New Delhi: While India understandably but not very helpfully blames the Pakistan army for encouraging and funding cross-border terrorism, the fact of the matter is this. Indian antagonism towards the Pakistan army will not make a whit of a difference to the power it wields within Pakistan. The domestic sources of the power of the Pakistan army are well-know. They scarcely need elaboration again. What is less understood and appreciated are the deep linkages that the Pakistan army enjoys with world powers and especially the three Great Powers. This is even more the case today. This special relationship of the Pakistan army with the powers makes it indispensible and virtually indestructible in any scheme to modernize and democratize Pakistan and fit it into the global scheme of things.

Major powers are usually duplicitous in their geopolitics. While this is par for the course for authoritarian or semi-authoritarian states like China and Russia, the so-called leading liberal democracies of the West are no better. All of them without exception prefer dark deals with dictatorships, military regimes and military-led democracies like Pakistan. Engagement with a democracy is always fraught and troublesome and the same effort would yield miracles with a backward authoritarian state. Compare the cases of India and Pakistan. In India, there is a (thankfully) obstructive Parliament, a nosy and impertinent press, and a highly sceptical public opinion which will readily believe the worst about its rulers. There is no way that the United States, Russia or China could rush a deal through India. With all its consequent benefits to India, recall how long it took for the Indo-US nuclear deal to gain public and institutional acceptance. And even when it was approved, the enabling liability law made it highly risky for US reactor manufacturers to do business in India. What commenced as an US effort to make inroads into India’s atomic energy sector got turned on its head because of India’s combative and distrustful democracy.

This is not the case with Pakistan. Pakistan’s geopolitics is entirely handled by the Pakistan army. Pakistan’s elected leaders merely lend a democratic veneer to the show. If the United States requires Pakistan’s assistance in Afghanistan, it turns to the Pakistan army. If the corps commanders and the Pakistan military brain trust show the green light, the project goes ahead. The affirmation of the elected Pakistan government is a formality. In the same way, the Russians talk geopolitics with the Pakistan army. This trend is still more reinforced with China’s relationship with the Pakistan army which has a long history. It is instructive that the dictator Yahya Khan served as a go-between when the United States decided to resume diplomatic relations with China and keep the outreach a secret. The United States relationship with the Pakistan army is the oldest of all the present Great Powers and starts from the early Cold War era when the necessities of containment debouched a host of dubious treaty organizations like CENTO, SEATO, etc. When the United States intervened to oust the Taliban regime from Afghanistan after 9/11, Pakistani assistance was preferred to the Indian one despite Pakistan’s treacherous conduct prior to the WTC and Pentagon attacks. “In Pakistan, we talk to one man, the army chief, and we get what we want,” an American diplomat inadvertently let out at the time. “In India, you have to deal with hundreds of people, Parliament, public opinion, a hostile press, etc, and you still cannot be sure where you stand. Dealing with a democracy is painful.”

This is not to suggest that India becomes Pakistan. With all its failings and troubles, India is in a good place because of liberal democracy. You cannot thank Jawaharlal Nehru enough. But the fact remains that the Pakistan army has deep geopolitical traction with world powers. Donald Trump may rail against Pakistan state terrorism but his secretary of defence, James Mattis, has to defer to the Pakistan army to get a measure of control on the Afghan situation. Similarly, if Russia wants to inoculate its soft underbelly of moderate Central Asian Islamic republics against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terrorism, it has to deport on a basis of friendship and reciprocity with the Pakistan army. And even Great Power China knows the score. The CPEC will only succeed with the fullest approval and participation of the Pakistan army. The Pakistan army is underwriting the CPEC and not the elected government. It is not a one-way street, however. The Pakistan army has a lot to gain from China and especially the modernizing PLA. Relations between the two militaries have scaled a new and higher plane.

The trouble is that Indian policymakers and analysts think narrowly and miss the big picture. They are blissfully unaware or negligent of the Pakistan army’s great leverage with foreign powers. Those levers cannot be manipulated to India’s advantage anytime soon. Disabling them is out of the question till Islamist terrorism plagues the world. It would help, however, if the Indian state gains a true measure of the vast reach of the Pakistan army. From such an understanding, perhaps, a solution may emerge for India-Pakistan peace.