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FRONTLINES, FAULTLINES AND BATTLEGROUNDS OF PAKISTAN by LT GEN PR SHANKAR (R)

 Frontline- Faultline-Battleground


The post WW2 British colonial collapse left the ‘Great Game’ Imperialists with a quandary. How to stem the spread of communism of Soviet Russia? How to stop its confluence with India whose socialism was visible even then. A geostrategic wedge that would simultaneously connect and separate – the Middle East, Soviet Central Asia, Chinese controlled East Turkestan, Tibet and the rest of the Subcontinent was needed.  The two-nation theory swirling in political circles provided the answer.  A prosperous Islamic country based on the fertile Indus Valley and fronted by the Hindukush was the solution. It could be granted Independence while the Rest of India would be earning it through a grim struggle.  A country so created would be ever beholden to the West to be its frontline in the region. Pakistan, the Unnatural Frontline State was thus created through British machinations. East Pakistan (Bangladesh) was an irrelevant by product. While this was so; ‘Not Being India’ – the opiate for the Muslims became the raison d’être for Pakistan. Starting from ‘Not Being India’, Pakistan morphed into an endemic ‘Anti India’ existential crisis mentality. This unnatural state has a basic fault line of an identity schism. Is it a frontline state or an anti-India state? While it kept answering this question it ended up being the frontline pawn.

While frontlines are always dangerous, there is something very fundamental about them. The battlefield is supposed to be on the other side. Not on your turf. That is changing. Pakistan has now ceased to be on the frontline. It is the battle ground now!

Contours of the Frontline State

Pakistan has been a multidimensional frontline since inception. It has been the frontline for USA through many periods. Hark back to the days of SEATO and CENTO days when it played dual, often antagonistic and at times devilish roles on the global stage [1]. Next came the heady 80s and 90s period of throwing Soviets out of Afghanistan through the creation of Mujahideen and Osama Bin Laden. That was the time it learnt the art of using ’Terror as an instrument of state policy’. It was followed by its double-dealing participation in America’s war in Afghanistan ever since the Twin Towers were brought down. In between it was the frontline midwife to reconnect USA and China. Remember the famous secret visit of Kissinger to China courtesy Pakistan?[2]All midwifery for USA contributed to revenues, military might and its nuclear rise. Especially when USA decided to look the other way as Pakistan was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons. It was a frontline proliferator through the ‘Nuclear Black-market’ with N Korea and China[3]. It is not without reason that it was known that Pakistan has survived on three As – America, Army and Allah[4].     
                                       
The identity crisis of ‘Not Being Indian’ drove Pakistanis to the Islamic World seeking kinship through imaginary Arabic [5]and Turkic[6]origins. Though spurned, it sought a frontline role in the Islamic World through the Islamic Bomb[7]– a term famously coined by Bhutto. Then, it ‘Rented’ out its military in a mercenary role to the highest bidder(s). Now, it sees itself in a prima donna role to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia[8].

Pakistan has been the frontline for the Taliban also, having helped in its creation and hoisting it into power in its quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan[9]. Its frontline activity helped USA dismantle the very power structure it had created in Afghanistan[10]. It is still in the frontline when it is seeking to install a Pakistani Backed Taliban Government in Afghanistan[11]while delivering an exit package to the USA.

Pakistan was always a frontline state for China. It enabled China to re-enter the world order from isolation. It is now the frontline for a China[12] which is seeking superpower status and access to the warm waters of the Gulf through the CPEC. It gives unstinted support to China on all issues on a fully reciprocal basis.  It is also enabling Chinese entry into Afghanistan for economic reasons, dubious as they sound. Last but not the least, Pakistan is the Chinese catspaw to keep India in check[13].

The pinnacle of frontline status is its perpetual enmity with India and its unabated sponsorship of terror in Kashmir. Its frontline role in various international terrorist incidents is well documented from Twin Towers to London Bridge via Osama Bin Laden at Abottabad.  An Oxford Study reveals that an Islamic Pakistan is thrice as dangerous to humanity than Syria[14]. General Mattis called it the most dangerous country he dealt with[15]. In all frontline roles, it has been played by all those it sought to play. While others got what they wanted and when they wanted, Pakistan was reduced to the role of a pawn in other’s games. Always at a loss.

State of Fault Lines

The fundamental fault line of Pakistan is that the Idea of Pakistan lacks substance.  Way back in the 50s it was described that ’Pakistan is not a nation and hardly a state. It has no justification, ethnic origin, language, civilisation or the consciousness of those who make up its population. They have no interest in common except one: fear of Hindu domination. It is to that fear and nothing else that Pakistan poses its existence and thus for survival as an independent state’[16]. From this basic flaw, other fault lines radiated. Today Pakistan is a country of multiple crisscrossing fault lines[17] . Each fault line contributes to the detriment of the other.


Pakistan started out as a modernist Muslim state[18]. Zia Ul Haq Islamised it [19]. The Ideological Faultlineof Pakistan is defined by the rise of the orthodox and fundamentalists on one side and marginalisation of the Muslim modernists and secularists on the other. This schism has widened to encompass many fissures. It has resulted in a Shia-Sunni divide and marginalization of all other sects (Ahmadiyya’s and Hazaras) and religions (Hinduism and Christianity). It has given rise to many terrorist groups of international ill repute. It has given rise to fundamentalist political parties. It encompasses the rise of sub nationalism and separatism in Sindh, Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit- Baltistan. The Punjab vs the rest is another spin off.  The Pashtun problem either side of the Durand Line is yet another dimension. Any examination of Pakistan is now mandatory through the prism of its Ideological Faultline.  

The Military Faultline of Pakistan has no comparable parallel. The anti-India insecurity and frontline mentality of the Pakistani Army has kept Pakistan in unaffordable wars and conflicts. In this endeavor it transformed itself into a costly and unaccountable Military State (nee Deep State) at the expense of a sinking Pakistan. It is the best Army never to have won a war. An Army which has outsourced fighting to radicalised non-state actors while it runs a business empire[20]. An Army which runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds in the international war against terror [21].  An Army which runs the country from the back seat when it is not in direct power through coups[22]. The Army has been the ultimate two-faced Janus – savior and destroyer of the nation at the same time[23].

The Socio Economic Faultlinein Pakistan is a byproduct resultant of its Frontlines and Faultlines. Pakistan started out as a progressive State with impressive socioeconomic credentials including high growth rates[24]. However, the switch to radical Islam, unfettered military expenditure, constant political instability, and an endemic anti India mindset have brought Pakistan to the brink of a socio-economic collapse. Pakistan’s economy needs life support and need fixes it doesn’t have[25]. It is an International pariah for investment barring the CPEC; which itself is in doldrums[26]. Its major indicators like literacy rates, education standards, women’s rights, health status, water availability are declining[27]. The socio economic Faultline is going to be impacted heavily by climate change and other factors of neglect[28].

                                             

Emerging Battlegrounds

While all of us know about Pakistan’s Faultlines and Frontlines, what is emerging ahead is that Pakistan is now going to be a set of battlegrounds. These will be Geopolitical, Internal Power Struggle, Resource Deficiency and Traditional Physical Battlegrounds.Future wars and conflicts of Pakistan will be on these battlegrounds which have emerged due to a collapsing economy. These battlegrounds need some understanding.

The Global Geopolitical Rivalry between USA and China has shifted into Pakistan[29]. Pakistan made a choice a couple of years back when it publicly chose China and spurned USA. That was the time when CPEC and BRI were on the upswing. It seemed that USA’s days were numbered at the Top. USA allowed China to overstretch itself before it struck. It struck back initially through the Trade War. It has also opened the gambit recently in Pakistan when CPEC is seen in trouble[30].  With China and Pakistan fully enmeshed with each other in the CPEC, USA will leave no stone unturned to see that CPEC is derailed, Chinese influence is limited and Pakistan is forced to heed to US interests in the region, whether Pakistan likes it or not. USA has enough linkages within Pakistan to make this happen. The difference being – unlike before Pakistan will not benefit from US largesse. China on its part will look to it’s interests of getting full value out of Pakistan and CPEC one way or the other. Pakistan will be caught squarely in the cross hairs without an economic dole. As a frontline state, one could get compensated. As a battle ground state, Pakistan will only suffer.


The Supreme Court of Pakistan recently gave a conditional extension of service to the current Army Chief. It also put constitutional conditionalities on the tenure of future Army Chiefs. There is obviously more to it than meets the eye. Is the role of the Army being sought to be curtailed?  There is a whiff of dissent within the Army Hierarchy. It has also brought forward the necessity of a rare interdependence between the Army, Executive and the Judiciary[31]. The role of the Army in the governance paradigm of Pakistan is being publicly questioned. There will be an Internal Power Struggle between the governing institutions of Pakistan till a new normal is found. Let’s not have doubts – unless there is a coup.


Pakistan is heading into a Resource Deficiency Battleground being prepared by climate change, totally unarmed, unprepared and unaided. Imran Khan in his UN address said, ‘Pakistan is among the top 10 nations in the world affected by climate change[32]’. It depends on Indus – A single river system fed by glaciers which are melting at a rapid pace. It is already a water scarce state soon heading into absolute water scarcity[33]. Its agricultural economy will be turned on its head.  Pakistan does not have the economic or political wherewithal to combat this problem. No nation will aid Pakistan till such time it continues to pose as a great nuclear and military power.

                                                     
Pakistan’s relations with all its neighbors is so poor that it conflicts and maintains live borders with all of them. A war with India is always on a short fuse.  The CPEC has turned out to be its third front which needs protection – internally and externally. All insurgencies, sub national and separatist movements have made Pakistan into a battleground in their areas of influence. To top it Pakistan has extended the battleground well into Afghanistan and Kashmir through its own machinations. Overall the Traditional Physical Battleground is going strong and will only get messier. No one wants peace with a Pakistan which does not want peace with itself.  

Future Imperfect

What does the future hold for Pakistan?  It was said that ‘Pakistan was too dangerous and important to fail’ [34]. However, take any analysis of a list of failed states and you will find Pakistan there  [35]. It has moved past the failure stage. It has too many moving parts which will keep it destabilized. The question which we must ask hereafter is – will Pakistan disintegrate? Difficult to answer. At present it will not be in the interest of either USA or China to see Pakistan disintegrate. They will do their best to ensure that it does not happen. In the same breadth they are in no position to stabilize it and bring some semblance of normalcy. The frontlines, faultlines and battlegrounds will add to the chaos already existing in Pakistan. Hence it would be fair to say that we will have to contend and deal with a neurotic Pakistan which will progressively be more unstable than before. At the same time, we will have to prepare ourselves with the possibility of its disintegration.    
                                            


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