Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Pakistan Military Establishment Geopolitically Cornered

Emerging geopolitical power- play in which Pakistan finds itself in the vortex and the resultant “reality-bites” seem to have overwhelmingly stung the Pakistan military establishment which may generate implications for India.

The Pakistan Army Chief in particular and the Pakistan military establishment in general who primarily determine Pakistan’s foreign policy formulations pertaining to the United States, China, India and Afghanistan cannot in the ultimate analysis wash their hands away from the stark reality today that Pakistan stands geopolitically cornered. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or his civilian set-up cannot be blamed by the Pakistan Army Chief for the onset of Pakistan’s likely geopolitical isolation.

Pakistan’s military establishment conditioned by decades of strategic fawning by both the United States and China and more patronised by Saudi Arabia find themselves in mid-2016 being virtually forsaken by the United States and Saudi Arabia and left with its concubinage relationship with China as the mainstay of the future foreign policy directions of Pakistan.

The most stinging geopolitical “reality-bite” for the Pakistan military establishment turns out to be the Chah Bahar Tripartite Agreement signed on 23 May 2016 between India, Iran and Afghanistan in Tehran and which stood analysed in detail in my previous SAAG Paper No.6120 Dated 30 May 2016 “Chah Bahar Tripartite Agreement Signals New Power-Play” and I had reflected that it would rattle both China and Pakistan. Pakistan military establishment certainly seems rattled as manifested in the recent three- day workshop on “National Security, Deterrence and Regional Stability” in Islamabad organised by the Strategic Vision Institute.

The workshop was addressed by two former Defence Secretaries, both retired Lieutenant Generals and the Secretary Defence Production, also a retired Lieutenant General with the audience comprising middle level military and civilian officials and some strategic analysts. Media coverage in Pakistan and further repeated in India focussed on the assertions of geopolitical concerns of the three Senior Army officials which the media stated that their views obviously reflected the Pakistan military establishment’s opinions and concerns. These concerns more definitely, cantered on the strategic impact on Pakistan being currently cornered geopolitically, and its implications for Pakistan’s security.

Since media coverage on this Islamabad Workshop is adequately available, this Paper is not going to quote and repeat the assertions of the Pakistani Generals but briefly analyse the underlying geopolitical frustrations of the Pakistan military establishment as surfacing in their addresses. This Paper will also briefly analyse the implications for India of the Pakistan Army being strategically cornered.

Heading the list of geopolitical and strategic concerns was India and that the Chah Bahar Tripartite Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan was a grave threat to Pakistan’s security and would affect the CPEC timelines in Pakistan. The implicit and stated fears were that existence of such a “formidable bloc” in the neighbourhood had ominous and far reaching implications for Pakistan.

The maturing of the India-US Strategic Partnership with deepening military cooperation was also perceived as creating a serious national security threat to Pakistan in that the conventional, nuclear and deterrence asymmetries were systematically getting further imbalanced in favour of India.

Great resentment was manifested in the assertions that Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan as Muslim countries were now getting strategically drawn to India by Indian “intrigue diplomacy” (obviously they had in mind Prime Minister Modi’s strategic forays in the Middle East and the Gulf Region in mind) to the detriment of Pakistan’s strategic interests. This seems to be most galling for the Pakistani military establishment as Pakistani military establishment dictated foreign policies were heavily predicated on the “Islamic Card” to be played against India especially in the context of Kashmir.

Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema the Director of the Institute in his address outlined India’s strategic aims directly impacting Pakistan’s security as (1) India developing strategic capabilities for a great power role (2) India attaining security and power equilibrium with China, and (3) India’s strategic ends for regional superiority in South Asia.

Joining the dots, one of the Pakistani Generals asserted that United States patronage had seemingly emboldened India to coerce Pakistan into a “compellance mode”. It seems that there was a perception getting embedded in the minds of the Pakistani military establishment that but for India now enjoying American patronage, geopolitical disequilibrium now getting wider, would not have occurred. Concerns were also visible that India might inflict an arms race on Pakistan.

The most significant conclusions drawn by the Pakistani Generals were that Pakistan should enlist China’s influence and support to breakout of the encircling geopolitical moves initiated by India. More importantly, betraying their uncertainties on China standing by Pakistan in a crisis, the Pakistani Generals advocated that Pakistan should formalise its defence and strategic relations with China and not rely on unwritten understandings.

In terms of implications for India of Pakistan being strategically and geopolitically cornered by India’s dynamic policy formulations under Prime Minister Modi, these are obvious. Pakistan is likely to resort to a heightened recourse of asymmetrical responses of increased proxy war in the Kashmir Valley, suicide bombers attacks on India’s military bases in repeat of the Pathankot Air Force Base attacks and sabotage attacks on vital installations all over India, and which may now extend to India’s nuclear installations and missile testing sites.

As usual, the Pakistan Army is quick to transfer the blame on others for its own acts of omission and commission. The Pakistani Generals addressing the Workshop criticised the “dysfunctional Pakistan Foreign Office” and the absence of a full-time Foreign Minister. The Pakistani Generals conveniently forgot that it is the Pakistan Army Chief who calls the shots on Pakistan’s India-policies and Afghanistan policies and that it is the Pakistan Army Chief who should now be accountable for Pakistan being geopolitically cornered.

More notably, some Pakistan media voices commenting on this Workshop proceedings coupled it with another event simultaneously addressed by Lashkar-e-Toiba Chief Hafeez Saeed, and highlighted that both events focussed on Anti-US and Anti-India criticism and such policy attitudes would eventually lead to Pakistan’s isolation or Pakistan’s isolationism. Are the Pakistan Army Chief and the Pakistani military establishment listening to this chilling observation?

Concluding, two major assertions that I would like to offer are:

  • India must learn to ignore Pakistan and devalue Pakistan in its foreign policy formulations. This I have been reflecting in my writings for a decade now. India should now let Pakistan stew in the geopolitical broth that the Pakistan Army has cooked.
  • India must enter a “heightened state” of vigilance and alert against an isolated Pakistan’s increasing resort to asymmetric terrorism and proxy war responses now likely to ensue against India. Shakespeare can be adapted to assert that “Hell hath no fury as a Pakistan Army scorned”. The Pakistan Army today stands geopolitically scorned.

Surely, the Pakistani people did not deserve the dismal state to which Pakistan stands reduced to by Pakistan Army dominating Pakistan political and foreign policy processes and surely this was not the Pakistan that its founder Jinnah had ever dreamt of.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.



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