Sunday October 01, 2023

South Asian dynamics

June 10, 2016

Narendra Modi addressed the US Congress this Wednesday. He is not the first Indian prime minister to do so but at a moment when India’s own profile is rising for the better in South Asia, it could be propitious for India’s global status.

In a month’s time the Nuclear Suppliers Group will convene to consider both India and Pakistan’s requests for membership. Despite the technical and resource facilitations that such membership accrues to a nation pursuing a nuclear programme, civil and military, it is more a reflection of aspiration for global recognition; and the competitive nature of things between India and Pakistan.

The US supports India’s membership but 47 other members, including China, must also agree before India can accede to the mantle of de jure acceptance of its nuclear status, however indirect. Pakistan holds a certain influence over the Chinese vote which may be its saving grace. The US does not as vividly support Pakistan as it does India but it has been at the US’s bidding that Pakistan too has applied with the understanding that NSG members will consider each application on merit. With American domination of most international security and economic regimes, the chances of the merit working in India’s favour are far greater.

Pakistan will again fall back on China, but till when? One day China too will submit to the international consensus. Even if India fails to rise to the NSG this time round, it will have gained significantly greater space in moving towards that objective. Modi has agreed to begin the process of acquiring six American nuclear reactors giving meaning to why the Indo-US nuclear deal between the two was first signed.

Were both China and Pakistan to resort to a continued stonewalling of this or any other international or regional effort towards a security or an economic initiative, over time both will begin to isolate themselves from the international fraternity. For China, it is an unacceptable eventuality. China’s center of gravity in its strategy to rise beyond the middle income status of its economy lies in its trade and economic policies. To that end it will not compromise or bid on another’s behalf were isolation to become a real possibility.

In Pakistan it is a fallacy to imagine that China is tied to it by bonds which will last forever. China judges its available space for Pakistan and acts within its domain. The day it senses a challenge to its own interests, even tertiary, it will have no qualms about advising Pakistan to accede to a certain norm.

While it may be difficult for even a combined US-India foray to isolate China – both dependent for their respective economies on a vibrant relationship with the country – turning the screws on Pakistan will be rather easy for lack of significant interdependencies. Pakistan failed miserably to use the space available during the Afghan war years to convert the advantage into a more durable set of bargains in regional politics.

With Afghanistan alone being its object of attention, Pakistan failed to develop supporting planks of regional and international alignments that could support its intended objectives. Instead, our confrontations with regional players increased. Miscalculations and a faulty assessment of its own space in the obtaining conditions have rendered us irrelevant in our own environment. As things stand, the tables have turned on Pakistan instead. Afghanistan is fast receding as a factor of space for Pakistan’s relevance.

Come the new American president, there will be a review of the US’s Afghan policy; a clean slate may just be what the new president may begin his or her tenure with. This will open up space for others. Where the US may have to-date depended on Pakistan for delivering on Afghanistan others may well fill in instead. Note the growing evolution of consensus between Iran, India and Afghanistan; or the refreshed Afghan vitriol against Pakistan. That closes space for Pakistan not only on Afghanistan but implicitly on the region.

Pakistan has Iran, Afghanistan, China and India as its immediate neighbours. And, except for China, Pakistan has a broken relationship with all. If that is not failure, what is? We need to stop blaming everyone else in the world and accept that our conception and assessment of our potential were always misplaced and exaggerated. More importantly, our emplacement of a failing strategy caused us to lose the moment – and we are poorer for it. At best we will now only play catch up; that too only if there is a serious course correction. There hasn’t been a worse example of someone losing the hand with the best cards at their disposal.

Iran may be seen to be leading this rapprochement and India would have happily ceded the lead role as long as the three can align together and bypass Pakistan geographically. Use it or lose it, they say. Has Pakistan lost the benefit of its ‘strategic location’ by losing the moment? Recovery may still be possible but will be long-winded and always short of optimal. Losing opportunities force a lag which in a competitive environment becomes difficult to cover.

How India has moved in recent months is far more impressive than how Pakistan has assessed its position. Iran first came to Pakistan and offered that all-important olive branch, which sadly Pakistan rebuffed with an ill-thought, ill-timed and ill-managed disclosure of the Yadav episode. Was it again on someone else’s bidding that Pakistan gave up on its most opportune moment to resurrect its regional eminence? Pakistan continues to lose its potential because of incompetent leadership and an entirely inadequate conception of how the world has moved in recent years.

Modi has stretched Pakistan with a clearer vision and a smarter strategy. He has also reinforced India’s position globally. Efficient policies result in strategic gains. In stark contrast, Pakistan’s fallback remains a honed military which can only deliver tactical responses but cannot make for strategic lethargy. What Pakistan needs are forces of good. And that is where it remains desperately short.

The writer is a retired air-vicemarshal, former ambassador and a security and political analyst.