South Asia: Re-alignments on the Anvil
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Jan , 2018

In bilateral relations, there are no permanent friends or foes: there are only permanent interests. US-Pakistan relations almost reached nadir when President Trump; twitted “lies and deceit”. Nobody had anticipated that relations between Pakistan — a country once more aligned than allies— with the US would sink to such depths.

We have the habit of assessing US-Pakistan relations from the prism of Indo-Pak relations which, however, are not cordial at all. This is not the right way of analyzing their relations.

Ever since the birth of Pakistan as a new state on South Asian map, she has been integral to the western bloc. The feudal-cum-army led Pakistani state had no alternative but to be on the bandwagon of the capitalist states of the west. During cold war era, the West focused on one objective of destroying the communist state. Pakistan was a key partner in that agenda.

Creation of mujahedeen in Afghanistan and arming them to the hilt was part of that strategy. It could not have been achieved without the participation of Pakistan. That also explains the camaraderie between the Pentagon and GHQ. Simultaneously, CIA and ISI became complimentary to each other, and interestingly, both found safe outlets for siphoning off huge monies. That invisible relationship between Pakistan army top brass and the Pentagon bosses endeared the former to entire US polity.

Pakistan is serving US interests in Saudi Arabia by opting to night-watch of Saudi monarchy, which does not trust its own security paraphernalia. Pakistan was instrumental in breaking US-China freeze during cold war era. For running these errands successfully, the US rewarded Pakistan by underplaying Pakistan’s clandestine acquisition of nuclear and crucial components technology from China.

A push forward in restoration of relations has come in the shape of the visit of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Wells to Pakistan. She was         preceded by Washington’s reach to General Bajwa.  What trickles down the media sources is that it is one more damage controlling exercise, and its significance is that she has not met with the Army Chief General Bajwa perhaps because an understanding between the GHQ and the Pentagon is already in the pipeline. Wells’ exchange of ideas with Pakistani interlocutors indicates that the US has, by way of repairing the damage to relations, made two concessions to Pakistan. One is that the US will not launch attack from Afghan soil on Haqqani and other terrorists groups active in fighting the NATO forces in Afghanistan but enjoying safe havens in Pakistan. The second is that the US does not and will not support the separatist movement in Baluchistan.  However, Ambassador Wells made it clear that the US does not recognize good and bad terrorists and that Pakistan groups have to be reined in. She named Haqqani and other groups active in Afghanistan fighting.

Both concessions are intrinsically superficial from Pakistan’s strategic view point. Pakistan has divided Baluch society by deftly using carrot and stick policy against the Baluch people. Moreover, after China’s entrenched interests in Gwadar, and more recently Saini, suppression and decimation of Baluch opposition is foregone conclusion. Iran is wary of its defiant Baluch population and that makes Islamabad feel relieved on Baluch count. As far as containing Haqqani group, this may happen because from the low and polite tone of Ambassador Wells in the course of her interaction with Pakistani interlocutors, one can read the possibility of a tripartite deal in Afghanistan among the main actors’ viz. Haqqani and its affiliate groups, Kabul and Islamabad governments all under the American umbrella.

Of course, ground situation in the Gulf of Oman east has changed much with China’s menacing presence from the Karakorum down slopes to the rim of Indian Ocean. India’s presence in Afghanistan and Tajikistan even if restricted to developmental enterprises immensely strengthens American strategic paradigms in East Asia. The US is serious about emerging India-Pacific scenario and China’s African Horn Naval Triangle viz. Hambantota-Djibouti-Gwadar. The US understands India’s role in this complex scenario and that is why she has rightly revisited her stance on Indo-Afghan relations.

The US is very likely to revoke the ban imposed on financial aid to Pakistan. So far there is no open commitment by Pakistan of reining in the terrorist group’s active in Afghanistan. Commentators ask why Haqqani cannot be Osamized. Osama was eliminated because at the end of the day Pakistan army succumbed to big bribe. That story can be replicated to Haqqani group also if conditions favour.

Lastly, the role of the Russian Federation in shaping current history in the region cannot be ignored. It is true that from the very beginning Russia has been talking more about terrorism in Eurasian region, the Balkans, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Tataristan etc.  She evinced marginal interest in terrorism outside the boundaries of the Federation except when Tajik republic was faced with threat from the Taliban or the Ferghana valley then simmering with Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or Hizbu’t Tahrir. In post-Soviet period India and Russia saw some souring of relations but Modi has broken the ice and normalization has set in. With China making deep inroads in Eurasia as well, we have to watch the reaction in Moscow. We should not forget that Moscow was instrumental in getting India and Pakistan admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation. Moreover, Moscow is not unfavorably disposed towards China’s offer of joining the CPEC. This will have impact on overall situation in the region.

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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

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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