New Delhi: As the Donald Trump presidency lurches from one crisis to another, slippages in US power are being exploited by lesser rivals, allies and partners. Since power knows no vacuum, this is quite the most natural state of play. In the region west of India, Pakistan has become caught in the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran for supremacy in the Middle East. If India uses intellect for a change instead of mindless nationalism, it could alter the strategic narrative vis-a-vis Pakistan and also pose serious problems for China’s global ambitions and hegemony.

When Saudi Arabia pressured Pakistan to permit the retired army chief, Raheel Sharif, to take command of the Saudi-backed Sunni multinational force, it owed less to his skills as a military commander, if he had any. The Saudi king is considered to be a very adept strategist. What he had in mind was to create a Sunni hotspot for Iran on its eastern flank by manipulating and destroying Pakistan’s balanced relations with the rivalrous Shia-Sunni powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Up to a point, Pakistan resisted Saudi pressure. But when the Saudis returned with threats of funding cuts and manifestly moved to ramp up relations with India, Pakistan gave in. Prior to letting Raheel Sharif go, Pakistan tried to square things up with Iran, professing unchanged “brotherly” and “fraternal ties”. In the final lap of negotiations with Saudi Arabia, the objections of the opposition leader, Imran Khan, were brought up. In consequence, at least as the Pakistanis claim privately, Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni state constituents of the multinational force agreed to side with Pakistan in case of a war with India.

As usual, the Indian government was unaware of these machinations. It was not even properly alive to the rising tide of anger in Iran over the Saudi-Pakistani deal, which flared up days ago after some Pakistani terrorist snipers killed Iranian soldiers within their country. The Iranian military threatened reprisal with “surgical strikes”, confounding and terrifying the Pakistanis, who are already engaged on another front with Afghanistan, not to speak of India in the east. Iran has also sought access to Kulbhushan Jadhav who was abducted from Iran by Pakistani terrorists, and this seems timed with India’s successful appeal with the International Court of Justice to stay the Jadhav execution ordered by the Pakistan army.

Before celebrations break out in India and the BJP indulges in the usual chest-thumping, some words of caution are in order. Ultimately, Jadhav is a small player. This is not to devalue his life or his person. The stakes are infinitely higher. Pakistan is not without friends. Although the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will certainly pauperize and ruin Pakistan, Pakistan refuses to see the danger of this in the short term blinded by hatred for India. Till so long Pakistan serves its interests, China will shore it up. As a port opening into the Indian Ocean and practically next door to Gulf oil and gas reserves, China will pass up no opportunity to own and operate Gwadar. Sino-Indian disputes for themselves and over Pakistan will only grow in coming times. The military threat to India from China and Pakistan cannot be overstated.

Then there are considerations of Saudi attitude and the view of the Trump administration about India-Pakistan differences. Saudi Arabia is keen on independent good ties with India because it is a rising economic and military power. The Saudi monarch, as stated before, is smart about these things. What if he is asked to make a choice in a crisis situation between India and Pakistan? The answer could be troubling for this country. There is also the interconnected matter of Donald Trump, who is leaning towards Saudi Arabia and demonizing Iran. If Pakistan asks Saudi Arabia to use its good offices to swing Trump against India, then all bets are off. Trump is headed for impeachment in the Russian affair. His sacking of the FBI chief is a scandal which America will not accept. But much before impeachment, this most disastrous of American Presidents could give the Indian government -- and more importantly, Indians -- sleepless nights.

Sensibly, therefore, the Narendra Modi government should move post haste to douse the fires in Kashmir alongwith the opposition, and deploy the best strategic minds to manage the shape-shifting geopolitics of the region. India has several undiscovered friends in the neighbourhood who are masters of strategy. This is the government’s great opportunity to transform the strategic landscape to the country’s favour. It requires deep and creative minds.