Some of Pakistan’s purported aces have been trumped by New Delhi over the years, others have been neutralised, and some have outlived their utility. Here are nine cards Pakistan has played against India

by Chidanand Rajghatta

Pakistan has used various “trump” cards over the decades to stalk and stall India’s growth.

Pakistan has used various “trump” cards over the decades to stalk and stall India’s growth fuelled by being an open, democratic and plural society despite some recent challenges. Some of Pakistan’s purported aces have been trumped by New Delhi over the years, others have been neutralised, and some have outlived their utility. Here are nine cards Pakistan has played against India.

The American Card: Used from the time Pakistan was formed when its leaders quickly allied with Washington even as India stumbled into the Soviet orbit. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, India’s economic reforms and subsequent growth, the Kargil war, and 9/11 (which had Pakistan’s fingerprints on it) resulted in Pakistan losing this hand.

The Afghan Card: Fearful of India’s size and growing heft, Pakistan has long sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by installing a friendly, puppet regime in Kabul, a strategy that resulted in the coming to power of Taliban in 1996 (and eventually led to 9/11). But Pakistani overreach built on a Sunni-Wahhabi construct has ruined this card. Except in Taliban pockets, Pakistan is now despised by most Afghans who see it as a malign force.

The Kashmir Card: A card the Pakistan military and its elites have played since 1947 to corner resources. Most poor Pakistanis care squat about Kashmir, which is “cash mere” for the Pakistani military as it dips its hand in the till. The Pakistani establishment continues to lie to its own people about UN Resolution (47) on Kashmir (which actually enjoins that Pakistan should first withdraw from the areas it has occupied before other steps). With the passage of time, changes in demographics etc, the resolution, which was non-binding in the first place, is now infructuous. But Pakistan won’t accept it because peace would mean having to whittle down its military budget.

The Saudi Card: In this Petro dollars-for-nuclear cover deal, the House of Saud has long backed and bankrolled Pakistan, acquiring an outsized influence on its domestic politics to the extent that it is a go-to place for Pakistanis in retirement or exile. But Saudis themselves have embarked on a nuclear quest, and India’s growing influence (it has greater number of workers and white collar workers) means Pakistan’s influence is being reduced down despite Ummah solidarity. As Crown Prince Salman suggested to his hosts last week, when living next to the world’s #3 and #2 economies Pakistan would benefit from peace.

The Muslim Ummah Card: Over the years, Pakistan has presented itself as a champion of the Islamic world and has singularly prevented India from acquiring even an observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), whose associates go beyond the 50-Muslim majority countries in the world (Russia and Thailand for instance have observer status). India, which has the world’s second largest Muslim population after Indonesia, has gradually increased its influence in the Islamic world (particularly in the Gulf), and a breakthrough is inevitable. But its task will be made difficult if the Hindutva hotheads at home run amuck.

The Russia Card: As India has gravitated towards the United States and Pakistan has lost traction in Washington, Islamabad has tried to woo countries such as Russia, Turkey and even Iran in the hope of strengthening its China card. But it is a weak hand. Pakistan is so caught up in domestic radicalisation and internecine bloodletting that few countries have any confidence in its long-term prospects. And despite India’s on-again, off-again ties with these countries, New Delhi retains interest and influence on account of its economic heft.

The China Card (and for China, Pakistan Card): China finds it useful to constrain India using Pakistan. The day India begins to use demographic, economic and cultural clout, the usefulness of this card could diminish. Just think of all the Chinese phones we buy, the general size of the Indian market. China will also not want to import Pakistan’s radicalisation into its sensitive Xinjiang province.

The Terrorism Card: Pakistan’s most potent card, an extension of its “death by thousand cut” policy following its defeat in the 1971 war. India’s weaknesses, including in its security doctrine, and global indifference, had enabled Pakistan to export terror (its principal export) and get away, literally, with murder. New Delhi has failed to sensitise world capitals of Pakistani fingerprints on not just terror attacks in India but in many other places across the world.

The Nuclear Card: Pakistan’s ultimate trump card that gives cover to its terrorism, one that India failed to take care of between 1971 and 1984 by which time it was too late.

Remarkably, Pakistan does not have a Pakistan card. The world’s sixth most populous nation has the sixth largest army (and is a nuclear power to boot), but its economy is ranked 24th in size. Maharashtra has a larger economy, and Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Gujarat will each overtake it soon. Nearly ten times the size of Pakistan’s economy, India is adding one Pakistan to its GDP each year, and will have an economy roughly 40 times larger by 2050. This growing imbalance is actually what makes the Pakistani military reckless in its support of terrorism.

New Delhi has only one card – the India card. Playing a cool, calculated, and cohesive hand, while quietly attriting (wear down (an opponent or enemy) by sustained action.) Pakistan, economically and through covert payback, without the hysteria, histrionics and grandstanding currently on display, will yield better results. The Pakistani house of cards will inevitably collapse.