New Delhi: It is an axiom of geopolitics that power must be mated with principle. Problems abound when power runs ahead of principle or principles propounded are not backed by power. The new Pakistan Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s allusion to “expansionistic” India in Pakistan’s Independence Day speech, made in the presence of the Chinese “special guest”, Vice President Wang Yang, carries a significance to the power-principle dynamic which may not readily be apparent.

India is generally regarded as a status quo power. It is not considered expansionist despite the early absorption of Sikkim. Countries come by a reputation which is by and large well-deserved. When East Pakistan was split away from West Pakistan, there was broad consensus to create independent Bangladesh. Absorption was not really an option which came with its own set of complications although the Siliguri Corridor conundrum would have been resolved then and there. In projecting power through the IPKF into Sri Lanka, the motive again was not expansion. Indeed, in the 1947-48 and 1962 wars, India lost territories to Pakistan and China which it is in no position to reclaim.

On the other hand, expansionism unambiguously would apply to the geopolitics of Pakistan and China because neither of them is a status quo power. And yet, Abbasi, the new Pakistan Prime Minister, accuses India of its own crime. Is this a slip of the tongue or a considered accusation?

Very likely the second. Heads of governments, even those as weakly placed as Abbasi, do not rashly judge. What is going on?

In calling India expansionistic, the Pakistan Prime Minister is really advancing China’s agenda on Doklam. For good measure, the Chinese Vice Premier was at his side while making the allegation. To it, he joined India’s refusal to resume peace talks with Pakistan. The rights and wrongs of the issue are not being debated here. It is the impression being created by public communications. Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party do not miss an opportunity to threaten Pakistan with war. Days before he was elected Vice President, M. Venkaiah Naidu was hurling threats. The other side at least professes peace.

Messaging as policy is something the Pakistanis have learnt from the Chinese. Expansionism, to this writer’s mind, almost certainly flows from the Chinese strategic lexicon, and it relates to Doklam, the disputed territory between China and Bhutan where India has inserted troops. Pre-emption from the Indian side has a million justifications but it still does not alter facts on the ground as they relate to the real disputant parties. Through the Pakistanis, the Chinese are playing out the new theme that India is expanding in Doklam. This may not be true but that is not the point. The Chinese have begun a campaign of India’s alleged “expansionism” starting with the Pakistanis. They could not have chosen an occasion of greater moment. If this expansionist tag attaches to India with reasonably long and constant use, it could destabilize relations with the SAARC and BIMSTEC states. Unmoored from the region, India would soon come to geopolitical grief.

This writer could scarcely suggest how the government ought to handle its communications on the Doklam crisis, but what obtains today is unsatisfactory. Patience and restraint are always fetching, but in geopolitics, they have to be tied to a plan. When the facts on the ground point in one direction, actions cannot proceed in another. Actions necessarily have to suit the facts. Power must at all costs be closely aligned with principle. A gap between power and principle can survive the rough and tumble of domestic competition. But geopolitics is an unforgiving place.