Pakistan, Like N Korea, Has Aced ‘Crazy Fearsome Cripple Gambit’
Prime Minister Imran Khan is the winner today. His decision to ‘return’ the IAF pilot anoints him as an indisputable monarch of magnanimity, a prophet of peace. No matter what India does, diplomatically or militarily, it can never deliver comeuppance to Pakistan.
Pakistan will never lose this game of one-upmanship, for it has mastered the strategy, once employed by North Korea: Crazy Fearsome Cripple Gambit. When a nation chooses to fashion itself as crippled and fearsome, and crazy, it gets its way around.
The Crazy Fearsome Cripple Gambit
In 1999, North Korea had declared that it was going to test a new missile. With that declaration, ‘crazy’ credentials were established. As formulated by strategic analyst George Friedman, this was part of the country’s “skillful strategy” for survival and nothing short of “a work of art.”
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Before appearing crazy, North Korea had managed to establish itself as crippled and fearsome. Friedman argued that through the projection of the food crisis from 1994 to 1999, that mobilised many countries to offer aid, North Korea rendered itself unattractive. “The regime was likely to collapse on its own” – a crippled state that needed, or deserved, no external machinations.
The next step was to appear fearsome, which was accomplished through exaggerated versions about its weapons development programme, finding their way to the foreign press. The shroud of official secrecy, compounded with outlandish “leaks”, kept the West speculating.
One ‘Crazy’ Recognises Another
Interestingly, it was the same year that India interdicted a North Korean cargo vessel called MV Ku Wol San, alleging it was attempting to smuggle missile parts to Pakistan. This adventure in Kandla (Gujarat) in June 1999, coincided with the Kargil conflict. North Korea never admitted to the act; the confiscated consignment still remains in India’s custody.
Now, twenty years later, Pakistan is repeatedly reminding the world – by way of Imran Khan’s neatly edited videos – of its nuclear weapons, and North Korea remains diplomatically churlish by snubbing Trump’s offer to give up its weapons.
These coincidences are mentioned only to establish how North Korea and Pakistan manage to trigger each others’ mirror neurons. One crazy recognises another.
Pakistan Emulates North Korea
Like North Korea, Pakistan has a clear understanding of its vulnerabilities. And just like North Korea, it is adept at playing on the fear of other countries, especially India. Owing to the lack of information on real numbers, it can only be assumed that North Korea’s industrial health is in sharp contrast with that of South Korea. The latter does not want any armed conflict that would jeopardise its growth. India, too, has been choosing development over conflict.
Emulating North Korea, Pakistan has been able to convince two superpowers that its survival is aligned to their strategic interest. As China and the erstwhile Soviet Union kept giving North Korea the much-needed financial shots in the arm, the US and China have ensured that a steady stream of resources flows into Pakistan.
It suits Pakistan to stay in the ‘crippled and fearsome’ category, while it outsources the ‘crazy’ to its non-state actors.
Where Pakistan Beats North Korea
While North Korean foreign policy has largely been guided by restraint, Pakistan has aced the game of victimhood narrative and plausible deniability. Unlike North Korea, it actively engages in fomenting unrest in its neighbourhood and allows its land and infrastructure to be used by terror outfits. At the same time, it weaves a victimhood narrative to extort aid and bailout packages from the West and the friendly Islamic states.
The country’s current account deficit now sits at around USD18 billion. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan is only making matters worse. It has already received more than a dozen multi-billion dollar bailout packages from the IMF since the 1980s. Its real per capita income growth has been underwhelming for decades. Its water and energy shortage levels are reaching an alarming high. Its foreign reserves were at USD 8.4 billion in September 2018, barely sufficient to cover its debt payments at the end of the year.
Yet, its defence acquisitions remain high on priority. Much too often it has funneled the aid money into strengthening its military power. It milks the creditors’ dilemma to the hilt.
The Gambit Works Better for Pakistan
While India has to develop at a steady pace, maintain a good track-record for debt repayment, stay non-aggressive towards Pakistan, apart from ensuring a functioning democracy within; Pakistan only needs to be in existence. Pakistan can afford to call for de-escalation and peace without sounding ironical, while its foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi shares the health report card of Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar.
Kim Jong Un is being branded as bratty and churlish for the inconclusive US-North Korea summit in Vietnam. Imran Khan, on the other hand, is being hailed as the global good boy. Kim is craving for what Pakistan enjoys at the moment: great relations with the US, no isolation for the nukes, and an unlimited supply of goodwill for its meaningless gestures.
Pakistan is the new master of Crazy Fearsome Cripple Gambit.