Why the Urgency
While I continue to hold the view that Trump’s current policy towards Pakistan may well be a bluff, if a bluff is called, it often has to be lived up to. Moreover, Tillerson’s recent visit has merely served to reinforce this possibility.
The fact that the politico-military leadership of Pakistan broke fresh ground by showing a united front, I am told is to GHQ’s credit. However, political rhetoric regarding Pakistan’s alternative options are for public consumption. The reality is that neither our foreign, nor our economic policy has done anything over the past few decades to add to our options. This threat posed by Trump and party makes it imperative for us to review our options and begin to work on viable alternatives.
An Overview of the Unfolding International Geopolitical Scene
We are passing through a unique period of human history. Throughout history, empires have waned, permitting others to wax. While we witnessed the emergence of a Bi-polar World after WW II and the fall of one of the empires in the 1980s, but never before has a waxing empire begun to take over from a waning one; before it waned?
Since China has begun to take over the US’ status of the largest importer of the world, which it should complete in a year or two and, therefore, the country that has the most economic influence over the globe, the US is constrained to respond to the challenge.
Meantime, speculations are rife about the Chinese Yuan becoming an alternative internationally accepted currency of exchange. The Saudi kingdom’s outreach to Russia and China are viewed by some American analysts as confirmation of this possibility. Were this to transpire, it would spell doom for the US.
With a 14 Trillion Dollar debt, the US economic survival is linked to the Dollar being the accepted currency for most nations to save in and for most international interstate transactions. If the dollar loses this status, the US loses its global economic dominance, the military dominance will end even quicker thereafter.
In this scenario, the US has two options. First, to take the road that Trump promised in his election campaign i.e. look inwards and consolidate. Had this option been followed, The US waning might well have been delayed long enough for the world to again see a bipolar period.
However, this is an ‘unambitious’ course and, while the US ‘Establishment’ may be incompetent but it is not unambitious. Unlike us, in the US there is a very powerful, influential, and stubborn establishment—-it really is The Deep State. It seems it has convinced Trump to take the only other option available i.e. to try preventing China from waxing. Without a Mutually Assured Destruction option, this is most unlikely to happen but, China’s waxing could be delayed.
However, adopting this option is not without consequences. The US attempts to contain China are bound to result in destabilizing the entire globe. That is what the world is witnessing today. Our region, Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Central Asia are, or soon will be victims here. This, by no means implies that there aren’t other destabilizing factors in all regions; there are. But they contribute. The main culprit is the US.
If you view every single instability in the globe today through the above stated prism, you will find a connection each time; tenuous, but real. For instance, even the Rohingya problem in Myanmar is generally accepted to be Saudi-created, at US behest. Apparently, Saudis exported the Islamic extremism which gave birth to this issue. And did so, not only because of the oil that China wants from Myanmar, but also because an oil pipeline to the Chinese province, Yunnan, runs via Myanmar. Those interested, may refer here: http://www.voltairenet.org/article198141.html.
While this fact in itself is sufficient to keep the globe destabilized, it is an international misfortune that various regional powers and actors have their own interests in mind and, whenever one of their interests coincides with the interests of a global actor; US or China, or Russia, which is reasserting itself, a realignment occurs, however temporary.
However, since this paper seeks to reassess Pakistan’s options, it will focus on activities that impact us.
I was asked for a suggested Position Paper on Afghanistan. Since that paper sought suggestions on Pakistan’s Afghan policy, it omitted a [possible] modification of US policy on Afghanistan. So far, all assumptions, including those in my background to the suggested policy paper, were based on the fact that US actually wants a peaceful, stable Afghanistan.
However, if containment of China is now the US’ paramount interest, a peaceful Afghanistan may no longer be in US interests. Even though Trump seems apparently indifferent to the future of alliances like NATO, it is unlikely that the US will go further in jeopardizing international relations than is necessary. Therefore, it may well be in US interests that a low intensity conflict, LIC, continue to bedevil Afghanistan; thereby justifying the prolongation of US military presence in Afghanistan.
It is becoming obvious that our politico-military relationship has realized that a) a secure and peaceful Afghanistan is among our prime national interests and that b) this can only happen if we facilitate Afghans to chart THEIR OWN FUTURE. While the US appears to agree but, it is obvious that it still wants to decide which course is in the interests in Afghanistan.
While this is reflective of the US arrogance, it also demonstrates its indifference, if not desire, to keep Afghanistan destabilized. One supportive indicator to this is that, despite the reported mineral wealth in Central Asia and Afghanistan, no American lobby has gotten involved in trying to gain access to them, in recent years.
If this be so, it opens up a whole new ball-game. Even in earlier articles, I explained the US’ dilemma and why CPEC had to be sabotaged on behalf of the US by India by waging a Hybrid War against us. But, if containing China is paramount, then China must be surrounded by unrest.
Like Myanmar, Saudi Islamic extremism will willingly enter the affray in Central Asia; or create an affray that didn’t exist. Perhaps the Pakistani apprehension that US is, like in Syria and Iraq, permitting the IS to grow in Afghanistan, is not just a conspiracy theory. From there to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and thence on to Kirgizstan, even Kazakhstan. And multi-directionally into Xinkiang, China.
With various factions of Taliban holding sway over 40% of the land mass, in southern Afghanistan, east of Kabul and in IS north of Kabul, and Ghani ruling Kabul, ensuring the spread of LIC within and from Afghanistan should pose no problems.
Meantime, with the manner in which Mulla Mansoor was killed by the US, ensured two repercussions: a) many Pakistanis and Afghan citizens, as well as the American publicare convinced that Pakistan still provides safe havens to Afghan Taliban and b) Afghan Taliban have a niggling doubt that Pakistan might have had a role to play in the demise of Mansoor. Consequently, Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban has visibly waned; which was the US’ aim.
Despite knowing this fact to be true, the US refrain asking Pakistan to do more is a deliberate effort to undermine Pak-Afghan relations and particularly, to bring the Pakistan army to disrepute.
But, if all this is true, the implications are enormous. This means that, unless we can convince Trump to change his mind on destabilizing the region to contain China, there neither is, nor is there scope for finding common grounds in the future on Afghanistan, between the US and Pakistan.
The upside is that, if my assessment of Trump, which many subscribe to, is correct and therefore a) there is nothing that is NOT on the table and b) that Trump is still governed by “what’s in it for me—–in this case, me meaning the US”, then there is still scope to change his mind.
I believe that if we could sell this to Mattis, we will have succeeded, since he heads the hardline ‘establishmentarians’ in Trump’s team. However, this may be an extremely hard sell. I think we need to target Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law, and Trump’s economic team led by billionaire John A. Paulson.
The animosity between Arabs and Iranians is generations old, so much so that KSA sided with Iraq when it invaded Iran in late 1970s. That between the House of Saud and Iran is far more venomous and the UAE stands with the Saudis.
In Obama’s second term, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia were certainly cooling off and even Israel seemed to be losing its hold on US policy. Trump’s assumption of office has turned the clock back and, once again, US relations with KSA can be described ‘as thick as thieves’. So much so, that on KSA’s requirement US has estranged itself from Qatar, which houses the largest US base in Middle East.
While the US establishment’s vehement opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, which is also the joint desire of KSA and Israel, played an important part, Mohammed bin Salman’s masterly manipulation of the US and the manner he sweetened the pot of the arms deal between the two countries, must be appreciated.
Mohammed bin Salman is a very wily fellow who must not be underestimated. He even has plans to liberalize KSA. In this, the liberalization is likely to be cosmetics rather than real. However, it is between him and the Prince of UAE, Hamdan bin Mohammed, that all devious plots are finalized and executed.
It was again Muhammed bin Salman who sent the Saudi King to Moscow, which raised eyebrows. However, this outreach could more easily be explained away as a discussion on Syria. Moscow is seen by many as a go-between for Beijing. That was the real reason for the Saudi King’s visit to Moscow.
Any Saudi outreach to Beijing would have rung alarm bells the world over. By going to Moscow, Riyadh allayed any suspicions Washington might have had and yet, made contact with Beijing. KSA is learning how to butter its toast on both sides.
The upshot is that, while the Saudi invasion of Yemen goes on, and the war in Syria is slowly but surely, tilting in favor of Bashar Al Asad, the Middle East has, more or less, aligned itself. KSA and UAE, original allies of Israel, with Jordan, Kuwait, and Egypt—–have allied themselves against Iran, Qatar, and Turkey, supported by Russia.
While China is, so far, a bystander, if Moscow has decided to support one group, it is not without consulting Beijing. Which was also one reason for KSA reaching out to Beijing via Moscow. It is also why the view that Riyadh might be the first country to succumb to the lure of Yuan instead of the Petro-Dollar is gaining ground.
The bottom line of this perusal of Middle Eastern affairs is that the ME is likely to remain a disturbed, insecure region, for the foreseeable future.
Russia and Central Asia
Sino-Russian relations have improved enormously. Essentially because both have found common ground on many aspects i.e. both countries are targets of US’ “containment policy”. Moreover, both have a prime interest in the stability of neighboring Central Asia. If, as I surmise that containment by the US will include the deliberate effort to import and/or foster and assist existing Islamic extremism, both countries are directly affected.
Their relationship has been cemented in numerous ways; not the least by the inking of a 470 billion dollar deal for China to receive oil from Russia. The mutual interest in Central Asia and very live concern about the growth of Islamic extremism has ensured that Russia also become an interested party in CPEC.
While both Russia and China think of Central Asia as their backyard, Russia’s interest is more personal. These countries were erstwhile members of the USSR. But the precipitation of Russia’s increasing interest in CPEC has another basis. The Russian Eurasian Corridor via Ukraine is under direct threat of interdiction by rebels. Like Pakistan (in Balochistan), Ukraine is also being subjected to a Hybrid War targeting Russian commerce.
Meantime, China has already built a rail link to UK and is now seeking another access to mainland Europe via Iran, Georgia and Turkey. While this route to Europe is circuitous for Russia and, therefore, more expensive, CPEC is not.Thus Russia’s renewed interest in Pakistan as well.
Some Random Thoughts
Since I do not intend here, to review the entire globe, which also needs a revisit, I list below some points that also deserve to be borne in mind.
- This paper will be incomplete without mention of India. While Modi rules, it should be called “Modi’s India”, because under Modi it has a particularly vindictive and venomous hue towards Pakistan. This may become permanent if he rules long enough but at least, for the duration of his rule, this should be permanent. US desire to strengthen India to balance China may never succeed but, it is likely to make India a real regional power in the near future, both economically and militarily. The Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, LEMOA, and the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, DTTI (the agreements that have been inked between US and India) are extraordinary documentsgiving India a status hitherto denied even to Israel. I have expressed my views on the subject earlier also in detail. If we continue to ignore the threats which will result from these, in a decade or so, we might be out of the competition.
- Iran continues to be isolated by the US on behest of its ME allies; Israel, KSA, and UAE. Iran is also not too happy with us. Not merely because we are still suspected of supporting Afghan Taliban. We have also been lax in getting the IP oil pipeline going. Despite the fact that it has Chahbahar, a port neighboring our Gwadar, Chahbahar has little to offer by way of competition to Gwadar. Moreover, Iran’s earnings are also considerably dependent on sale of its oil. And China, despite signing the huge oil deal with Russia still wants more and Iran is a prime candidate. It is obvious, therefore, that Iranwould jump at an offer to join CPEC and both China and Iran are mutually interested in an oil pipeline from Iran. If India does not wish to join the IP pipeline project, China would be happy to do so.
- NATO has also been placed under threat by the US. The threat may not be imminent, may never actually be carried out, but it has necessitated a rethink by European powers of their future relationship (and dependence) on the US. Germany and France are leading this process but, even the permanent foster child of the US, the UK is having second thoughts. Former British diplomats meet often and, on many occasions express their views on foreign policy——to their government. However, recently a meeting of these diplomats issued a public rebuke to their government on its subservience to the US; which they felt was not in British interests.
- Australia is a well-off country but has little interest in exerting hard or soft power beyond its immediate sphere of interest. However the nether regions of the Pacific and the entire Indian Ocean is their area of interest. While Australia has no opposition to the US efforts to contain China in the South Pacific Seas, it does view US destabilization of this area with concern. Australia has the means and the interest to invest in countries like Pakistan on the Indian Ocean.
Thoughts on Foreign Policy Formulation
Pakistan’s most urgent foreign policy challenge lies in the fact that, virtually, the entire globe has accepted our villainy. We have been tried and found guilty by the US-led western media. Since the US media has global outreach, its anti-Pakistan narrative has been bought in all corners and is being resold from all corners.
Consequently, any effort on our part to develop and sell counter narratives has no buyers. The real question, therefore is, how to find or create buyers of the truth; our counter narrative? Many years ago, I got a tip in this context from a senior diplomat. He said, “the greater the number of allies you have, the greater the number of countries interested in buying and marketing your narratives and, the greater the number of sources this support comes from, the more likely it is to be believed”. He went on to add, “the staunchest allies will be those who have a stake in the future of your country”.
If CPEC is our greatest asset, perhaps, if we have diverse sources of investment therein, we could overcome this problem.
If my review is correct, Ashraf Ghani may well be suited to right the ills of Afghanistan but, like Karzai before him, is hamstrung by the US interference. And, if I am correct, US may be intent on destabilizing Afghanistan as a means to the actual end i.e. destabilizing China’s western province of Xinkiang through its sizable Uighur population and thus deny it the benefits of CPEC.The possibility of dissuading Trump from pursuing this course by tempting him with a portion of the goodies in Central Asia and Afghanistan needs a broader discussion and, if recommended, its methodology worked out. But, if Trump and US are the spoilers in this, one way of forcing their hand AND win Afghan approval could be if we go public in our demand that the US empower Ghani. Perhaps hold a high profile seminar on Pak-US-Afghan Relations, inviting the US Ambassador as chief guest and in his presence indict the US (by only one speaker, and I volunteer for this job, if desired) for wanting to destabilize Afghanistan by undercutting Ghani.