more determined to beat down Pakistan!
Xijinpingistan (also known previously as Dengxiaopingistan and, still earlier, as Maozedongistan) is, however, doing India and Indians a favour. By clubbing the slumbering, lumbering and slow-witted trimurti of Indian government, Indian military, and the Indian foreign policy establishment, on their heads with ceaseless military moves to grab more and more Indian territory, disadvantage Indian forces in-theatre and on every dip in the terrain, and consolidate the disputed border along its desired lines in eastern Ladakh it has, sort of, wakened India and, possibly even the Indian government, to the mortal danger that it poses. But still nowhere enough for the country finally and irrevocably to orient itself strategically, militarily, economically and diplomatically to take on Xijinpingistan.
The latest frictive development is the bridge nearing completion over the sort of elongated boomerang-shaped Pangong Lake, to connect its Moldo garrison on the southern shore with its stronghold on the Khurnak Fort on the northern bank. Khurnak marks nearly the mid-point of the lake and was under Indian control until the 1962 War when the Gurkha unit — 3/1, I think, posted there was swamped by the PLA. The fact of the Khurnak area as Indian territory was not contested by Maozedongistan in the numerous meetings the two sides had in the period leading up to the ’62 hostilities. As always and in its usual reactive mode, MEA is all aflutter about this new construction, reminding the world just how casual and negligent the Indian government has been since 1947 about losing territory and more, how it has lacked the guts militarily to vacate the creeping annexation by the adversary on the Line of Actual Control. Aware that the Modi regime is as noodle-spined as the earlier Indian governments, and will do nothing no matter what the latest outrage or provocation, the Xijinpingi official rag — Global Times, editorially advised Delhi to stop making a “fuss” about that bridge. (https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202201/1246411.shtml )
An obedient GOI is bending over backwards to not make a fuss about developments in Ladakh. It is important to gain perspective though: Maozedongistan succeeded with its 1962 hostilities to strip India of its military big power pretence. Dengxiaopingistan nuclear missile-armed Pakistan and, at a stroke, strategically crippled India by tying it militarily to a hapless and flailing state on the flank which move, incidentally, only reinforced New Delhi’s predisposition to mistake a cat for a tiger, and then crowned this strategy by making it all cost-free and economically profitable for itself by getting the appeasement-minded-Indian establishment to accept heavily unbalanced bilateral trade. So, hey, can Beijing be blamed for believing that the Indian political leadership across parties is a “confederation of dunces”?
In this context, Xijinpingistan’s capture and formal absorption of the Indian Aksai China region of eastern Ladakh, vide its new sovereignty law, is by MEA’s debased reckoning, a mere blip! And it will so remain even when a yet more adventurous Xi orders a new round of territorial grab come this Spring and summer. Once again, the Indian army will be “surprised”, will get quickly on the backfoot, and scrounge around for reasons to explain why it neither anticipated, nor resisted, the PLA.
Meanwhile, Imran Khan in Islamabad filled a hall with government officials and the like to announce in the first week of the New Year a National Security Policy [NSP-1, 2022-26] that’s been in the making since 2014. News reports about its contents suggest that the only new thing in it is its discovery of “geoeconomics” at a time when Xijinpingistan’s bullish, one-sided, economic profit-mongering policies have turned the rest of the world against the idea of economic interdependence. Of course, there’s the obligatory mention in the NSP of India needing to reverse the abrogation of Constitution Articles 370 and 35A conferring special status on Jammu & Kashmir, before a dialogue can be initiated to realize the fruits of normalcy. Except, without normalcy in Indo-Pak ties any tilt by Pakistan towards geoeconomics is nonsense.
But, most noticeably, this document heralds Islamabad’s inward turn, its principal focus shifting to the revival of a plunging economy by increasing trade and export revenues, attracting foreign investment, and somehow riding out the economic crisis engulfing Pakistan. Pakistan is in a dual debt trap and is obliged to service debts owed the International Monetary Fund and China. Debt servicing will take up some 70 percent plus of the budget into the forseeable future. Because the Pakistani currency is expected soon to fall to 200 rupees to a US dollar level, and because Pakistan imports just about everything what people buy by way of esentials grow pricier by the day with neither China nor IMF in a mood to cut Islamabad slack. It is forcing the Imran Khan government to take on still more debt to payoff current creditors, and willy-nilly to push that country deeper into “circular debt” — a vicious cycle it cannot easily escape.
To add to Imran’s troubles, his regime’s main prop — the Pakistan army, accustomed to living comfortably off some 16% of the budget, is uneasy. With some 70% of the budget sequestered for debt repayment, 16% of the remaining 30% in absolute terms leaves the Pakistan government next to nothing to spend on health and social welfare, after other government expenditures — in the main, the salary bill of government employees, the railways, P&T, and the public sector industry, is met. The international pressure to generate more revenues to payoff these spiralling debts means increased taxes on petrol, grain and foostuffs, gas in the kitchen stove, and such, until now when the Pakistani people have their cup of woe runneth over. Their discontent stoked, the Pakistani people are sliding into a rebellious mood, a terrible situation exacerbated by rising sectarian and terrorist violence unleashed by several well-armed, well funded and highly motivated outlier elements.
Among these are the extremist Tehreeq-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) fighting to obtain strict sunni salafi rule. In October last year, it dug up arterial highways (the Grand Trunk Road) and held the country hostage until the Imran Khan government capitulated (which ending mirrored the farmer agitation on Delhi’s borders). Then there is the Tehreeq-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) whose disregard for the Durand Line is reflected in its aim to wrest FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province away from Pakistan for a Greater Afghanistan either for the Taliban regime in Kabul or, more ambitiously, to spin off into a twin Sharia-run emirate. Soon after ending the ceasefire agreement with the Imran govt on January 23, a bunch of explosions rocked Pakistani cities TTP took credit for. Then there are the freedom fighters of the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baluch National Army (BNA), who are accused of getting support from India, and the embryonic sub-regional nationalist movements in Sindh and the shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. All these groups are insurgent in nature and the Pakistani state has failed to quell them.
The Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) find they are hoist with their own petard. Having at America’s behest originally spawned, nursed and deployed jihadi terrorists to oust the Soviet occupation forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, they find they cannot distance themselves from the various orgs that have splintered from that mujahideen whole, including the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda (recall that Osama bin Laden was among the mujahideen ranks fighting the Soviet troops) and Daesh (Islamic State) and its Khorasan variant, or prevent a blowback in terms of the more rabid sections among them turning on their one-time benefactors — the Pakistan army and state. The ISI, on its part, has resisted shutting down these terrorist/mujahideen gangs because of their utility as coercive instruments to target India and, as trouble-making leverage, to extract monies and policy concessions from the US and the West. Hence, the Pakistan army wants nothing to do with anti-terrorist/counter-insurgency ops, like the one it mounted in FATA some years back. The Pakistani paramilitaries and the police are left facing the brunt.
If the internal situation is beyond alarming, the external milieu isn’t less onerous for Pakistan. With the US distancing itself, Islamabad is minus the surefire option of relying on Washington to douse any startling Indian military reaction to terrorist incidents that ISI-nurtured Kashmiri militants may engineer within Kashmir or elsewhere in India. The Arab states in the Gulf find India a more promising partner and have all but abandoned Pakistan. Firming up the nexus with China only heightens its strategic dilemma without easing the debt-trap, even though most of the infrastructure associated with the China-Pakistan Economc Corridor (CPEC), including the Gwadar port, will mostly serve Xijinpingi interests. Also, Xijinpingitsan is not convinced Pakistan can stop sunni mullahs from Pakistan and Afghanistan from infiltrating through the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang and there radicalizing the restive Uyghur Muslim majority population, or that the Pakistani state can protect the Chinese staff and labourers working on CPEC projects. The $11.4 million extracted from Islamabad by the Xijinpingi state as recompense for the six or so Chinese killed in the terrorist attack on the bus carrying them to project site, may have made the Chinese CPEC employees in Pakistan more attractive targets. Worse, a Taliban-run Afghanistan has worsened Pakistan’s position on the frontier because the fate and the future of FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa now depend on how hard the powerful Taliban Afghan defence minister Mullah Yaqoob (son of the emir of the first Taliban regime, Mullah Omar) will push to recover these once Afghan territories.
With just about everything that can go wrong going wrong for Pakistan, the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has almost thrown up his hands, and left the floundering Imran government to its own devices, to make peace with India if it can. The desperately difficult straits Pakistan finds itself in is an obvious prompt for the viscerally anti-Muslim/anti-Pakistan elements in the Indian society to rejoice. But for them to see this as the beginning of the end of Pakistan is delusory. Whatever happens, Pakistan will no more fall apart than India will for any reason.
Incidentally, Bajwa is the third successive Pakistan army chief, after Ashfaq Kayani (2007-2013) and Raheel Sharif (2013-2016) to publicly declare that India is not a threat to Pakistan, but that armed militants of all kinds active within that country are the primary threat. This even as the Indian government and the Indian armed forces hyperventilate about Pakistan, which is less credible as a threat than as a joke.
I have repeatedly challenged senior military officers over the years to prove how Pakistan, whose GDP is one-thirteenth that of India’s, and whose total annual budget is less than India’s defence budget, can realistically be a threat. And have argued in my writings and books — see Why India is Not a great Power (Yet), that generosity will cost India nothing. That the Indian army can safely and unilaterally remove all forwardly deployed field units from the western border, and the Strategic Forces Command can do the same with nuclear-tipped short range ballistic missiles. And that, these two steps in tandem, I contend, will be the ultimate security and confidence building measures to induce GHQ, Rawalpindi, into sort of trusting India, and to feel somewhat reassured that India will do nothing to imperil Pakistan.
Taking such “de-militarization” steps, moreover, will free scarce financial resources, manpower, and war materiel that currently sustain a wasted aggressive forward posture on the western front symbolized by the three strike corps on the Gujarat-Rajasthan-Punjab front. And as I have detailed, it will help rationalize the three strike corps-based force structure into a single composite armoured corps for Pakistan contingencies while shifting the bulk of the now freed resources into the raising of two additional offensive mountain corps (OMCs) to augment XVII Corps now almost fully formed. Hopefully, the three OMCs can take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau, and not just get locked down defensively on the LAC, or in bases on the plains (like XVII Corps in Panagarh).
Once the above moves eliminate its sense of insecurity, Islamabad will reconcile to reality and gladly grab at any figleaf of an “honourable” accord. The draft Musharraf-Manmohan Singh agreement is on the table. It can be tweaked to accommodate the new reality of separate Jammu, Ladakh and Valley administrative jurisdictions post-removal of Articles 370 & 35A.
But is it too much to expect some strategic soul within the vast edifice of the Government of India, just one person with clout in the Modi dispensation, to see such strategic opportunity not so much to push Pakistan’s head under water but for the Indian army as the senior service to take the lead in aligning the armed forces and the country more centrally against Xijinpingistan?
Even as the new military orientation and alignment is being implemented, the more urgent twin prong of this policy should be to rescue Pakistan from the abyss of economic disaster, domestic turmoil, and further encoilment in Xijinpingistan’s CPEC design. The Modi regime did the wonderfully good and right thing of providing Sri Lanka, which is in hock to Beijing and has just $1.5 billion as usable reserves, a billion dollar credit line. It has initiated the process of drawing the ruling Rajpaksa family away from the deadly lure of easy Xijinpingstani credit. It has already fetched India the strategic oil farm and a potential naval presence in Trincomalee that Lord Nelson called the finest deep water port in Asia. This is the blueprint for slowly but steadily diminishing the dragon’s footprint in India’s backyard. The hectoring and arm-twisting of neighbouring states have to be replaced by offering substantive deals which they cannot refuse and which will end up benefiting India strategically. Pakistan, like Sri Lanka, is ripe for co-optation, and should be given immediate economic assistance — a billion dollar credit line? At the other end, efforts need to be enhanced to bring Bangladesh more rapidly into the subcontinental fold, because Dhaka seems lately to be slipping into Xijinpingistan’s grasp. In this respect, why not provide all the adjoining countries free access to the Indian market for their wholly produced commodities and manufactures? This is economically feasible because the Indian economy is large and rich enough to afford and absorb such intra-subcontinental trade.
In any case, India is in a better place now to realize something it has not so far attempted — a pacified neighbourhood with all the adjoining states, including Pakistan, plugging naturally into the Indian economy, riding the connectivity infrastructure (railways, roads and communications networks) radiating outwards from India towards the subcontinent’s extremeties, producing peace and loads of common good in, what I have in my books called, the “Greater South Asia co-prosperity sphere”. This goal is entirely achievable. It is a nice thought to end the day with.