That astute observation is not mine, but Indrani Bagchi’s writing for the Indian Economic Times:
Pakistan could end up as a version of China’s North Korea exercise in South Asia, kind of like screen villain Ajit’s ‘liquid oxygen’ punishment: its nuclear weapons would keep it ‘alive’, but its economy would not let it ‘live’, and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)-terror establishment would be a permanent cause of worry for India. And China would retain just enough control to make it worth its while.
She also had this to say:
At some point, China will have a greater say in Pakistan’s foreign affairs, particularly with regard to India, Afghanistan, terrorism, etc. China would probably be happier if Pakistan divests itself of its terror shield, but would not mind India coming under Pakistani terror pressure. That will only perpetuate Pakistan’s essential dilemma of keeping the terror factory going against India and Afghanistan, but hoping to insulate itself from it.
For the Trump Administration, that means don’t expect Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban in its war against Afghanistan and be aware of China’s intentions in South Asia.
Expect Chinese naval and air force bases to be built in Gwadar, Balochistan Province, Pakistan, which would dominate the entrance to the Persian Gulf and complement its base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal scheduled for completion next year.
As Pakistan strives to maintain Afghanistan as its client state, China is making Pakistan its client state and consequently China can become the geopolitical superpower of South Asia.
That is, as Ms. Bagchi correctly notes, if Pakistan can insulate itself from its own radical Islamic groups it uses to suppress ethnic separatism internally and as an instrument of its foreign policy.
The ability of the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, who represent the real government of Pakistan, to contain its radical Islamic proxies is increasingly in doubt.
The “charitable” arm and front organization of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), believed to have up to 500,000 members, has just launched a new political party, the Milli Muslim League. LeT is widely believed to be an operational element of the ISI and responsible for the bloody attack in Mumbai in 2008.
The JuD and the LeT have long represented the backbone of the radical Islamic terrorist network in Pakistan. Although initially Punjabi in origin and operating mainly in Kashmir, they have now spread throughout Pakistan. They are deeply embedded in Balochistan and its members have links to the presumed leader of the Islamic State in Pakistan, Shafiq Mengal, a former ISI asset, last located living in Wadh, Balochistan.
In many respects, Balochistan can be considered the geopolitical center of gravity to thwart Pakistan’s policy of Islamic terrorist proliferation and China’s attempt at regional hegemony.
The Baloch people have their own language, tribal structure and culture, and a reputation for secularism and tolerance. Balochistan has also been the home of a festering ethnic insurgency since the partition of India in 1947, when the Baloch were promised autonomy and briefly gained independence from August 1947 to March 1948, but were then forcibly incorporated into Pakistan by the invasion of the Pakistani Army.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and, more broadly, the Belt and Road Initiative are China’s attempt to extend its strategic reach to the Indian Ocean, East Africa and the Middle East. The success of the CPEC and Chinese regional military ambitions in Pakistan depend on the stability of Balochistan, and, thus, presents a possible lever to influence a strategic environment that directly affects U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and our national interests in South Asia.
One North Korea is enough.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at [email protected].