Fallout of containment strategies in Asia
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.