Ally or Adversary?

The top US defense official has said that the US is at war in Pakistan – an obvious reference to the continuing Drone attacks and covert operations by the US in FATA. He has also said that the US is losing patience with Pakistan because of the sanctuaries given in FATA to groups like the Haqqani Network that attack NATO/ISAF in Afghanistan. Earlier he was in India shoring up and strengthening the US-India strategic alliance by holding out the prospect of an Indian role in the US power shift to the Asia-Pacific region and a greater Indian presence in Afghanistan – a prospect that will find favor with the pro-India government of Afghanistan. The Indians will play hardball just as they did to get the US-India Civilian Nuclear Technology Agreement in spite of its implications for nuclear proliferation and trade. This time the Indians are likely to hold out for major defense related technology having signalled their capacity and willingness for Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and Multiple Independently Targetted Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) as well as a shift to maritime strategy with interest in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the backdrop to all these developments are several other features of the evolving environment; the existing US extended nuclear deterrence for Japan and South Korea, the tension in the South China Sea, possible NATO expansion in Central Asia, continued US presence in Afghanistan, US BMD deployment, the US push for a Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement and the New Silk Road Concept. These developments, trends and the drivers behind the trends are clear indications of a rebalancing of US policy in Asia. Inevitably this will lead to reappraisals by others as is evident by the recent Russian interest in Pakistan, renewed emphasis by China on its long standing relationship with Pakistan, Russia-China overtures to each other, the greater importance given to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the evolving China-Japan-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Add to this the Russian and Chinese positions on Iran, on Syria, on CentralAsia and Afghanistan and on BMD and you get a sense of the future confrontations and competitions.

Pakistan has to keep this big picture in mind as it formulates strategic policies but the snapshot within the overall picture that should raise Pakistan’s concerns shows the US putting its head together with Delhi and Kabul to coerce its ‘ally’ Pakistan into compliance and if coercion does not work then take more drastic measures as indicated by the ‘losing patience’ remark. The US wants a smooth trouble free exit from Afghanistan and it wants capacity to be built up in the Afghan security forces plus an environment in which this capacity is not challenged. For this the US wants reconciliation so that Taliban are mainstreamed into the political arrangement. Pakistan can play a positive role if the US-Pakistan relationship is quickly stabilized. Failing this the other alternatives are sure to create mayhem and chaos in the region and will not serve US interests at all.The US has to decide whether it wants Pakistan as an ally or as an adversary. Geography must tell India and Afghanistan that Pakistan is their natural ally and that turning it into an adversary is in no one’s interest. Pakistan has to look inwards and take the steps that will indicate to others that it wants allies and not adversaries.

(Spearhead analyses are a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual).

Spearhead Analysis – 08.06.2012