5 September 2016

The China-Pakistan Chemistry: What Keeps It Going, And For How Long?

Sanjay Dixit - September 02, 2016,
China and Pakistan are cut from different cloths, one from a rich civilisational ethos and the other from none.
It is this oppositional nature of the two countries that glues them solidly together.
India’s strategy of outreach to the US, Japan and Australia without joining the war of words with China is a perfect counterpoint to China’s tactics dressed up as a strategy
“SAHIH BUKHARI, 8,78,618: When a deception advances Islam, it is not a sin.”
“SUN TZU 1,18: All warfare is based upon deception.”

Deception is commanded to the Chinese in war, and to an Islamist in everyday life. (An Islamist is one who seeks to establish the domination of Islam and should be distinguished from a regular Muslim). China is Zhongguo in Mandarin, meaning the Middle Kingdom, or the Central Empire. This centrality is a part of the tradition of China, a civilisational imperative. To understand China, one has to understand its civilisational narrative. Every young officer of the Indian Foreign Service on an assignment to China must do their basic schooling in Confucius and Sun Tzu, yet the lessons of its civilisation are mostly lost on the Indians. It has the following broad characteristics:

1. Unity of the Empire

2. Centrality of China in the scheme of the Universe

3. Emperor as the representative of Heaven on Earth

4. A merit-based bureaucracy (the Mandarins) as the steel frame of the Empire

5. China as the repository of the best in everything, including human endeavour

6. All the best territories are contained within the boundaries of China, the Emperor rules over Tian Xia, or “All Under Heaven”

7. Always keep testing the limits of your power without provoking war ( A Sun Tzu variant)

China, thus, appears through the antiquity as a smug self-sufficient power, which had astonishing geographical diversity under it – from the cold deserts of Siberia and Mongolia to the tropics of the Pearl River Delta, from the ocean in its east to the western trading town of Kashgar and from the below-sea-level Turpan to the forbidding mountains of Tibet, or Xinjiang. Some of these territories broke away from time to time, but for the larger part of the last two millennia and a quarter remained under the Central Chinese authority. Under Mao, the regime was Communist, but the underpinning of even Mao’s ideology was always the Middle Kingdom superiority.

After Mao, this complex has become all the more dominant, so much so that Communism today only helps the Chinese central authority to function verily as the ancient Emperor did. There is little Communism left in China, except its utilitarian value in providing an authoritarian party organisation for the important purpose of controlling the grassroots. It’s only China’s billion-plus largely middle-to-below-middle-income population which tempers this into realistic strategy.

In his seminal book On China, Henry Kissinger writes:

“The splendid isolation of China nurtured a particular Chinese self-perception. Chinese elites grew accustomed to the notion that China was unique – not just ‘a great civilization among others’ – but as the civilization itself”.

Accordingly, he quotes Lucian Pye, “China remains a civilization pretending to be a nation-state”. Thus, Kissinger writes,

“China was considered the centre of the world, the ‘Middle Kingdom’, and other societies were considered gradations from it. As the Chinese saw it, a host of lesser states that imbibed the Chinese culture and paid tribute to it was considered the natural order of the universe”.

Kissinger also writes that the traditional cosmology endured despite catastrophes and centuries-long periods of political decay. Even when China was weak or divided, its centrality remained the touchstone of regional legitimacy; aspirants, both Chinese and foreign, vied to unify or conquer it, then ruled from the Chinese capital without challenging the basic premise that it was the centre of the universe.

Our immediate neighbour Pakistan is just the reverse. It came into being in 1947 on the back of an Islamic theological principle of entire Islam being one nation, distinct from what the Islamic theology disdainfully refers to as Dar-ul-Harb (House of War, i.e., a non-Shari’a country, towards which all Muslims must adopt a mental attitude of perpetual war). But this nation carved out on a theological principle chose to become a non-Shari’a country. To compound the confusion, the holy books of its religion have taught the supremacy of Islam for centuries, so it became very difficult for it to admit that it came into existence only in 1947.

In its first Constitution in 1974, Pakistan chose for itself another contradiction – an Islamic Republic. ‘Islam’ and ‘Republic’ have an uneasy relationship, as Islam is not based on a principle of equality among all citizens. Women are lesser beings in Islam, and minorities can buy only rights of survival. Under some extreme interpretations, even that is not available as the Yazidis in Iraq found to their horror. This contradiction is exploited by the mullah-military combine to put democratically elected governments on the backfoot. Demands for Shari’a law in every walk of life becomes the shrillest whenever elected governments want to take decisions which are in the overall economic interest of the country.

Pakistan is, therefore, the victim of its own birth. Its democracy is still foundationally nascent and sandwiched between the mullah and the military (Refer ‘Pakistan Between Mosque And Military’ by the former Pakistan ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani). Its defining characteristics can be summarised as under:

1. Denial of its civilisational roots and a perpetual war with India. Even if India conceded Kashmir to Pakistan, its hostility would not diminish one bit.

2. Attempts to trace its ancestry to Arabia

3. Army as the protector of ideology (sic) of Pakistan, jocularly referred to as al-Bakistan

4. A narrative rooted in medieval Islamic empires of Arabia (This piece of satire is an excellent portrayal of the Pakistani mindset.)

5. A democracy which has not yet taken roots. Pakistan could get its first Constitution only in 1974 (after majority East Pakistan had broken away). Democracy, however, acts as a barrier against full-fledged Shari’a law. This contradiction is exploited by the establishment which runs with hare and hunts with the hound.

6. A media which feeds off Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other intelligence agencies

7. Foisting Urdu as the language of the millat (community) over 95 percent of the population, which doesn’t speak the language of the Ganga-Yamuna plains

8. Festering mutinies against the monochromatic narrative forced upon Pakistani population by the establishment

9. Putting ideology above economy, stifling the innate abilities of an otherwise enterprising people

This just illustrates the case that unlike the eternal China, which is well rooted and civilisational, Pakistan suffers from a deep identity crisis. Most of its decisions, which frequently appear completely irrational, take root in this schizophrenia. However, its identity crisis makes it an ideal tributary state for the civilisational China. While its Islamic identity dictates that it should treat India as its enemy mainly for being a Hindu-majority country, and should also challenge the very existence of Israel for being Jewish, it doesn’t yet grant the same status to China (which is not in keeping with the Islamic theology). The United States may have given Pakistan military and economic assistance for over 60 years, but it is hated in Pakistan for being a Christian superpower, and Saudi Arabia (which by all accounts treats Pakistanis verily like the dirt) must be treated as a friend.

China, therefore, finds a weak and confused state like Pakistan an ideal client State. Pakistan establishment (In Pakistan, establishment means the military-judiciary-bureaucracy combine, led by the military) finds it expedient to bow to China in order to be able to ideologically challenge its perceived enemies. Pakistan finds it easy to slide into the civilisational China’s scheme of a vassal paying tribute. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the best example of its vassal status. Both are ideological States, China being more pragmatic. China’s civilisational ideology is far more wholesome than the sectarian ideology of Pakistan, but China finds the idea of another civilisation competing with its Middle Kingdom abhorrent. This is the essence of its dislike of India and its liking for a civilisation-less Pakistan. China’s strategic goals, however, are more in tune with its post-Mao pragmatism. The civilisational narrative feeds more into tactical manoeuvring than strategy.

The diplomacy conducted by these two countries also fits into these matrices. China’s sabre-rattling by its propaganda machinery advances its “testing the limits” and “pushing the boundaries” tactics, even as its diplomats tell the world behind closed doors that China has no interest in adopting violent methods, and has economic advancement as its major strategic goal. The phenomenon is euphemistically termed by China as “Peaceful Rise”. Even though Xi Jinping appears to be a more trenchant Head of State, China is also practical enough to not jeopardise the public goods it needs from the world, i.e., investment, technology and market access. Further, it needs to be kept in mind that in spite of being labelled as expansionist, China has rarely tried to wage war with its neighbours in the last two millennia except to the extent of reclaiming its ancient boundaries. It has suffered greatly at the hands of Japan in the twentieth century and the Western powers in the nineteenth. In spite of that, it has not claimed Mongolia, Russian Manchuria and Taiwan by force. It invaded India, won a short war and then vacated North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) while retaining its claim lines in Ladakh.

However, a claim to being the greatest civilisation fits nicely into its civilisational narrative of being the “Middle Kingdom” and provides nationalistic comfort to its billion-plus population. A new word, influentionist – seeking to expand its orbit of influence to nations it grades lower in the civilisational scheme – may be more appropriate.

Pakistan has no civilisational pretensions, unlike India, and therefore, has no issues in feeding into China’s narrative. That’s why a completely one-sided agreement like the CPEC can pass muster in Pakistan. Can one imagine India signing a significant economic agreement with another country without even disclosing whether the $ 46 billion was a loan, debt or investment, or a combination, and the terms thereof?

Indians, thus, need not worry much about the China-Pakistan tango. As long as it perceives India as having the willpower to stand up to it, China would only indulge in verbal callisthenics. Pakistan can be foolish, but China has too much to lose even in the case of a limited conflict. China is greatly peeved over the Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun opposition to CPEC. Whenever the Islamist Jihadis get to control the levers of power directly in Pakistan, the narrative of Islamic Khilafah will take over. Already, Islamic groups in Pakistan are training the Uighyr terrorists of East Turkestan movement in Xinjiang to China’s great chagrin. Just to remind the reader that Shari’a Law considers itself to be the ultimate Truth, so there is no question of a Khilafah tolerating the superior civilisation narrative of China in the long term. We will then watch the fun of two supremacist narratives clashing on the altar of ideology. Till then, we should tailor our policies with a deep understanding of the impulses that draw these two countries together and concentrate on reducing the economic lag with China.

That being the case, India’s strategy of outreach to the US, Japan and Australia without joining the war of words with China is a perfect counterpoint to China’s tactics dressed up as a strategy.

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