Mindset of Encirclement, Isolation And Abandonment Pervades Pakistan’s Elites

There is a sense of disillusion and paranoia afflicting Pakistan. Two separate narratives are visible – one, of growing angst against the United States (US) with a feeling of being used, abused and discarded.

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There is a sense of disillusion and paranoia afflicting Pakistan. Two separate narratives are visible – one, of growing angst against the United States (US) with a feeling of being used, abused and discarded. This pervades the mindset of both policy elites and the intelligenstia. The denial of F-16’s, increasing condemnation of Pakistan as a terrorist sponsoring state and constantly being asked to do more and more on containing cross border terror and nuclear program is seen as US once upon preparing ground for its abandonment by the United States. According to the latest Pew pole 62 percent Pakistani’s have an unfavorable opinion about America.

Adding salt to the wounds is the drone attack killing Mullah Mohammed Mansur, in the “no go” area of Baluchistan, which remained outside the purview of American attacks all through one and half decades of active US operations in Afghanistan, despite Quetta shura’s headquarters being located in Quetta. Attack on Afghan Taliban leader in Bauchistan has not only exposed Pakistani duplicity with regard to support and shelter to Afghan Taliban despite vehement denials, but has also crossed an important redline indicating US disenchantment with both Pakistani military and political establishment in their war against terror in Afghanistan.

So deep has been the impact of these developments that for the first time redoubtable Pakistani Army Chief is being questioned for his total capitulation to the Americans. Situation was exacerbated by Foreign Policy Advisor Sartaj Aziz admitting on the floor of the senate, that the agenda for talks with Taliban is wholly being driven by the Americans at their whims and fancy with little or no control of Pakistan. His lament being; while Pakistan was expected to bring Taliban on to the negotiation table, Americans repeatedly vitiated the process, the drone attack and non recognition of Taliban delegation that had come for preliminary discussions with Pakistan Government being quoted as prime examples. This has caused a major uproar against the weak and vacillating strategic and policy establishment including the Army for failing to protect both national honor and sovereignty.

Further fueling the estrangement is the belief that the US acting in tandem with India and Afghanistan is hell bent on destabilizing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Attack on Maulana Mohammed Masood in Baluchistan and role of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies in fanning trouble in the region is seen as a sign of direct complicity. To the establishment and the elites alike this is seen as an attempt by a dissatisfied India and its accomplices Afghans under tacit American support; to fan fires of Baluch separatism in an attempt to drive away the Chinese.

The success of CPEC is deemed as critical to national development of Pakistan. It is seen as an opportunity to fast track growth that could lift masses abject from poverty and check rapid societal radicalization. So great is the fascination with the positive fallout of the CPEC in terms of job creation and other social benefits that any activity or actions that have the potential to undermine this most important political – economic development are seen as hostile and against core national interest of Pakistan. Thus attacks on Chinese workers, or on projects in Khyber Pakhutnkhawa and most importantly in Baluchistan are hostile actions and conspiracy against Pakistan perpetuated by R&AW, NSD and supported by the CIA. Controversies like the land in Gwadar being usurped by rich Pakistani land owners, social disquiet among locals on being shifted from traditional lands and lack of compensation together with largely Punjab centric approach to development are heaped on the foreign hand as part of disinformation campaign.

Internal differences between Punjab and Baluchistan or the high handedness of executing agencies against local population are all brushed aside.

Adding to the discomfort over CPEC is the trilateral India – Iran – Afghanistan; Chahbhar Port and economic corridor as an alternative route for Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eurasia. It is seen as an attempt to throttle Gwadar and reduce its economic significance. Feeling pervades that should Chahbhar develop into a major port and an economic zone, with its own LNG terminals, the majority of trade from Central Asia to India and further to SE Asia could get routed through it, undermining the importance of Gwadar, which will become essentially a Chinese port and outpost, largely denying Pakistan the miracle of economic benefits. Although Pakistan and Iran have credulously claimed that Gwadar and Chahbhar are not rivals, but sister, complementary ports; nonetheless, Pakistani military establishment see’s this trilateral partnership over Chahbhar as a security threat that could lead to Pakistan’s isolation.

Adding to Pakistani discomfiture is so called India’s successful look West policy in terms of forays by India in cultivating closer relations with Pakistan’s traditional allies – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and others. Drivers for close relations between major gulf countries and India are counter terrorism cooperation, India as a major energy buyer during the current depressed times and even more importantly stable and developing India as the preferred investment destination. Pakistan see’s these inroads at the expense of its interests and even more so the fact that Pakistan has figured in denigrating terms in many such meeting is a further source of heartburn in Pakistan.

Yet another grouse is singling Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor state in the region, completely overlooking the activities of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. The commentators and analysts never fail to highlight that Pakistan’s dogged war on terror in particular conspicuous steps to defeat and degrade indigenous terror outfits like the Tehrik-i-Taliban and its splinter groups, deal with radical elements in Karachi and Sind. Notwithstanding above a discourse is building that number of its problems are result of Pakistan’s own short-sighted policies for this discomfort. At long last an acknowledgment is gaining ground that double dealing on terrorism i.e. Pak Army being hyper active in dealing with internal terror and simultaneously supporting proxies for cross border terror from its soil against India and Afghanistan has become counterproductive enterprise resulting in loss of US and NATO support.

Despite the above realization Pakistani leadership and strategic community continue to point finger against India under the belief that India and US coming together on Afghanistan and berating Pakistan for not doing enough in containing Afghan Taliban is a deliberate strategy to undermine Pakistan in forcing it to undertake operations to contain Afghan Taliban support bases. Consequently a perception is emerging that the leverage that Pakistan had in keeping the Afghan Taliban and other “good Taliban” as their strategic assets is slowly boomeranging. Those within Pakistani establishment (essentially intelligence agencies and GHQ) continue to believe that Pakistan remains a credible factor and the India – Afghan – US collaboration cannot succeed. They see this pressure as means of forcing Pakistan to forsake their proxies like the Punjabi Tanzeems and Haqqani brothers – something for which they clearly are not ready.

Furthering Pakistani mistrust is the fast gaining perception that it is being held responsible for failing to bring the Afghan Taliban, to the negotiating table. Pakistani establishment counters this by blaming US in turn for negating all its efforts. The killing of Maulana Muhammad Mansur on the eve of the four party talks and non recognition of Afghan Taliban delegation that came to discuss the agenda for the peace as non-representative of the Taliban establishment, and lack of faith in them by the Afghan government are quoted as examples of derailing the peace process.

The Pakistani establishment is convinced that the whole idea is to create a space for accommodation with Afghan Taliban isolating the ISIS in a US sponsored move in which India and Iran are also complicit. The fact that Maulana Muhammad Mansur was killed near Iran border together with the capture of former Indian naval officer is used to highlight this collaboration. As further evidence, Pakistani commentators and retired military officers quote the lack of border management agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan as an attempt by Afghan intelligence to create conditions for the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban to reunite, and turn the tide of Taliban anger and militancy towards Pakistan.

Next is the issue of labeling Pakistan as an irresponsible nuclear nation. Perception is gaining ground that the spate of articles and political statements over Pakistani nuclear capabilities in particular its weapon program, missile development and battlefield weapons appearing mostly in the US and other Western countries is an orchestrated campaign to browbeat Pakistan; the aim being to force it in giving up its sub strategic nuclear capability (battlefield weapons) and cap its strategic weapons program. Attempts at delinking battlefield weapons from conventional strategy are seen as a ploy to weaken Pakistan, create strategic instability and paint it as an unreasonable power. The ‘qualified’ India style nuclear deal which aims at capping its weapons development and forsaking of battlefield weapons being offered by the US is seen as vindication of he Pakistani stand. The Pakistani leadership’s belief is that its nuclear weapons are its crown jewels and TNW essential for addressing rapidly increasing asymetrical co-relation in the conventional deterrence; hence under no circumstances will these be compromised.

It is not important that above are fanciful and farfetched perceptions, what is important and dangerous is that they are believed by security and political establishment alike, resulting in self created fears of isolation and abandonment. Compounding perspective is that there is little sign of governance which is seen as being run on the internet from ICU in London. Army which is seen as the conscience keeper is also coming under criticism for being a silent bystander and succumbing to the US pressure. In this whole discourse US has overtaken India as the primary adversary. India and Afghanistan and even Iran are being seen as part of the destabilzsing grand alliance.

Implications

The prevailing mood in Pakistan is sullen and perspectives unsure. They have only China to lean on. Consequences of the prevailing scenario are unsure and far reaching. Situation is being built which could lead to misperception and pre-emption based on false notion of trepidation and intimidation. Some of the consequences that could emerge are highlighted below;

(a) The Indo-US strategic embrace is seen as part of China containment strategy by helping India develop capabilities to contain Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean Region. Although, Gwadar is central to releasing China from its Malacca dilemma, Pakistani commentators are aware that in a contested IOR space, Gwadar could become vulnerability and liability rather than an asset. There are also perceptions that by developing Chabahar as part of a larger India – Afghan – Iran development project, which Pakistanis have psyched themselves to believe is to isolate it, and undermine importance of Gwadar. This is likely to enhance Pakistani angst of India and lead to even closer embrace with China. This could result in even more closer collusive support, in terms of additional maritime resources for Pakistan including nuclear attack submarines, improved maritime domain awareness, possible deployment of OTH (Over the Horizon) Radar along Mekran coast etc, greater technology infusion and hardening of Chinese stand against India including increased incursions. Over 47 percent of Chinese exports are to Pakistan. This will result in increased competition in the Arabian Sea, IOR and even along the LoC and LAC.

(b) In addition the two countries have also collaborated closely on nuclear technology — both for military and civilian purposes. or China has been main benefactor for weapon design and development, missile technology and miniaturization etc. This partnership can see exponential advancement if Pakistan is isolated and China believes its close partner and near ally being given a raw deal. It needs to be noted that Pakistani nuclear weapons are proxy capability to contain India.

(c) Third; with the Pakistani commentators and analysts constantly retching up the activities of Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies to disrupt the CPEC a narrative is being built about insidious Indian designs to derail the CPEC and prevent economic development of Pakistan. It is this mind-set that believes the centrality of the Indo-US collusion against Pakistan. Such a self serving scenario could result in embattled Pakistani military establishment to retaliate to these “make believe” Indian designs.

(d) Under the circumstances following Pakistani designs cannot be ruled out for which India will need to be prepared;

a. Collude with Kashmiri separatists to upgrade insurgency in Kashmir. Recent attacks along NH and in the valley are the early portents.

b. Stage a high profile terrorist attack on India as a message to and retaliation against so called perfidious Indian designs against Pakistan.

c. Afghan Taliban attacks in Afghanistan are also likely to increase with ISI stage managing better collaboration with pro Pakistani Taliban and other groups. Current CT campaign within the country could slow down and carried out only as a window dressing. Ongoing cross border encounters with casualties on either side is an example.

d. Greater collaboration and collusive support could be expected between China and Pakistan. Forthcoming NSG meeting will have implications on the developments. If China is forced to support India or remains  isolated in its perception of containment and isolation by concert of US led powers could increase. This could manifest in China hardening its posture against India and even more importantly higher degree of technology and military collaboration.

e. As an abundant insurance Pakistan is likely to continue miniaturization of nuclear weapons, develop sea based deterrence, including mounting nuclear warheads on short and medium range cruise missiles. Development of Shaheen III and MIRV capability can be expected to be fast tracked.

f. Concerned about the fate of Afghan Taliban, Pakistan could use its assets, such as Haqqani brothers and others to increase the spate of attacks and create further instability in Afghanistan. This could create raise further tensions between Pakistan and US.

g. Lastly Pakistan can also be expected to leverage its influence on the Islamic world with Russia, and China, vis a vis Iran to put spokes in the development of Chabahar and upstage tri-lateral development plans.

Conclusion

Above broad analysis of the mood in Pakistan and its manifestations and consequences highlights the current state of mind of Pakistani political and military leadership. The feeling of isolation and paranoia bodes ill for regional peace and stability. Appearing to be cornered Pakistan can be expected to take irrational steps, upgrade proxy war in Kashmir, make false and illogical assertions against India, and vitiate the regional atmosphere. India will need to work closely with its partners and other regional players including China to stall these negative developments which could have serious short to medium term consequences.

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Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD (Retd)
Brig Arun Sahgal, PhD (Retd) is Executive Director for the Forum for Strategic Initiative, and Joint Director of Net Assessment, Technology, and Simulation at the Institute of National Security Studies in New Delhi and Founding Director of the Indian Net Assessment Directorate, created to assess long-term strategy. Following a distinguished 36-year career in the Indian Army, he served as Head of the Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, and Deputy Director of Research at the United Service Institution of India. He has also served as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Brigadier Sahgal was a member of the National Task Force on Net Assessment and Simulation, under India’s National Security Council, and continues to support Council through consultancy assignments. He has written extensively on Indian relations with China and Central Asia, and conducted net-assessment studies on Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Asia-Pacific region.

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