The US has thus been forced to redefine and reconstruct its policy towards Asia. By leaving Afghanistan it has moved away from Mackinder’s Heartland, critically losing direct contact with it, and greatly freeing up Russia and China in the process. Historically, the US and its allies had ringed the Heartland (essentially the Warsaw Pact countries) with military bases in Western Europe to the Mediterranean through Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Philippines, Japan, South Korea etc. In the 70s, the USSR breached this ring when it invaded Afghanistan. However, the US-led “free world”, with Pakistan in the forefront, forced the USSR to retreat back into the ring. With the US and its allies now out of Afghanistan-SCAR, a huge gap has emerged in this ring which the Chinese and Russians are exploiting to move South to the Persian Gulf (PG)/Arabian Sea/IOR.
The US egress from Afghanistan/SCAR is unfathomable. If it had wanted to confront China in the IPR then its presence in the APR-SCAR too was crucial. Its potential military operations in the IPR and Indian operations along the LAC would have had to be mutually supporting, synergetic and synchronised to put real, meaningful pressure on China. By hightailing out of the APR-SCAR it has upset the strategic balance in the larger region, much to India’s detriment. Thus, India alone (with Terrorism Central in direct support) will have to deal with the Chinese along the LAC, neutralise Pakistan along the LOC, the Working Boundary and the international border, cope with a potentially unstable base of operations in the IIOJ&KR and control a volatile internal front in a debilitating two-front war scenario. India just does not have the political will, economic clout or the military capacity and capability to meet these challenges.
The US would have got many strategic advantages had it stayed on in Afghanistan, the central and most critical position in the region. It would have continued to occupy China’s flank as its BRI-CPEC moved through Pakistan onto the Makran Coast/Arabian Sea/IOR. It could have exercised oversight and intimate strategic reach over the BRI-CPEC and posed existentialist threats to it as it evolved and ventured further into the CARs, Iran and the GMER. It could have exercised a literal veto over efforts at regional connectivity and economic integration in the GMER-SCAR—one strategic objective of the BRI-CPEC. Terrorism Central could have been launched in more conducive environments. It could have also blocked Russia’s and the CAR’s access to the Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea. It could have threatened any future or potential Sino-Pak military presence on the Makran Coast or Sino-Iranian military presence in the PG with double envelopments—from across the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. And most critically it could have continued having a close oversight on Pakistan’s and Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes. All of the above and more will now be that much more difficult to achieve from over the horizon—from the Arabian Peninsula-Persian Gulf (PG) region or even India.
The Chinese on the other hand have made phenomenal progress while the US wasted its time and energies in unnecessary wars in the GMER. In the current scenario China has clear access to the Makran Coast/Arabian Sea and its presence along the Iranian PG coastline is a done deal. This will give China a very formidable position within the PG and astride the Hormuz Strait through which the bulk of the world’s oil supplies pass daily. Crucially it will nullify, to a very great extent, the effects of any blockades at the Malacca Straits. Any Chinese military presence on the Makran Coast and on the Iranian coastline will cause a pull on the US and its allied forces in the IPR and also draw the USCENTCOM and USAFRICOM into the fray. This will expand the spectrum of any future or potential conflict to over two theatres of war and inevitably draw in countries of the GMER-SCAR and Africa into the battle.
Therein lie the seeds of a potential World War!
Where will Pakistan fit into the US’ potential strategic design for Asia? The die appears to have been cast. US-Pakistan history will yet repeat itself ad nauseum. Pakistan will be made the scapegoat for the US’ ignominious defeat and subjected to crippling sanctions and coercion—a repeat of US policy towards Pakistan post USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan. Section 202 of a bill that has already been placed in the US Congress seeks “an assessment of support by state and non-state actors and the Government of Pakistan for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020 including the provision of sanctuary space, financial, intelligence, medical and logistics support, training, equipping and tactical, operational and strategic direction.” All those determined to have helped the Afghan Taliban will be made to pay the price. Was the US unaware of that during its military campaign or has it only dawned upon it now after conceding defeat at the strategic level? Pakistan will be coerced to secure US interests vis a vis India, Afghanistan and China. It will be required to consign the Kashmir issue to the backburner and loosen its stranglehold on the Indian military to let it pursue US interests against China freely. It will be (t)asked to moderate the Afghan Taliban’s governance and conduct of domestic and international policies. Despite the US’ holy pronouncements Terrorism Central will be employed by hostile intelligence agencies to destabilise the APR-BRI-CPEC at a time of its choosing. The US will want Pakistan to move away from China, stunt the further progression of the BRI-CPEC and deny Russia access to the Arabian Sea/IOR. Furthermore, it will want to deny China sole leadership, stewardship and control over regional connectivity and economic integration in the SCAR-GMER Complex and the multidimensional benefits accruing therefrom.
So, will it be pure coercion, a transactional deal or the same old humiliating carrot-and-stick saga of yore for Pakistan? Whichever way the US decides it will now have to factor in the Sino-Pak strategic partnership in its calculations. That could be the new normal for US-Pak ties.