Pakistan is at the heart of Strategic Politics in South Asia
by Umar Hayat
The strategic importance of Pakistan is unique as it bridges important regions like Middle East, CARs, South Asia and Southeast Asia having common borders with China, India, Iran and Afghanistan. It also bridges energy abundant Middle East and Iran and energy wanting China and India. China. Pakistan offers the shortest route of 2600 kilometers as compared to Iran (4500 kilometers) or Turkey (5000 kilometers) to CARs. China with its fastest economic growth finds way to Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea through Korakaram as her own port is 4500 kilometers away from Sinkiang while Gawader is only 2500 kilometers away. Gawader port with its deep waters attracts the trade ships of China, CARs and ASEAN Countries. This geostrategic placing of Pakistan offers her relevance of multidimensional strategic significance which, if availed optimally, will minimize Pakistan’s dependence on others. Beside economic related vitality and vivacity, Pakistan resides on the overlap of so called Chinese ‘String of Pearls Strategy’ against India and the US ‘C Strategy’ for containment of China. Pakistan, therefore, enjoys dual relevance with China i.e. making ‘String of Pearls’ effective for denying territorial access to India with other parts of the world and prevent closure of the shackles of US ‘C Strategy’ allowing China to maintain her connect with Middle East and Africa. In addition, China will retain leverage of alternate routes through Pakistan if the supplies through Straits of Malacca are severed to China due to any reason. Some analysts term willing cooperation of China with Pakistan in the nuclear energy sector as a strategic move to prevent Pakistan’s tilt to US which was apprehended due to commencement of meaningful Ministerial level Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and US in March 2010. While Pakistan’s significance to the US for desired solution of Afghanistan problem, elimination of menace of terrorism by Al Qaeda / Taliban from the world and energy related ventures from CARs needs no explanation, the clutches of her ‘C Strategy’ cannot be hinged around China without Pakistan being its part. India alone, while exponentially beneficial in economic domains will not be useful for effectual containment of China. Some analysts argue that realizing this significance, the US will make all out endeavours for effecting Pakistan’s tilt in her favour. Kerry-Lugar Act and engagement of Pakistan through strategic dialogue were the initial steps for the manifestation of this approach. Besides that, Pakistan also enjoys unique significance by serving as a model for Islamic democracy which can be replicated by the US and west in the Middle East. Pakistan is equally significant to India as well. Although India is not a water locked country, yet her virtual territorial access to rest of the world remains through Pakistan. Not only territorial access but water routes through immediate sea to Middle East and Africa would remain under Pakistan’s influence too; albeit with collaboration of others. Furthermore, India’s intentions of competing with China are not likely to yield due dividends till the time Pakistan is not on board under the patronage of the US.
India’s idea of normalizing relations with Pakistan particularly in the realm of trade is chiefly driven by the fact that India needed territorial access with rest of the world through Pakistan as every out ward economic overture is not feasible through deep seas. The argument is also supported by the growing realization in India that her diplomatic-military coercion against Pakistan did not yield desired outcomes. The recent statement of Indian foreign minister about importance of normalization of relations with Pakistan and Indian PM’s statement of “My job is done if India-Pakistan ties normalized: Manmohan” (The Nation, April 17, 2011) legitimize this view point. Above and beyond enjoying significance in bilateral domain, Pakistan is also one of the pivotal pillars in the strategic quadrilateral relationship in South Asia involving China, India, the US and Pakistan with both regional and wider implications. This relationship while accrues abundant positivity is impacted chiefly by India–Pakistan conflict over Kashmir and US-India energy cooperation, ongoing involvement of the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Sino-US competing interests in the region and strain in the Sino–Indian relationship. Viewing the region’s volatility and its location in her traditional strategic backyard, China sees its South Asian interests firmly linked with Pakistan. Hence Pakistan would rather stand significant to China where US attempts to befriend India or other South and Southeast Asian countries are a matter of suspicion to China. There is widely agreed understanding in the context of the strategic quadrilateral relationship in South Asia that while Pakistan remains unstable, it will be difficult for the Indo–US relationship to take any great leaps forward. It, therefore, becomes increasingly clear that Pakistan will remain at the heart of strategic politics in South Asia for foreseeable future the least.
With such degree of significance with all important players of the today’s world, it is time for Pakistan to play its cards wisely targeting long term gains. Pakistan should not squander opportunities to cash on her geostrategic placing and multidimensional strategic relevance. Pakistan and China should plan certain mega projects like construction of dams and railway track between China and Pakistan, KKH repair / maintenance, functioning of the Gwadar Port etcetera allowing presence of Chinese in these areas. Such collaboration will raise the prospects of more robust Chinese support for Pakistan and force India to deploy large troops in Kashmir and rough terrain of her border areas with China. On the pretext of increased Indian troops in Kashmir, Pakistan would be able to justify shifting of her troops from western border which will pull strategic strings on the US. With this pull felt, US may play an effective role for Kashmir solution because the US, while in the process of drawdown from Afghanistan and the heat of elections on, cannot afford losses at this juncture. Such a move will, thus, enhance Pakistan’s strategic relevance vis-à-vis US. In tandem, the platform of strategic dialogue with the US which gives hopes and offers a range of opportunities to cease the moment and change things around in the context of long term Pakistan-US relationship and stability in the region should be availed judiciously. In-spite of the upheavals in the history of Pakistan-US relationship, both sides felt that strategic relationship has the potential to be carried forward in the 21st century. The US has realized that her ‘objective’ in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without Pakistan’s active support and assistance. Hence Pakistan’s appearance on the US strategic thinking will remain prominent at least for a while, both for the objective of an ‘honourable’ extrication from the Afghan quagmire and the consolidation of her influence in the region. Pakistan has, thus, the opportunity to capitalize on need of the US for sustaining her interests above and beyond Afghanistan, making it genuinely strategic both for domestic and regional level consequences. A team comprising experts from defence, finance, foreign affairs and social sciences, if so constituted, can explore possibilities offered by our strategic significance in the region. The team should formulate an independent strategic framework for Pakistan after a thorough review of the global and regional environment. The team should be led by someone with penchant for details and a feel for the future. This way Pakistan may steer to get the best out of the offered opportunities rather than looking towards allies and depending upon them to protect Pakistan’s interests.
The author is an M Phil Scholar with interest in strategic issues and nuclear politics. He has intensive experience in the disaster management. He has been working with the United Nation at Sierra Leone and DR Congo. He also worked at Ministry of Interior as Director National Crisis Management Cell. Presently, he is working as Director at Ministry of Education and Trainings.