Another Afghanistan in making in South Asia

In the part of South Asia, in hapless Afghanistan, the curtain on its decades’ old civil war has not been allowed to be pulled down. Millions died, millions injured beyond recovery, millions are still in refugee camps and millions are born and brought up in refugee camps in hostile foreign soils for their no faults, and they have not been so far fortunate to walk, play, live and build their fortunes in their motherland. The extents of damages the civil war has been done to the economy, society, culture and cultural heritage, nature, etc. in the landlocked hilly nation are difficult to repair in the century. In the meanwhile, more than long four decades have gone. Peace is still found elusive. It is not that efforts are not made to bring the situation to normal. Efforts have been made but they lack due seriousness of external forces involved. The vested interests among them are allowed to sabotage the peace efforts. And the world has left Afghanistan as if Afghanis are no body’s babies. The way the peace efforts are pushed to, it looks like peace will remain in its gestation for generations.

Yet another similar disaster now lurks at the door of the region. Like earlier one, now the new one is again due to external interference in the region’s polity taking advantage of an internal problem in Pakistan, itself a vested interest in Afghanistan civil war, and now found has almost been infected with that civil war virus. Compare to Afghanistan, Pakistan is five-time bigger population and large diverse geography. From this, one can guess if Pakistan inches to Afghan fate, what would be the situation in South Asia in days/years/decades to come.

In the 1970s, Communist Soviet Russia appointed one after another unpopular and corrupt puppet in Kabul taking advantage of nations political instability. When that experiment failed, Moscow invaded the nation with Army boots and installed another puppet in Kabul in 1979. And what happened next and its ferocity, which are yet to subside, they were all there to see by the entire world as the impact of the same were felt in the far up World Trade Centre in New York City inside the territory of mighty Super Power and at nation’s most protected building the Defence Headquater called The Pentagon when they were hit by terrorist new weapons of passengers packed hijacked planes killing 2977 people in one go in 2001. An attack without any army involvement and without a gunshot: unprecedented. From the damage, the monster-jihadist had done to mighty Super Power; one can guess what the same monster would be doing in their place of origin in hapless Afghanistan.

Now, bankrupt Pakistan and its unpopular leadership have reduced themselves to the level of what were Afghanistan and its leadership in the 1970s. And there are frequent sectarian violence in the entire nation and separatists’ agitations in two major coastal resource-rich provinces such as Baluchistan and Sindh which have so far impacted heavily to the nation’s economy and social harmony. Now, Pakistan with the rapidly falling economy of GDP of $278 billion in 2019 (2017 GDP=$304 billion, 2018 GDP=$312 billion, 2019 GDP=$278 billion and 2020 GDP= estimated approximately at $275 billion), its external debt stands at $112 billion including China’s $19 billion in lieu of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of China President’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) which is regarded by many experts as Communist China’s new colonialism policy through debt trap. And Pakistan’s public debt as on March 2020 stands at $256 billion.

There are regular agitations against the CPEC project, mostly passing through restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan provinces, but suppressed brutally. How long the agitation will remain suppressed in a country like Pakistan, whose population has been taught to protect Islamic purity, against China, the country ill-famous for dogmatic atheism, and now have kept millions of followers of Islam in concentration camps in its restive western province Xinjiang, which is in nobody’s guess. Recently, Pakistan has to borrow $1 billion from China to pay Saudi Arabia which wanted its lend money back as Pakistan maverick FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi threatened to call Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Minister meeting on Kashmir that Saudi refuses annoying later (Saudi), the undisputed supreme leader of Islamic World body. Till date, Saudi Arabia was Pakistan’s all-weather friend with a synergy that two were Sunni Islam majority nations and implementing Islam’s latest purist movement that is Wahabi revivalist.

If the recent news published in the Riyadh based Arab News to be believed, the peeved Saudi Arabia wants the retired Army General Raheel Sharif, now commanding Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, to replace elected but army-backed cricketer-turn-politician Imran Khan as PM of Pakistan. In this situation, when Pakistan economy is in ruin, the nation has no alternative but to join either this (China) or that (Saudi) camp. China is the latest all-weather friends of Pakistan and ready to invest and lend as it is glowing with world highest foreign exchange reserve amounting $3.4 trillion (2020). And they this or that camps are not same bedfellows in Arab’s regional politics (due to Chinese plan of investment of $400 billion in Shia majority Iran’s oil and gas field development in order to reduce nation’s present hydrocarbon dependency on Sunni majority Saudi, a close the US ally.

China has its own dedicated constituencies in Pakistan to take care of its interests in a nation’s politics. When China will take care of anti-India constituency in view of India is a regional rival of both Pakistan and China, Saudi can take care of Islamist constituency in view of its funding for spread of Islam’s Wahabi movement though they are dead against the existence of India. Again, on the other side, Saudi is now India’s camp follower in world politics as India and Saudi have great business deals and Indians are largest skilled workforces in Saudi’s new non-oil economic development model apart from India houses world’s second-largest Muslim population. To add to the wound of Pakistan, it remains at risk of being placed in the blacklist of Paris based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global watchdog monitoring terror financing and money laundering around the world.

In the above situation, for Pakistan, any of the two camps following is not safe, and due to precarious financial health of the nation, it can’t keep aloof of any camp. This quagmire is the fertile ground for the growth of internal separatists and sectarian forces, and for the intervention of external forces that have vested interest in Pakistan and South Asia’s chaos.

Image source: Dawn

If, in the worst case, Pakistan’s biggest lender communist China, which is desperately looking for direct connectivity to the Indian Ocean for uninterrupted fuel supply from IOR rim countries as it fears blockade from Quad grouping in already choked Malacca Strait, directly intervene in Pakistan politics even without invading with forces like now-defunct communist Soviet Russia did in Afghanistan in 1979, democratic West and the US, would not remain silent spectator, and so also Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council and OIC which can’t bear the presence of Communist wing in their neighbourhood, and that too close to their regional rival Shia ruled Iran.

Islamic fundamentalists, and jihadists, seen in different shades in all over the world, may welcome the situation as they will get another fertile ground to grow. But, ultimately, it is the South Asian region that will bear the brunt of terrifying monsters that still rule non-urban Afghanistan and fuel sectarian conflicts in Pakistan with impunity.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Bimal Prasad Mohapatra

Bimal Prasad Mohapatra is an Assistant Professor of Management Studies at Trident Group of Institutions, Orissa

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