Geopolitics

Pakistan's Obsession with its 'Strategic Location'
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Oct , 2016

When Chinese Premier Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in April 2014 and signed the CPEC agreement, there were un-parallel jubilations in Pakistan. A country badly hit by terrorism1, political unrest, the poor state of education and social health, military’s dominance etc. had not seen a Foreign Direct Investment of even one hundred thousand dollars in years and then came this agreement of $46 Billion. Jubilations were natural.

Pakistan started selling itself just when it was one month old.

On the other hand, because of Raymond Davis case, Salala checkpoint attack, Osama Bin Laden operation, continuous drone attacks etc, US-Pakistan relations had touched the lowest ebb in their history of 70 years. It was getting more and more difficult for Pakistan to get Coalition Support fund released from the US, leave alone getting substantial civilian/military aid.

Signing CPEC agreement was seen as the last lifeline for Pakistan and a God sent opportunity. Pakistani media started describing the grand scale of the project and its possible results that would take Pakistan towards a golden era. Media concluded that finally, Pakistan will be able to utilize its `strategic location` to the full extent.

What is this `Strategic Location`?

Since its birth, Pakistan has been obsessed with military, mullah and its `strategic location`. It actually started right after its birth in 1947. Margaret Bourke-White, who was a Time magazine’s correspondent in WWII, visited Karachi (then Pakistan’s capital) in September 1947 and interviewed Mohd Ali Jinnah, then Governor General of Pakistan. Later she wrote a book `Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India`, in which she mentioned her experience with Jinnah –

Generally, it is 10 to 12 times cheaper to get goods shipped through sea lanes than through roads. Sending good from mainland Russia to Arabian Sea through captured Afghanistan would have proved too costly and risky.

“America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah, “is not so very far away. If Russia walks in here,” he concluded, “the whole world is menaced.”

Hence Pakistan started selling itself just when it was one month old.

Russian threat was definitely a bluff to get American money. Later Pakistan sent its envoy to the United States and requested an aid of USD 2 billion to run the new country and in return got an aid of just USD 2 Million.

But the USA needed an ally in this area against communist Russia and North Korea. So in the mid-1950s, Pakistan signed CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) & SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and American weapons and American dollars started pouring in Pakistan. By late 1950s, the US had equipped Pakistan’s Air Force, Navy & Army (5 and a half divisions were equipped and paid (through military aids) by the US) but Pakistan never sent even a single soldier to support US’s missions.

Well, fast forwarding to late 70s, when Pakistan saw the toughest time of its life. The country had faced a humiliating military defeat in 1971, Bangladesh had been carved out and elected PM of the Pakistan had been thrown out and later hung by the then Army Chief Gen Zia-ul-Haq. All of sudden, luck smiled on Zia-ul-Haq and Pakistan when USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan again offered itself to the United States and spearheaded Afghan Jihad. It again sold its strategic location concept to the western world and its own population. To prepare the country for the jihad, Pak military junta gave a narrative to the public that –

Russia’s obsession with warm water was a lie that Pakistan military sold to its public.

Soviet’s occupation of Afghanistan is a part of the Great Game that has been played by World powers since the 19th century when Russia wanted to reach warm waters of Arabian Sea and British used Afghanistan as a buffer state. Now finally USSR has overtaken the `buffer` state and to reach warm waters, their next target would be Baluchistan. So Pakistan has to do whatever it takes to stop USSR. Hence Jihad.

The only problem with this narrative is – Why Russia wanted to reach warm water in the 19th century and why would it want to do again in 1979? No one asked this question in Pakistan because taps of Saudi and American money were wide open and billions of dollars were pouring in for Afghan jihad. All sanctions on Pakistan were removed and US administration was giving an annual clean chit that Pakistan’s nuclear program was for peaceful purposes and it had no intention to develop weapons (knowing fully what Pakistan was involved in). A portion of the money for Afghan Jihad was diverted towards the nuclear program and to fund Kashmir militancy and Khalistan movement.

The answer to the question is – in the19th Century, it would have served no purpose to Russia to have had reached warm waters of Arabian Sea. To begin with, it would have been a very costly proposition.

To reach warm waters, Russia would have had to defeat Afghanistan and then the sole superpower of the time – the United Kingdom.  After that, Russia would have built proper roads over the treacherous mountainous region and ensure the security of thousands of mile long road. Security of such long route would have proved a nightmare for Russian military and its economy. And for what purpose? There would have been no political, military or economic gains. Russia would not have got any major colony that could have helped it its economy.

CPEC has been projected in Pakistan as a magic wand to resolve all the issues in that country as it would bring much needed foreign investment, business and prosperity.  But economic viability of CPEC is still to be seen.

The scale of international trade was very low at that time and sea lanes were (and still are)far cheaper and safer routes. Generally, it is 10 to 12 times cheaper to get goods shipped through sea lanes than through roads. Sending good from mainland Russia to Arabian Sea through captured Afghanistan would have proved too costly and risky.

These economic and military reasons held good in 1979 and hold good even now.

In the 19th century, British Raj kept Afghanistan as a buffer state against Russia and Tibet as a buffer state against China. Because British interests were in mainland India with three major port cities (Mumbai, Kolkatta, and Chennai) to ship goods in and out of the colony. Russia’s obsession with warm water was a lie that Pakistan military sold to its public.

They are selling the same lie to their public again with USD 46 billion CPEC project.

CPEC has been projected in Pakistan as a magic wand to resolve all the issues in that country as it would bring much needed foreign investment, business and prosperity.  But economic viability of CPEC is still to be seen. Some sane minds are raising their voice in Pakistan and are worried that CPEC could prove to be just another bubble, just another false hope that their political/military leaders gave them in the past in the form of Thar Coal, Sui gas,……….

Reference:

  1. These terrorists are the Jihadis, who were funded by the USA and Saudi Arabia, with which Pakistan fought Afghan Jihad and later when USSR withdrew from Afghan, Pakistan kept the jihadi force to fight against India in Jammu & Kashmir and to create a `Strategic Depth` in Afghanistan by forming a favourable government in Kabul. After 9/11, Gen Musharraf accepted all terms of the USA on a telephone call and provided logistic support and air bases for US operations against Jihadis in Afghanistan. This turned  Jihadi elements in Pakistan against the State of Pakistan).
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Sumit Walia

is an IT Specialist. He is also a military history buff who continues to explore & research various facets of the Indian Military history in his spare time.

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8 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Obsession with its ‘Strategic Location’

  1. Economically it will not be viable. China wants to buy -pass Malacca strait in the case of any war in south China sea . They can take oil from gulf country through new port. So Pakistan has to depend on China all along to run the port. Afghanistan and the USA. will switch over to the new port in Iran.

  2. Nicely covered Pakistan since it was created till now. The way Pakistan was sitting on the lap of USA earlier and now on China, clearly revel that this country has no spine and happy to use by powers in given time. CPEC would be the last nail on its coffin as there are protect stated in Baluchistan against it as Bloch saying that Pak government sold this area to China.

    Excellent job done me Sumit, keep it up!!

  3. I tend to agree with most of the analysis. Perhaps now that Afghanistan is in sync with India and the Baluch are requesting asylum/Indian intervention like the creation of Bangladesh, may be it is time to hive off Baluchistan and Sindh and Balkanise Pakistan. Russians might get their warm water port if they play their cards right and cosy up to Afghanistan and Baluchistan which is the MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION? Chinese would dread this scenario with their investments in Pakistan!

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