On April 28, 1971, US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger sent US President Richard Nixon a memo seeking advice on the stance of United States in the run-up to the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The options were: unqualified backing for West Pakistan (Yahya Khan), neutrality which in effect leans towards East (Pakistan), and help Yahya achieve a negotiated settlement. Nixon issued a cryptic directive. “To all hands: Don’t squeeze Yahya at this time”. Ten weeks later, on July 9, 1971, Kissinger met with Zhou en Lai, a détente Yahya Khan had worked on since August 1969. The meeting changed the course of post-war geopolitics, aligning Sino-American interests.
Pakistan’s ability to broker the meeting between arch ideological enemies stemmed from its calculated gambit of befriending China. It was the first Muslim country to recognise the communist People’s Republic of China in 1951. Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who wrested power through a coup, engineered the settlement of a border dispute by 1963. Through many ups and downs, the military ruler consolidated the relationship with China and the United States, deploying the suave and articulate Manzoor Qadir, the then foreign minister, who shared Ayub Khan’s world view and enthusiasm for pro-US policies.
The relationship with Saudi Arabia, based on common cause of creed, is also utilitarian. Around the 1960s, Pakistan was the defence consultant to Saudi Arabia, building the Royal Saudi Air Force, and even leased Pakistani Air Force pilots to fly the aircraft. In 1969, pilots from PAF flew the RSAF British-made Lightning jets to foil an incursion by Yemeni forces. The Saudis in turn have contributed to the funding of the network of madrassas, assured oil supplies, financed infrastructure projects and partnered ISI and the Pakistan Army in the mujahideen project in Afghanistan, which eventually created the Taliban regime. After the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan acquired another lever though an unstated partnership offering Saudi Arabia nuclear deterrence when needed.
The optics of geopolitics rests on the prism through which relationships are viewed. The conventional view is that Pakistan currently is a client state of superpowers United States and China, besides the Islamic powerhouse of Saudi Arabia. The history of these relationships viewed through another prism presents a different view, of Pakistan acquiring clientele, harvesting opportunities to acquire lynchpin status in building friendships and hate campaigns across theatres of war. In 2019, the United States needs Pakistan to exit from Afghanistan, China needs Pakistan to encircle India, and Saudi Arabia needs Pakistan for its security and ambitions. India’s challenge is to deal with this ménage a quatre, and the embedded leverage, as it assesses the spectre of cause and consequences in its quest to quell cross-border terrorism on its soil.
The complexity of the geopolitical landscape is illustrated by the statements issued by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Pakistan, India and China. In Islamabad, he described Saudi Arabia as Pakistan’s friend in need, promised investments of $20 billion which should enable dodging the 13th bailout from IMF, and emphasised the need for dialogue. In New Delhi, he re-purposed the promise of $100 billion in investments and supported India’s fight against terror without Pakistan being named. In Beijing, he defended China’s actions in Xinjiang, including the existence of concentration camps, as its right “to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremisation work for its national security.” The country founded by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a practising Shia, and home to the second largest population of Shia Muslims, is now part of a Sunni axis against Iran and a member of the Islamic Counter Terrorism Military Coalition.
On Friday, the global Financial Action Task Force posted its review of progress and compliance by
nations. Pakistan has been in and out of the list of tainted countries since 2008. The journey of the Anti-Money Laundering Law is a case study in itself. The FATF said Pakistan “does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the TF risks posed by Da’esh, AQ, JuD, FiF, LeT, JeM, HQN, and persons affiliated with the Taliban”. It found “limited progress on action plan items due in January 2019,” but did not blacklist Pakistan. Thanks to the ‘friends with benefits’ alliances.
Public discourse in India, post the terror attacks, is riveted with revenge rhetoric and suffers from mistaken notions of who, where and what of revenge. A hate campaign targeting Kashmiris is not just futile but flawed as it only hurts India’s long-stated position. The idea of blocking of Indus river waters has been discussed earlier too. It requires long-term strategy to create capacity to store the water that is denied to Pakistan. There is a growing clamour to not play against Pakistan in the World Cup, and some have even dubbed icons like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar as anti-nationals for their views.
The conflict with Pakistan is a serious challenge, not a WhatsApp war. War, Carl von Clausewitz said, is an act intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will. Achieving the objective demands quiet strategy, not bluster. It also calls for patience. Revenge, after all, is a dish best served cold.
Author of Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India