The Cold War: Pakistan's obsession?

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 13.07.16

If any situation appears to give even a delusion of the possibility of a political discord
between any two major countries, the first words Pakistani intelligentsia — ranging from
retired military generals participating in TV talk shows to the aspiring candidates for passing
the examination of central superior services — utter are the “Cold War.” The adjective
“new” is added to historically differentiate any fresh political dissonance from the one
dubbed as the Cold War that continued for four decades from 1949 to 1989 between the
US and the former Soviet Union.

Interestingly, the major war as per its duration and multiplex nature that Pakistan
experienced after its birth was the Cold War. One reason Pakistani intelligentsia is
obsessed with the Cold War may be that it helped Pakistanis do nothing but take sides and
play second fiddle to the power Pakistan was allied with. The trappings of the alignment
were affluence, weapons and prominence. The second reason may be that it empowered
Pakistanis in two different ways: nationalistic and ideological. As per a given situation,
Pakistanis became entitled to declare any dissenting voice of a fellow Pakistani either a
traitor or an apostate, the ultimate fate of which was death.

In those four decades, Pakistan kept on practising the same. Old habits die hard. Pakistan
still persists with them but the stock of justifications is fast running out. Instead of doing
away with the maladies that somehow devoured thousands of Pakistani lives, Pakistani
intelligentsia have been waiting for a new Cold War since 1990 to take place in the region
to benefit Pakistan in some form. Pakistanis who reaped the benefits of the Cold War —
whether politically, religiously or institutionally — still wish for its recurrence.

When the US and its allies attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, one of the theories
bandied about in Pakistan was that the attack would herald the beginning of a new Cold
War. However, the regime in Kabul was changed, the Taliban fled away, an interim
government was installed, and general elections took place twice in Afghanistan, but no
signs of any new Cold War appeared to rescue the Taliban or take the revenge of the past.
Russia remained reticent and disinterested. Even the late General Hameed Gul kept waiting
for a decade to let the new Cold War start in the region but nothing of the sort happened.
Contrary to Gul’s peddled prophecies, the US did not dig wells to tap any ounce of hidden
oil from Afghanistan’s land, nor did the US excavate Afghanistan’s mountains to extract
precious stones and metals. Similarly, the US did not declare Afghanistan an alternative
place to a would-be independent valley of Kashmir to construct a mega-monitoring centre
to look over the whole region of Central Asia, including activities of China and Russia. All
hopes to revel in the possibility of a new Cold War in the region have yet not been fulfilled.

When a disagreement appeared between the US and Russia on Syria in October 2011, the
time the Syrian crisis broke out, and in September 2015 when Russia defended the regime
of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from crumbling under any external or internal
pressure, the proponents of the new Cold War again became vocal in Pakistan. Instead,
Russia started pressurising the Syrian regime to figure out a political solution to the crisis.
However, in November 2015 when a Turkish air force jet shot down a Russian jet near the
Syria-Turkey border, the proponents again became sure of the beginning of a long
overdue Cold War. However, in June 2016, Turkish President Tayyab Edrogan who was
siding with the US apologised to Russia over the downing of the Russian jet, and with that
the hopes for the new Cold War shattered again.

Any US-China disagreement appearing in the Pacific Ocean, especially in the South China
Sea, also raises hopes for the beginning of the new Cold War, this time between the US
and China to include Pakistan as well. Pakistani intelligentsia have a firm belief that India is
willing to act as a handle of the door the pivot of which lies in the South China Sea.
Whether or not the pivot theory enthralls Indians, Pakistani intelligentsia thinks that the US
intends to use India to counterbalance China in the region. This point is further supported
by the argument that this was the main reason why the US offered a nuclear energy deal to
India in October 2008 and not to Pakistan. It is not known how many times India has been
used in the past to contain China; similarly, it is not known if Indians who are endeavouring
to make India an economic giant are ready to afford a conflict with China to appease the
US. However, it is known that in September 2008 when the US sought exemptions for India
from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to let the US and some other countries enter into
nuclear commerce with India for civilian nuclear fuel and technology, China did not veto the
exemptions. The then US president George W Bush had telephonically persuaded the then
Chinese president Hu Jintao to allow India exemptions. Similarly, it is known that in
September 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to invest US $20 billion in India over
five years, including setting up two industrial parks. India is still trying to persuade China to
let it enter the NSG in the near future.

Unfortunately, the countries famous for launching a Cold War have changed their survival
tactics. First, they have learnt that countries falling in their bloc feed on the conflict and
seep away their resources. Secondly, any troublesome incident affecting their Cold War ally
would be blamed on them. Thirdly, they have made Pakistanis inured to the Cold War.
Hence, they have learnt to keep the doors of negotiations and alternative options open,
and keep on disappointing Pakistani intelligentsia.

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