Gwadar port for China: Why Pak is the ideal client state

Col Anil Athale

A news report today tells us that Pakistan’s cabinet has agreed to hand over the operation of Gwadar port to China. The onus of running this strategic port in Balochistan near the Iran border has been shifted from the Port of Singapore Authority to China’s Overseas Port Holdings.

Despite the official Indian external affairs ministry’s statement that we should not overreact to this development, this move shows that Pakistan is the ideal client state for global powers seeking a military foothold in the subcontinent. Despite worries about the stability of Pakistan, the fact remains that it has an efficient mercenary army and nuclear weapons and is ready to do the bidding of any country -  the US (since 1950s), China (since 1962) and even Russia (ever so briefly in 1965) - as long as it gets a free hand and arms supplies for use against India.

A former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK and US, Maleeha Lodhi, in a recent article justified the breakneck Pakistani efforts to get a bigger nuclear arsenal, apparently with the idea of acquiring a first-strike capability against India. And all this is happening even though Pakistan’s economy is in a tailspin and the country is living on foreign doles. This reminds one of the fable where a large frog imagines it can be as big as the bull and puffs himself up till he bursts to death. India is seven times the size of Pakistan in every respect but Pakistan continues in its unending quest to seek parity like the frog in the fable. It can’t last, and India’s biggest concern must be to figure out what to do if Pakistan implodes, or if decides to launch another all-or-nothing misadventure against India.

The onus of running this strategic port in Balochistan near the Iran border has been shifted from the Port of Singapore Authority to China’s Overseas Port Holdings. AFP

The onus of running this strategic port in Balochistan near the Iran border has been shifted from the Port of Singapore Authority to China’s Overseas Port Holdings. AFP

This writer, who is the Coordinator of Inpad (Initiative for Peace and Disarmament), a Pune-based organisation affiliated to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, has to admit that he was wrong when Inpad,  along with many well meaning Indians, supported the Lahore bus trip initiative of PM Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1999. The logic behind this support was a clear (and universal understanding) that “nuclear wars can never be won and therefore should never be fought.”

We were, and are, supporters of overt Indian nuclearisation. The thinking in 1998-99 was that since Pakistan has got nuclear weapons, it will now have a sense of security against the perceived threat from India and begin to see peace with India as the only rational option. But soon Kargil happened. Pakistan saw in nuclear weapons an equaliser for Indian conventional superiority and felt that it can continue proxy wars/terrorism under a nuclear overhang. Even though some Pakistani commentators have been condemning India’s ‘Cold start’ military doctrine, it is Pakistan that has been a practitioner of this strategy since 1999. India is yet to find an answer to this problem.

Much ink has been spilt by all (including this author) about the recent LOC incident involving the beheading of an Indian soldier. Despicable as it is emotionally, it has far wider significance. That significance is that despite (or possibly because of) the nuclearisation of the subcontinent, Pakistan has convinced itself that its carefully cultivated ‘mad mullah’ strategy of calculated irrationality is working. In short, Pakistan feels that since India fears its irrationality, it will desist from a forceful response.

We, on our part, have given credence to this by not responding militarily to the Parliament attack (2001), the Kaluchak massacre of soldiers’ families (2002), the Mumbai train bombings (2006) and the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. I have not recounted many more of the proxy actions like the Jaipur blasts, Delhi blasts, Ahmadabad blasts, etc, but just recounted the more provocative ones.  The bigger problem for India is the ‘adventurist’ mindset in the Pakistani army.

This mindset has several ingredients. First and foremost, over 65 years Pakistanis have been brainwashed into believing that they are Arabs, Turks, Iranians or Afghans and have nothing to do with the Indian subcontinent. They reject any notion of shared history, ancestry or culture. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was feted in India and not Pakistan. One look at the textbooks of Pakistan studies (that the author has) tells you the story. After having ethnically cleansed most of the minorities from Pakistan, the majority there have now turned their murderous attentions to Ahmadiyas and Shias.

A very telling point in Pakistani narrative of the past is the elimination of Alexander’s invasion and resistance by King Porus (who’s kingdom was between the Ravi and Jhelum, the heartland of modern Pakistan). With such delusions at mass levels being cultivated over six decades, Pakistan as a nation suffers from acute schizophrenia. Military adventurism is the result of this psychological condition.

The second problem that confronts India vis-a- vis Pakistan is its likely implosion. Towards the end of the Cold War era, Henry Kissinger used to openly worry about the breakup of Soviet Empire and the danger of nuclear exchange in those chaotic times. He should have worried about Pakistan. Shias comprise almost 20 percent of the population of Pakistan. They are generally better educated (many are doctors) and also occupy high positions in the military as well as administration.

Incidentally, Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, was a Shia himself, his Parsi origin wife (who committed suicide by cutting off her veins in a Taj hotel room) lies buried in a Shia graveyard in the Mazgaon area of Mumbai.  Despite the available facts, the Pakistanis are in denial mode not only in acknowledging that Jinnah was a Shia, but also by obliterating any mention of his Parsi wife from public memory.

Some usual suspects have crawled out of the woodwork to claim that Pakistan is now a changed country. It indeed has changed – but for the worse. Those who abuse India and its plural ethos day in and day out must note that there have been more attacks on the mosques and Imambaghs in Pakistan in last five years than in 65 years in India. In the last few years, over 11,000 Pakistanis have died in sectarian/terrorist violence. The Pakistani Taliban has been regularly beheading  Pakistani soldiers. No wonder many Pakistanis wonder what all this fuss is in India over a single such incident.

India’s Pakistan problem is thus not merely an issue of external policy, as shown recently when India’s Home Minister, no less, accused the principal opposition party and a cultural organisation of the majority community of running ‘terrorist training camps’ in India. With one brilliant stroke, this worthy has taken the wind out of Indian diplomacy that has for years been asking Pakistan to shut down terror camps operating on its territory.

The next time India complains about yet another 26/11 attack, Pakistan will turn round and point at the alleged terror camps within India. This is not a one-off remark. The newly-anointed Vice President of the ruling party had said much the same thing to a US diplomat, according to Wikileaks disclosure.

India can possibly deal with the external dimension of the Pakistan problem but how can it manage Indians who see nothing wrong in ruining our own interests for short-term political gain?

Updated Date: Feb 02, 2013 12:43 PM

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