Pakistan's grand march
By M K Bhadrakumar
Often derided as a 'failing state,' Pakistan presses ahead with a foreign policy agenda that meets the country's national priorities.
The Pakistani diplomacy has been presenting some stunning success stories. It is coolly cruising toward a 'nuclear deal' with China. The deal doesn't involve any Hyde Act prescribing the contours of Pakistan's Iran policy or a Nuclear Liability Bill freeing Beijing of culpability for faulty performance.
Nor has Pakistan agreed to have a 'minimum deterrent' or shown willingness to cap its inventory of nuclear weapons already exceeding India's. It seems no power on earth can stop Pakistan getting a 'waiver' from the Nuclear Supply Group (NSG). Not even the United States.
Compare it to how the UPA government tied itself in knots to conclude a nuclear deal with the US. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh staked the survival of his government and resorted to dubious methods to re-charter the course of coalition politics for reaching his destination. He is still to explain his failure to fulfil his assurances to parliament. Of course, the ENR technology will not flow to India.
Why is Pakistani diplomacy doing so well? The army chief Pervez Kayani has just concluded a 5-day visit to China, which raises Sino-Pak defence cooperation to new heights. Yet, Islamabad is preparing for the second round of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue for which secretary of state Hillary Clinton is visiting Pakistan next month.
Hardly three months after the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington, the Obama administration is sitting down with the Pakistani leadership — civilian and military — for another round of high-voltage diplomacy. Against this backdrop, Kayani's visit to Beijing underscores that Islamabad is not lacking in foreign-policy options if the Obama administration resuscitates the Bush-era doctrine pampering India's regional vanities.
The self-assuredness of Pakistani diplomacy is such that on the eve of the strategic dialogue with the US, Islamabad ambled across the final lap of negotiations to sign an agreement with Tehran over a $7 billion gas pipeline from Iran. It was done with such manifestly cavalier abandon. The agreement came hot on the heels of the latest UN sanctions against Iran that the Obama administration robustly pushed through.
Why is it that Indian diplomacy chooses to settle for vacuous rhetoric and grandstanding in the ties with the US — a gala state dinner for Singh or an elegant pair of gold cuff links for external affairs minister S M Krishna? India lives in its region and can the US ensure its preeminence?
Our smaller western neighbour, which we often deride as a 'failing state,' presses ahead with a purposive foreign policy agenda that meets the country's national priorities of energy security. The Iran gas pipeline project throws into relief the dismal truth that India lacks a foreign policy that serves its national objectives of growth and development.
Every time the subject comes up, the spin masters serving the establishment come up with some lame excuse or the other. The latest thesis is that India could be 'floating on gas reserves' and might indeed be 'energy-secure.' True, Reliance is developing new gas fields under lucrative pricing conditions provided by the government and competing Iranian gas imports are, arguably, best avoided. But that has nothing to do with the country's energy security as such. An honest discussion about the cost of Iranian gas becomes practically impossible, given the opaqueness of the government's pricing policy.
Then, there is shale gas, which is lately touted by our spin masters as a promising energy source 'likely to overtake' — in the womb of time — both conventional gas as well as liquid fuels. Unsurprisingly, Reliance bets on shale gas. And needless to say, shale gas extraction, which involves tapping natural gas trapped between layers of shale rock, requires latest American technology and the Reliance is currently buying into it in a significant way.
Of course, Reliance's emergence as a 'diversified, vertically integrated player' in the energy sector could be a matter of national pride. But can national pride be equated with the government's energy security policy? The heart of the matter is that India needs both the Reliance fuelling wealth as well as Iran's fabulous South Pars gas fields feeding the gargantuan Indian economy for decades to come.
Quite obviously, the US disfavours Iranian gas feeding the Indian market on a long-term footing as it could deprive the Big Oil of lucrative business. Two, the US seeks to block Iranian energy exports until such time as US-Iran normalisation materialises. Three, the US is fundamentally opposed to the emergence of an Asian energy grid involving Iran, Pakistan, India and China, which would have potentially far-reaching strategic implications for American global strategy.
The Indian leadership has failed to show the transparency that a 'failing state' like Pakistan possesses in defining its hardcore national interests vis-Ã -vis Iran. Pakistan also has a political elite that is corrupt and which may harbour a sense of vulnerability to American pressure.
But what distinguishes its foreign-policy making is that the GHQ in Rawalpindi as the custodian of national interests, draws the bottom line. Which, in turn, enables Pakistani diplomacy to turn to its advantage the growing Sino-American rivalries in the central, south and west Asian regions.
Ironically, the Obama administration doesn't object to Pakistan's independent foreign policy. Nor does it seem to mind if Pakistan disagrees with its agenda towards the situation around Iran. The Indian leadership's fear psychosis is clearly unwarranted.
(The writer is a former diplomat)