Dynamics and events arising out of Modi’s doctrinal muddle against Pakistan are assuming dangerous proportions. The intensification of nuclear arms race in South Asia corresponds to the heated hostilities being played out through proxies, low intensity conflicts and intense violations on the Line of Control. The munitions being introduced by India are adding a new and dangerous rung in the escalation control mechanism. Yet it is uneasily comforting that the intensity of the conflict is far below the levels portrayed by some segments of the hyped Indian media. The Indian media has bludgeoned every Indian politician who questioned Modi’s policies and claims. Ever since Uri, the claims of surgical strikes have faded away with a whimper.

The US retrograde from Afghanistan announced with lots of intent and rhetoric is an admission of failure. USA is going nowhere, lest it creates a situation similar to Iraq. Being under the strategic Russian and Chines underbellies and overseeing a nuclear Pakistan on the road to CPEC necessitates US boots in Afghanistan. Though the State Department may not admit, the invasion along with allies is a military failure. Vast expanses, barring a few urban centres, are still controlled by Afghan resistance in the form of Taliban and warlords while the government controlled by elements from Northern Alliance remains anti-Pakistan. The propaganda of a bad carpenter blaming the tools (Pakistan) for failures is exposed. So a hyperactive Afghan NDS is playing the last notes for a failed US policy. India, with close links to the Northern Alliance, the Afghan Government and USA, is not far behind, inserting its own spins to the twist by playing the terrorism card and attributing the unrest in occupied Kashmir to Pakistan sponsored terrorism. All this is set to change in President Trump’s first 100 days.

Indian policymakers feel that they have a narrow window to assert their agenda against Pakistan by confusing a situation for the new US administration. This window coincides with transition in the GHQ and the White House. That’s why Indian policymakers are talking of ‘First Use’, and provoking Pakistan to unleash its precision-guided short-range weaponry. They are also taking advantage of targeting civilian population centres, public transport and ambulances along the Line of Control; something Pakistan cannot do against its kin on the Indian side. So far Pakistan is calling Indian bluffs while avoiding escalation. Though the contours of President-elect Trump’s policies are becoming clearer, the choice of the next COAS will impact Pakistan’s security and relations with USA and India.

President-elect Trump’s thumping majority in both houses, control over most states and the judiciary means that a major shift in US policy is in the offing. In the short term, this means that Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations will be replaced with “fair bilateral trade deals.” Though the objective is to kickstart the American industry, particularly in the abandoned Detroit, Indian policies stand to suffer. Japan is likely to move closer to Russia and China for economic reasons. The containment arc of APEC is likely to become secondary while India’s bid to extract pounds of flesh as a bulwark against China will be exposed. Though India does have its own multilateral initiative in the form of BRICS in place, this forum can supplement but not contain the CPEC initiative. Pakistan must play cool militarily but be aggressive diplomatically.

Though the Trump talk is tough, the President-elect did acknowledge a few months ago that given the much higher cost of Pakistan falling apart or being taken over by a hostile force, US military aid to Pakistan was an exception to his general aversion. This ‘hostile force’ hype was created by the Democrat-led State Department and its think tanks ably supported by Pakistan’s self-serving liberals. In the coming months, this hype will fade away.

If the US remains engaged in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s cooperation will be crucial. In addition, Pakistan’s assistance will also be needed to resolve the jigsaw in the Middle East. Iran cannot be ignored, sharing borders with Turkey, Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan, and not India will be co-opted to provide stability to the regions.

So it is most probable that US will shift its policy of Pakistan-bashing (for its failures in Afghanistan) to positive engagement. It is not without reason, that last month at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), General (R) David Petraeus, who commanded the US Military and also headed CIA, made a curt comment that, “during his long association with his Pakistani counterparts and interaction with ISI as head of CIA, he could never find a convincing piece of evidence which supported the alleged double game by ISI or its explicit support to elements associated with terrorism”. This was a very positive statement coming from a man who remained deeply involved in the region for a very long time and is a rebuttal to Dawn’s planted story being used in the US Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Be assured that the myth of Pakistan and its military establishment abetting terrorism has been busted. Therefore, this is a worrying moment for India and a sad one for army bashers within Pakistan.

On this side of the divide, the reactions coming from the government of Pakistan are muted and subdued. In fact, the government is self-absorbed in covering its tracks. Critics allege that the government is too soft on India mainly because the ruling family has business interests with them. The worst fear is that it does not seem prepared on how to handle the changing situations once President Trump starts asserting his policies on TPP, Middle East and Afghanistan.

But despite this inaction, the relevant desks in Foreign Office, GHQ and ISI must surely be making evaluations and contingency plans. It is not unusual for all three to resort to mutual consultations to draft a range of options. So whoever takes over the mantle of Chairman Joint Chief and COAS will have to quickly get into the groove and start making the correct recommendations to the government. The prime minister has to select the best, lest he upsets the system at a time when Pakistan’s policymaking needs consistency, perseverance and experience. Most importantly, Pakistan stands to benefit by striking the right chords.

With Indians provoking violence along the Line of Control and hell-bent on creating a confusing and dangerous strategic calculus, the change of guard at the Joint Chief Headquarters and GHQ has to be sensible. Any choice to the contrary will give India an opportunity to exploit the transition periods of Pakistan’s COAS and US President.

So what should the next COAS be like?

In my assessment the next COAS should be one who has extensive experience as General Staff having dealt with Pentagon, Indians, Saudi, Iran and NATO. His best abilities will be needed in dealing with the policy changes in State Department, Pentagon and CIA. Therefore, he should be a known commodity within the international strategic circles to play an assertive role in military diplomacy.

Secondly, there is no substitute to ground experience. He should be combat-hardy and one who understands ground realities and rigours. He should have made contributions to CPEC and Zarb-e-Azb. Most, he should be a silversmith sitting over melting heat, burnt, freckled and workmanlike to see a shining image of a Pakistan hence.

Though Trump is on the cards, let’s wait and hope for the best on November 28, 2016. I pray the Prime Minister of Pakistan hits the right chords.