The signing of a defence treaty between the United States and India in mid-2016 and growing defence ties between Pakistan and China amounts to history repeating itself –with different combination of players. In the 1950s, India allied itself with the erstwhile USSR, while Pakistan aligned itself with the US. Qualitatively, India’s relationship with the USSR and now with the US was and is different from Pakistan’s relationship with the US and now with China. India was and is not seeking Big Power protection against any enemy. Pakistan did and does.
In the 1950s, Pakistan joined US-led anti-USSR military alliances in the hope that the US will help defend us against India. Pakistan had no disputes with the USSR; yet we opted for cold hostility with our northern neighbor merely to please the US for the sake of arms supplies. During our two wars with India in 1965 and 1971, the US looked the other way. This should not have been unexpected. The very thought, while signing ourselves into CENTO and SEATO, that the US will go to war with India on our behalf was laughable. But our then policymakers seriously believed so.
Three decades later, Pakistan again had no disputes with the USSR. Yet, we drew close to the US to the point of washing the superpower’s dirty dishes to aid its appetite for war against its communist rival. With the Soviet army vanquished, the US not only abandoned Pakistan, but slapped sanctions vide the Pressler Amendment and jailed senior executives of a Pakistani bank that had aided the US war effort by laundering money to terrorists in Afghanistan. But was this unexpected? The very thought, while signing ourselves onto the US war against USSR, that the US will reward us for our servitude was laughable. But our then policymakers seriously believed so.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, Pakistan offered itself as an instrument in the four-decade long US-USSR cold war. Today, it appears to be sleep-walking as an instrument in the evolving US-China conflict of interests – once again as a protective maneuver vis-à-vis India. In the 1950s, it was CENTO and SEATO that riled India to insidiously wriggle out of its UN commitments on Kashmir; today it is CPEC.
Contrary to official propaganda, however, India is not wary of CPEC because of the economic benefits it is billed to bring to Pakistan. India is too far ahead and no longer considers Pakistan as a strategically equal rival. It, and the US, is wary because of the military aspect of China’s presence in Gwadar and its access to the Indian Ocean. United States and its South East Asian allies are locked in a conflict in the South China Seas and it sees a similar confrontation arising in the Indian Ocean. This is one major context of the US-India entente.
Today, the policymaking parameters in Pakistan’s policy establishment appear to continue to persist as it was in the 1950s and 1980s. Defence against India remains the fulcrum around which our defence and foreign policy blindly revolves. Pakistan’s yearning for security led to seeking the American umbrella at the outset. Now spurned by the Americans, we have sought a Chinese umbrella. The policy establishment’s thinking appears to be thus: If India is drawing close to the US, we must find India’s enemy and draw close to it. The thinking is dangerously flawed.
China and India, despite their border dispute, history of armed conflict and rivalry for supremacy, are not mortal enemies. China-India trade and investment exceeds 100 billion US dollars and rising, compared to China-Pakistan trade at a stagnant 12 billion US dollars. China and India are least likely to go to war and any thought that China will go to war on behalf of Pakistan is yet again laughable. Clearly, there is at work a slave mentality in the inferiority complex ridden policy establishment which believes that Pakistan must always need a protector.
Pakistan is a country of 200 million people, with a strong agricultural, manufacturing and human resource base. It is resource rich, without the burden of population density that India suffers from. It is not a nation that can be overwhelmed by another nation, howsoever more powerful. We are capable of standing tall on our own feet. As such, the inferiority complex driven security mindset is absolutely uncalled for. China is a reliable friend and its offers of help are genuine. However, there is no need to bend over-backwards at every turn. First, however, our policy establishment has to exit the slave mentality.