Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
IT’S commonly believed that in order to demonstrate its Indian obsession, Washington seems to irrationally curtail its regional role in South Asia at a time when its global role has already been declining. Christopher Layne, distinguished Professor of International Affairs and Robert M. Gates Chair in National Security at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, argues that global power is shifting from West to East, leading to an American decline in influence and loss of global dominance. Those who support this notion often table the following grounds or arguments.
Due to its policies in the Middle East and Latin America, America lost its soft power influence over other countries. At home, the state of permanent impasse in Congress is making it extremely difficult to make any progress in making decisions or reforming outdated and often counterproductive laws. Some even compare the United States with the British Empire, referring to its collapse a century ago. But, at the very least, this viewpoint suggests that America has lost the favour of many countries. Meanwhile, China has reached the status of a great power and globalization has become omnipresent.
Stephen Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, argues that “the real issue is whether developments at home and overseas are making it harder for the United States to exercise the kind of dominant influence that it did for much of the later half of the 20th century.” According to this view, the United States is not declining and is still one of the most powerful countries in the world, but its capacity to lead global order has been diminished due to the array of domestic and foreign policy failures. The post Cold War international affairs culture endorses this truth.
In his book “The China Choice”, Hugh White fleshes this out with three arguments. First, ‘as India emerges as a great power in its own right…its aim will be to maximise its own power, not support America’s.’ Second, ‘the stronger India becomes, the less it will need America to help balance China.’ And third, ‘the stronger China is relative to India, the more cautious Delhi will be about sacrificing its interest in a good relationship with Beijing.’ To examine this emerging American-Indian geopolitical landscape , three factors determine the scope of this relationship: Firstly because they saw that benefits might accrue from being seen as valuable partners; secondly because the success and consequent emboldening of a regional hegemon would threaten them in the future; and thirdly, perhaps also because they had some commitment to, and interest in, basic norms of international conduct, such as preservation of the territorial status quo. It is not hard to see how each of these three dynamics could characterize a future Asian conflict. China’s heft works both ways: it dissuades middle powers from exposing themselves to a US-China fight. India has a wide range of interests at stake in its relationship with China and India cannot afford to subordinate those interests to the concerns of America or Japan, or Australia.’
The first part may be partly true, but the second is less clear. India might well bandwagon in some areas becoming gradually more interoperable with the US, and balance in others, continuing to work at odds with Washington on, say, trade or climate change. Up to a point, one can indeed disaggregate these different economic/diplomatic and security/military elements. While many security and foreign policy analysts criticized US President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan policy for lacking a clear-cut strategy, Trump’s Afghanistan policy and Washington’s obsession towards India has the potential to alter the geopolitical balance in the volatile region, thereby making peace incompatible with regional dynamics. It is logical to think that Pakistan considered India the main enemy, and knowing that the US wanted India to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, it was logical that Islamabad would get closer to Beijing. “Pakistani authorities think that cooperating with China would be more useful for them in this scenario than working with the US. China, too, is supporting Pakistan on all regional and international forums,” the expert underlined.
No wonder then, that there are renewed calls within the US to restore a workable relationship with Pakistan. As the conservative US think tank, Hudson Institute put it in a recent report. A New Approach to Pakistan, “the Trump Administration should both publicly and privately maintain avenues for Pakistan to become a US ally, as well as trade and investment partner, in the future”.The latest developments show the new US strategy, which seeks a bigger role for Pakistan’s archrival India in the conflict, would drag South Asia towards more peace chaos. Significantly, India’s smaller South Asian neighbours are fast moving towards developing closer relationships with China. Although this is generally perceived as an anti-India phenomenon, the reality is that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are looking up to China as a new guarantor of help in the face of the US’ heavy-handed approach towards them.
Antoine Levesques, IISS Research Associate for South Asia, expected China to play a more ‘pro-active’ role in Afghanistan into 2018, foremost diplomatically. But this posture would be conditioned by security developments in the country; details within, or any evolutions of, the US strategy’s framework; the outcome of Trump’s planned visit to Beijing; and China’s willingness to take greater risks, including on promoting Afghan reconciliation. The real irony about Trump’s segregating South Asia policy lies in Washington’s blunt denial of seeking peace priorities as compared to its twisted perusal of strategic interests with India, thereby making US’s fragile role in South Asian affairs.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.