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Pakistan for Sale

August 29, 2010

Mulk ko baech diya hai siyasatdano ne!!!’ (The ruling elite have sold the nation). This was the grouse we heard most often from some of the vocal educated elite of Pakistan residing in Lahore, Karachi and other big cities of Pakistan. For us Indians, cursing the ruling party or politicians as such is so common that we thought that this was another manifestation of the people’s angst against those in power. We have elections every five years and if the party in power does not pass muster, well they have to quit. This is true for the government in Centre and in states. This is part of a democratic process and criticism is healthy for democracy.

The way such criticism is hurled at the ruling party and politicians in general is different from what the educated Pakistani elite kept on repeating and the world failed to understand. These are not frustrated people out to condemn the government – these are people actually fearful of Pakistan shattering to bits due to the avaricious ruling elite.

Pakistan has been hugely dependent on the US for long. Americans took an active interest in Pakistan and propped it as a foil to India who was an ally of the Soviet Union. American largesse saw Washington taking more than an active interest in the affairs of Pakistan. Even the internal politics of Pakistan was determined by Washington. The common enemy that was Soviet Union in Afghanistan brought the two countries closer. There came a point in time when no political leader could aspire for the highest civilian office in land without a nod from Washington. Their military was also hugely dependent on aid from the US and the Corp commanders had links with their counterparts in the US as also with the political top brass in Washington.

The recent forays in Swat and South Waziristan by the Pakistan army were at the behest of Washington. Pakistan army is more or less a mercenary force for their masters in Washington. Washington realized that they could get all and more for a price if they were ready to pay. This was indeed heartwarming to the hawks in Washington. They demanded that their military personnel will not be checked at the airport and would be allowed to carry weapons, Islamabad acquiesced.  The US called Islamabad an ally in their fight against terror. Billions of dollars poured into Pakistan, but the Americans again wanted Pakistan to bend. Islamabad was more than willing. Now they wanted to strike inside Pakistan with their technology demonstrator drones armed with lethal missiles. The US also asked Pakistan intelligence agency to assist them in gathering information regarding Taliban insurgents within Pakistan who could then be attacked with drones. ISI dutifully passed information on Taliban who they were nurturing themselves. They needed the money and they were ready to barter a few small fries to convince Washington that they were on their side. The money kept pouring in. In fact, American presence in Afghanistan has been a huge bonanza for Pakistan as the Americans needed Pakistani ports to transports supplies for their troops in Afghanistan. Washington had no option but to call Islamabad a strategic ally. Pakistan leadership both military and civilian who were a façade for a democratic Pakistan was ready to play ball for a price. They wanted to keep Taliban and yet show the West they were a part of the war against terror.

Map of Pakistan

China was the other friend Pakistan could count on. Chinese wanted Pakistan as a counter weight to India. In 1974 soon after the Indian atomic test in Pokharan, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto announced that Pakistan was ready ‘to eat grass’ if that meant getting an atomic bomb. He soon made an agreement with Beijing where Pakistan would hand over parts of Kashmir for access to nuclear technology and nuclear fissile material. The Kahuta nuclear plant was established with Chinese help and Pakistani metallurgist Abdul Quadeer Khan was made the in-charge of the project. The part of Pakistan held Kashmir that was handed over to the Chinese was the Shaksgam tract and for China this was critical as this was a corridor where roads were built connecting western and Eastern China. Pakistan had sold a part of its territory which though disputed was still under Pakistan control.

After the disintegration of Soviet Union Pakista –China relationship became pivotal for Islamabad. While the Soviet Union was history Islamabad saw Washington squirm at the increasing influence of Beijing in Pakistan. Pakistan has had some close cooperation with China over the decades in the field of defense and nuclear technology. Now they saw China as a foil to American inroads into Pakistan polity and defense.

American interest in Afghanistan and South Asia was largely for tapping the huge oil cache in Central Asia. Afghanistan was important as a transit from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan on to Pakistan and finally to the huge Indian market. The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP) was what interested the US. Afghanistan therefore became hugely important, as was Pakistan. To uncork the Central Asian oil cache, jostling for influence in Pakistan was strategically important.  In the past decade both the US and China have been fighting each other for greater influence in Pakistan. For the Pakistan elite this was like music to their ears. They did not hesitate in playing one against the other. Largesse kept on flowing both from Washington and Beijing. Beijing developed the strategically important Gwadar port.

The news now coming in is that Pakistan has bartered away not only the Shaksgam tract but has also allowed Chinese army to enter the disputed Northern Areas. The New York Times in an article ‘China’s Discreet Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands’ by Selig S. Harrison has reported that Gilgit-Baltistan in disputed Northern Areas has seen an influx of 7,000 to 11.000 People’s Liberation Army personnel with the avowed aim of constructing railways in the region. The Chinese game-plan is to construct railways from Gwadar across the Northern Areas so that crude could be transported to Western China in 48 hours whereas it takes 7 to 15 days via the sea route. That the Gwadar project is strategic was clear to New Delhi. This is going to be a military and strategic port for China and deep sea dredging will be done to allow military frigates to dock.

Map of Kashmir

What has raised the hackles of the West is that Pakistan has allowed the Chinese to build a railway line across the Karakoram but more than that, they see this as a strategic disaster as the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline which was on the anvil has now been turned to Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline. It is reported by Harrison that Chinese are building at least 22 tunnels across Gilgit-Baltistian region and in places where this work is going on, even Pakistani officials are not allowed. They have bartered away parts of Pakistan controlled Northern Areas to the Chinese. The price is not clear, but what is clear is that the PLA has entered Pakistan held territory like the American special-forces enter Pakistan territory in pursuit of the dreaded Taliban on the western front. The fundamental question that arises is whether Pakistan is a sovereign state. Reports are that the Chinese PLA is constructing permanent settlements for their personnel which mean that the Chinese presence in Northern Areas is going to be a long one. Americans are also fearful that the tunnels being constructed could be used to store missiles by the PLA. This is another example of Pakistan bartering its territory and in the process its sovereignty to a foreign power.

Washington has a different take on the whole affair. Their view is that Islamabad is no longer an ‘ally’ if it refuses to follow their diktat on the all important TAP. If the Iranian gas reaches China the west will have to abandon its plans of a gas pipeline across Afghanistan and on to Pakistan and India. Washington was indulging Pakistan’s whims and fancies because they felt that Pakistan will not let them down on the crucial Central Asian gas pipeline.

It must be remembered that the Harrison article comes a few days before American combat operations in Iraq officially came to an end. Pakistan now feels that Obama will stick to the mid-2011 deadline of withdrawal from Afghanistan. They feel that Obama will deliver on his promises and with a benign West in the neighborhood, it was time for Pakistan to show its cards. They reckon that even after public knowledge of Chinese forays into Northern Areas, American plans of withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be revisited by White House. Obama has his political compulsions and they will far outweigh any strategic setbacks that the west may face in the long run. Remember it will be years before any railways or pipeline can be build along the Karakoram highway connecting Gwadar to Western China. Western politics has more immediate compulsions and any such strategic ‘debacles’ will be brushed under the carpet to be tackled at another time and under another regime. The Chinese in the meanwhile will continue with their gas pipeline and rail network and will ensure cheap transportation of gas and goods to feed its developmental ambitions.

In this there is one more player that has a stake but is unwilling to make a stated position or to take any tough action – India. The kind of muted reaction or more likely, no reaction from New Delhi is typical of Indian soft position on matters strategic. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had refused to accept petition from Gilgit-Baltistan political outfits on his trip to Pakistan, can one expect any tough posture from New Delhi? They will sleep through the whole affair depending on the US and the West to do something about the development. While India claims that the whole of Kashmir is an integral part of India and that includes Northern Areas, its prime minister refused to accept a petition in which the problems of the people of Northern Areas were outlined. A toothless India will watch from the sidelines when its own avowed territory is bartered away by the Pakistani elite to a foreign power that is a direct threat to Indian interests in the long run. The refusal of visa to Lt. Gen Jaswal is a part of the Chinese propensity of throwing its weight around and let India know that it is Beijing that is calling the shots.

What can one expect from the hukumran in Islamabad? They will try and placate Washington. Those in the Capitol Hill will try and ‘understand’ the situation by pointing out that American troops are still in Afghanistan and that the US needs Pakistan more than what Pakistan needs the US – remember the supply lines to US troops in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan.

My hunch is that if Pakistan has all but made it clear that TAP is not happening and that they are looking for strategic depth in Afghanistan post American withdrawal, the American attitude will harden. Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline will perhaps be a veritable last nail in the coffin of the close US-Pakistan relationship. The US will still play ball with Pakistan but if those in the Capitol Hill are smart enough they will realize that Pakistan has told the Americans in no uncertain terms that their priority is their relationship with Beijing. The west will try to buy them back and may throw in more ‘aid’ and financial sops, but my reading is that these will have little effect on Pakistan. Islamabad has already bartered away a strategic part of territory that they controlled to the Chinese. Beijing will not throw money at Islamabad (they gave a pittance of $1.5 million to Islamabad for flood relief), but it will make sure that by its physical presence, they are able to do what they want inside Pakistan. The country is out there for sale. China has promised to ensure a more robust Pakistan both in terms of military and economic development. Pakistan reckons that with a thriving industrial infrastructure that China has promised around Gwadar and a more potent military, they can counter India and talk as equals with an economic powerhouse that is India. If that means giving away a part of territory under its control, then so be it.

Addendum: There has been a furore over three players including the Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt having allegedly thrown a game against England – the Lords Test match. This may or may not be true. But why single out the players alone. Everyone is out to make a fast buck, why not the players. If Prime Minister Gilani says his head is ‘bowed in shame’ I am just surprised a bit. If the political class can barter away the country to foreign powers, it should well be expected that players will throw away a game or two in a series. Its just a game after all – not the nation that is Pakistan.

There is an article by Gen J.F.R  Jacob, one of the most celebrated generals of the Indian army in which he analyses as to how the Chinese presence in Gilgit is a threat to India. Following is the link to the article:

This is worth a read for all who are trying to understand this unprecedented development.

Update 2.09.2010: Since the Harrison article in NYT there has been a marked aloofness in West’s position vis-a-vis Pakistan. The Western media while calling for a sustained relief effort for Pakistan after the floods, has suddenly gone mum over the plight of the common Pakistani. There has also been an instance of a Pakistani delegation hustled out of a flight to Florida from DC when one of the members mumbled something about this being his ‘last flight’. The Pakistan delegation was detained for long and although Pentagon later apologised for the inconvenience, it is very unlikely that the whole episode was not being closely monitored by the US administration. Clearly, the lines have been demarcated and Pakistan finds itself on the other side – unless they decide to revise their position on critical issues.

In a candid admission, A.Q. Khan has admitted that the West has tolerated Pakistan’s nuclear programme because of their engagement in Afghanistan.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2010 1:00 pm

    Hi, can I quote some of the content found in this entry if I provide a link back to your site?

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