New Delhi: If you take a distant view of Pakistan’s problems and to an extent those of India’s, you could root it to the superpower rivalry of the Cold War between the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union in which China constituted the opportunistic and mischievous third leg. Long after the Cold War was over and the P. V. Narasimha Rao/ Manmohan Singh reforms of 1991 had set India on an unprecedented path of economic growth, A. B. Vajpayee drew upon engaged detachment that separates statesmen from commonplace politicians and exhorted Pakistan to make peace with India. In his own intuitive way, Vajpayee understood the damage that the Cold War had done to India-Pakistan relations and desired to set it on new foundations. In the backdrop of the second Gulf war, having gently deflected US pressure to join the conflict, Vajpayee reminded Pakistan that outside powers were exploiting its differences with India and would one day enforce a solution to their problems which would be neither to Pakistan nor to India’s satisfaction. More than a decade and a half later, the prophetic nature of Vajpayee’s counsel to Pakistan remains unaltered.

The first Cold War is over but the second looms threateningly ahead. Russia and China have entered a marriage of convenience to halt the US juggernaut led by Donald Trump. Russian weaponry and war-fighting skills and Chinese economic power are joined together and ranged against the world’s only superpower, the United States. Donald Trump has seen the economic basis of Chinese power and expansionism in East Asia and has taken steps to combat Chinese mercantilism. China is reeling under Trump’s trade war but is adhering to the course of both geopolitical expansion and geo-economic aggression via the Chinese dictator, Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI is designed to maximize China’s profits at the expense of countries where infrastructure is being built under its aegis. BRI has led several countries including Sri Lanka in the immediate neighbourhood into a debt trap. It is now Pakistan’s turn having agreed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is part of the BRI programme. Pakistan primarily signed up for CPEC attracted by the infrastructure package and the opportunities of high economic growth it appeared to offer. It also presented a chance to overcome India’s advantage derived from the 1991 reforms and a means to strengthen Pakistan’s control of PoK through which CPEC passes. Most of Pakistan’s calculations have gone wrong.

Pakistan eagerly joined the US-led Western alliance against the Soviet bloc to gain both geopolitical and geo-economic powers to overcome India. Even though it decisively lost the last war it instigated against India during the Cold War and forfeited such large territories as to be reduced to a rump, it could not get itself entirely to see the merit of Vajpayee’s argument and peace offers. Pakistan’s India obsession indeed forced the double game with the United States in Afghanistan where it accepted US funds and simultaneously sheltered and assisted its enemies in battles. Sickened with Pakistani treachery, the United States has choked funding to Pakistan, and has put into further jeopardy prospects of a $12 billion IMF loan. Staring at bankruptcy, Pakistan is desperate for a Chinese lifeline, and it is inevitable that Pakistan will be ensnared in a Chinese debt trap.

Is there a way out for Pakistan? There is. Both the elected government of Imran Khan and the all-powerful Pakistan army have to agree to the next steps. These include making an unconditional rapprochement with India. The rapprochement would perhaps have to await the results of the 2019 Indian general election but it cannot be deferred indefinitely. The rapprochement could build on the 2003 ceasefire agreement which fructified on account of Vajpayee’s efforts and resolve. Going forward, Pakistan has to accept the status quo on Kashmir and agree to the legitimization of the Line of Control as the international border between India and Pakistan. Pakistan should admit to itself that competition with India has led it to ruin. Once Pakistan understands the value of India as a neighbour, India would be free to square relations with China, India’s number one enemy. China’s aims are served by fanning Pakistan’s animosities towards India. In the process, Pakistan loses. Pakistan stands to gain if it takes the late Vajpayee’s words of wisdom to heart. Vajpayee has no legatee in the present Indian dispensation, which is why it is advisable to wait for the 2019 verdict. India and Pakistan will prosper if they resist the manipulations of outside forces.