As the United States plans its exit strategy from Afghanistan, prospects for Pakistan and all of South Asia look ominous. Pakistan stands to lose lucrative military and economic aid from the United States, with no one else to fill the hole.
With few friends to count on and countless violent jihadis in its territory, Pakistan is on the edge of a precipice. Yet it's possible that Pakistan may turn the region into a peaceful commercial hub of transcontinental gas pipelines and a trading mecca – reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route that benefited the economy and culture of the region.
Pakistan's elite and generals decided to play the Cold War game by exploiting their country's strategic location. They played it so well that despite Pakistan's destabilizing influence in South Asia, the United States ignored the country's dangerous activities, including its use of radical Islamists to fight a proxy battle in Kashmir and Afghanistan, and the development of nuclear weapons.
In a relationship of convenience, where the United States used Pakistan to fight the Soviet Union and keep an eye on Asia's oil-rich region, Pakistan secured vast quantities of economic and military aid in return. Later Pakistan sought and received more money and military aid ostensibly to fight terrorists in Afghanistan – terrorists that Pakistan itself had created and nurtured.
However, the Pakistan military's obsession with India as its archenemy, reliance on terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy, radicalization of its population, and a complete disregard for development of democracy and infrastructure have wrecked Pakistan's economy, polity and reputation. Today, the world sees Pakistan as a rogue nation on the path to becoming a failed state.
Pakistan's sole state project, since its independence, has been to continue its conflict with India and wrest Kashmir from Indian control. That obsession resulted in the army ruling Pakistan covertly and overtly during the last six decades. With little attention paid to infrastructure or economic development, Pakistan needed benefactors to finance its military and proxy battles. It has essentially been a rentier state for decades, offering its territory and military to seek economic and military aid. Its army's shackle-hold on the state stunted many aspects of development. The day of reckoning has finally come and Pakistan stands close to a dangerous upheaval.
However, standing so close to the precipice, there is also a silver lining for the people of Pakistan. The reason is simple: The entire geostrategic calculus of South Asia has changed, painting Pakistan into a corner with no options except self-destruction or remaking itself as a positive state. It is entirely possible that Pakistan may finally end its obsessive conflict with India and make peace with its blood enemy. In fact, India will be the only useful friend for Pakistan when U.S. aid ends – something that could happen soon.
Pakistani generals have often complained of being used by the United States and then left alone once America achieved its objectives. However, they were always confident that the country's strategic location and the rivalry between the United States, Russia and China would keep it in the middle of the Asia's geostrategic game. However, the political and economic dynamics of the world have changed in ways Pakistan's Machiavellian army could not envision. Pakistan will not be in the middle of rivalries, and there will be no one to finance it.
In the past, Pakistan's generals have gloated over China's support, believing that China could provide the economic and military support in the absence of the United States. China, while on good terms with Pakistan, is neither capable nor interested in providing the country with military and economic aid. China relies on trading with the United States and India, and will not jeopardize those critical economic relationships for Pakistan. Furthermore, China is also wary of Pakistan's use of Islam and terrorism because of China's concern over the Muslim separatist movement in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Far more damaging to the Pakistan army's strategic calculus of yesteryears is the fact that there is no possibility for Pakistan to exploit the rivalry between the United States and Russia anymore, as both countries have moved a long way from their Cold War days. The United States and Russia share the same concerns over Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Russia not only appears unwilling to engage in treasury-draining conflicts, it has achieved its own foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and Central Asia through the U.S. military.
The use of Pakistan's strategic location is not going to bring the country economic benefits anymore. The most lucrative prospects for Pakistan – oil pipeline projects originating from Iran and Central Asia – have stagnated due to its own violent destabilizing actions in Afghanistan and India. Now, Pakistan faces the prospect of being left on the wayside as the U.S. government weighs its decision about an exit from Afghanistan and a rethinking of NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
Moribund thinking and obsession over conflict with India has landed Pakistan in a dark place. There is no possibility of recovering from self-sustained wounds unless it makes peace with India. It seems that the long-restrained civilian leadership of Pakistan is making the right moves by tamping down rhetoric against India and attempting to initiate some semblance of a peace process.
Peace with India is not favored by the Pakistan army, as it stands to lose all the perks and control over the state that it exercised for more than six decades. However, it is essential for peace in the region and the world that the Pakistani army is once and for all sent back to the barracks. If this is not accomplished, it will once again engineer a Mumbai-type attack to derail India-Pakistan peace process and the region will be forced into a conflagration.
Read more here: Viewpoints: Pakistan at a turning point as U.S. exits Afghanistan - Viewpoints - The Sacramento Bee