Fall­out of con­tain­ment strate­gies in Asia

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email:won­der­ous101@gmail.com

RE­CENT visit of the high level US del­e­ga­tion to Pak­istan af forded an op­por­tu­nity to high­light ir­ri­tants in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, even though no tan­gi­ble im­prove­ment is likely. At tac­ti­cal level, the US has en­rolled In­dian and Afghan gov­ern­ments as im­ple­men­ta­tion tools to con­tain Pak­istan. Sil­ver-lin­ing is that pub­lic as­pi­ra­tion of both th­ese coun­tries is poles apart from govt ac­tions. Most of ter­ror ac­tions in Pak­istan orig­i­nate from Afghanistan. In­dian and Afghan in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are work­ing con­jointly to sus­tain such ac­tiv­i­ties. TTP run­aways in Afghanistan of­ten at­tack this side of in­ter­na­tional bor­der with im­punity; they en­ter un­der the garb of Afghan refugees. Pak­istan has long been rais­ing th­ese is­sues with Afghan, In­dian and the US gov­ern­ments. Pak­istan has also handed over three dossiers of proofs to the UN. The US car­ries out drone strikes in far flung ar­eas of Balochis­tan but it is not will­ing to tar­get Mullah Fa­zlul­lah in Ku­nar, which sends a clear mes­sage to peo­ple of Pak­istan that Wash­ing­ton en­cour­ages desta­bi­liza­tion of the coun­try. Wash­ing­ton is selec­tive as it only tar­gets Afghan Tal­iban and not TTP which presents threats to Pak­istan.

Ob­ses­sion with sur­round and con­tain syn­drome in Asia has over­whelmed In­dia-US axis (not yet nexus), Afghanistan is a smaller be­ing in the play. The US wants to sur­round and con­tain China and In­dia is a clan­des­tine part­ner in this ven­ture while ar­tic­u­lat­ing de­nial. In­dia wants to con­tain/sur­round Pak­istan and the only (con­di­tional) part­ner it has been able to en­list is the United States. Amer­i­can De­fence Min­is­ter thinks China is build­ing a Wall of Sand in South China Sea; at the same time he is main­tain­ing deafen­ing si­lence over In­dia’s ef­forts to nu­cle­arize In­dian Ocean and its ver­ti­cal mis­sile pro­lif­er­a­tion ven­tures. In­dia thinks that af­ter re­cent tri­par­tite agree­ment over Chaba­har port it has sur­rounded Pak­istan and neu­tral­ized China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC).

On their part China and Pak­istan share a vision of re­gional and transcon­ti­nen­tal con­nec­tiv­ity. Af­ter for­mal­iza­tion of CPEC, US and In­dia seem to fur­ther har­mo­nize their ef­fort to squeeze Pak­istan. Though the US has not openly op­posed CPEC, its heart and mind is not with it. In­dia has any­way out rightly ob­jected to it, al­lo­cated a fund of US$ 300 mil­lion and cre­ated a ded­i­cated cell un­der its Na­tional Se­cu­rity Advisor to dis­rupt project.

Th­ese strate­gies of con­tain­ment and con­nec­tiv­ity are out and com­pet­ing. Amer­i­cans have their ways of as­sert­ing oblique pres­sures and armtwist­ing. For coun­tries like Pak­istan and In­dia they give with one hand and take back with the other—Pak­istan has learnt this the hard way, In­dia is still in honey­moon mind-set. Chi­nese fol­low cool and calm strat­egy to pur­sue their ob­jec­tives. It is Chi­nese prag­ma­tism that sees com­pul­sions of a natural hy­phen­ation while deal­ing with Pak­istan and In­dia, which is why Pak­istan and In­dia were of­fered the SCO mem­ber­ship si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

The US has en­listed about nine coun­tries which are ac­tive part of or­ches­tra de­mon­is­ing the le­git­i­mate Chi­nese rights in South China Sea. Ear­lier a term ‘String of Pearls’was coined to float the strate­gic con­cept mis­chie­vously al­leg­ing that China was de­vel­op­ing and or ac­quir­ing port rights from South East Asia to West Asia; this was a ploy to jus­tify the move and per­ma­nent de­ploy­ment of the US mil­i­tary as­sets in Asia-Pa­cific. Nowonce that ob­jec­tive is achieved, no one hears about String of Pearls. And on the other hand the US and In­dia are about to sign an agree­ment un­der the in­no­cent cap­tion of “Lo­gis­tics Ex­change Mem­o­ran­dum of Agree­ment” (Le­moa). This would make all In­dian ports d’ facto bases for Amer­i­can ships in tran­sit — both civil and mil­i­tary.

In ex­change for its whole­some align­ment with the US in China con­tain­ment pol­icy, In­dia had asked Amer­ica to de­liver an In­dia pli­ant Asia. Amer­ica is work­ing on last post, Pak­istan to ful­fil this prom­ise. Over the years, Amer­ica has taken a num­ber of steps to fur­ther tilt Pak­istan-In­dia strate­gic bal­ance in lat­ter’s favour. One of th­ese steps is let­ting In­dia be­come mem­ber of four strate­gic trade regimes, while keeping Pak out of th­ese.

Pak­istan has asked the US to sup­port its ap­pli­ca­tion for Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) mem­ber­ship, say­ing the NSG should adopt a non-dis­crim­i­na­tory ap­proach that treats In­dia and Pak­istan equally. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Obama is all out to sup­port In­dia only.A few weeks back, a key US Se­na­tor, Ed Markey, had warned that en­abling In­dia to join the NSG would cause a never ending nu­clear race in South Asia.Like­wise, The New York Times, in its re­cent editorial, has also chal­lenged the very cre­den­tials of In­dia for NSG mem­ber­ship, terming it as un­mer­ited.Notwith­stand­ing, in their game of sur­round and con­tain, both Amer­ica and In­dia have lim­i­ta­tions. In­dia wants to side with the US in its anti-China ven­tures but with­out ra­di­at­ing a deep im­pres­sion of “Hos­tile In­dia”to­wards China. Amer­ica too has lim­i­ta­tions with re­gard to squeez­ing Pak­istan. Key to all so­lu­tions to Afghan con­flict rests with Pak­istan. And Pak­istan is use­ful to Amer­ica for keeping In­dia un­der check. In its quest to con­tain China, Amer­ica does not want to prop up an un­man­age­able In­dia.

And on its part, China is keeping In­dia en­gaged to ex­tent that In­dia does not find an ex­cuse to out rightly be­come hos­tile and be­come to­tally aligned with Amer­i­can ob­jec­tives in Asia-pa­cific. In­dia is also aware that Amer­ica is a de­clin­ing power with rov­ing in­ter­ests; to­mor­row it could wind up its “Asia Re­bal­ance” shop and take it else­where, while China is a rising power and a neigh­bour­ing coun­try with whom it has long con­tentious borders along­side a his­tory de­spon­dently lost war. In­dia wants to gain from both sides through a dirty game of al­liances and counter al­liances whose ram­i­fi­ca­tions could even­tu­ally get out of In­dian con­trol. For that In­dia is keeping Rus­sia as a fall back, it has ad­e­quate clout over Rus­sia through which it has been able to hold back Putin twice from un­der­tak­ing his an­nounced vis­its to Pak­istan.

A known Pak­istan basher for­mer Afghan Pres­i­dent Karzai has re­cently praised Pak­istan and its peo­ple for ex­tend­ing ‘tremen­dous sup­port and hos­pi­tal­ity’ to mil­lions of Afghan refugees at a very cru­cial time. Asked about the ‘third coun­try’ un­der­min­ing Kabul-Is­lam­abad re­la­tions, Karzai said: “It shows our (Afghan) weak­nesses.” He added that the ‘third force’ (In­dia) has since long been in­volved in Pak­istan via Afghanistan. “But yes, Pak­istan has right to en­sure ter­ri­tory of its neigh­bours is not used against it.”He added.

In the wake of Modi’s visit to Afghanistan to in­au­gu­rate the Salma dam in Herat, along­side tri­par­tite agree­ment with Iran and Afghanistan to develop a small Ira­nian port at Chaba­har, In­dian for­eign of­fice has gone over­board fool­hardy to in­for­mally float an as­sess­ment that In­dia has suc­ceeded in get­ting the Afghan govern­ment out of the Pak­istani or­bit of in­flu­ence, forg­ing what it per­ceives as an emerg­ing Indo-AfghanIran axis. Iran’s am­bas­sador to Pak­istan has re­cently clar­i­fied that such agree­ment on this port was first of­fered to China and Pak­istan, the of­fer is still open; and Iran is still keen to develop Chaba­har port in tan­dem and not as a com­peti­tor to Gwadar port. A MoU is al­ready in place be­tween Iran and Pak­istan declar­ing Chaba­har and Gwadar as sis­ter ports.Pak­istan has ad­e­quate strate­gic space to man­age its way through such ma­noeu­vres. There is nei­ther a danger of phys­i­cal sab­o­tage of CPEC nor that of strate­gic iso­la­tion of Pak­istan. To In­dia’s dis­may, nearly a dozen coun­tries in­clud­ing Iran and Afghanistan have shown keen­ness to join it. Other Asian coun­tries need to see through Indo-Amer­i­can game of con­tain­ment and in­sti­tute proac­tive means to pre­serve the re­gional peace. — The writer is con­sul­tant to IPRI on Pol­icy and Strate­gic Re­sponse.

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