Hard-line religious groups forced the resignation this week of Pakistan’s law minister Zahid Hamid. They had laid siege to cities across Pakistan, enraged by the amendment (later rescinded) to an electoral law they believe diluted the “crime” of blasphemy.
Pakistan has long cultivated religious extremism and terrorism. Both are now slipping out of its control. The backlash is fierce. The Pakistani army has made a fortune out of its decades-old terror factory. That factory is now spewing hard-line fanatics challenging the government’s writ across Pakistan.
Since President Donald Trump took office, Pakistani army’s top brass has been on tenterhooks. Would the unpredictable Trump actually carry out the threat he made two months ago to bomb terror safe havens on Pakistani soil? Apart from drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the US has been content to attack terrorist targets along the Af-Pak border. Trump seemed to have upended that policy: if you don’t get rid of terror safe havens, we’ll do it, Trump said last month. Having watched Trump carefully during the first 10 months of his presidency, Pakistan’s blustery generals have come to the conclusion: it’s going to be business as usual.
By removing the LeT last week from the list of proscribed terror groups that disqualify US military aid to Pakistan, Trump has proved the generals right: he’s no different from former President Barack Obama whom the Pakistanis gamed successfully for eight years. The Trump administration, like the Obama government, has fallen for the line that Pakistan is essential to stability in Afghanistan. Islamabad provides the key supply route for US-Nato forces in landlocked Afghanistan. Besides, Pakistan controls the lever on terror: it can switch on and off terror attacks by the Taliban and uses that to blackmail the US into accepting Pakistan as a partner in the war on terror rather than its principal instigator.
Obama is more concerned these days with the Obama Foundation than geopolitical strategy. Ivanka Trump is no longer quite the influential adviser to her father that some imagine. She has recently taken positions contrary to his on several issues. She condemned Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat from Alabama, following allegations of Moore’s sexual harassment of minor girls. Trump earlier this week endorsed Moore. Ivanka was unimpressed, saying those who “prey on children have a special place in hell”.
For India, the Trump presidency has so far been a mixed bag. Washington continues to appease China despite Beijing not able or willing to restrain North Korea’s nuclear missile programme. It has relieved pressure on Pakistan-sponsored terror. The US has “asked” Pakistan to re-arrest Hafiz Saeed and charge him. But for years, Washington did nothing about Saeed despite putting a $10 million (Rs 64 crore) bounty on his head even as the LeT terror head roamed free.
For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Obama-Ivanka visits come at a time that is a tipping point in his foreign policy formulation.
The victory over Britain in the United Nations to elect an Indian judgeat the International Court of Justice shows that a new world order is taking shape. The post-World War II domination of the West is ebbing. What could replace it? Clearly, one pole will be led by China and another by the US. India’s growing geostrategic and economic importance has compelled the US to change its Asia-Pacific strategy to an overarching Indo-Pacific doctrine.
Islamabad is also waking up to the perils of relying on China to solve all its economic problems. Pakistan recently turned down Chinese assistance for the $12-billion (Rs 77,000 crore) Diamer-Bhasha hydel power project in PoK under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) due to tough Chinese financial terms. The row has caused the first rupture between Beijing and Islamabad over the CPEC.
Interestingly, at around the same time last week, the Chinese ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, proposed renaming the CPEC to satisfy Indian concerns. He also controversially suggested that the CPEC need not, as originally planned, pass through PoK but could be routed through the parts of J&K not occupied by Pakistan. Beijing reacted swiftly. It refuted its own ambassador’s statement and said cryptically that Pakistan remained China’s “all-weather ally”.
Nonetheless for India, there are signs of growing frustration between Pakistan and China over financial and security concerns involving the CPEC. The realisation too is dawning in Islamabad and Beijing, especially after India’s diplomatic victory over Britain in the UN that New Delhi is finally beginning to punch at its true geopolitical weight. By making China back off over Doklam, India demonstrated steely resolve. At the UN, it demonstrated that it has the confidence and ability to defeat the diplomatic machinations of a major if declining world power, Britain.
There is talk now of India pressing forward for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). That is tactically unwise. The UNSC seat will come, if it does, only without a veto which makes it meaningless. India comes across too often as a supplicant, pleading for recognition from world powers, including its keenness for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when it already has a one-time NSG-waiver, obtained in 2008.
A rising economic and military power does not seek “great power” status. It commands it.