Use the IMF route to tighten the screws on Pakistan

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The international community should call Pakistan’s fiscal bluff: Pakistan has long employed not just nuclear blackmail but also fiscal blackmail — help us financially or face the perils of the country falling apart.

Pakistan-IMF

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

The subcontinent’s military crisis is anything but over. Pakistan’s military generals fear another surprise Indian strike, which explains why much of Pakistan’s airspace is still closed to commercial traffic: Most international overflights remain barred, while domestic flights must stick to a narrow western corridor close to Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s armed forces are on full operational alert, with combat air patrols continuing and the army beefing up deployments along the India frontier.

Yet, emboldened by China’s support, Pakistan is ignoring international calls to take concrete, irrevocable steps against the terrorist groups that operate openly from its territory. Indeed, Pakistan has yet to take the first credible step, which is to declare a policy — embraced by the chief of army staff (COAS) and the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC) — to deny sanctuary and financing to all terrorist groups.

The COAS remains Pakistan’s effective ruler. Imran Khan is not just one of Pakistan’s weakest prime ministers ever but also has shown himself to be the military’s willing puppet. Even while announcing the Indian pilot’s release as a “peace gesture”, Khan denied Pakistan is cultivating terror groups but justified terrorist attacks and suggested Pulwama was an Indian conspiracy.

Against this background, China’s action in again blocking UN action against Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) founder Masood Azhar was aimed at thwarting international pressure on Pakistan to take credible, irreversible anti-terror actions. That China still protects a terrorist who reportedly is on his deathbed undergirds the extent to which it shields Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India.

It also helps highlight China’s own proxy war against India by employing Pakistan as a surrogate for containment. While reaping an ever-increasing trade surplus with India, China is systematically undermining Indian interests. Yet, since the Wuhan summit, India’s China policy has become more feckless than ever.

It is not a question of whether but when an Indian target will be attacked again by a Pakistan-based terrorist group. If war is to be averted, major powers other than China must tighten the screws on Pakistan. A major source of international leverage is Pakistan’s current desperate need for a $12 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. This will be Pakistan’s 22nd IMF bailout in six decades, and the largest ever. The IMF should bail out debt-ridden Pakistan only in return for concrete anti-terror action.

An international financial squeeze can effectively force Pakistan’s hand. The key to this is the US, which has the IMF clout (underscored by a dominant 17.46% voting share) to put off the impending bailout or tie it to specific conditions. India must seek to persuade the US — and other key IMF members like Japan and Germany, with 6.48% and 5.60% voting shares respectively — to not let go the present opportunity to reform a scofflaw Pakistan.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, far from welcoming Khan’s tokenistic anti-terror measures, has insisted Pakistan take “sustained, irreversible action against terrorist groups.” However, Trump’s zeal to finalize a tentative deal that his administration reached with the Pakistan-created Afghan Taliban in late January offers Pakistan’s generals their trump card.

Through their brutal proxies, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, these generals have compelled the US to negotiate the terms of its exit from Afghanistan and to seek Pakistan’s help to midwife the deal. However, the US will be able to honourably end the longest war in its history, and get the Taliban to keep up its end of the bargain, only if it makes Pakistan’s generals realize that sponsoring cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan carries major costs. If the generals are to take concrete anti-terror steps, there must first be tangible action on America’s part, including stripping Pakistan of its “Major Non-NATO Ally” status, adding it to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, or at least leveraging the IMF bailout.

Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle, seeking new loans to repay old ones. Despite recently getting $7.5 billion in cash from Saudi, Emirati and Chinese transfers, it cannot do without a large IMF bailout. Pakistan’s cycle of dependency on IMF has paralleled the rise of its military-mullah-jihadist complex. Foreign aid and lending have helped underpin Pakistan’s collusion with terrorist groups.

Today, an IMF bailout will aid Chinese designs by freeing up other resources in Pakistan for debt repayments to Beijing. It will thus implicitly support China’s debt-trap diplomacy with Pakistan, the largest recipient of Belt and Road financing. Such lending has contributed to Pakistan’s dire financial situation, locking it in debt servitude to China.

Pakistan has long employed not just nuclear blackmail but also fiscal blackmail — help us financially or face the perils of the country falling apart. If Pakistan is unwilling to sever its links with state-nurtured terrorists, it is better for the world to let it fail than to continue propping up its military-mullah-jihadist complex with aid and loans — the equivalent of giving more alcohol to an alcoholic, instead of treating the addiction. The treatment now must centre on making Pakistan take verifiable and unalterable anti-terror steps.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

Why the Pakistan-Terrorist Nexus Persists

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Pulwama-Blast

Brahma Chellaney, an internationally syndicated column from Project Syndicate

Once again, an attack on India by a Pakistan-based terrorist group has raised the specter of a major confrontation on the Indian subcontinent – and fueled international pressure for Pakistan to take concrete action against the 22 United Nations-designated terrorist entities it hosts. But this time, the pressure is compounded by fury over attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists on the country’s other key neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan. Will Pakistan finally respond convincingly?

Over the years, the footprints of many terrorist attacks in the West have been traced to Pakistan. The United States found al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ensconced in the high-security garrison town of Abbottabad, in the shadow of the Pakistan Military Academy. Other terrorist leaders captured since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s third in command, and Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief – were also found living in Pakistan’s heartland.

Such revelations have often fueled calls for Pakistan to tackle its transnational terrorism problem. Last year, US President Donald Trump tweeted that, though Pakistan received more than $33 billion in American aid since 2002, it has returned “nothing but lies and deceit,” including providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” The US – which has long had contingency plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, if necessary, to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on them – then suspended security aid.

Recent attacks have reinvigorated demands for Pakistan to take action – amid threats of reprisal. On February 14, a suicide bombing claimed by the group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers in India-administered Kashmir. In the same week, another suicide bombing – this one claimed by a group called Jaish ul-Adl – killed 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members and injured 13 others in southeastern Iran, and a Taliban strike killed 32 Afghan troops at a remote base.

Since then, India and Pakistan have engaged in tit-for-tat aerial incursions, and Iran has vowed to retaliate. The US has stressed the “urgency” of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups. If Pakistan is moved from the “gray” to “black” list of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – which recently chastised the country for failing to cut off terrorist financing and demanded concrete action by May – Western sanctions will probably follow.

Pakistan’s position as a mecca of terrorism is now raising concerns among even its main patrons – China, which has long stood with it against India, and Saudi Arabia, its bulwark against Iran – which have lent it no support in its present crisis with India. More than ever, Pakistan finds itself internationally isolated, and risks becoming a global pariah.

Beyond the geostrategic repercussions, this outcome poses a grave threat to Pakistan’s economy, which is teetering on the brink of default. Despite having secured emergency loans from China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan desperately needs a large International Monetary Fund bailout. And while a $12 billion IMF deal is in the works, the situation will only deteriorate further if the FATF blacklists Pakistan.

To avoid this, Pakistan’s government is signaling its intent to crack down on terrorist groups. But the international community should not get its hopes up. With the military still dominant, the toothless civilian leadership is offering only tentative, reversible measures, suggesting a likely return to business as usual as soon as external pressure has eased.

Pakistan’s all-powerful military establishment – which includes the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency – is loath to sever its cozy alliances with terrorist groups. It would prefer to continue nurturing armed jihadists as a force multiplier in its low-intensity asymmetric wars against neighboring countries. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons enable this approach, because they shield its military and state-nurtured terrorist groups from retaliation.

This constraint is reflected in India’s response to the Pakistani military’s long-term strategy of inflicting on India “death by a thousand cuts.” Pakistan’s protracted terrorism-centered asymmetric warfare has, cumulatively, proved costlier for India than any past full-fledged war on the subcontinent, including the 1971 war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. But, as India’s patience wears thin, a limited war that calls the Pakistani generals’ nuclear bluff is no longer inconceivable.

But nuclear weapons are not the only factor protecting Pakistan’s generals. Despite Trump’s complaints, the US has yet to strip Pakistan of its “Major Non-NATO Ally” status or to add the country to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The reason is simple: Pakistan is now a gatekeeper of America’s geopolitical interests in the region.

Not only does the US supply its Afghanistan-based troops largely via Pakistan; it is depending on Pakistani help in finalizing a peace deal with the Taliban. In other words, Pakistan’s generals are now being rewarded for sponsoring terror in Afghanistan through their brutal proxies – the Taliban and the Haqqani Network – which, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, have killed as many as 45,000 Afghan security personnel since 2014 alone. The message is clear: sponsoring cross-border terrorism pays.

The battle against international terrorism cannot be won unless the nexus between terrorist groups and Pakistan’s military is severed. A good place to start would be to make the IMF bailout contingent on concrete counter-terrorism action. In the longer term, however, civilian-military relations must be rebalanced: the Pakistani generals’ viselike grip on power must be broken, and the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishment must be subordinated to the civilian government.

The international community has enough leverage to force change in debt-ridden and dysfunctional Pakistan. But, to use it, Trump would need to rethink his Faustian bargain with the Taliban. And, unfortunately, that seems unlikely to happen.

© Project Syndicate, 2019.

The China-Pakistan Axis of Evil

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While Pakistan employs terrorist groups as proxies to bleed India, China uses Pakistan as a proxy to box in India. The irony is that, while providing cover for Pakistan’s open collusion with terrorists, China is locking up its “radical” Muslims in gulags.

Axisofevil1Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

The February 26 Indian airstrike on a terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan’s heartland cannot obscure the resurfacing of India-China tensions following the Valentine’s Day terrorist attack in Pulwama that killed dozens of Indian paramilitary troops. China’s culpability in the attack — and in previous lethal cross-border terrorist strikes, such as on the Pathankot airbase — is apparent from its shielding of Pakistan’s export to terrorism to India. China brazenly provides cover for Pakistan’s collusion with state-reared terrorists.

The message from India’s use of airpower for the first time against a cross-border terrorist safe haven is that it is not afraid to escalate its response to the aerial domain in order to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. This could potentially mark a defining moment in India’s counterterrorism efforts against Pakistan’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts.

The airstrike, however, is likely to reinforce Beijing’s determination to bolster Pakistan as a counterweight to India, especially because China incurs no strategic or trade costs for containing India. Beijing is not only propping up the Pakistani state financially and militarily, but also has repeatedly blocked United Nations action against the chief of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group, which was quick to claim responsibility for the Pulwama massacre.

The paradox is that China, the world’s longest-surviving autocracy, has locked up more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang in the name of cleansing their minds of extremist thoughts, yet is simultaneously protecting Pakistan’s export of deadly Islamist terrorism to India. While Pakistan employs terrorist groups as proxies to bleed India, China uses Pakistan as a proxy to box in India.

The plain fact is that, for China, Pakistan is not just a client state, but a valued instrument to help contain India. So, is it any surprise that since the April 2018 Wuhan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has actually stepped up its use of Pakistan as an India-containment tool, including by accelerating the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and playing the Kashmir card against New Delhi? In fact, China is steadily encircling India, as several developments underscore — from its new military base in Tajikistan that overlooks the Wakhan Corridor and Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir to its increasing encroachments in India’s maritime backyard.

It is extraordinary that China has been able to mount pressure on India from multiple flanks at a time when its own economic and geopolitical fortunes are taking a beating. By China’s own statistics, its economy last year registered the weakest pace of growth in nearly three decades. Add to the picture a new phenomenon — the flight of capital from a country that, between 1994 and 2014, amassed a mounting pile of foreign-exchange reserves by enjoying a surplus in its overall balance of payments.

Now faced with an unstoppable trend of net capital outflows, Xi’s regime has tightened exchange controls and other capital restrictions to prop up the country’s fragile financial system and sagging currency. The regime has used tens of billions of dollars in recent months alone to bolster the yuan’s international value. Not just capital is fleeing China but even wealthy Chinese prefer to live overseas, in a vote of no confidence in the Chinese system.

China’s internal challenges are being compounded by new external factors. Chinese belligerence and propaganda, for example, have spawned a growing international image problem for the country. More significantly, China has come under international pressure on several fronts — from its trade, investment and lending policies to its human-rights abuses. U.S.-led pressure on trade and geopolitical fronts has accentuated Beijing’s dilemmas and fuelled uncertainty in China. As long as the U.S.-China trade war rages, flight of capital will remain a problem for Beijing. Its foreign-exchange reserves have shrunk by about $1 trillion from their peak of just over $4 trillion in mid-2014.

At a time when China’s imperial project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is running into resistance from a growing number of partner countries, Beijing is also confronting a U.S.-led pushback against its telecommunications giant Huawei. Meanwhile, China is alienating other Asian nations by throwing its weight around too aggressively.

This trend is likely to accelerate with the restructured People’s Liberation Army becoming less of an army and more of a power projection force, the majority of whose troops now are not from the army but from the other services. Indeed, the PLA’s shift toward power projection foreshadows a more aggressive Chinese military approach of the kind already witnessed in the Himalayas or the South China Sea, where China has fundamentally changed the status quo in its favour.

More fundamentally, it is China’s open disregard of international rules and its penchant for bullying that explains why it remains a largely friendless power. Leadership in today’s world demands more than just brute might. Beijing lacks any real strategic allies other than Pakistan. When China joined hands with the U.S. at the United Nations to impose new international sanctions on North Korea, once its vassal, it implicitly highlighted that it now has just one real ally — Pakistan.

China today is increasingly oriented to the primacy of the Communist Party, responsible for the past pogroms and witch-hunts and the current excesses. Under Xi, the party has set out to demolish Muslim, Tibetan and Mongol identities, expand China’s frontiers far out into international waters, and turn the country into a digital totalitarian state. Consequently, four decades after it initiated economic reform, China finds itself at a crossroads, with its future trajectory uncertain.

It is against this background that the Xi regime’s increasing use of Pakistan against India stands out. China is working to extend its reach to the Arabian Sea by turning Pakistan into a client-state and keeping India off-balance.

Beijing not only continues to bolster Pakistan’s offensive capabilities, including in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but also is working in tandem with that country to militarize the northern Arabian Sea. Chinese-supplied warships have already been pressed into service to secure Pakistan’s Chinese-controlled Gwadar port, the flagship project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which, in turn, is the centrepiece of BRI.

Through CPEC, China is seeking to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. And, as a U.S. Defence Department report in 2016 forewarned, Pakistan — “China’s primary customer for conventional weapons” — is likely to host a Chinese naval hub intended to project power in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Such a naval base is expected to come up quietly next to the Gwadar port, directly challenging India’s maritime interests.

China, meanwhile, has actively aided Pakistan’s counter-strategy to the Indian military’s supposed “Cold Start” doctrine. Pakistan’s counter is a mobile WMD capability centred on tactical nuclear weapons for use against enemy battle formations. The “Cold Start” doctrine is reportedly the idea of a quick and limited Indian conventional strike in response to a Pakistan-scripted terrorist attack, so as to deny Pakistani generals the ability to raise conflict to a nuclear level.

That doctrine remains notional, with no indication that India has either integrated it into its military strategy or reconfigured force deployments in order to execute it in a contingency. Yet Pakistan, with Chinese support, has fielded tactical nukes, creating a dangerous situation. Let’s be clear: Pakistan’s recklessness has been egged on by China. A full-fledged war on the subcontinent will open opportunities for China against India that Beijing seeks.

Beijing has repeatedly declared that China and Pakistan are “as close as lips and teeth.” It has also called Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two countries often boast of their “iron brotherhood.” In 2010, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, waxed poetic about the relationship, describing it as “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

In truth, China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan other than a shared enmity against India. China and Pakistan are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. Both lay claim to vast swaths of Indian territory. Their “iron brotherhood” is about a shared interest in containing India. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either Pakistan or China, certainly advances that interest.

India will never be able to break the China-Pakistan nexus, however hard it might try. Yet successive Indian governments have failed to grasp this strategic reality. Virtually every Indian prime minister has sought to reinvent the foreign-policy wheel rather than learn the essentials of statecraft or heed the lessons of past national mistakes.

In fact, an economically rising India seeking to chart an independent course only gives Beijing a greater incentive to use Pakistan as a surrogate against it. For China, the appeal of propping up Pakistan is heightened by the latter’s willingness to serve as a loyal proxy. In fact, given that Pakistan is an economic basket case dependent on Chinese lending, Beijing treats it as something of a guinea pig. For example, it has sold Pakistan outdated or untested nuclear power reactors (two such AC-1000 reactors are coming up near Karachi). China has also sold weapons systems not deployed by its own military.

Less known is that Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon has benefited China, as it has provided an ideal pretext for Beijing to advance its strategic interests within that country. For example, China has deployed thousands of troops in Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir since the last decade, ostensibly to secure its strategic projects. The Chinese military presence there means that India faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its portion of Jammu and Kashmir, given that China occupies one-fifth of the original princely state of J&K. This presence also explains why India faces a two-front scenario in the event of a war with either country.

More fundamentally, Beijing has pursued a troubling three-pronged policy to build pressure on New Delhi over J&K, where the disputed borders of India, Pakistan and China converge. First, it has enlarged its footprint in Pakistan-occupied J&K through CPEC projects, despite Indian protestations that such projects in a territory India claims as its own violate Indian sovereignty. Second, Beijing has attempted to question India’s sovereignty over Indian J&K by issuing visas on a separate leaf to J&K residents holding Indian passports. And third, it has officially shortened the length of the Himalayan border it shares with India by purging the 1,597-kilometer line separating Indian J&K from Chinese-held J&K.

Add to the picture China’s shielding of Pakistan’s export of terrorism and its indirect encouragement of separatism in India’s J&K. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned in 2010 that “Beijing could be tempted to use India’s ‘soft underbelly,’ Kashmir.”

While building projects in Pakistan-occupied J&K, a UN-designated disputed territory, China denied a visa in 2010 to the Indian Army’s Northern Command General B.S. Jaswal, who was to lead the Indian side in the bilateral defence dialogue in Beijing, on grounds that he commanded “a disputed area, Jammu and Kashmir.”At the same time, Beijing has signalled an interest in cleverly inserting itself as a mediator in the India-Pakistan tensions over Kashmir. This is part of China’s efforts to obscure the fact that it is actually the third party to the J&K dispute.

While playing the Kashmir card against India, China offers Pakistan security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the United Nations. For example, China has repeatedly vetoed UN action against Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which, backed by Pakistani intelligence services, has carried out several major terrorist attacks on Indian targets, including the Pathankot air base in 2016 and the Parliament in 2001. And in 2016, Sartaj Aziz, the then Pakistani prime minister’s foreign-policy adviser, said that China has helped Pakistan to block India’s U.S.-supported bid to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the export-control cartel.

Pakistan has secured other major benefits from China as well. For example, China provided critical assistance in building Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, including by reducing the likelihood of U.S. sanctions or Indian retaliation. China still offers covert nuclear and missile assistance, reflected in the more recent transfer of the launcher for the Shaheen-3, Pakistan’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometres.

In this light, a grateful Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run Gwadar port for the next 40 years — a period in which Beijing will receive, tax free, 91% of the port’s revenues. The port operator, China Overseas Ports Holding Company, will also be exempt from major taxes for more than 20 years. Moreover, Pakistan has established a new 13,000-troop army division to protect CPEC projects. And it has deployed police forces to shield Chinese nationals and construction sites from Baloch insurgents and Islamist gunmen. China’s stationing of its own troops in the Pakistani part of J&K for years, however, betrays its lack of confidence in Pakistani security arrangements — and suggests that China will continue to enlarge its military footprint in Pakistan.

The Chinese strategic penetration of Pakistan, meanwhile, continues to be aided by the U.S. factor, despite President Donald Trump’s suspension of American security aid to that country last year.

Although Trump publicly declared that Pakistan provides the U.S. with “nothing but lies and deceit,” his desperation to get American troops out of Afghanistan has led to Washington cozying up to Pakistan again so as to clinch a final deal with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. Indeed, the U.S. tentative deal with the Taliban in Qatar in late January was struck with Pakistan’s active support. Pakistan, in effect, is reaping rewards for sponsoring cross-border terrorism, thanks to unflinching Chinese support and the renewed U.S. dependence on the Pakistani military in relation to Afghanistan.

Make no mistake: Despite slowing economic growth, a grinding trade fight with the U.S., and an international pushback against BRI, China has been able to bring India under greater pressure. If anything, it is a reflection of India’s pusillanimity that China continues to contain India without incurring any costs. Far from seeking to impose any costs on China, India is doing the opposite.

For example, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s presence in Wuzhen, China, in late February for the Russia-India-China (RIC) initiative meeting sent the message that New Delhi, for tactical reasons, was willing to whitewash Beijing’s culpability in the Pulwama massacre. RIC is actually a meaningless and worthless initiative for India, and the least New Delhi could have done is to force a postponement of the Wuzhen meeting at a time when the Indian republic was mourning the Pulwama mass murder.

Given that New Delhi is loath to impose any costs, including trade related, why would Beijing cease protecting the Pakistani deep state’s terror campaign against India? In fact, India has allowed China to reap ever-increasing rewards while systematically undermining Indian interests.

Just consider one fact: China’s trade surplus with India, on Modi’s watch, has more than doubled to over $66 billion annually. By comparison, India’s new defence budget unveiled in February totals $42.8 billion, or just 65% of China’s bilateral trade surplus. This underscores the extent to which India is underwriting China’s hostile actions against it.

India should be willing to employ trade as a tool to help reform China’s behaviour. Yet New Delhi continues to ignore calls from Indian industry and consumer groups for protection against the rising tide of Chinese imports that is undermining Indian manufacturing and competitiveness. Thanks to China’s large-scale dumping of manufactured goods, Modi’s “Make in India” initiative has yet to seriously take off.

In fact, Modi has little to show from his personal diplomacy with Xi. For Xi, the Wuhan summit has served as a cover to kill two birds with one stone. While encouraging Modi’s overtures to help instil greater Indian caution and reluctance to openly challenge China, Xi has embarked on a major military build-up along the Himalayan border with India. The build-up includes deploying offensive new weapon systems and advertising live-fire combat exercises. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s status as China’s economic and security client has been firmly cemented and Chinese encroachments in India’s maritime backyard have increased.

As China treats Pakistan more and more as a colonial outpost that has a government on Chinese payroll, the challenge for India from the Sino-Pakistan nexus is mounting. Indeed, just as Pakistan wages an unconventional war by terror against India, China is pursuing its own asymmetric warfare against India, both by economic means and by employing Pakistan as a proxy.

The hype from India’s latest counterterrorism airstrike deep inside Pakistan cannot cloak this reality. Without forward-looking and proactive diplomacy that seeks to systematically combat the China-Pakistan nexus, India will continue to be weighed down by its region. Only through more vigorous defence and foreign policies can India hope to ameliorate its regional-security situation, freeing it to play a larger global role.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water, Peace, and War.”

© Open magazine, 2019.

How the terrorist threat from Pakistan can be quelled

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imagesPakistan’s current faceoff with India has come at an awkward time. All three of its main neighbours – India, Iran and Afghanistan – have accused it of complicity in recent terrorist attacks on their soil. The rising regional tensions, highlighted by Indian and Pakistani tit-for-tat aerial incursions, threaten to complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to finalize a peace deal with Afghanistan’s Pakistan-created Taliban.

The trigger for the current tensions was a Valentine’s Day attack – claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group – that killed 41 Indian troops in the Indian part of divided Kashmir, where the contested borders of India, Pakistan and China meet. That same week, 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were slain, prompting Tehran to threaten retaliation against Pakistan, while all 32 Afghan troops at a remote base were killed in a Taliban strike.

Pakistan remains a major hub of transnational terrorism. The footprints of many international terrorist attacks have been traced to Pakistan, including the 2005 London bombings, the 2008 Mumbai siege and the 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., killings. The principal architects of the 9/11 attacks in the United States were found ensconced in Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden.

But it is Pakistan’s neighbours that have borne the brunt of its terrorism. Even Bangladesh, which seceded from Pakistan in 1971, blamed its worst terrorist attack on Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

More than seven decades after it was established as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan stares at an uncertain future. Its jihad culture has fostered rising militancy and a serious financial crisis, with the country dependent on bailouts from its patrons, China and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan’s problems have been compounded by a long-standing nexus between its military and terrorist groups. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is today home to 22 United Nations-designated terrorist entities, several of them reared by its military as proxies. Pakistan’s thriving jihadist groups arose under two military dictators: Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who died in 1988, and Pervez Musharraf, who fled overseas in 2008.

Indeed, at the root of Pakistan’s dysfunction are its skewed civil-military relations: The powerful, meddling military, including its ISI agency, remains immune to civilian oversight. Despite an elected government in place, decisive power rests with the military generals, enabling them to maintain ties with terrorist groups.

The current regional tensions have intensified international pressure on the Pakistani military to dismantle the terrorist complex it supports. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week stressed the “urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.” Similar calls have been made in recent days by the European Union and others.

However, such calls are unlikely to be heeded. For Pakistan’s military, waging an undeclared war against India through terrorist proxies remains a useful, low-cost option to contain a larger, more powerful adversary.

The Valentine’s Day attack – the latest in a string of cross-border strikes by Pakistan-backed terrorists – led India to shed its restraint and carry out its first air strike in 48 years inside Pakistan by bombing a terrorist safe haven. This was the first time a nuclear power carried out an air strike inside another nuclear-armed state.

Virtually calling the Pakistani generals’ nuclear bluff, India sent warplanes that deeply penetrated Pakistani air defences and bombed the terrorist sanctuary with impunity. Caught napping, the generals sought to save face with aerial aggression the next day, triggering a brief skirmish over the frontier in which each side lost a warplane.

The matter is unlikely to end there. India’s patience is wearing thin, and it is unwilling to be further gored.

Indeed, behind the recent U.S. decision to cut and run from Afghanistan is the same factor – Pakistan, which harbours not only Taliban leadership and fighters but also the Haqqani Network, responsible for terrorist attacks on American troops and civilians. As the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan admitted in 2017, “It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.”

The Trump administration’s tentative deal with the Taliban, including an American military exit within 18 months, has come as a shot in the arm for the Pakistani generals. Their long-standing goal to have an Islamist, pro-Pakistan government in Kabul was disrupted when the United States invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 and removed the Taliban from power. But now, the generals hope to realize their goal again.

U.S. negotiators are currently in talks with the Taliban to flesh out the tentative deal. However, U.S. concessions have already emboldened Pakistan’s generals and the Taliban. It may not be a coincidence that the terrorist attacks on Indian and Iranian troops occurred shortly after the tentative U.S.-Taliban deal was unveiled.

Against this background, the crisis in southern Asia will likely rumble on until Pakistan’s military agrees to halt its decades-old use of terrorist proxies to wage asymmetric warfare against neighbouring countries.

The terrorism emanating from Pakistan cannot be stemmed without correcting the country’s civil-military relations. Without civilian control over it, the praetorian military will remain wedded to the export of terrorism, exacting mounting costs for Pakistan, which has already lost American security aid and is now on the grey list of the Paris-based international body combating terrorism financing.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and award-winning author.

© The Globe and Mail, 2019.

India’s options on Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, February 28, 2019

terrorismPakistan didn’t wait long to squash India’s Balakot airstrike bravado with its own air incursions. However, the financially strapped country cannot afford a serious escalation of hostilities, not least because India could wreak massive punishment. This explains why Pakistan’s military is at pains to affirm that it is not seeking war.

The mass-murder attack at Pulwama was India’s moment of truth. For too long, India had put up with Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism without imposing any tangible costs. So, when Pulwama happened, it triggered intense anger across the country, not just against Pakistan, but also against the fractious and feckless political class that has reduced India to a soft state.

Peace with Pakistan is a mirage, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) aptly employed its Mirage 2000 aircraft to bomb terrorists there. In a chilling message to Pakistan’s terror masters — the military generals — it demonstrated its ability to deeply penetrate Pakistani air defences and bomb. This represented a major loss of face for the generals. To salvage their image at home, the generals have responded with aerial aggression.

Had the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee quickly responded with punitive airstrikes to the December 2001 Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on Parliament — at a time when much of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet was not airworthy due to a lack of spares — India probably would have been spared the Pakistan-scripted terrorist carnages that have followed. The lost golden opportunity was compounded by nearly 18 years of political dithering on allowing limited uses of air power, such as taking out trans-border terrorist launch pads. India’s belated use of air power to strike a terrorist safe haven has finally sent a clear message — it is not afraid to  call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

Balakot represents the first time a nuclear power carried out an airstrike inside another nuclear-armed State. The current conventional military face-off, however, promises to bust Western academic theories about the inevitability of tit-for-tat actions rapidly triggering a serious nuclear crisis. Pakistani generals may be roguish but they are not suicidal. Their delusions of security behind a supposed nuclear shield stand exposed.

A more fundamental question is whether the current face-off will mark a turning point for India, generating a newfound determination not to be continually gored. Or did India carry out the Balakot airstrike — like the 2016 ground-launched surgical strike — largely to assuage public anger, with the calculation that Pakistan would again not respond in kind? A one-off airstrike, in any event, would be as ineffective in deterring Pakistan as the one-off surgical strike was.

Whatever the number of terrorists killed at Balakot, the fact is that Pakistan’s generals were made to pay no costs. Now emboldened by their own quick military response, they will seek to bleed India further. Tellingly, the 2016 terrorists-targeting surgical strike, while underscoring India’s refusal to impose any costs on the terror masters, was followed by serial Pakistan-orchestrated terrorist attacks from Nagrota to Pulwama.

India must bring Pakistan under sustained and multipronged pressure. For example, how can India expect the international community to diplomatically isolate Pakistan when New Delhi is unwilling to do that itself? Indeed, India’s refusal to treat Pakistan as a terrorist state in its policy, as opposed to its rhetoric, has come back to haunt it.

India shies away from taking even non-military measures to penalise Pakistan. Nitin Gadkari’s empty statements on the Indus Waters Treaty have only generated bad international publicity. Far from seeking to weaponise water or leverage the treaty, India is adhering to the pact’s finer details, including supplying Pakistan design data of three proposed hydropower facilities on the eve of Pulwama.

Oddly, just as India called its 1974 nuclear test “peaceful”, only to endure almost a quarter-century of sanctions until it went overtly nuclear, it labelled its Balakot strike a “non-military” pre-emptive action. Pakistan’s military riposte has helped shatter that pretence. More significantly, India’s failure to quickly rebut Pakistan’s disinformation in the current face-off suggests it has learned little from China’s psychological warfare during the Doklam standoff.

India must face up to the fact that Pakistan has been at war with it for years. Labelling that aggression simply “terrorism” minimises its larger strategic dimensions and obviates the need to formulate a comprehensive strategy in place of the present ad hoc, reactive approach. It is a grinding, largely one-sided unconventional war since the 1980s whose cumulative costs for India outweigh those imposed by any full-fledged war in the past. Unless India is willing to take the battle to Pakistan’s terror masters, the latter will continue employing their terrorist proxies against it.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

China’s master plan for India

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China’s culpability in the massacre of Indian paramilitary soldiers by a Pakistan-based terrorist group is unmistakable. It openly shields Pakistan’s export of terrorism. While Pakistan’s proxy war keeps India preoccupied in the west, China’s aid to northeast Indian insurgents weighs down India on its eastern flank.

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

The Dalai Lama recently told this newspaper that due to Chinese pressure, no Buddhist country, with the sole exception of the nominally Buddhist Japan, is now willing to grant him entry. China’s ability to browbeat smaller countries into submission, however, should not obscure the major new challenges it faces.

The world’s longest-surviving autocracy turns 70 this year, with its future uncertain. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, which left at least 10,000 people dead. After more than a quarter century of phenomenal economic growth, China has entered a new era of uncertainty.

China’s slowing economy, an international geopolitical pushback against its overweening ambitions, new trade disruptions and tariffs, and President Xi Jinping’s centralization of power have all contributed to a jittery mood among its elites. Add to the picture the flight of capital from a country that had amassed a mountain of foreign-exchange reserves by enjoying a surplus in its overall balance of payments. Not only is capital fleeing China but even wealthy Chinese — in an informal vote of no confidence in the Chinese system — are emigrating.

Meanwhile, China has come under international pressure on multiple fronts — from its trade, investment and lending policies to its incarceration in “re-education camps” of more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang, a sprawling territory Mao Zedong annexed in 1949 just before gobbling up the buffer with India, Tibet. China’s free ride, which helped propel its rise, seems to be ending.

Malaysia’s decision to scrap a $20-billion rail project is just the latest example of how Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is running into growing resistance. Even Pakistan, China’s client-state, has downsized, cancelled or eliminated some BRI projects. Meanwhile, a US-led pushback against China’s Huawei conglomerate has broadened from opposition to its participation in next-generation 5G wireless networks to a broader effort to restrict the use of Chinese technology over espionage concerns.

It is China’s open disregard for international rules, however, that explains why it can count on few true strategic allies or reliable security partners. China’s lonely rise could become more pronounced with the newly restructured People’s Liberation Army (PLA) becoming less of an army and more of a power projection force, the majority of whose troops now are not from the army but from the other services, including the navy, air force, rocket force and the cyber warfare-oriented strategic support force.

For China’s neighbours, the PLA’s restructuring foreshadows a more aggressive Chinese military approach of the kind already being witnessed in the South and East China seas and the Himalayas. In fact, the risk is that — just as Mao staged the 1962 invasion of India after his disastrous “Great Leap Forward” created the worst famine in modern world history — Xi’s mounting challenges at home and abroad could prompt him to divert attention through military aggression.

Undeterred by the international pushback, however, Xi’s regime is still blending economic aggression, debt-trap diplomacy, territorial and maritime revisionism, influence operations and Orwellian tactics to advance unbridled ambitions. Chinese influence operations range from legitimate activities like lobbying to more covert or corrupting actions such as seeking to meddle in the domestic politics of democracies and sway their policy-relevant discourse.

As Indian national elections approach, China has stepped up its influence operations in India. China has been emboldened by its remarkable success in Nepal, which has tilted toward Beijing, despite an open border underscoring its symbiotic relationship with India. On the first anniversary of Nepal’s communist government this weekend, it is important to remember that China played no mean role in the communists’ democratic ascension to power there.

India, with its fragmented polity and fractious political divides, has become an important target of China’s efforts to buy access and influence and sway politics. These efforts have been aided by New Delhi’s feckless approach to Beijing, especially since the Wuhan summit.

Moreover, by more than doubling its trade surplus with India to over $66 billion a year on the BJP government’s watch, Beijing has acquired deeper pockets for influence operations, which aim to help instil greater Indian caution and reluctance to openly challenge China. At a time when India is engrossed in electoral politics, including increasingly petty and bitter feuding, Beijing’s conduct is underlining its master plan for this country: It wants a weak and unwieldy Indian government to emerge from the elections.

China’s culpability in the Pulwama massacre of Indian jawans is unmistakable. In keeping with its master plan, Beijing brazenly shields Pakistan’s export of terrorism, including blocking UN action against Pakistan-based terrorists like Masood Azhar. Indeed, China has long used militants to attack India’s weak points, including by originally training Naga and Mizo guerrillas and currently consorting with several northeast Indian insurgent leaders, some of them ensconced in Yunnan or Myanmar. So, while Pakistan’s proxy war keeps India preoccupied in the west, China’s proxy war weighs down India on its eastern flank.

If India is to safeguard its interests and expand its global footprint, its next government would need a more clearheaded and self-assured foreign policy, including for addressing the insidious China challenge.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

India’s security interests at risk from U.S. readiness to capitulate to Taliban

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

This year is Afghanistan’s 40th year in a row as an active war zone. Betrayal, violence and surrender have defined Afghanistan’s history for long, especially as the playground for outside powers. The US-Taliban “agreement in principle” fits with that narrative. By promising a terrorist militia a total American military pullout within 18 months and a pathway to power in Kabul, the US, in essence, is negotiating the terms of its surrender.

It is worth remembering how the US got into a military quagmire. The US invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul for harbouring the Al Qaeda planners of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, the key Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaida and Ramzi Binalshibh, were later found holed up inside Pakistan. Yet, paradoxically, the US, while raining bombs in Afghanistan, rewarded Pakistan, as President Donald Trump said last year, with more than $33 billion in aid since 2002.

The quagmire resulted from the US reluctance to take the war to the other side of the Durand Line by targeting the Taliban’s command-and-control bases in Pakistan. In modern world history, no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border state sponsorship and safe havens. This also explains why terrorists remain active in the Kashmir Valley.

Rather than take out the Taliban’s cross-border sanctuaries, the US actively sought “reconciliation” for years, allowing the militia to gain strength and terrorize Afghans. The protracted search for a Faustian bargain with the Taliban also explains why that ruthless militia was never added to the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This approach counterproductively led to an ascendant Taliban expanding its territorial control and killing government forces in growing numbers.

Now, desperate to exit, Trump has sought to accomplish what his predecessor, Barack Obama, set out to do but failed — to cut a deal with the Taliban. It was with the aim of facilitating direct talks with the Taliban that Obama allowed the militia to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. Then, to meet a Taliban precondition, five hardened Taliban militants (two of them accused of carrying out massacres of Tajiks and Hazaras) were freed from Guantánamo Bay. The five were described by the late US senator, John McCain, as the “hardest of hard core”.

Instead of the promised Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, the Trump administration clinched the tentative deal with the Taliban without prior consultations with Kabul and then sought to sell it to a sceptical Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. In doing so, it has unwittingly aided the Taliban effort to delegitimize an elected government. Given that Ghani was blindsided by the “framework” accord, it is no surprise that Washington did not care to take India, its “major defence partner”, into confidence either.

Let’s be clear: The Taliban do not represent most Pashtuns, let alone a majority of Afghans. Many in their ranks are Pakistanis recruited and trained by Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence, just as ISI teams up with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed against India. The US-Taliban deal nullifies then US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’ promise that “we’re not going to surrender civilization to people who cannot win at the ballot box”.

Indeed, the deal represents not only a shot in the arm for the resurgent Taliban but also a major diplomatic win for its sponsor, Pakistan, which facilitated the accord. Contrary to speculation that US reliance on Pakistan is on the decline, the interim deal, and the imperative to finalize and implement it, underscore the US dependence on the Pakistani army and ISI. In effect, Pakistan is being rewarded for sponsoring cross-border terrorism.

All this holds important implications for India, which, as Mattis said in October, “has been generous over many years with Afghanistan”, earning “a degree of affection from the Afghan people”. Once US troops return home, America will have little ability — especially if it does not leave behind a residual counterterrorism force — to influence events in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt. If the Taliban were to again capture power in Kabul with Pakistan’s assistance, the benefits for Afghans from the more than $3 billion in assistance that India has given since 2002 would melt away.

Despite growing US strategic cooperation with India, Washington, by its unilateralist actions, is paradoxically increasing the salience of Iran and Russia in India’s Afghanistan policy. India will have to do whatever is necessary to shield its vital interests in Afghanistan, or else developments there would adversely impinge on Indian security, including in the Kashmir Valley.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.