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CHESSBOARD SOUTH WEST ASIA - Arindam Mukherjee

There are so many angles and on overdrive that it is not funny! It takes years to build up a game, and then someone flies planes on them and throws in a thousand other things into the picture – things, that may or may not stick in the long run. And this is exactly the kind of behaviour that is gradually getting to be the hallmark of ‘strong’ leadership these days. While the ‘weak’ ones keep busy placating those poisonous 3rd-4th wave feminists and the Islamists, the ‘strong’ ones behave like pigeons on a chessboard. [Read and weep guys; these donkeys are the caretakers of our planet.]

So anyway, this is how the stats pile up at the end of Pulwama, Balakot, and the POW affair.    

KSA & UAE – extremely happy. And NATO too, is extremely happy by extension. Two SCO members spitting at each other and then inviting two NATO-friends to sort out their trouble is fun. This, when two major SCO patrons – Russia and China – are left looking foolish because in their eagerness to bring two guys under the folds of SCO, they perhaps overlooked the fact that these two are sworn enemies, and they might not have the bandwidth to deal with that.   

KSA and UAE have an old score to settle with Iran. And this is as good a chance as any, to wriggle into the Asian South West Chessboard. [It would be an extremely nasty affair – to let these guys in. But no one listens to me; not even our building caretaker downstairs.] So they would come waving wads of cash at both Pakistan and India. That would act as a band-aid. And while Pakistan needs the money, Indian industrialists are as greedy as they come, so they will force the leadership to comply. Guess it is pointless repeating that the risks would be too high, and our ‘rulers’ wouldn’t have the wit to handle that when that came to pass; because hey, look around. Do you think anyone really gives a shit?

IRAN – counting the moon and the stars… and, (as a friend wrote on FB) busy punishing women for not wearing hijab. Either they are plain tired with the Syria affair, or they are too damn confident about their clout among the local players in Afghanistan to worry about their waning influence with Pakistan. Or they think Russia will save them when the time comes, by being friends with Taliban and watching out for their ass in Afghanistan. Or perhaps they don’t have the money because of sanctions. I have no idea what it is. But what I can see is that they lost a cool chance to pile up some pressure on Pindi this last week or so. They are appearing quite helpless here with KSA/UAE spreading their tentacles on Pindi, and perhaps Afghanistan too (you of course know which Mid East nation and sworn enemy of Iran could be behind MBS).

Locally, someone should have gotten down to reinforce the Indo-Iran equation along a level that could be counted potent enough to reduce some amount of wriggle space for Pindi. Hasn’t happened. And even if it happens tomorrow – the Indo-Iran pact sort of thing – there is no bloody guarantee that it is going to get the desired result. There is something called ‘timing’. A cricket freak country such as ours would know best. Rather shameful – India and Iran not taking advantage of their geographies w.r.t. Pakistan.  Perhaps our ‘rulers’ can’t read a map. Understand order of progression. Or time it right. Which is normal. Sort of.

PINDI and ISLOO – Pindi is ecstatic. Every Pulwama type incident goes to show that local guys, with locally sourced equipment are perfectly capable of causing mini-havoc. And they are fairly motivated – by the look of it. The larger scene is also interesting. One end you have young guys joining the armed forces. Other end you have boys throwing stones and/or bombs. No one is interested in pursuing a career that’s away from the different forms of violence. Happens, when you breed and nurture a generation amidst violence. Target achieved. A cool kinda polarization; with New Delhi or Srinagar looking like they have very little clue as to which day of the week it is. So FM Qureshi is happy. He has gone on to tag Pulwama as a ‘defining moment’ in Pakistan’s prioritization of stuff for the future. That’s loaded. Pulwama is just a name. Look at what happened even after Pulwama. What he might mean is that Kashmir has mutated enough to have progressed into auto-pilot.

If that is actually the case, then Pindi can focus on cleaning up the terror camps of POK (which they probably have begun), come out of the affairs of Kashmir (which they probably will for the time), and, if they accomplish one and two, then they can sit looking cute while internationalization of Kashmir gains momentum (which they definitely will push for). Imagine Old Uncle – post S300, Iran gas, Venezuela oil – with a rather biggish axe to grind against New Delhi, suddenly getting this chance to export some democracy or some other shit in the valley. You already have the likes of Ms Roy and sundry NGOs, sitting in wait to do the honours. Am not saying it will be that linear; China is operating in POK already. There is bound to be complications of a major scale. The trick is to avoid/delay reaching the tipping point of Kashmir internationalization. Has always been. But since New Delhi’s been caught napping again, that point looks dangerously close.

NEW DELHI – The Einsteins have woken up!! Incredibly convincing guys; these ones. They would disagree with you on anything that you might have to say since you ain’t ‘qualified’ enough to make such observations. At the end of your meeting, they’ll convince you that you needed to be suitably qualified to apply primary school logic. So something like the battle-readiness of Pakistan Army – guys who are continuously engaged in some or the other domestic and quasi-international conflicts of medium to fairly large scale – would be dismissed with a snigger. Social media memes and videos making fun of Pak Army are very convincing. And icing on the cake of course would be the Indian Army; the mention of which would draw all sorts of historic comparisons leading to a complete consumption of the entire space immediately afterwards. Now the same guys are whispering among themselves that Pindi might be in a financial soup, but given their army’s shape, they aint gonna give up without a fight. And that theory now tested, the war-cries have not been heard since.

The odd few things here and there that New Delhi has accomplished – aside from the few lines that I wrote in my last update about the impact on Pindi – it has got the international community to sit up and take a favourable note. Now normally, this could be put to superb use if you had good diplomats; I don’t know what’s New Delhi’s current score on that sheet. If there was a time to put to test those fancy IFS degrees and diplomatic passports, the time is probably now. The international community has precious little understanding about Kashmir. With old anti-imperialist hats like Sputnik, Russia Insider or RT spewing Chinese propaganda, it is perhaps a time to reckon that the same international community – across camps – are quickly losing whatever little sympathy they had towards New Delhi. This small window of today could quickly close tomorrow. 

Along the hard-power side, New Delhi has rattled both Scrooge and Pindi. There have been discussions between the two. Things to the effect that if Indian aggression remains unchecked, Pindi might have to shift focus from West to East. In which case the current arm-wrestling that’s on between them and the Taliban would definitely suffer. There is a fair truth to this.

The other factor in play is the whiff of separatism coming from the Pashtun tribal belt. That might cast a shadow on the Pindi-Taliban marriage. It has been a good ride so far, no arguments there. But the Taliban is a tricky bride to handle; Uncle can vouch for that. Several disagreements between Pindi and Taliban in the recent past on the issue of Afghan settlement are gradually surfacing. Pindi/ISI is trying very slowly to get them to behave. But it is a treacherous road, compounded by the fact that Uncle-Generals are not keen to ship out of Afghanistan. A lot of which would play out in the coming few months in Uncleland.

[A small addition here; there are some sane voices coming out of Islamabad. A call for banning of terrorist outfits - JeM or the likes – one wonders if these are Pindi approved, are those guys already chewed and ready to be spat out… or is someone trying to be brave. Normally Pindi chokes such voices in case they are unapproved. But if it is a set of people stepping out of line, there could be a fresh round of turmoil in Pakistan.]

Summing up: New Delhi HAS certain advantages. You have to squeeze your eyes a bit to focus there, but they are there. The way this emerges, India could take the hard or the soft route. Two balls – both in its grip. But it HAS TO TAKE a route and not suddenly behave like the very leaders that it has come to use as punching bags. There are two things here that India could do:

One, grow a pair of balls and have a definitive strategic plan on long term engagement with Pakistan – one that doesn’t involve acting like Miss Popular, but tries to balance out both elements of diplomatic and military stretches. I can say with certainty that, that kind of a thing doesn’t exist today (Again, read and weep guys – these are your leaders).

Two, grow a brain and orchestrate a settle-down of this Kashmir issue. This shit is a massive drain; a dark and endless one at that. You guys know and keep a track better than I do. New Delhi’s response to Kashmir has forever been reactive. If you had the threat of religious fundamentalism emanating from a section of your border that is neighbours to a nut that nurtures religious fundamentalist as pets, the need for an intelligent coherent and strategic vision that took to account the coming 50-100 years became an existential imperative. What have we had instead? Elections. Posturing. And more elections.    

Funny, how lack of vision-will in recapturing POK and Gilgit-Baltistan has come back to bite our ass. If you had that access to Wakhan/Afghanistan and thus Central Asia, you would be irresistible to Uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces… and by extension, the rest of the world.

Yes, there is an impressive opposition/media campaign that’s in progress in India; one that threatens to slow down and eventually kill the little advantage that New Delhi currently has… But then again… Leadership is about delivering in the face of challenges. Otherwise it would just be a walk in the park. Or some fancy yoga session with a white gamchha around your neck.  

 Wishing you a Happy International Women’s Day.

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