By: Imran Malik
The geopolitical landscape of the AfPak Region (APR) and South Central Asian Region (SCAR) is about to undergo a massive transformation. As the US/Nato/Isaf combine prepares to egress, new regional alignments are emerging with serious geopolitical, economic and strategic connotations. This change is manifested by two dynamic events with global implications.
Firstly, Pakistan and China have closed a deal on Gwadar.
Secondly, unconvinced of the energy alternatives offered by the US, Pakistan has formalised an agreement and understanding with Iran on the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project, a $4 billion oil refinery at Gwadar and 1,000 MW of electricity – much to the consternation of the US and its allies.
Is Pakistan pre-empting another US desertion – a la 1989?
The US policy failure in the APR and the SCAR is apparent. Its writ has clearly weakened, its Afghan campaign has gone awry and its driven urgency to egress is symptomatic of its defeatist mindset.
Terrorism still thrives and rudderless attempts at negotiations with the Taliban appear stillborn. The overall Afghan internal situation stays unresolved. India – its “potential plenipotentiary” – is not even remotely relevant to the APR much less in control of it. It just wretchedly wallows on the periphery waiting pitiably for glory and greatness to be thrust upon it.
The US is thus set to lose its most dominating and central position in the SCAR – Afghanistan.
The remnants of the US/Nato/Isaf (13,000 to 14,000 troops) and mercenaries like Blackwater, Xe will not be enough to secure Western interests in the region. However, in cahoots with the CIA-MI6-RAW-MOSSAD-NDS combine their capacity and reach to create mischief would still be significant and multidimensional. Their collective main aim could, thenceforth, be to deny this strategic space (Afghanistan, APR) to any regional power or bloc – China, Russia or the SCO.
Furthermore, they will move to keep the region destabilised, create fissures within it, generate upheavals, stoke uprisings, encourage terrorist activities, cause wanton destruction and widespread mayhem and challenge the emergence of a unified regional alignment or bloc. They will try to sabotage the various efforts that the regional countries make to integrate their respective economies through mutually beneficial joint projects. They will raise the tempos to destabilise Pakistan and Iran even further.
As an unintended consequence of these developments (Gwadar and IP), the US-Israeli decision on Iran could be ominously hastened.
Pakistan, however, will be their main quarry. And the battlefields will be Pakistan at large, Karachi and Balochistan in particular.
The US and its allies must be viewing this convergence of Chinese, Pakistani and Iranian strategic and economic interests in Gwadar and Balochistan with extreme trepidation. In one fell swoop, the Straits of Hormuz and the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) to and from the Persian Gulf have come under Chinese oversight.
Furthermore, regional economies are getting integrated “independent” of Western influence and domination. The prospects of a network of oil and gas pipelines (IP, even TAPI) flowing from the Middle East (ME) and CARs to Pakistan and China are that much brighter now. However India, due to its shortsighted policies, might end up losing access to all fossil fuel pipelines and trade routes to Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, CARs, Russia and Europe – even Xinjiang, western China.
The US administration will react according to its laws on the issue and the reality of Israeli lobbies and political dynamics within its body politic. It will exert pressures through at least five tiers – the United Nations, the European Union, allies like the Arab states, Japan, Australia, India, etc, bilaterally itself and through international financial institutions like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund et al. It is likely to pend its own bilateral sanctions till the Afghan imbroglio is conclusively brought to a closure and the US/Nato/Isaf combine has safely egressed from the region. Thereafter, it is likely to start turning the screw itself, too.
Pakistan is thus likely to face multidimensional pressures for the “sins” of Gwadar and the IP gas pipeline. However, it would be wary of the efforts of these foreign intelligence agencies to further destabilise it.
Karachi, its economic hub, is already under relentless terrorist attacks – foreign inspired, aided, and funded. Gwadar and the IP will receive particular attention, too.
RAW has its “consulates” along the Pak-Afghan border and will react with customary bitterness.
MOSSAD, which infiltrated the Jundullah posing as CIA, will be super active particularly along the Iran-Pakistan border.
CIA-MI6-NDS will have their own axes to grind.
All activities for further development of Gwadar and the IP project will come under severe terrorist attacks. Diplomatic and economic pressures, too, will be generated. The Western think-tanks and known hawks on the Balochistan issue will be encouraged to hold conferences and mould international opinion favourably.
Pakistan, therefore, must brace itself to foil these inimical interior and exterior manoeuvres.
Pakistan needs to set its own house in order first. Elections and transfer of power must be expeditious and peaceful. The new government should engage the terrorists directly and with a clear end in mind. The Law Enforcement Agencies (police, rangers, FC etc) must be further trained, reorganised and special counterterrorist units be raised within them.
A series of battalion/wing strength cantonments be built along the length of the IP from which the LEAs could sally forth to patrol and secure the areas.
A special aviation task force, comprising an RPV unit as well as a heliborne quick-reaction force, should be created to deter and crush all subversive activities against Gwadar or IP. The capacities of our intelligence agencies must be enhanced appropriately.
Concurrently, Pakistan must launch a pre-emptive diplomatic offensive to assuage the concerns of the Arabs, the European Union and the US. It should seek to act as a bridge between the Arabs and Iran.
The port of Gwadar and the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline are clearly in Pakistan’s supreme national interests and must be pursued. Pakistan, China and Iran should continue efforts to integrate other regional countries into a mutually beneficial multidimensional bloc as well.
All said and done, Pakistan must stay the course – come what may!
The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org