Implications of ‘US-Afghan Pact’ on Pakistan
The new strategic pact titled “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States”, has redefined the US terms of engagement with Kabul that goes beyond another decade following NATO troops withdrawal in 2014.
The details of the strategic alliance have yet to be released, however, some of the most important salient of how the US will operate after the accord takes effect are: a) US and Afghan troops will live together on joint bases formally operated by the Afghans. b) The US mission for training Afghan soldiers and police will continue until 2017 or so, although for financial reasons, the size of those Afghan troops under US mentorship will shrink after 2014. c) Afghans will have significant influence over US commando for the night raids (mentorship missions). d) An international presence to help with security and development work after the withdrawal deadline. e) The United States will not launch any attacks on a neighbouring country from Afghan soil – good news for Pakistan in the wake of countless drone strikes from across the Durand Line. f) In case of pure chaos, the US has a right to take action even militarily, if any third party interference in Afghanistan affects US interests.
Introspectively speaking, the enduring strategic partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, has far-reaching implications on the geo-political conditions bordering Pakistan. The US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement sends out a loud and clear message to the Taliban-led insurgency that Washington is not leaving the country to the warring factions once again as was the case in the post-Soviet withdrawal scenario. Some of the significant implications are:
1. Keeping a residual US troops next door in the Pakistan’s tribal areas, is the centerpiece to the US interest in the region. Afghanistan offers ideal location, from where it can carry out surveillance of suspected terrorist activity. Political experts in South Asian region believe that the US wants to keep at least 35,000 American troops in Afghanistan even after 2014, on five different locations, including Herat in the west near the Iranian border, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Jalalabad in the east along the Pakistan border and Kandahar in the south. Pakistan, Iran, Russia and other regional powers have expressed concern over the idea of permanent US bases in Afghanistan. Thus, leaving the possibility of a continued US drone campaign coupled with occasional special operations for years to come.
2. Pakistan believes that India is using its influence in Afghanistan to stir trouble in Balochistan by providing weapons and financial assistance to the angry Baloch militants. Islamabad sees India’s strong presence in Afghanistan as a threat to its own security, fearing that New Delhi is trying to bring pressure on Pakistan from both its eastern and western borders. There is strong evidence of Indian support in planning, commissioning and preparing acts of terrorism in Balochistan through setting up of 26 centres of terrorism (consulates) along the western border in Afghanistan. The American presence will surely continue to embolden the RAW operatives in launching operations sporadically to foment unrest in Balochistan.
3. The strategically located Gwadar deep seaport is capturing the attention of the United States as an alternative supply route for the residual army positioned in Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal scenario. In order to achieve this ambition, the US is instigating Baloch diaspora living in the US by letting Congressman Dana Rohrabacher – organise congressional hearing on Balochistan issue, guaranteeing the Americans that the Baloch are natural US allies, and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and would fight the Taliban close to a US war theatre. The coercing India-US nexus is frustrating all the reconciliation and accommodation endeavours forwarded by Islamabad to bring peace in the province. The US nominal deployment beyond 2014 will likely diminish the prospect of bettering inter-provincial and intra-provincial relations within Pakistan.
4. The latest cache of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks contains American diplomats’ fears that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India. According to a US cable to Washington, Pakistan is worried that the US “will drop in and take their nukes”. The US skeleton presence nearby will keep Pakistan under constant threat from US-India collaboration in the wake of ‘Cold start plan’ of India and ‘US contingency Plan’ of Uncle Sam.
5. The United States, due to its strategic interests, is maintaining a heavy military presence in the Indian Ocean. America considers Balochistan as a vital ingredient of her covert strategy of getting control of Asia for obtaining access in Central Asian region, encircling Iran and containing China. The requirement of a base in close proximity of the Persian Gulf may arise in case the United States pulls out its forces from Afghanistan in 2014. In this context, one would not rule out the United States’ desire to have military basing rights at the Gwadar port.
6. Pakistan-China friendship is seen by US and India as a source of threat to its hegemonic intentions therefore, they leave no opportunity in creating a wedge between the two neighbouring countries. The riots in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang (Sinkiang) province of China, has been trickily linked with Pakistani-trained Uighur terrorists from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) supported by al-Qaeda elements in Afghanistan. The US presence in Afghanistan will exert pressure on Pakistan-China time-tested friendship.
7. The US wants to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state and has imposed Iran-Libya Sanctions Act that bars countries from entering into business with Iran exceeding $20 million or more. The energy-starved Pakistan wants to buy gas from Iran. Nonetheless, the US Administration is opposing the $7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan pipeline because it involves Iran, a country US labels as a “rogue state”. The leftover troops in Afghanistan after 2014 along with the presence of America’s fifth fleet based in Bahrain, will enable the US to check Iranian movements and ensure that no country violates Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.
8. To counter Sino-Pak collaboration, India has brought Afghanistan and Iran into an economic and strategic alliance by building Chabahar port in Iran. India’s objectives are to impede China from projecting its power in the Arabian Sea, which India wants to have as its exclusive domain, and also at the same time, to prevent Pakistan from offering safe transit routes to the Central Asian Republics, So while the US is making this ‘the sphere of influence’, India is encircling Pakistan and China, and Pakistan is trying to get its circle back. All are attempting to make new Silk routes and playing new games.