The strategic environment in the South Central Asian Region (SCAR) and the Afghanistan Pakistan Region (APR) within it is witnessing a massive clash of interests of regional and global powers. All of them are maneuvering menacingly to secure their respective strategic spaces, retaining their areas of influence and gaining more advantageous positions in the larger region. The APR-SCAR is well on its way to getting severely polarized between the US-India Combine and the China-Pakistan Alliance, with Iran and Russia engaging both India and Pakistan while showing clear inclinations towards China. The CARs remain essentially in the Russian sphere of influence. Afghanistan continues to suffer as Terrorism Central prospers in its eastern provinces!
The primary clash of interests is clearly between the US and China, the secondary one between India and Pakistan and yet another one lingering on painfully between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Terrorism thrives too. It is this interaction of multifarious conflicts of interests, ironically one within another, that is now defining the increasingly ominous strategic environment of the APR-SCAR.
China is single mindedly pursuing its CPEC/OBOR initiative, an economic behemoth in its own right. The CPEC/OBOR promises a strong and vibrant economic future for Pakistan and its coming generations. Under no circumstances will Pakistan allow it to be compromised. On the other hand, the US persists with its ultimate aim of circumscribing China’s economic juggernaut (CPEC/OBOR) to keep it from becoming a competing global economic power, much less replacing it as one. Pakistan thus finds itself in a rather paradoxical situation. Both the US and China, the major antagonists, consider its support vital to securing their respective interests in the APR-SCAR. Where China expects Pakistan to help the CPEC/OBOR initiative materialize seamlessly the US expects Pakistan to do the exact opposite - help it delay, disrupt and scuttle it! Furthermore, India and Pakistan are openly belligerent, the former through spies/proxies from Iran and Afghanistan as well. Afghanistan is pro-India and apprehensive of Pakistan. Russia and Iran too are proactively involved and perceptibly impacting the regional environment.
The US is apparently acquiring clarity at the policy level while dealing with a surprisingly defiant and confident Pakistan. It oscillated indecisively between coercion and cooperation for a while but now a visibly bitter and frustrated US appears set to coercing it ruthlessly. Initially, it attempted to coerce Pakistan at the bilateral level. However, Pakistan’s strong response, which literally nullified its leverages of economic and military aid, forced it into an “operational pause”, to recoil and reconsider its options anew.
The US has now resorted to coercion at the multilateral level. To this end it has employed its allies around the globe and its influence over international organizations like the FATF etc. At the military level it has been manifested in the form of incessant and senseless ceasefire violations by the Indians across the LOC/WB; which have been repaid in full and some more by the Pakistan Armed Forces. The strategic environment is thus vitiated and on edge. Such military threats on Pakistan’s eastern borders are complemented by the US which has threatened to unilaterally attack the so called safe havens of the Afghan Taliban/Haqqani Network through drones/air attacks “wherever they” might be in Pakistan - a possible euphemism for nodal points of the CPEC. Furthermore, terrorist groups like the TTP, JuA, IMU, ETIM, IS etc ensconced with the NDS/RAW/CIA/MOSSAD in eastern provinces of Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Nangarhar etc potentially threaten to restart the WOT in Pakistan, destabilize it and cause severe disruption of the CPEC. Ostensibly, “an inspired Japan” too has offered Pakistan loans at interest rates markedly lower than those offered by China but specifically for infrastructure projects only- too obvious an attempt to undercut Chinese loans/investments for infrastructure development under the CPEC et al. Furthermore, the US got the UK, France and Germany to co-sponsor a move to have Pakistan placed on the grey/blacklist of the FATF. The US/US-led West is bound to pile up pressure on Pakistan progressively by revoking the Major Non-NATO Ally status, applying stringent conditions through the IFIs, imposing trade restrictions, declaring Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism et al.
Is it any surprise then that the US Intelligence reviews have come to the obvious conclusion that nuclear Pakistan was slipping out of US influence and could possibly end up working at odds with US interests - a rather sobering assessment in its self! Pakistan is already allied with China and has shown a more than proactive engagement of Russia. It has sure friends in the Muslim and Arab worlds and elsewhere. It is neither isolated nor friendless or unduly scared. This blatant and unjustified coercion by the US will not only unify the nation in defiance but would also push it further into Chinese and Russian camps. An amalgamation of the Eurasian Economic Union with the CPEC/OBOR initiatives would create a massive economic entity clearly beyond US-led West’s capacity to manage, contain, disrupt or scuttle. Furthermore, the SCO might just acquire a definite economic and a much visible military dimension too, to emerge as a viable counterpoise to the US-India Combine in the APR-SCAR and the US-led West at large. The US-Australia-Japan-India Alternative to the OBOR is an unoriginal idea already defeated in time and space by its nemesis!
There could not have been a starker contrast in the way the US and China are now being viewed in Pakistan. Whereas the former comes across as a brutally coercive and destructive bully the latter is viewed as friendly, cooperative and helpful. Their deeds speak louder than their words!
Were the US to adopt a more balanced, stable, mutually beneficial and futuristic policy for the APR-SCAR it could still have Pakistan as a friend and ally to further its interests in the region instead of losing it totally through rampant, misplaced coercion. However, if it must play the destroyer’s and spoiler’s role as at present, then it already has a readymade and experienced ally in India - available, willing, keen and all too happy to oblige!
Pakistan cannot and will not commit Hara Kiri just to please the US!
The author is a retired Brigadier and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).