The dynamic nature of geo-political environment is transitioning from American efforts to retain its uni-polarity to a stage where the emerging competitors and challengers are moving to a position of asserting their influence. This is likely to result in geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic changes, realignments and re-assertions, in certain regions which are likely to play important, if not pivotal roles in the future. These are high-stake political games which may well result in either prolonging geo-political status-quo or the commencement of changes towards a multi-polar balance of power.
To maintain the geo-political status-quo, major US concerns are likely to remain focused on Asia. These include an emerging China, sustaining support for a countervailing India, a resurgent Russia and a concerned Muslim world attempting to redefine its place in the world polity. While US led efforts aimed at containment of Russia are stabilizing almost along the original Russian borders in Europe, endeavours to curtail her expansion towards the south and limit Russian and Chinese influence in Eurasian hinterland are underway.
In February 2002, Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee that, “America will have a continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not have dreamed of before.” Chairman of NATO Military Committee while on a recent visit to Australia stated that, securing the safety of Washington and Brussels requires the expansion of a US dominated military alliance into “the Euro-Asian and Asian-Pacific regions.” Major US and NATO presence in Afghanistan and their efforts to enhance military presence in various Central Asian countries under the garb of providing support for Afghan war are clear indications in this direction.
In the post 9/11 environment Asia therefore became the test-bed of American attempts to assert and realign the politico-economic order to maintain her full-spectrum domination and deny or delay the emergence and assurgence of competing powers. US invasion of Iraq was essentially a venture to sustain these objectives and not against terrorism which had roots in Afghanistan. It was thought that the US adventure in Iraq would achieve its objectives soon and would allow shifting the focus to stabilize Afghanistan for a protracted US presence because of geo-political compulsions. While the US was busy in Iraq, they co-opted Indian support to replace Pakistan as a stabilizing influence in Afghanistan, mainly due to Pak-US trust deficit. This also provided Americans an opportunity to project Indian influence in Central Asia to dilute the existing Russian and increasing Chinese support base.
Having failed in her earlier attempts to coerce Pakistan through application of direct strategy, India readily took this opportunity to pay back Pakistan for its alleged interference in Indian Occupied Kashmir and ventured in to a strategic encirclement of Pakistan. Under a calibrated strategy, US also supported India by attempting to persuade Pakistan to allow passageway for sustaining the Indian influence in Afghanistan and beyond. While addressing a press conference in January this year in Islamabad, Hillary Clinton openly supported this venture to the discomfiture of her hosts. However, Pakistan did not acquiesce and avoided a self-inflicted strategic encirclement.
Moreover, in order to dilute and contain resurgent Taliban, US contrived with Indian and Afghan support to shift the terrorist center of gravity to Pakistani territory resulting in manifold increase in drone attacks in Pak regions bordering Afghanistan. However, the US desire to confine this war to Af-pak region was short-lived. Soon the Taliban outside of so-called Af-pak region re-emerged stronger, warranting a US surge followed by a crisis of command and strategy.
Also, the Americans soon realized Indian inability to replace Pakistan’s strategic influence in its backyard. This also solidified the fact that the geo-politically influenced strategic pivot provided by Pakistan could not and would not be replaced by India, no matter how powerful India may be. Pakistan had withstood the challenge, no matter how weak it had been or would be. Achievement of US geo-political and geo-strategic goals therefore would become extremely difficult without co-opting Pakistan. This fact can not be overstated by citing a statement of Senator McCain (courtesy wikileaks), who while talking to David Cameron in a 2008 meeting said that, “if they (Pakistan) don’t cooperate and help us, I don’t know what we are going to do.”
Many believe that India is a regional power, yet they fail to realize the fact that its regional prowess can only be exercised against nations as small and vulnerable as Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh. It has not been able to convincingly project its power potential against present day Pakistan and China and it is unlikely to happen in the future as well. US Embassy, New Delhi (courtesy wikileaks) corroborates this fact indicating that, with present Indian military capabilities, Cold Start doctrine would encounter mixed results.
US, France, UK, China and Russia etc can project their power potential because either they do not have a powerful regional threat to counter or they have enough capability to deter a regional threat and also project their capability to take care of extra-regional threats.
India cannot laterally expand its influence beyond its western borders due the existence of geo-political impediments in addition to the geographical restrictions placed by the presence of Pakistan. Expansion of its influence towards the east is impeded due to the large geographical lay of China. Myanmar can provide India with limited ability to expand towards South East Asia. She attempted to undertake such a venture but due to its internal upheaval in adjoining areas failed to take timely advantage. Chinese influence in Myanmar has in the meantime increased manifold which may limit future Indian endeavours. Therefore the only direction it may be able to expand its influence is towards the vast expanse of sea in the south.
As per the perceived US game-plan for India, garnering of a seaward influence is likely to be supported by the US and West. This fact is corroborated by increased number of Indian naval exercises with navies of US and other western nations in recent years. The plan seeks India to act as a countervailing force against China, as a milkman to sustain US economy while competing with Chinese economic progress and to stabilize regional disputes with limited force projection capability.
India may become a strong economic power and be able to generate fair bit of economic influence in all those countries which are its trading partners and may also be able to exercise fair bit of negativity against Pakistan and China in this domain. However, it’s overall power projection and generation of influence in the key regions would still remain limited unless it drastically improves relations with both Pakistan and China. It also highlights the importance of strategic nature of Pak-China relationship.
US follows a two pronged strategy against China, what some analysts term as “Contaigement” (Containment and Engagement). China counters this through application of a multi-faceted direct and indirect strategy. The engagement aspect does not irk both US and China to the extent of it being positive. Some of the major facets employed by China to counter the containment are; enhancement of politico-economic and military cooperation in key world regions, development of its military capability and seeking multiple trade corridors. Pakistan can offer major cooperation in many of these facets and thus emerges as a crucial player in facilitating for China a safe alternative outlet in to the global strategic zones.
China developed eastern Chinese region as a deliberate and well thought out policy. Now that this region has been well on its way to becoming a developed reality, western Chinese region bordering Pakistan is also being developed. The population of western China is close to 300 million people. The closest trade access to the sea for this large set of entrepreneurs is through Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar ports linked via Karakoram highway.
Pakistan’s sympathetic leanings towards China is one of the major causes of present trust-deficit between US and Pakistan, since the US in its endeavours to contain China is also eyeing Pakistan’s southern sea ports to acquire its own strategic corridor with links to Central Asian resources and to safeguard its interests. If this assumption is correct then it is quite likely that the US will continue to act as Pakistan’s neighbour for quite some time through its presence in Afghanistan and other regional countries and its projected withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to remain restricted to end of combat operations.
In the 1960s, US attempted to follow the strategy of Pivotal Statecraft with regard to India and Pakistan. The strategy entailed that as US had influence and leverages in both India and Pakistan, it could manipulate or coerce both countries to find solutions to bilateral problems, under US auspices. However, the attempt failed as India had an alternative in the form of Russia and Pakistan looked for Chinese support. Apparently, US is attempting to follow a similar strategic posture again. Interestingly, in the ensuing geo-political environment India has no other entity to align with except the USA, whereas Pakistan can still lean towards China and frustrate US desires.
Pakistan therefore sits at the cross-roads of strategic interests of major world powers – an unenviable predicament or an enviable opportunity! Pakistan’s security and prosperity in the future therefore depends in a large way on how it exploits this geo-political tangle vis-à-vis these major contenders. It is here that Pakistan’s ability to generate a cooperative response from the great powers would be tested. Pakistan may not and should not become a party to any of the big powers and use its influence to generate a cooperative and all-supportive environment for future stability of the region. Pakistan’s decision makers must appreciate the strength Pakistan has placed itself in, despite the impediments and must not loose this strategic advantage. The success of Pakistani grand strategy depends upon its ability to manipulate co-relation of contending powers to its own advantage.