May 11, 2011
New 'Great Game' Limits America's Options in PakistanBy James G. Wiles
Here's an inconvenient truth for those conservatives demanding robust U.S. action against Pakistan. The Paks' double-dealing -- acting as a U.S. ally in the War with Jihad while simultaneously harboring Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, the governing shura (council) of the Afghanistan Taliban in Quetta and thousands of individual Talibs -- is indeed infuriating. It's also very much in Pakistan's interest.
Pakistan happens to live in a very tough neighborhood. Duplicity is the only way it survives: India to the east of them, Iran to the west of them, China and Russia to the north of them. And an angry America all over them.
Geography -- not the inconvenient truth, it's coming in a minute -- hasn't come up much in all the huffing-and-puffing on the blogs and the cable channels. But neither has the inconvenient truth.
Let's call it the 800-pound gorilla.
Cut off that $ 3.5 billion in aid! FoxNews' Bill O'Reilly told Karl Rove Monday night. Tell 'em we want Mullah Omar or else! They need us! The exchange, while heated, was highly unsatisfactory. Neither gentleman mentioned the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which drastically limits the U.S. ability to hammer Pakistan.
Instead, they talked all around it.
Certainly, Mr. Rove knows about the gorilla. And if Mr. O'Reilly reads the Wall Street Journal -- which, like FoxNews, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation -- then he knows about it too. Without the gorilla, the whole discussion last night was stilted and artificial.
President Obama also knows about the 800-pound gorilla. And he didn't mention it on his 60 Minutes interview Sunday night. So nobody's talking straight.
Yes, Karl: Pakistan is nobody's push-over. It's a nation of 170 million people, densely populated.
Yes, Bill: Pakistan's playing a double game. Actually, it's playing a triple game, but we'll get to that. The Pakistani ambassador is indeed the perfect embodiment of the maxim that a diplomat is a gentleman who has been sent abroad to lie for his country.
Yes, Bill: Pakistan's political culture is weak and corrupt. Pakistan's been governed by the Army (which has taken power repeatedly in coups) longer than it has enjoyed civilian rule.
Yes, Karl: Pakistan is a nuclear state. They are the only Muslim nation to have the Bomb. They also have -- although their accuracy is not publicly known -- airborne and missile delivery systems.
Yes, Bill: Pakistan's leaders are -- with good reason -- paranoid about India. Since the 1948 partition of British India into Pakistan, Burma, and India, Pakistan has fought several wars with India. Pakistan lost every time.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 resulted in what was East Pakistan -- Bengal -- becoming the independent nation of Bangladesh. They also don't like what the Indian Army is doing to the Muslim majority in Kashmir and Jammu.
Yes, Karl: as a result, Pakistani leaders want to control who governs in Kabul, so as to give Pakistan "strategic depth" against India.
We know all that. But none of those factors are what's limiting U.S. action against Pakistan. It's something else.
The problem is that the Paks have another major power courting them, which would love to become Pakistan's new BFF. And they haven't wasted time making their move -- in fact, the whole thing went down three weeks before we took out bin Laden.
The 800-pound gorilla is China. As reported on the April 27 front page of the Wall Street Journal, Pakistan's Prime Minister on April 16 told Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in a face-to-face meeting in Kabul that he should send the Americans (and the Indians) packing. Make common cause, Prime Minister Gulani told Karzai, with us. China is our ally.
The Times of India is reporting that China is the only major power sticking up for Pakistan in its present embarrassment.
In other words: it's the Great Game again. China's now playing the role once played in the 19th and early 20th century by Imperial Russia, and from 1979-1991 by the Soviet Union. China wants a major naval base on the Indian Ocean. Pakistan is what they have in mind.
As Robert Kaplan details in Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010), China and Pakistan several years ago signed a joint venture to build a deep-water port in a place called Gwadar. It's ideally situated for China's purposes. Gwadar is an old smuggling port in the rebellious Baluchistan province of Pakistan. It sits just east of Iran, on the Arabian Sea, not far from the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The deep-water port and a new, two-lane highway linking Gwadar to Pakistan's main port of Karachi have been completed. However, the Paks -- double-dealing again! -- have leased the port to Singapore.
Was Pakistan's welshing on its deal with China the result of U.S. influence? Occam's Razor and the principle of cui bono both say yes. Certainly, it benefited us.
Reportedly, China now has a listening post in Gwadar. However, a reporter for the Guardian who visited Gwadar last month wasn't able to get close enough to see what's really going on there. Of course, the CIA's spy satellites are following every detail.
Robert Kaplan says that the Chinese would eventually like to have a modern highway connecting Gwadar to the Karakorum Road, which runs all the way to China. By being able to bring oil from the Gulf to China over this highway (or perhaps eventually by pipeline), the Chinese can greatly shorten (and protect) their energy supply. A Chinese carrier battle group operating out of Gwadar would also upend the current strategic balance in the Indian Ocean, while giving Pakistan protection against India.
Chinese admirals freely admit they've read Admiral Mahan. China has not had a blue-water navy since the 15th century. They're building one now.
If an offer from Beijing to replace the U.S. as the source to Pakistan for that famous $3.5 billion in military aid, plus major construction projects and investments and perhaps even a mutual defense treaty isn't already sitting on Prime Minister Gilani's desk, he was certainly ill-advised to make the statements he did to the Afghan President. Since Gilani's wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated (probably by Talibs) while she was running for prime minister, I don't think Gilani's doing anything rash at all.
The bazaar is open for business and everything is for sale.
The Paks can tell us to go straight to hell. And if we push too hard, the Chinese get in. Better, therefore, to use the Paks' "embarrassment" to leverage our position in Islamabad, strengthen the hand of those elements of the Pakistani government and military which are friendly to the United States. Pass a little money around. Take out a few people in the shadows. Use those Predators.
And -- most important -- continue to keep China and its growing navy out of the Indian Ocean and away from the Persian Gulf.