Snakes and Ladders

snakesandladdersThere is a new game being played. Everything that we thought we knew is now wrong. It is different players and different rules now. Old allies are now our enemies, and old enemies are still our enemies too. This is the claim of the Munir Akram in his latest analysis of our national security, and it is probably the most important analysis to understand where we are going. I say this not because I am a huge admirer of Munir Akram, but because I was told it was important by Army itself.

Sometimes we are given signs in the streets. Yesterday we were given a sign on Twitter. Either way, we must read the signs to know where we are headed. So where has this latest sign pointed us? First let us understand who are the players.

According to the latest ISPR-approved analysis, our enemies are now India, Iran, Afghanistan, and the US. Our allies are China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. One might think this is not a good sign to have three of our neighbors as enemies, but then one sees our friends and everything starts to balance out. One problem, though. China is an atheist country that even bans fasting in Ramazan. Saudi Arabia funds radical madrassehs in Pakistan. What will happen if jihadi militants trained in Pakistan keep doing attacks in China? And what about the problem of radicalism in Turkey? How will this affect our strategic thinking if two-thirds of our allies are projecting radicalism?

On the other side of the table are sitting Iran, India, and Afghanistan who have been working together towards economic and diplomatic improvements. The most obvious result of this has been the new agreement on Chabahar. Dr Haider Shah explained this in his piece.

While Pakistan has relied heavily on its strategic assets like the Haqqani network to remain a key player in the Afghan game, India has been enhancing its influence by forging stronger economic ties with the war-battered country. As Pakistan has not facilitated Indo-Afghan trade by extending the transit land route to India, India aims to use the new link for a maritime route to enter Afghanistan. In times of estranged relations, the US may also like to use this route thus minimising its reliance on Pakistan.

The project is important for Iran as well. After years of economic sanctions the reformist government wants to play a more active role in the world affairs. Without economic revival such a vision is however not achievable. The Iranian hardliners, on the other hand, want to see President Hassan Rouhani fail in his attempts, as the state of despondency is always beneficial for radical elements. Chabahar is the first sign of international investment coming to Iran. Tehran is opening itself up to the world.

Our new enemies are all working together to build each other up, while our new allies all have very different priorities based on what is good for themselves alone, not the greater good of all. In this new game we are playing, those we are calling our enemies are quickly climbing ladders. We should beware that we do not find ourselves landing on snakes.

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