The events of these last few days in Pakistan have demystified in quick time the character of the Imran Khan government as a civilian fig leaf for the Pak army. The script drawn up for the new Prime Minister by the deep state unfolded on the occasion of the observance of Defence Day at the General Head Quarters in Rawalpindi where Imran Khan shared the dais with the Pak Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. In an orchestrated presentation Gen. Bajwa- seemingly batting for democracy - eulogised the advent of a new elected government saying that continuation of democracy was a must for development and progress of the country. Appreciating the presence of political leaders of all schools of thought at the ceremony he called for national unity and strengthening of institutions for the sake of democracy. Prime Minister Imran Khan reciprocated by praising the Pak Army as ‘the only intact and functional institution of the country’, declared that there was no civil-military divide and asserted that ‘we are all one in taking the country to new heights’. Significantly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had during a stop over at Islamabad a day earlier- on his way to India- held a meeting with Gen. Bajwa and stressed on him the 'importance of strong democratic institutions' in Pakistan.
The Rawalpindi event provides a good insight into the coordinated working of Imran Khan-Pak Army combine to put in place a strategy of dealing with both US and India in the backdrop of the fast emerging convergence on global security issues that these two democracies had achieved in recent months. The army chief of Pakistan while not saying anything about the Americans, poured out venom against India and struck a hard line on Kashmir whereas the new Prime Minister of Pakistan took on the US and criticised the American policy of blaming Pakistan for the continuance of Islamic terror. Gen. Bajwa paid tributes to ‘the brothers and sisters of occupied Kashmir who are writing an unparalleled history of bravery and sacrifice’ and said that 'this would not go in vain’. He declared that 'we will take revenge for the blood of martyrs spilled on the front'. While the Army chief's attack was India- specific Imran Khan directed his ire on the US declaring his opposition to the 'war on terror' and taunting the Americans by asserting that ‘I didn’t want Pakistan to get involved in some one else's war'.
The ‘war on terror’ was always known to be a combat essentially between the US- led West and the Islamic radicals of the Al Qaeda - Taliban combine. Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ruled Khyber Pakhtunwa (KP) which is the staging ground of Taliban and it is no surprise that Imran’s election campaign was marked by an implicit endorsement of the cause of radicals. The new regime of Pakistan piqued by the strategic closeness of India to the US is all set to step up its offensive against India on one hand and confront the Trump administration on the issue of terror, on the other. Following 9/11 the US had called upon the ‘allies’ in the Muslim world to fight and finish off the radical forces on their soil. It had soon become clear however, that the Pak army was all along considering the ‘war on terror’ as an outsourced project in which the role of Pakistan at best was to provide logistic support to the NATO forces in Afghanistan. To prove the point Pak army has responded to the latest cut in aid to Pakistan announced by the US by insisting that it was all a reimbursement due to Pakistan for the services it had provided in the 'American war' in that country.
The geo-politics in South Asia is being changed with the signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa) between India and the US at the inaugural two- plus-two dialogue held between their foreign and defence ministers at Delhi. The Americans earlier allowed India to import key defence equipment and technologies. Comcasa provides a legal framework for the transfer of highly sensitive communication security equipment from the US to India that will facilitate and streamline interoperability between their armed forces. The India- specific agreement has in- built safeguards to ensure that there was no disruption and that Indian military data could not be shared by the US with a third party without consent. India has done well to shed some of the ideological baggage of the Cold War era and recognise in the present that it is the threat of terrorism rooted in Islamic extremism- exemplified by9/11 and 26/11- that provides the biggest strategic togetherness between the US and India. The US- Russia relationship now has a bilateral dimension of its own- not to be mixed up with the tense Superpower rivalry of the past- and in the context of the issue of India's planned purchase of S-400 air defence systems from Russia the Comcasa discussions did cover the subject with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicating that US sanctions will be applied in a way that is 'appropriate and lawful' and waiver authority exercised 'only where it makes sense'. Americans are aware that though Russia was the biggest defence partner of India the US had also become the latter's second largest arms supplier. India is certainly capable of bilaterally working out arrangements with the US that remove any roadblocks coming in the way of this country's vital national interests.
The Comcasa event is important for the finality that it provides to the US-India equation in the matter of condemning Pakistan as the harborer of Islamic terror. The joint statement issued on the occasion mentioned cross border terrorist attacks against India and named Pakistan twice in urging that country to act against the terror outfits that target India. The statement announced that 'the counter- terrorism cooperation between India and the US has acquired a new qualitative edge and purpose'. The two sides agreed to deepen ties in international forums such as the UN and the Financial Action Task Force and equally significantly discussed the ongoing efforts by India and the US in promoting an Afghan-led, Afghan- owned and Afghan government- controlled reconciliation process.
All of this reflects a developing situation on the Indian sub continent in which India has to watch out against an increased hostility from Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan in concert with the Pak army is likely play the Taliban card in Afghanistan to maintain his country's sway there. It is Pakistan that had installed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan at Kabul under the Taliban in 1996. Before 9/11 Pakistan had no problem with the Islamic radicals of Al Qaeda- Taliban combine simply because they occupied a significant part of the Islamic spectrum in that country. Pak army could pretend to fight them on behalf of the Americans in the 'war on terror' only up to a point. With the India- US entente now acting firmly against the new global terror that was whipped up on the faith- based motivation of Jehad, Imran regime is already moving in the direction of considering Islamic radicals as its own instrument. After snubbing the US on the 'war on terror' Imran Khan has lost no time in describing friendship with China as the cornerstone of Pakistan's foreign policy and pledging his government not only to the completion of CPEC but also to the extension of the 'corridor' towards Afghanistan. India has to reset its strategy to deal with the Pak- Afghan belt on one hand and the externally instigated violence in Kashmir on the other.
(The writer is the former director Intelligence Bureau)