Recent developments signal the need for change in Pakistan’s strategic outlook. There is alarm over India’s recent moves in Afghanistan and Iran, two of its neighbours that feel threatened by Pakistan. The Indian PM has gone to the US after the two issued warnings to Pakistan over safe havens in Pakistan still available to terrorists who strike across borders. Ignored in this chessboard are two developments that will benefit the entire region: Trade corridors linking South Asia westwards and northwards.
Pakistan variously sees the new scenario as the Great Game by America and Encirclement by India. Pakistanis repeat their India-never-accepted-Pakistan platitudes but they also ask some searching questions outside of the textbooks: If there is a drone-tipped Great Game unfolding against us, then why are we keeping on our territory elements that the world fears?
The most favourable development for the liberation of the tongue-tied has been Army Chief Raheel Sharif’s decision to take on the Taliban, of both Pakistani and Afghan varieties, in North Waziristan. More questions have, however, cropped up after this liberation about such “immune” people as Hafiz Saeed, and Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque in Islamabad who can get innocent Pakistanis killed through al Qaeda. Pakistanis no longer take the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad purely as an act of aggression by America. They are not sure any more about the American drones that killed such enemies of Pakistan as warlords Nek Muhammad, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. The latest killing of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has not aroused sympathy for the Taliban. The question they ask is: What was he doing in Pakistan?
Stimson Centre’s founder Michael Krepon, in his recent column in Dawn, Karachi, says, “Pakistan’s equities in Washington have shrunk with the declining US troop presence in Afghanistan and with Pakistan’s perceived need to hedge its bets.” The US will grow closer to India now that it is stripped of its uncertainty about Pakistan’s “double game” in Afghanistan. Whatever game it is, Pakistan too can’t make sense of it. Pakistan may not feel obliged to answer questions posed by the world, but it will have to answer the questions its own people are now asking.
Zalmay Khalilzad in his 2016 book, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey through a Turbulent World, tells us that he began complaining about Pakistan’s “double game” long before Pakistan itself was hurt by its “safe havens” through kidnappings and other acts of violence. As America’s ambassador in Afghanistan (2003-2005), he reported to Washington that the Pakistani military was playing a double game, “tracking down certain al Qaeda operatives while aiding and abetting the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and (Hekmatyar’s) Hezb-e-Islami”.
Khalilzad thought Pakistan somehow didn’t change its view of the Afghan Taliban enjoying sanctuaries on its territory together with al Qaeda. He feared that these camps would grow in strength and one day might repeat the 9/11 assault on the superpower’s homeland. Like many others before him, he was unable to move Washington. When he went too far with his plaints about Pakistan’s “double game”, the State Department stopped him: “Secretary Colin Powell called me and told me outright to stop making public statements about these issues since they were causing problems in his dealings with Musharraf.” And this refusal to register was fostered by the cables received from Islamabad from Ambassador Nancy Powell (2002-2004), who thought that “Pakistan was a trusted partner and was contributing more than was generally recognised”. Powell was ambassador to India (2011-2014) too and resigned to allow President Obama to embark on a new policy in the region.
Pakistan and India should look to link the two transformational developments in the region, the India-Chabahar-Iran-Central Asia trade hub and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to broaden their scope. This will require a change in their conflict-based strategic thinking, but this will have to be done because the new challenges in the subcontinent are no longer bilateral but environmental, relating to water and food.