China and its National Action Plan
Shahzad Chaudhry
April 29, 2015

Pakistan’s response to the war on terror hinged around the National Action Plan. After having instituted two points of the plan relating to the military courts and the associated legislation, the rest have remained frozen. The military courts though now stand neutered since sentences have been stayed by the lords of the ‘real’ courts.

To vacate such stay on the effective functioning of the military courts the bar-bench combine will first examine the validity of the 21st Amendment and its conformity to the structure of the constitution, and then review the 18th Amendment, which really is the lynchpin of the revised political order after the restoration of ‘democracy’.

The superior courts were already circumspect of its fidelity when the 18th Amendment was first challenged before them. But just as the 19th Amendment was contrived to pave the way for the 18th, it is likely that another swap just might help sustain the 18th. This will come with revocation of the 21st Amendment as a convenient expedient.

This is called stratagem, judicial stratagem, in an environment where sovereignty remains a fuzzy notion among institutions. That should place the army back in its shoes. Fed only on a civil-military divide, we may just be on the verge of another cleavage – judicial-military. Hereon, the plot can only thicken. 2009 is here, once more.

On to ‘Wei qi’, the Chinese equivalent of chess. Henry Kissinger explains the game rather well in his book, ‘On China’, which should be essential reading for everyone who wishes to comment on the $46 billion that have come Pakistan’s way as Chinese investment. We must, however, first grapple with the vastly varying choices of stratagem in Wei qi and chess. Chess revolves around a ‘centre of gravity’ and a ‘decision point’ when the kill is made to annihilate the enemy. Wei qi does none of that; it instead occupies empty spaces and simply crowds the opposition out.

The ‘centre of gravity’ and the ‘decision point’ stratagem is a marvel of the Clausewitzean way of war, around which the modern theory is built. The decision point translates into decisive force against a known target and is aimed at producing a clear victor and a clear loser. In Wei qi, however, the game is of relative gains and implicit losses; one side will realise it has lost space over time, and cede. Relative gains deliver the whole. No ‘decisive point’, but only an incremental spatial domination.

I once penned a piece on the ‘Chinese way of war’, recounting how the Chinese win their wars by other means. Incremental gains through economic domination deliver to them a territory of exclusive influence. A Chinese strategic thinker once suggested that a need for war with India will not exist after five years (still ticking), and with Japan after fifteen (ticking). Through some intellectual interpolation, try discerning the meaning of ‘not needing a war’. There is more to it.

The Confucian thought of harmony; and how the ‘middle-kingdom’ and the ‘celestial empire’ lie at the centre of the universe. Anyone who dominates the middle-kingdom in fact Sian-ises and becomes the part of the eternity that is symbolised in China’s celestial perpetuity. When the kingdom is strong, as it is today, like water it flows out into adjacent territories finding a path of least resistance; translated – increasing regions of influence. If a confrontation appears, it will simply retreat to advance again when the resistance is no more.

On to the minor matters then of ‘strategic partnerships’ and the famous ‘string of pearls’ – the former extraneous to the Chinese lexicon. Yes, metaphors is a way of words with them, and they are given to pre-biblical references (President Xi when visiting Pakistan just reminded us that Chinese leaders had had relations with ‘Pakistan’ for 2000 years – he meant the land). But the dread of the ‘string of pearls’ was responded to with the Indo-US ‘strategic’ partnership, giving rise to a popular notion of the US using local partners to checkmate China’s rising influence and strategic reach. India too sees in it a way to effect a strategic strangulation of China.

One move begets another. And so came the ‘old silk route’ conundrum. More realistically it has now translated into ‘one belt-one road’; and what does it do? A line of communication initiates from the Yunan Province through Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand and links the various ports and towns on the Bay of Bengal rim into a Chinese Highway. Another will link Gwadar in Pakistan with Kashgar in Sinkiang and establish a highway of prosperity. A beltway to the east of India stringing the nations together, and another in the west of India through the North-South Economic Corridor meets at the bottom with the ‘maritime silk route’ to complete the loop. While what the US intends is strangulation in effect, what China does is to physically close the loop.

Enter the $46 billion and the rest. Fortuitous for Pakistan, since no one else was bringing in the capital to invest, China has its own National Action Plan to pursue. Their war against terror in the Xinjiang is equally troublesome and they have chosen to do something about it. Economic fillip and rejuvenation is what Pakistan has not yet entertained as a thought; it is lost somewhere among the 18 points still awaiting action.

Pakistan’s own fortunes in Balochistan are linked to Gwadar picking a life of its own. To that end, the Chinese investment can only be a godsend. Just as Pakistan almost reaches the culmination of Fata’s terror war and a ray of hope emerges for Balochistan, enter inimical interests. A strangulated India broke the loop in Sri Lanka by propping a friendly government, and will fish in Balochistan’s troubled waters to dislodge the time-space equation for the China-Pakistan compact. The US has its own set of inhibitions of an expanding China. Iran must secure its own geopolitical import by burgeoning Chahbahar against Gwadar. The dice are loaded.

That is where Balochistan becomes the field of play: stoking secessionist fires (Allah Nazar’s murder of the 20 labourers); the rights movement and their pitch for denial of a fair share to the Baloch; the reappearance of Brahmdagh Bugti from his Swiss hideout; and the plan for Mama Qadeer and Co to once again bring to fore the plight of the missing persons; the reinvigorated interest of the courts in the missing persons; and an increasing din once again on how politics is ceding the space to the military; issues pertaining to military courts as a parallel system of judiciary and whether the 21st Amendment fits the construct of the basic structure; and most tragically, the unfortunate Sabeen Mahmud who offered her premises for the Mama Qadeer talk and ended up losing her life to someone who desperately wants the strife in Balochistan to come to life again, as indeed bring the army into disrepute.

It is already being asked of the army to prove its innocence. The unsuspecting among us happily latch onto their traditional diatribe of an assertive military and the diminishing space of the civilian rule. Hussain Haqqani has already shot his first two salvos. Another Memo fight may not ensue but a military-judicial dissonance might. How it will impact the army’s focus on Operation Zarb-e-Azb is to be seen. But a diffused focus will surely impact on steps like the formation of the security division for the Chinese, and place snags in the implementation process. This is no time to blink. He who holds focus will override.

The writer is a retired air-vice marshal, former ambassador and a security and political analyst.


Published in The News