The only thing surprising about US Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis’ controversial policy statement on the CPEC passing through Gilgit- Baltistan (GB), “so called disputed territory”, is that it took so long in the coming. It almost seemed overdue. It dutifully echoes India’s vile disinformation mantra on the subject - a pathetic travesty of the political history and geography of the region, callously disregarding the repulsive HR situation in Indian Held Kashmir.

The General’s statement not only challenges his and his Government’s credibility but also portends serious strategic connotations for the region. Pakistan, in particular Balochistan, is thus very likely to become the next battleground for super power rivalry and geopolitical machinations which may lead on to asymmetric warfare, deadly conventional and potentially nuclear war!

This statement consummates the polarisation of the South Central Asian Region (SCAR), crystallizes the long emerging US-India axis and confirms the convergence of their national interests in South Asia. The US-India axis is genuinely scared of the OBOR/CPEC initiatives as China threatens to overtake the US as the pre-eminent economic power of the world and simultaneously leave India far behind in its wake at the regional level. This will adversely affect US spheres of influence in critical spaces around the globe and ruin India’s regional ambitions. It would also make Pakistan economically self-reliant and increasingly defiant of Indian belligerence and domination and US coercion. This is unacceptable to both. They thus feel compelled to challenge China’s ingress into the region and to destroy the CPEC, OBOR’s flag ship project. As a natural corollary, they seriously threaten Balochistan and Pakistan’s territorial integrity, too.

Clear battle lines have emerged.

The US is literally isolated in the region; only tenuously established in northern Afghanistan, with an estranged Pakistan in the East and peripheral India distant and unwilling to take part militarily. The Chinese ingress in Pakistan, especially Balochistan, gives it critical and strategic advantages having duly beaten the US-India axis in time and space.

Was thwarting the evolving Chinese and Russian influence (SCO?) then the ultimate objective of the US presence in the region all along? Is the opposition to the OBOR/CPEC another step in this direction meeting Indian designs against Pakistan as well? It explains US’ obsessive fixation on attacking the so called safe havens of the TTP which might actually be a mere smoke screen to target nodal points of the OBOR/CPEC.

The contours of the US-India multidimensional assault on Pakistan are now taking concrete shape. The diplomatic and political prongs are spearheaded by US Congressmen Ted Poe, Dana Rohrabacher and Louise Gohmert etc who, amongst other activities, have introduced a Bill in the US Senate on “Balochistan’s Independence” while the pro India bias of the chaotic Trump administration is evident. The US-India sponsored terrorist and militant prongs (via Iran and Afghanistan through the CIA-RAW-NDS conduit) were exemplified by the meaningful disappearances of NATO containers carrying arms, weapons, munitions and other equipment from ports in Karachi and the arrest of Kulbushan Yadav, the Indian master spy, from Balochistan. The Modi Administration through its MEA and RAW sponsors the media prong which recently organized a “Free Balochistan” campaign in Geneva. And now the coup de main; the US Secretary of Defense has questioned the legality of the CPEC’s passage through GB and clearly intervened on India’s side in its regional tiffs with China and Pakistan. This unexpected upsurge of moral indignation, timed superbly with the projected visits of US functionaries to Pakistan is clearly intended to put it (and China) under increasing pressure and acquiring a more domineering negotiating posture.

These US functionaries, in the “good cop- bad cop” routine will read out the riot act to Pakistan, offer it a “last chance” to fall in line with US (and Indian) diktats or face multidimensional coercion. This could entail deep drone strikes, reduction/cessation of economic and military aid and CSF payments, revocation of the redundant Major Non NATO Ally status, non-cooperation by IMF, WB etc, declaring Pakistan a state sponsoring terrorism, putting curbs on international travel of certain personnel etc. Further the US will threaten to get its allies in the EU, NATO and the Arab world to add to the pressure.

Pakistan would be given two choices. Follow US diktat and carry out military operations against the so called safe havens of the TTA inside Pakistan or the US will do so unilaterally. In either case, the Afghan war on terror will be brought to and fought again on Pakistani soil, critically reversing the gains of the supremely successful OPERATIONS ZARB E AZB and RADD UL FASSADD. This has two major advantages for the US-India axis. Balochistan gets destabilized either way and so do the OBOR/CPEC projects. Further, if Pakistan refuses to fall in line then an operational environment will have been created already to consummate the secession of Balochistan from Pakistan! If that, God forbid, takes place, it automatically destroys the Chinese OBOR/CPEC initiatives, cuts Pakistan to size and meets all US and Indian interests and strategic designs in the region.

Pakistan must not blink!

Pakistan must endeavour to save its relationship with the US without prejudice to its national interests. Simultaneously, it must pre-empt this expected US coercion by engaging China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, KSA, GCC and major world capitals on the threats posed to it and the region. The China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan-Turkey (CRIPT) alignment as a competing pole to the US-India axis must crystallize post haste. Pakistan must go onto a well-designed diplomatic and media offensive highlighting existential threats to it. It must also seek alternate sources of trade, economic sustenance and cooperation. Pakistan must forge national solidarity and unity and prepare its multidimensional responses vis-a-vis the US presence in Afghanistan. Under no circumstances should it agree to fight the Afghan war on terror in Pakistan, again. Period.

At some stage the ominous China Factor will come into play, too.

In the final analysis, a nuclear power of 210 million people must never ever feel constrained to roll over and die - this being a prime function of bold, courageous and visionary leadership!