By Imran Malik
President Trumps vicious diatribe against Pakistan has forced a paradigm shift in its policies in the Afghan-Pakistan Region (APR) and beyond. The ingresses made by Iran, India, China and Russia in the region are critically redefining and reshaping it. The region is fast polarizing between US-India and China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan (CRIP- a veritable subset of the SCO) poles.
The proverbial great game is acquiring far more critical dimensions in the region now!
The biggest obstacle to peace and stability in Afghanistan, the APR and the larger South Central Asian Region (SCAR) is the US. It has precious little to show for its sixteen years in the region and its losses in men, materials and costs. The TTA, its nemesis, now controls 40-45% of the country. The ANSF, its protégé, has been a dismal failure too. It has shown no urgency to either egress the region or find a political or a military solution to an essentially lost cause. Rather it appears to be reinforcing one failure after another; aimlessly adding an inconsequential number of troops to its already stressed forces in Afghanistan. It has shown scant will or military acumen to defeat the TTA and has been singularly unsuccessful in coercing or luring them onto the negotiations table; a comprehensive failure of policy- or is it pursuing a deeper strategic design?
The compulsions for the US to remain singularly central to and dominant in the APR are manifold and portend serious strategic connotations.
First, it is currently sitting atop a trillion dollar minerals treasure trove in Afghanistan and will want to exploit it exclusively. It will not leave till the last ounce of Lithium amongst the many other rare minerals has been extracted, processed and exported by its own corporations. Second, from this central position the US can maintain strategic reach and oversight on West, South and Central Asia. Third, it blocks the Russians and the CARs from access to the Mekran Coast/Arabian Sea region. Fourth, it can maintain a strict watch on Iran’s and Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs from here. Fifth, it can deny/ maintain oversight on all inter, intra and trans-regional movements of men, materials, minerals, trade corridors, oil & gas pipelines et al. Sixth, it can keep the larger region destabilized albeit in a state of controllable chaos employing India and the various terrorist groups in Afghanistan for the purpose. Seventh, it can use the APR as a testing ground for its new military technologies/weapon systems like the MOAB and further the cause of its domineering military-industry complex. Eighth, it can maintain its intelligence gathering and communication centers/stations overlooking West, South and Central Asia from here. Ninth, the US might feel compelled to station missile and/or anti ballistic missile forces here sometime in the future. Tenth, and most important of all, it endeavors to neutralize China’s deep maneuver to establish global and regional economic domination (OBOR/CPEC) and to outflank the choke point of the Malacca Straits in one fell swoop!
Having persistently berated Pakistan for its so called “double-dealing” in the war on terror the US is readying a series of coercive measures to “punish” it for its so-called indiscretions.
First, the US could destabilize Balochistan and FATA by instigating and supporting RAW-NDS operations to scuttle the OBOR/CPEC. Two, the US could declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terror, and penalize it hugely in trade, economic, political, diplomatic and military terms. Three, it could get the IFIs to curb their support for Pakistan’s economy. Four, it has actually restarted its drone campaign against “so-called safe havens” in Pakistan violating its territorial sovereignty with ruthless impunity. Five, it can revoke its Major Non-NATO Ally status, although that has been rather redundant in effect. Six, the US has already imposed sanctions stopping the CSF, most economic and all military aid as well. Seven, it may even place restrictions on the movement of some citizens and certain key officials of the Pakistan government.
The worst case scenario could be an attempt to orchestrate the secession of Balochistan from Pakistan. It kills two birds with one stone – cuts Pakistan to size (literally) and destroys/thwarts China’s OBOR/CPEC initiatives. Such a move will have the support of some US Congressmen like Ted Poe, Dana Rohrabacher etc. With superb timing, a RAW controlled and funded Free Balochistan campaign is already gathering pace in Switzerland at this very moment!
The US approach could have two prongs. The first one will target the OBOR/CPEC with the help of the CIA, RAW, NDS, MOSSAD etc. The US will outsource the task to India and its proxies like the IS, TTP, Jamaat ur Ahraar and others from Afghanistan and Iran and the BLA and BRA from within Balochistan. In the garb of attacking so-called terrorist safe havens the US drone strikes in Balochistan and FATA could target nodal points of the CPEC and also provide direct/indirect fire support to the secessionists and terrorists against Pakistan’s Armed Forces.
The second and rather more extreme prong would threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity. The Indo-US Combine could encourage the few dissident Baloch tribal leaders in Europe to unilaterally declare independence of Balochistan and then recognize it. Once it is recognized as an independent state (by other camp followers like India as well) then all actions taken by the Pakistan Armed Forces to regain control and retain the territorial integrity of the country may be seen as aggression against a newly independent state and may, under US instigation, attract international opprobrium, UN/UNSC sanctions and even international military intervention – against a nuclear power?!
On a reciprocal basis, recognition of Khalistan, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orrissa and other Indian states with movements for independence and of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by Pakistan may create far too many complications for the Trump and Modi Administrations to comprehend, much less handle!
Attacking Pakistan’s territorial integrity will evoke compatibly extreme responses from Pakistan. It will invariably suck China, the most unknown factor in this entire equation, into the quagmire taking the whole issue into entirely new dimensions. Do the US and its coterie of allies have the heart for such a (mis)adventure!
The author is a retired Brigadier and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).