A Chinese Trap and Pakistan’s Taliban Test: New Delhi Has to See a Long View of Realities

Last year Pakistan’s security establishment got into a euphoric mood when Taliban took over Afghanistan. It seemed that Islamabad have got the strategic depth that they used to enjoy during the Cold War days. However, the fears that came with this depth are turning out to be true. Certainly, Pakistan must have thought to make re-adjustments to their strategies to take the full advantage of the strategic depth which were clandestinely simmered until Taliban turned the tables.

A Simmering Strategy

Initially, Islamabad’s grand strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan simmered by re-designing their strategic depth approach in Afghanistan. Possibly, the depth that Islamabad was trying to regain is to expand their military and terror outfits in and around Afghanistan with their clandestine close contacts with the Taliban. The reason of strategic depth is also quite clear — Islamabad was planning to re-establish their stronghold in Afghanistan against India so that they can get some edge militarily and reactivating some terror models. But, the double sword of TTP which came with an advantage of strategic depth to Pakistan soon started to damage Pakistan’s grand strategy. Things got worse, when Afghan Taliban also started to slip from the grip of Islamabad’s security establishment — the issue of Durand lines and Taliban’s assertive behavior over certain economic and political issues at one end and TTP’s continued striking Pakistan at home on the other end, did put Pakistan in almost a protracted lock of the conflict.  However, the recent appointment of Asim Munir as Pak Army chief is indicative that Af-Pak region may witness some rock solid shows in coming time especially with TTP. However, Islamabad still have some brownie points to earn if they give a hard look to the situation.

A Backfired Strategy

Recently, Pakistan is out of FATF and also got some rewards from the Americans, if Pakistan goes out to bring some serious and radical changes which involves shedding their ideological bonding to some extent whatsoever exist with Afghan Taliban so to engage TTP at full swing, then possibly to some extent, Pakistan can steer out from this conflict. As we have seen in the past, Pakistan allegedly did some assist work with the US to help Americans strike Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. If we further look, Americans are also keen to develop US-Pak relations on the Afghanistan subject and US has also started to establish contact with Anti- Taliban forces in Afghanistan for obvious reasons. At present Pakistan does not have open filed of options rather they have both limited time and options. Any negotiations are weak option as Taliban’s situation especially the TTP in Pakistan have spiraled out. Pakistan has to make some hard calls to restabilize themselves, but those calls will come at the cost. If Pakistan decides to get closer with US and start to distance themselves or shed their relations with Taliban and engage them with their hard power then Islamabad’s grand strategy of attaining strategic depth at military and diplomatic level vis-a vis Afghanistan would hit a severe blow. However, this loss could be compensated if the US gets strategically close to Pakistan. The chances of US-Pak closeness to some extent can remain bleak even if Pakistan joins hand with the US in cleaning the Taliban’s mess. The reason to it is quite clear, India’s growing strategic significance and incoming G-20 and QUAD summit in New Delhi. US cannot afford to readjust its ties with Islamabad at this juncture because any such geopolitical behavior could bring spark with New Delhi which US cannot afford. Most likely Americans will be calculative towards Pakistan, if question of readjustment of US-Pak affairs arises in the future. But, at present a strong and genuine question still hangs that is Pakistan ready to make some hard calls and bring some radical readjustments in their strategic and security behavior? The time will only tell that how Islamabad and their so called ‘generals’ will take the ‘Taliban Test’.

On our Eastern borders, the recent clash at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh indicates that China is planning to lock India in a protracted conflict inspired by Mao’s strategic thinking. Possibly, China’s much fashioned tactics of hindering strategic rise by planning to lock India in a proactrated conflict at the LAC so to exhaust its resource capitalization and utilization at a juncture where India has assumed immense strategic significance and G-20 is at New Delhi’s doors. Beijing also aims to disturb India’s external and internal strategic environment by capitalizing Myanmar as front to ignite tensions in the North-East. 

Chinese assertion is also quite comprehendible because China is getting heartburn ever since the news of  construction of grand Arunachal highway circulated, and India’s increasing strategic rise and deterrence capabilities is disturbing China. Therefore, New Delhi has to develop a long view of strategic realities in assessing its western and eastern borders that with its strategic rise, the possibilities of two front tensions cannot be denied as we have seen that some geopolitical developments did offer some space to both our neighbors to create tensions at our two fronts but some situations were handled with right strategic decision making and some got handled by the uncertain geopolitical and strategic environmentb– Pakistan’s derailment is one evidence of it.  However, lot more has  to be done to ease the two front tensions which may hit in coming time. 

It is now required to boost all fronts (conventional and unconventional) by increasing the number of fleets and military equipment and defence procurements to make our war capabilities more superior and strong. Maybe, New Delhi has begun in spreading its vigilant web across the South Asian region and deploying effective deterrence — combative counter measures to thwart Chinese trap.  The recent visit of RAW Chief to Sri Lanka to caution and discuss security and strategic issues especially on the issue of Chinese research ships which are most likely meandering in Indian Ocean which led to postponement of our ballistic missile test at one end. On the other end, Nepal’ election twist and pro China leaders coming to helm is worrisome for New Delhi. Therefore, New Delhi has to see the long view of realities to identify real and potential threats as they gear to host G-20 and QUAD.

[Photo by Press Information Bureau, Government of India, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Srijan Sharma is currently working as a Research Assistant at the United Service Institution of India (USI) – India’s oldest and one of the prestigious strategic affairs think tank. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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