This is a two-article series. Part II, titled  ‘The puzzle involving interests of AfPak, China, India and the West’ can be found here. Winning the ongoing war against overt terrorism apparently is the common win-all solution, however not so when one factors in covert intentions of involved state powers.

Each country, to smaller regions within bigger nations, is dynamically unique. As context happens to be the key in any analysis, and each context being unique again, the common mistake we all do, while analyzing geopolitical challenges, is to club such unique things into pre-defined categories, for ease of our analysis. It actually does not help the reality.

Pakistan’s uniqueness since long has been defined by the three A’s — Army, Allah and America. Over the years, ISI has largely replaced its army, be it as a legitimate proxy or as another interest group, within bigger interest of Pakistan’s defense forces. The assumption in differentiating ISI from Army of Pakistan is driven by ground realities of terrorism in Pakistan. Pakistan defense has bled under the attack of terrorism, not the ISI so far, in any major way. It is also expected that army in Pakistan works at broader interests of the nation, unlike that of ISI again, which as the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, thereby functioning under covert operations than transparent ones. However when the tail wags the head, inevitable problem arises – one needs to either cut off the tail, or swap the head and the tail.

Increasing US impatience over Pakistan’s double-standards on war-against-terror, post the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and subsequent bitter diplomatic exchanges, or verbal duets involving both the nations military establishments, which seem to get worse every day, justifiably bring us to the 2nd inflection point on role of America in future of Pakistan.

Pakistan is at a cross-road where one path continues to lead in the three A’s direction, the other takes a radical divergence from the existing one, towards AIC – Allah, ISI, and China.

How impossible and Herculean does the task of finding the elusive win-all solution in AfPak really look like? Someone may opine, by the enormity of the conflicting interests of the involved parties, that having the hypothetical, utopian, elusive World Peace (and ‘Santa Claus in reality’) may be easier to achieve than having converging interests from these parties, for a sustainable peaceful solution for AfPak.

With the calls from the West growing now, that, as the US finally got Osama bin Laden, Western interests need no longer face the humiliation of another ‘cut and run’ in Afghanistan. West can simply do what the US did in Vietnam: “brings peace with honor in Afghanistan and AfPak region” – a more honorable withdrawal statement than setting another example of ‘cut and run’ in Afghanistan.

The matter is indeed complex. The key to the problem rests in the hands of ISI, and how well, Pakistan as a state, is able to prioritize the interests of her 170 million citizens, ahead of the interests of the ISI, or even that of its Army. In this context, the upcoming visit or Prime Minister Yusuf Raja Gilani to its all-weather friend China gains significance. It must be mentioned here that the visit was a pre-planned one, prior to the incident of Abbottabad.

However Pakistan PM Gilani’s forthcoming China visit could not have been planned at any better time (President Zardari is already in Russia). A lot of answers may emerge from that meeting outcome – be it within the closed doors, or to public access.

What are these individual interests, bilateral interests, and the other multi-party interests on AfPak? Careful analysis may present some clarity, however much remains under the shroud, and is open to expert interpretations. This author lacks that expertise, from the ground levels.

The sensitiveness of the area and its ethnic groups of tribes, the topic and the passion of the individual national, to imperialists, interests of these five broad actors may make one confined to nationalistic sentiments alone, thereby ignoring the big picture. Matter of fact is; both nationalistic interests and the big picture are important, to get a grasp of the problem.

So, what are China’s interests in Pakistan?

As long as it is not akin to China’s relationship with nuclear North Korea, the possibility to find a solution brightens. There is US military base in South Korea, Japan and in the Philippines (along with the US justifications for maintaining a strong military presence in East Asia); China therefore would always love to wage its proxy wars, to protect its legitimate or whatever interests it its geographic proximities, under the guise of a rogue, nurtured nation.  Even if this analysis is right and acceptable to defenders of China, they would argue with the case of Israel gaining one such reputation in the all important Middle-East, under the patronage of the West, primarily from the US.

Alternatively, China’s interests are purely economic and regional stability, for the stability of its own Muslim-populated areas bordering AfPak – namely Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It has absolutely no anti-US or anti-India elements in it, at least in the driver’s seat, which is driving China’s AfPak policies. However if the West, primarily the US, and India too make a mess of their strategic relationship with Pakistan; and also with people of Afghanistan, China need not be blamed for that. It would surely love to exploit the opportunity not directly aimed at, but offered by the failures of the US, NATO or other Indian interests.

The only additional point on China – it always analyzes its plans prudently before making any visible public actions. In spite of its increased stature, and rare but rising global demand, China has so far not deviated from the policies of Deng Xioping, i.e. to ‘hide one’s capacities & bide ones time’. So it would be naïve to think that China does not have holistic plans for AfPak, involving even military interests, at its very neighborhood. All said and done, it would naturally be discomforting for China to allow permanent US military base, or Western military bases in AfPak. The sooner they exit, more would be the comfort level of China with AfPak.

Increasingly, there seems to be convergence, at least on the surface, among the interests of Pakistan-China and Russia.

Part II of the series, titled ‘The puzzle involving interests of AfPak, China, India and the West’ can be found here.

[The author deliberately excluded nuclear-aspiring, and emerging key player of the Middle-East, Iran on the western border of AfPak; and Russian interests, be it to control terrorism in North Caucasus region or be it for obvious strategic interests at close proximity to Russia itself. The author acknowledges vital role for these two key players in AfPak sustainable solution; however, including those interests in one single series gets beyond author’s understanding of the region].


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