Strategic Defiance, Political Compliance
There were broadly two messages that emerged from the over eight hour long in-camera briefing given by the Pakistan Army and ISI Chiefs to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on July 1. The first one was of strategic defiance in foreign and security policy. The second was laying down the line that politicians are expected to follow in support of the policies of the ‘establishment’. The import of both these messages lies in the fact that they give an indication, of not just the future trajectory of foreign and security policy of Pakistan, but also its domestic politics.
Domestically, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ‘selected’ regime of Imran Khan is still on the same page with the ‘selectors’ (read Pakistan Army). In other words, the ‘hybrid regime’ experiment is going to continue. All the rumours, whispers, leaks of a widening gap between the civilian regime and the military establishment were nothing more than a ploy, to keep stringing the opposition parties along.
The opposition parties were being fed all the stories, about how unhappy the military was with the feckless and clueless administration of Imran Khan, to keep alive their hopes that the military will turn away from Imran Khan and towards them.
Occasionally, the military cuts some slack for the opposition politicians, who were being hounded by the civilian regime. That small relief from the political victimisation, that has become the distinguishing characteristic of Imran Khan’s fascist administration, was seen as a sign that the Army was ready to deal with the opposition parties and leaders and even bring them back to power. Clearly, the ‘security briefing’ should disabuse every one of the notions, that regime change is in the offing in Pakistan anytime soon, if at all.
The briefing was also used by the military establishment to give the politicians, the broad contours of the line they are expected to take on foreign and security policy issues. Apparently, the Army is fine with some of the political sniping between the government and opposition, and sees it as part and parcel of politics.
But it seems to have instructed the politicians to avoid “divisive politics on issues of national interest [because] strategic challenges and related policy shift in external relations could have repercussions for the country.” The noises coming out of Islamabad suggest that the opposition is ‘standing’ with the Army. The Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid has even claimed that the government, opposition and Army will collectively counter all threats and challenges to the country.
With the Pakistan Army having once again ensured complete compliance by the politicians within Pakistan, it is now all set to take on a posture of ‘strategic defiance’ vis-à-vis the US, especially in relation to Afghanistan, China and perhaps also India.
The concept of ‘strategic defiance’ was first advanced by the former Army Chief Aslam Beg way back in 1991, when he opposed siding with the US forces against Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. The then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, however did some strategic defiance of his own and decided to ignore Beg, and side with the US and Saudi Arabia. But the concept didn’t die. In fact, for the last 20 years since 9/11, the Pakistanis have done what can be called ‘covert strategic defiance’, undermining and sabotaging the US in Afghanistan.
Now the strategic defiance is being taken to the next level. It will be overt, even in-your-face. At the same time, Pakistan will leave an opening for the US to reset relations with Pakistan, albeit on the latter’s terms.
Both the speech of Imran Khan in parliament on June 30 and the ‘security briefing’ by the military brass had one common theme: defiance of the US. It was made clear that China is Pakistan’s preferred ally and there will be no attempt to balance the relationship with both China and the US. But Pakistan also cannot do without the US, which it needs for ensuring financial flows from international financial institutions, trade, travel and most of all education and migration of kids of generals, politicians and top bureaucrats.
There will however be no appeasement of the US. This means no US bases on Pakistani soil and no hostile action or pressure on Taliban. There is a realisation that there could be consequences for Pakistan, if it defies the US. But the military establishment believes that it is braced for handling any fallout of the US turning its ire on Pakistan.
There is however a belief that the US is a bit of a paper tiger, when it comes to Pakistan and it won’t visit any serious consequences on Islamabad or Rawalpindi for going against it. What the Pakistanis are banking upon is an old Joe Biden statement. As Vice President, Biden had told the Afghans that “Pakistan is fifty times more important than Afghanistan for the US”. This means that no matter what Pakistan does, the US will never go against it.
After all, if the US didn’t do anything to Pakistan despite over 2500 US soldiers being killed, by Pakistani proxies in Afghanistan and the entire US war effort going to dust along with more than a trillion dollars, what are the chances that the US will impose any serious sanctions on Pakistan, now that they have exited Afghanistan?
The Pakistan Army also is convinced that the US is deliberately leaving chaos in Afghanistan, because it wants to destabilise the region as part of its policy of containing China. This has been an abiding theme in the thinking of the Pakistani generals. One of General Qamar Bajwa’s predecessors, Ashfaq Kiyani, had often spoken about the Americans trying to create ‘controlled chaos’ in the Afpak region. Bajwa and his cabal of generals subscribe to this line of thinking.
The implication of this is two-fold: on the one hand, Pakistan will keep talking, about not wanting to see the Taliban in control of Afghanistan. This is primarily for Western consumption, and to keep open a window to the West in case Pakistan’s own calculations in Afghanistan go awry; on the other hand, Pakistan will double down in support of the Taliban, because an unstable Afghanistan which descends into chaos and anarchy will damage Pakistan’s interests.
As the generals told the politicians, “Peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan”. There is therefore no question of Pakistan doing anything to prevent the Taliban from capturing Afghanistan; quite to the contrary, Pakistan will do everything to ensure that the Taliban capture Afghanistan. The message to the world is: deal with it.
With strategic defiance becoming fashionable once again, it is important that India make use of the tactical pause in its hostilities with Pakistan, to beef up her defences along the LoC and International Border. The Pakistanis are going to heat up the border with India, as soon as things settle down some in Afghanistan. India needs to be prepared, both in its defensive and offensive capability for that time, which is not more than a few months or at best a year or two away.
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Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and Consultant Editor, Chanakya Forum. He is an expert on Pakistan and Terrorism, his published works include Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (2017), Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s Comprador model of investment in Pakistan (2016).
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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