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Adept at Chinese Checkers, Pakistan may find itself handicapped in Russian Roulette
Posted:Apr 13, 2017
 
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By Lt Gen P.C. Katoch (Retd)
 
Is the world headed for more turmoil? The indications are very much there.
 
The speculation of a US-Russia rapprochement at the time of election of President Donald Trump has all but evaporated. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered expansion of the Russian Army from 1,013 million to 1,897 million. Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in defence spending -- one of the largest increases in American history. 
 
Are we looking at Crimea hotting up with NATO going active? China would certainly love that to happen. The repeat of Cold War appears just around the corner anyway with Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, saying she is continually “beating up on Russia” over its actions in Ukraine and its interference in the US election, and adding: “There’s no love or anything going on with Russia right now.” 
 
Appears America’s ‘deep state’ will be unlikely to go along Trump’s Russia bonhomie dreams.  
 
China’s second aircraft carrier is to be unveiled shortly, but then the US is adding another two aircraft carriers to its existing fleet of 10. 
 
Last year China announced a defence budget of 954.35 billion Yuan which is about $147 billion -- raised 6-7 per cent above the previous year’s estimates. In 2017, China  announced a hike of 7 per cent in the defence budget allocation, which is about 1.3 per cent of the GDP; amounting to a defence budget of about 1,021 Billion Yuan. 
 
The rise in China's defence budget has been consistent over the years albeit the ‘actual’ figures of its defence spending are far more and remain ambiguous. 
 
But so is the case of the US, as a recent article has disclosed with respect of US defence spending in year 2015. According to the National Priorities Project, the 2015 budget for the US military was $598 billion, which represented 54 per cent of all federal discretionary spending. 
 
But that number didn’t include $65 billion in veterans spending and $26 billion for nuclear weapons, bringing the total to about $690 billion, or 63 per cent of all discretionary spending. Hence, total discretionary spending in 2015 was $1.1 trillion, including nuke spending and veterans spending -- spending on the military represented 63 per cent of the total.
 
North Korea’s testing of Pukkuksong-2 missiles, Scud ER missiles and future weaponry are aimed at the US, US allies and US assets in Asia-Pacific specifically for assisting Beijing in event of a Sino-US conflict, including deterring US reinforcements to the region. 
 
For maintaining naval superiority in the region, the US is taking steps to increase the number of warships and submarines to 350 -- from the 275 at present. Trump has announced that the US will act arbitrarily against North Korea if China doesn’t help control the rogue. 
 
Closer home, Pakistan (China’s other nuclear protégé) can’t stop wagging its nuclear tail, even over water. Chinese SSBNs have been criss-crossing the Indian Ocean including in vicinity of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
 
PLA Navy SSBN bases are coming up at Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Djibouti with China announcing positioning of Chinese Marines at Gwadar and Djibouti. Deployment of Chinese air defence resources at these ports should be expected next. A Chinese SSBN submarine docked at Karachi during May 2016 was photographed by NASA. China would love to control the Indian Ocean from Singapore to UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
 
China is enjoying this moment in history with Pakistan in the bag and increasing Sino-Russian cooperation, including in the Arctic and Af-Pak. China should be grateful to the West for the economic squeeze and belligerence towards Russia that has pushed the latter closer to her. Russian keenness to link up the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) with the China-Pak Economic Corridor has left China elated.  
 
Russian support to Taliban helps both China and Pakistan, even as China is observed patrolling deep inside eastern Afghanistan. If there are reports of Russia supplying assault rifles to Taliban, Russia also supplied some 100,000 AK 47s to the Afghan government. 
 
Recent events in increasing Russia-Pakistan defence cooperation included joint ground forces exercise in September 2016, Severmorsk (Russia’s largest anti-submarine warfare ship) arriving in Pakistan in February 2017 for an international event, and deal for Russia to supply Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan. 
 
Recently, a Russian military delegation, led by Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Israkov Sergi Yuryevich, visited Miran Shah in North Waziristan Agency and Wanna in South Waziristan Agency.
 
The Pakistan military is gung-ho with increasing ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan through the Taliban. Its moves to retain its importance with the US, China, Russia and Iran have been paying off but then problems have the habit to crop up unannounced. 
 
The institutionalised killings of the Shia population in Pakistan never went unnoticed in Iran. The recent incident of a ‘government-appointed caretaker’ at the Shia mosque in Parachinar bludgeoning to death 27 Shia devotees and injuring over 100 after drugging them could well have been by design -- and Iran should be reading the signs. 
 
Then there is the appointment of erstwhile Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif as head of the Saudi-led coalition of 39 Sunni Muslim countries -- being termed as the Sunni-Muslim NATO -- in whose cross-hairs Iran finds itself. Obviously, it is the systemic killings of Shias in Pakistan that led Raheel Sharif to be selected for the new job. Of course, the economic advantage is that Raheel will promote the cheaper Chinese and even Russian weaponry to the Sunni-Muslim NATO coalition instead of the more expensive US-EU weapons.
 
An important development in the region is the consolidation of the Islamic State terror group in Af-Pak, and its efforts to enter India. With the battle raging in Mosul, there are reports of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi having deserted the scene.  
 
As the ISIS, akin to cancer in a body, migrates to other parts of the world less prepared to confront it, write-ups are appearing for the US to adapt to this new reality. 
 
It may be recalled that FBI Director James Comey had publicly stated on January 27, 2016: “Eventual victory against the Islamic State could well lead to an uptick of terrorist attacks in the West, not a reduction in them... hundreds of really dangerous people, and they are going to flow primarily to Western Europe, but some could well end up in the United States.” 
 
Now US intelligence is warning of enhanced recruitment by the Islamic State in Af-Pak, but what the US will not admit is that the conduit for this is Pakistan. The US needs to stop chasing the mirage of securing change in Pakistan’s strategic direction by giving it additional aid or military equipment, for the country is fully in the Chinese camp. 
 
Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is still in Pakistan, producing propaganda that calls for attacks on Americans, and so is Bin Laden’s son Hamza active in Pakistan.
 
The battle-lines appear drawn in Af-Pak. Sure Russia says that it needs Pakistan to fight the ISIS but FSB, the Russian intelligence, are no fools. They are very much aware of the ISI-ISIS and the ISI-Al Qaeda connections. 
 
Pakistan’s support to Islamic radicals in Chechnya is no secret and Pakistan’s policy of hunting with the hounds while running with the hares is also in public domain. 
 
The St. Petersburg metro blast of April 3 killing 14 and injuring 51 may have been the handiwork of a Kyrgyz-origin Russian but the ISIS websites exploded with near simultaneous coverage. Wouldn’t this please Pakistan that this would draw Putin even closer to fight the ISIS? 
 
The Pakistani media is saying that “Pakistan, Russia and China are inching closer to formal alliance”. How ‘formal’ such alliance would be only time will tell. 
 
However, while Pakistan considers itself adept in Chinese Checkers, it may find itself handicapped in Russian Roulette. As one Russian saying goes: ‘For pest control, one has to get closer to the pests’.
    
(The author is a veteran Special Forces officer of the Indian Army. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to editor@spsindia.in)
 
 
 
 
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