The US policy review of the Afghanistan Pakistan Region (APR) will have to factor in the continuously evolving geopolitical and geostrategic environment and the volatile interstate relations within the region.

The US has been the most dominant Asian power for long and is unlikely to brook any challenges to that singular position. Its formidable military straddles the Asian continent from the Mediterranean Sea in the West to the South China Sea/Pacific Ocean in the East including the Indian Ocean Region and all else in between. It has an ominous and omnipresent strategic footprint in Asia!

However, its continued occupation of Afghanistan is meant to achieve specific strategic objectives in this critical part of Asia.

The US enjoys the geostrategic advantages of the Central Position (a la Napoleon) by occupying Afghanistan. It thus sits at the confluence of West, Central and South Asia acquiring critical oversight, power projection potential and strategic reach in all three regions. By occupying Afghanistan the US virtually becomes the master of the great game unfolding in the region presently. With its ground and air forces in Afghanistan and its Naval Fleets in the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea the US will have maneuvered its self into an unassailable strategic position. It will then dominate all Sea and Ground Lines of Communications (SLOCs and GLOCs) in the region; apply naval blockades along the Mekran Coast/ports on the Arabian Sea at will and potentially choke off most if not all East-West and North-South trade corridors crisscrossing the hinterland. With the Indian navy in tow, this potential US-Indo combine could crucially challenge Russian and Chinese ambitions in the region.

This US presence in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean region acts as a check on the fast expanding SCO - a virtual competing pole. It also blocks off the Russia-CARs complex from the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) and the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean Region. Secondly, it brings China’s OBOR and its flagship project the CPEC and its infrastructural, industrial and economic undertakings in the CARs, Pakistan, Iran etc, within reach. The US-Indo combine could also threaten the link up that China desires between its East Asian maritime trade corridors and the CPEC. (Exercise MALABAR in the Bay of Bengal). Furthermore, this position also gives the US unprecedented oversight on Iran’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Most importantly, in pursuit of its policy objectives, the US remains in position to even micro-manage the CARs, Afghanistan itself, Iran and Pakistan etc, in a controllable albeit destabilized and chaotic state. In addition to India, there are a large number of willing militant and terrorists groups available in the region(s) for this very specific purpose!

US’ policy review on the APR is bound to reflect these realities. The US is here to stay. Period.

Regardless of the contours of the reviewed US policy, it will inevitably have to take into account Pakistan and its role in it. Will the US rupture its ties with Pakistan and forgo the advantages of having it willingly on its side? (Is it even advisable?). Or will it engage it as a trusted partner and co-opt it in policy execution? Or else will it maintain the status quo? In each instance Pakistan’s national interests alone must determine its response.

How will then the US engagement of Pakistan manifest itself? Will it be ruthlessly coerced in the political, diplomatic, economic and military dimensions and forced to fall in line with US diktats? In this scenario Pakistan could be subjected to a multidimensional threat with India heating up the LOC/WB in the East and US drones moving in from the West ie Afghanistan to attack targets deep inside Pakistan supported by an internal upheaval through an increased terrorist onslaught in Pakistan’s major cities. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s Major Non-NATO Ally status could be revoked and the IFIs energized to claim their respective pounds of flesh! Or will it be a mixture of economic and military inducements as leverages and quid pro quos to elicit a willing partnership from Pakistan? It could take the form of some relief from the IFIs and CSF and maybe some rudimentary military equipment. Or will it be a continuation of the current policy of reduced inducements and ominous threats?

This policy review will redefine the geopolitics of the entire region, determine the future of the US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and lay down India’s role in Afghanistan (as desired by the US Senate Armed Services Committee).

From Pakistan’s perspective, India and peace in Afghanistan are mutually exclusive!

Like all good strategists, Pakistan too should never be caught without viable options at any given time. In case the US decides to rupture ties with Pakistan, and inducts India into the Afghan conundrum then Pakistan must act decisively to secure its vital national interests. It must stay away from the fight, secure its borders and deal with any spill over (including drones) ruthlessly, decisively and promptly. It must also ensure that the Indian military stays in Afghanistan for a much longer and much more painful time than it may have bargained for. The US will have to very carefully weigh the advantages, if any, of an alienated Pakistan! If the US wants to co-opt Pakistan then it must be a quid pro quo in terms of simultaneously taking out those terrorist groups that infiltrate and attack Pakistan from Afghanistan as well. It must ensure peace on the LOC/WB and put an end to the RAW-NDS nexus in Afghanistan that employs terrorists/proxies against Pakistan. However, if the US decides to maintain the status quo, then so be it. The rider clauses for all policy options for Pakistan would be a furtherance of ties with China, Russia, CARs and Iran and persistence with the CPEC; fencing, mining, surveillance and management of the Pak-Afghan border, immediate return of the Afghan refugees and a strict vigil on the LOC/WB.

The policy review will reflect a measure of US’ determination to consolidate its domination of the region and co-opting or coercing the regional powers in the pursuit of its national interests! Pakistan, beware!