During the 1970s, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US strategist, while forecasting the breakup of the Soviet Union expounded the concept of US unipolarity. He said: “How America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would…….almost automatically gain Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Ocean, geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. Pre-eminence in Eurasia - and America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” He suggested the use of military power in the Euro-Asian region to establish the “Western Front” in Europe and the “Southern Front” in Asia. The Western Front was established by assimilating the Eastern European countries into the European Union. Nato was retained to maintain the integrity of the Western Front and support the establishment of the Southern Front – Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 9/11 episode provided the excuse to occupy Afghanistan in 2001, followed by Iraq in 2003. The Southern Front thus was established, supported by Nato and India, that ventured beyond their borders to join the great game of global primacy. For the consolidation of the Southern Front a “scorched earth policy, rather a scorched soul policy” was followed that now has recoiled back and Iraq is falling apart. In Afghanistan, America went full circle seeking different options, but failed to obtain guarantee for a safe exit. The Afghan front is also collapsing, while “the American economy is suffering $16 trillion in debt and $14 trillion wiped out in household wealth. There is mass unemployment, foreclosures and increasing poverty causing a criminal culture.” The ambitions of unipolarity now have turned into the decline of the American Empire. So, “the emperor and the empire have no clothes” (Kirkpatric Sole).

The collapse of the Southern Front has forced the US to shift the strategic pivot to the South East, as conceptualised by Henry Kissinger: “Tectonic international upheavals mark our period. The centre of gravity of world affairs is moving to the Pacific and almost all major actors on the international stage are defining new roles for themselves. That transformation is about concept as much as about power.” Therefore, Barack Obama defined the need for this shift in his ‘Defence Strategic Guidance’ intending to establish the “strategic pivot” in the Asia Pacific region, because the “US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities.” It is not difficult to draw the inference from this concept, that Asia-Pacific is the main theatre and the US military is going to equip itself for an ocean war over there. The American administration, thus, has decided to strengthen its naval presence over the long-term by “building towards a 346-ship fleet, rather than retreating to 250-ship mark that the US faces due to budget cuts and the decommissioning of aging warships in the next decade. Diplomatic and economic engagement with China and others will work better when backed by a credible military posture.” Hillary Clinton calls this major shift as the triumph of US diplomacy – the “American Pacific Century”, as the best bet after “disengaging from two futile, polarising and massively expensive land wars.” Obama, therefore, is busy forming the “Coalition of the Willing” - India, Japan, South Korea and Australia to herald the onset of the “American Pacific Century” against rising China.

Obama’s ‘Defence Strategic Guidance’, envisages about 15 percent cut in the defence budget and a two-track mode of employment of the military power.

One: There will be no direct intervention, like Iraq and Afghanistan. The allies and coalition partners will do the needful as in Somalia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere. The regional surrogates, like Israel and India, would help project American power and interests.

Two: A number of combat groups comprising heliborne Special Forces, supported by strike aircrafts, will be deployed around the world to carry out surgical operations similar to the one launched in Abbottabad in May 2011. Drones will be used extensively for intelligence gathering and engagement of opportunity targets.

The strategic shift from Euro-Asia to the Asia-Pacific is very significant for Pakistan and the countries in the region. Afghanistan would be the main beneficiary, as the “mother of all evil – foreign aggression was vacated.” Now, the US has no choice, but to knock on the Taliban’s doorstep to seek help for a safe exit, which is also a challenge for Obama “to concede for the Afghan people the very minimum privileges of an Arab Spring, so that Islamism could reconcile with democracy - quintessentially, expecting the US to be on the right side of history” (M.K. Bhadrakumar). “Islamism, there, is winning out because it is the deepest and widest channel into which discontent can flow” (John M. Oven). The world has to reconcile with the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and their broad-based government to ensure peace and stability. There is no other viable option!

Iran’s strategic defiance since 1979 has added new dimensions of resilience and self-reliance to the nation. Iranians have developed “an asymmetric hybrid strategy, supported by advanced technology weapons.” Iran also “has levers, exploiting their interior lines of operation. Their anti-access and anti-denial capabilities are proven. We (America) would have a difficult time” (Cronin). Therefore, war is not the option anymore. The recent sanctions imposed on Iran restricting the sale of oil has been blown into the faces of the European importers. China, India and Pakistan would benefit and continue to trade with Iran at a premium, while Saudi Arabia and Russia will sell oil to the European buyers at $130 to $150 a barrel, putting greater burden on the fledging European economy. Geo-strategically, “Iran lies between Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, Central and South Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, a broader network of trade is nearly impossible without it.” In particular, it has the potential to reshape Afghanistan’s strategic future. Undoubtedly, it is not possible to build a new security and economic structure in South and Central Asia without Iran; sanctions would serve no purpose.

Pakistan has suffered immensely since 1979 due to the occupation of Afghanistan. Now its woes and sufferings would gradually wane with the departure of the foreign forces from the war-torn country. Geo-strategically, Pakistan is as important, if not more, than Iran, for a broader network of trade and commerce between South and Central Asia, and East and West Asia. Pakistan can contribute significantly, reshaping lives in a free and independent Afghanistan and build a new security paradigm in the region. However, it carries the burden of “American bear hug” - demanding a foothold in Pakistan after exit from Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan has to adopt skilful diplomacy to shake off this burden without jeopardising national security interests.

The shifting of the ‘strategic pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific is of special interest to Pakistan, as the geopolitical play begins between the emerging regional centres of power. China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran constitute the first regional power base. The second is Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan triangle, emerging as the power base of the Muslim world, meeting the much needed ‘strategic depth’ of security. And the third is China, India, Japan, Korea and Australia to ensure a balance under the American umbrella in the Asia-Pacific region. In this complex geopolitical game, America’s role would be important as the dominating power and would become more meaningful, if it draws on the interests and wisdom of ascending Asia and engages constructively with them.

This is a period of great opportunity for Pakistan, as the geostrategic shift is taking place, defining new contours of balance between the emerging centres of power from Euro-Asia to Asia-Pacific. Pakistan has to find its rightful place, playing the role of a ‘facilitator, i.e. consolidating a regional cooperative relationship regime, based on the Chinese principles of peace, cooperation and engagement.

The writer is a former COAS, Pakistan.

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