Geopolitics

America’s Subcontinental Priority
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Jan , 2020

Citing a leaked letter of Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Asian Lite has reported that some 14 members of Pakistani military were killed recently by Baloch militants based in Iran and that this was one of the several attacks sponsored by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of Iran’s Quds Force.

What an irony that US kills Soleimani to ward of an unspecified imminent threat but is cozying up to Pakistan which is largely instrumental in killing of nearly 2,400 and wounding some 20,000 US service personnel…

This is hardly surprising with several Pakistan-sponsored attacks across the Iranian border due to which Iran was forced to plan on constructing a 700-km border barrier as a replacement to the border fence along its 959 km international border with Pakistan – a three feet thick and 10 feet high concrete wall fortified with steel rods stretching from Taftan to Mand, to include large earth and stone embankments and deep ditches to deter illegal crossings, drug smuggling and terror attacks.

There is speculation that Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike on request from Pakistan in exchange for support against Iran. This appears quite logical. Because Immediately after killing Soleimani on January 3, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo rang up Pakistani army chief  Qamar Javed Bajwa to solicit support.

Pompeo also tweeted, “Pakistan’s Chief of Staff General Bajwa and I spoke today about US defensive action to kill Qassem Soleimani. The Iran regime’s actions in the region are destabilizing and our resolve in protecting American interests, personnel, facilities, and partners will not waver.” The importance of US Secretary of State, not the Secretary of Defence soliciting Bajwa’s support is significant.

According to Asian Lite, Islamabad, which blamed Soleimani for Baloch militant attacks against its forces, found an opportunity to “kill two birds with one stone” when Washington sought its support. Pompeo’s telephone call was immediately followed up by Washington’s announcement authorizing resumption of International Military Education and Training (IMET) to Pakistan for strengthening “military to military cooperation on shared priorities and advance US national security.”

Aside from telephoning QJ Bajwa, Pompeo rang up other countries including China to solicit support but did not deem it necessary to talk to India which the US takes for granted. In Trump’s reckoning India doesn’t really figure in dealing with Iran and Afghanistan. That is why US has never felt the need to include India in the multilateral talks concerning Afghanistan. 

According to Trump, Soleimani’s killing was to ward off an imminent threat and Trump says he was also motivated by retribution after the death of an American contractor at an Iraqi military base, possibly caused by Iranian-backed militias, or violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad.  What he would not admit is that the timing was also to ‘help’ Pakistan take revenge for Balochi militants’ attacks on Pakistani army including recent killing of 14 Pakistani army personnel.

The astonishing part is that US instead of supporting liberation of Balochistan in order to bring Pakistan to its senses, is working in the opposite direction.

What an irony that US kills Soleimani to ward of an unspecified imminent threat (which may even be imaginery) and death of one American contractor but is cozying up to Pakistan which is largely instrumental in killing of nearly 2,400 and wounding some 20,000 US service personnel in hostile action in Afghanistan (2001 to mid-2019), even though some 147,000 Afghans including 38,000 civilians killed in same period may be of little consequence to Washington.

Above exposes duality of the Trump administration that blows cover of the propaganda that America honour their dead. The primacy is purely on political objectives for which the strategy is convoluted accordingly. The astonishing part is that US instead of supporting liberation of Balochistan in order to bring Pakistan to its senses, is working in the opposite direction.

Despite being masters of sub-conventional warfare having maneuvered ISIS, Al Qaeda and Pakistan-supplied proxies in Syria-Iraq and elsewhere, it has gone and labeled the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) a terrorist organization.

Pakistan tops the list of terrorist countries in the region especially for India and Afghanistan but for Trump it is Iran. Pakistan is not only overlooked but the Trump Administration is cozying up to it in the vain hope it will assist stabilize Afghanistan or maybe keep help keep Afghanistan de-stabilized to check spread of Chinese and Russian influence in the region. Latter too is naïve because China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran are all aligned with the Taliban.

The CIA links with Pakistan’s ISI and the Pakistan favouring constituency in Capitol Hill is apparently colouring Trump’s vision unless a nuclear Pakistan sends a shiver down the spine of Washington unlike a non-nuclear Iran.  Surely, Trump and Pompeo are not elated with Chinese and Pakistani navies exercising in north Arabian Sea with submarines deployed for the first time? America’s miscalculation about Pakistan will eventually cost it much more than Trump’s utopian handling of North Korea.     

Trump says the US does not need Gulf oil but India does and US is not supplying oil to India on any cheaper rates.

Above indicates the subcontinental priority of the US Administration under Trump. Additionally, Trump will likely keep the US-Iran tensions alive at least till the next presidential elections in November 2020, with every possibility of periodic flashpoints.

US Congress may do whatever to curb Trump’s war powers but the ‘imminent threat’ card is always available on whatever intelligence – of which US has a long history. Eccentricity of Trump is well known but America’s deep state easily maneuvers him.  Recall Trump’s keenness to get close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and resolving US-Russia differences immediately after assuming presidentship of USA. But finally he has landed up ordering sanctions after sanctions against Russia, resulting in closer Russia-China embrace. Similar actions are energizing a closer China-Russia-Iran embrace with Pakistan sitting in Beijing’s lap.

Trump says the US does not need Gulf oil but India does and US is not supplying oil to India on any cheaper rates. Instability in the region implies India is denied air movement over Iran and Persian Gulf in addition to Pakistani airspace. America has shown scant regard to India’s strategic interests also. Placing Chabahar outside US sanctions but continuing sanctions against India constructing the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line denies India land route to Central Asia and beyond through the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). This makes the American largesse half-cock, which is deliberate.

This despite the fact that maintenance of US troops in Afghanistan is possible through India using the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line. This would finish America’s dependence on Pakistan for the purpose. But till Trump is intent on attacking Iran it can hardly work.   

China’s has made massive investments in Iran, has secured a mega oil deal and is stationing 5000 PLA troops in Iran. India would be naïve to not understand the debilitating effect…

Considering the above, Indian policy makers need to seriously review the foreign policy with respect to the US and Iran. Dynamics of the geopolitical environment made India get closer to the US. But the US also needs India as much, which should not be restricted to America’s foundational agreements, cooperation on the high seas, throwing open Indian defence markets to the US and US exporting oil to India.

China’s has made massive investments in Iran, has secured a mega oil deal and is stationing 5000 PLA troops in Iran. India would be naïve to not understand the debilitating effect this could have on India-Iran relations in the long run. If we are going ahead with import of the Russian S-400 missile system from Russia despite the CAASTA threat, there is no reason why India cannot at least go ahead with constructing the Chbahar-Zahedan rail line and establish the land-link to Eurasia. We are vigorously promoting startups in the country but in terms of standups we could perhaps use resolve akin to a country like Vietnam.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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4 thoughts on “America’s Subcontinental Priority

  1. The artical has perfectly explained the situation.
    We have chhabra under construction which is actually a need for us for oil, at the same time, it’s a planned trap also made by Iran just for future situations like now, with which Iran could escape any possible threat from US, a friend of India.And under this umbralla Russia and China both the enemy of US are started functioning, expanding their global influence and doing business. Indias presences in Iran somehow restrectong US to react in full fledged or, restricting global play.

  2. An Excellent article on Indo Iran relations . That we bowed to US threat of Sanctions and stopped importing Oil from Iran , our third largest supplier was indeed a big surprise .
    Earlier in 2011-12, we bypassed similar threats by a Rupee- Rial agreement , which worked perfectly for us. On our Western coast , we have two or three refineries designed for Iranian heavy crude and these are now idle.

    Purchase of S 400 is under clouds as there are no commitments of waiver under CAATSA by US . Then why are we being cautious & neglecting a friendship which is centuries old and countries interlinked by culture.

    China, Russia are investing heavily in Iran. Rusdia has a 50 bn dollar Gas development deal .
    In Iran’s automotive industry, over 50 percent spare parts are of Chinese origin. Withdrawal of Renault has opened up new opportunities for Chinese
    makers . China sees Iran as not only an important source for Crude but also an important cog in the wheel of BRI .

    Turkey and Qatar depend on Iran for Foodgrains, civil flights overflight and are partner in development of South Pars Gas fields ( shared equally by Oman and Iran and is world’s largest Gas field) . They support Iran in equivocally, though surprisingly Turkey wasn’t perturbed by killing of Gen Sulemaini.

    Russia, China and entire SCO see Iran and its survival under the present Sanctions, a litmus test for the emerging Eurasian block. Hope it is successful.

    On IDR , a decent , readable , well researched article after a long time .

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