Evolving regional scenario around Pakistan
04 December, 2013
By Asif Haroon Raja
Nawaz led team is thinking and talking high and has announced highly ambitious mega projects which it intends completing during its mandated five-year tenure expiring in May 2018. Some of the main projects include Pak-China economic corridor linking Kashgar with Gawadar by Highway and rail, converting Gawadar into free port like Hong Kong, bullet train, Lahore-Karachi motorway, metro system in Karachi, Gadani coal plants, solar energy plants, nuclear plants, digging a tunnel through Margala Hills in Islamabad and many others. Six months have lapsed and so far no breakthrough has been achieved on any of the internal challenges ranging from slumped economy to law and order, terrorism, sectarianism, price hike, energy crisis, electric and gas shortages, drones and accountability of the looters. However, there is a will to overcome titanic problems. So far no corruption scandal has surfaced, which is a healthy sign.
On the external front, the regime has made it clear that all out efforts will be made to iron out differences, remove bitterness of the past and to forge friendly ties with all neighbors. To this end, friendly gestures have been made to India and Afghanistan, the two problem creators who have all along been behaving atrociously. While Hamid Karzai was invited to Islamabad in August, Sartaj Aziz followed by Nawaz Sharif visited Kabul last month to mend fences. Karzai was told that Pakistan has no favorites and all out efforts will be made to bridge differences between him and Taliban to arrive at a mutually agreed political settlement. Not much change is noticed in Pak-Afghan relations that have remained frayed all these years. Karzai is a dicey character whose days are numbered. His flag will be lowered in April next year after which he will become history. Pakistan should strive to befriend all segments of Afghan society and assist in the formation of broad based government in Kabul. Stability and prosperity of the two neighbors are inter-linked.
As regards India, so far nothing has come out from one-to-one meeting between Nawaz and Manmohan in New York on September 29, 2013, their meeting in Colombo and Sartaj Aziz visit to Delhi last month. Likewise, so far positive response has not come forth from New Delhi owing to escalation of hostilities along the LoC and BJP's and Indian military's aggressive stance.
There is no cherry to pluck from the barren land of composite dialogue that had started in 1997. In the last 17 years, talks have benefitted India but given zero results to Pakistan. The core issue of Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and water that have bedeviled Indo-Pakistan relations remain unresolved because of India's obduracy. Well knowing the futility of composite dialogue, in which India has been taking part off and on to hoodwink the world and also to gain time, Pakistan keeps insisting for its resumption. Renewal of dialogue is drummed up by our tunnel-vision leaders as a big diplomatic triumph and provides them an opportunity to dupe the people that engagement will lead to resolution of core issues. Our leaders crave for dialogue even though India shows complete disinterest and puts unreasonable conditions and resort to belligerence.
Dialogue process was suspended by India in 1999 due to Kargil affair. After Kargil, India picked up cudgels in the aftermath of false flag operation on Indian Parliament in December 2001 and remained in an offensive mode till end of 2003. Once peace treaty was signed in January 2004 after Gen Musharraf doled out several Kashmir related concessions to India, composite dialogue was renewed with fresh vigor but no progress was made even on less contentious issues like Siachin and Sir Creek because of Indian military's opposition. The talks broke off as a consequence to yet another false flag operation in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. For next three years, Indian political and military leaders huffed and puffed and made the resumption of talks conditional to punishment to India-nominated accused allegedly involved in Mumbai attacks.
India mellowed down slightly in end 2011 because it urgently needed MFN status and land access to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Pakistan. When India couldn't extract the desired unilateral concessions, she put the dialogue process on the back burner and willfully heated up the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir in January 2013 to exert pressure on Pakistan. Blame of escalation was put on Pakistan Army. The LoC was once again flared up in August 2013 and improvement of situation along the LoC was put forward as a condition for advancement of bilateral relations.
Between August and October, hardly a day passed without Indian troops violating 2003 ceasefire agreement by resorting to unprovoked firing and killing civilians living close to the LoC. The month of November saw gradual reduction in the intensity of firing and by end of the month firing from both sides ceased. Indian leaders have however so far not reciprocated Nawaz's repeated offers of talks to normalize relations and resume two-way trade. India has hardened rather than softened its stance on core issue of Kashmir. She desires narrowing down the scope of dialogue in which terrorism and not Kashmir should become the focal point. This trend is likely to further stiffen with the coming of BJP government led by Narendra Modi in next elections.
Surprisingly, Nawaz government has until now not demonstrated enthusiasm towards Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, considered essential to overcome Pakistan's energy crisis. While TAPI project is important, however, its materialization is dependent upon stability in Afghanistan and not otherwise. IP is more important since it is closer and easier to operate despite turbulence in Balochistan. Iran has already built the pipeline on its side and till recent was willing to provide $1.2 billion for laying pipes in Pakistan. PML-N government is dragging its feet over this vital project because of the US warning to Pakistan to scrap the deal because of four-fold sanctions imposed on Iran aimed at forcing Tehran to roll back its nuclear program, or else be prepared for sanctions.
In the wake of Pakistan's hemming and hawing policy because of pressure from US and Saudi Arabia, and also thinking of renegotiating the agreed upon pricing formula which it felt was too high, Iran backed out of its commitment saying that owing to financial crunch, it was not in a position to provide loan. The dead issue is once again showing signs of life after the thaw in Iran-US relations. Sartaj paid a hurried visit to Tehran and Khakan Abbasi gave out a highly optimistic statement that efforts will be made to overcome difficulties and to complete the project within one year. However, the US pressure on IP project still persists since it provides Washington one more handle to beat Pakistan with.
The change of government in Iran and moderation of stance on nuclear issue by President Rouhani led to melting of the ice. A deal has been inked between Iran and P5 plus 1 in Geneva by virtue of which Iran would freeze its nuclear program at least for six months and open its nuclear facilities for inspection by IAEA. In return, the sanctions would be gradually removed. However, Israel is still adamant that there should be no let up in sanctions till Iran abandons its alleged weapon oriented nuclear program. Improved Iran-US diplomatic relations would benefit Syria and also Pakistan. Iran is likely to persuade Washington to abandon its mission of changing Bashar al Assad regime and withdraw its objection to IP project. The latter has the potential to extend to India and to China as well.
America's decision to call off its plans to strike Syria with cruise missiles as a result of Russia manipulated agreement that Syrian regime would destroy its chemical stockpiles has angered Saudi Arabia. In a huff, it refused to accept membership of non-members group of UNSC after getting elected saying that the UNSC was a dead horse. Restoration of Iran-US ties are yet another shock for Riyadh as well as Qatar and other Gulf kingdoms who perceive Iran as a threat. However, with US mediation desiring to reinvigorate its old twin pillar policy, Iran and Saudi Arabia are likely to develop better understanding. Iran will now be in a better position to play its role in the endgame of Afghanistan.
India on the other hand would keep pursuing its policy of encircling Pakistan by keeping USA, Afghanistan and Iran away from Pakistan and at the same time striving to attain pre-eminence in Afghanistan in post 2014 era. In the face of evolving geo-strategic scenario, Pakistan will have to play its cards shrewdly to retain its geo-strategic clout and will have to work extra hard to achieve economic self-reliance at the earliest. Mere policy of appeasement will not help in upholding dignity, honor and pride of the nation among the world comity.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org