THE advent of new cold war seems on the cards. Its main contenders would be US, China and Russia.
When last cold war ended in late 80s, battleground was Afghanistan from where Russia could attempt to reach warm waters. The denial of access to Russia was a US strategic objective. A protracted proxy war followed in which US emerged out a winner. For Russia, it turned out a bleeding wound and finally an ignominious retreat which triggered its disintegration and erosion of its might worldwide. Pakistan was US’s most allied ally. India was a bystander only. Pakistan played a key role of frontline state to end cold war eventually between two giants.
Notwithstanding other global dimensions, in new cold war, main contention remains same; a land access to warm waters to US’s newly emerged competitors. Now it is through Pakistan; CPEC. China is its major stakeholder and beneficiary. Russia also stands to reap its benefit considerably. True to an all-time fact in international relations; only interests are eternal, not friends, US has changed the setting with new cast in the region. Afghanistan is the base where it intends to keep its presence for foreseeable future. India is its chief collaborator and has been bestowed upon a cart blanche by US to do its mischief against Pakistan particularly, in relation to CPEC which would ultimately, serve its cause to interdict CPEC thus, denying a smooth access to its global competitors to an all-weather deep sea port at Gwader. It is no less strategic objective than time of previous cold war in case of Russia. In new scheme, virtually Pakistan is a foe for US or at best an indispensable country in order to maintain its troops in Afghanistan logistically.
This all is no farfetched idea. One could find its sum and substance in latest statement of US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis. For US, terrorism is no more a number one priority. Now Priority One is to counter rapidly expanding China militarily, economically and politically along with increasingly becoming an aggressive Russia. US’s national security strategy also singles out China and Russia as competitors which have emerged to challenge American power, influence and interests. Advancement of American influence globally is one of the cardinal principles, documented in the said strategy. A superpower attains such objective by either of two ways or combination of both. One, increase its own influence. Two, retard pursuits of its rivals to bolster their influence. Trade through CPEC by China and Russia would enhance their economic and political interests manifold. It is implausible to think that US would fold its hands and watch silently. Given conditions, it would definitely try to disrupt its artery; CPEC at its each stage.
Besides elimination of Al-Qaeda, US presence in Afghanistan has continually been seen, aimed at containment of China and Russia. With decimation of Al-Qaeda core in region, there seems no purpose other than aforesaid because its deeds do not match with its professed purpose of its stay in Afghanistan. At the time of Zarb-e-Azb, it was prudently expected that in the wake of Pakistani thrust against terrorists in North Waziristan, their escape to Afghanistan will be blocked by NATO Forces. It was their onerous responsibility but they chose not to do it. Instead run away terrorist groups found refuge in safe havens across Pak-Afghan border under patronage of Indian RAW in league with Afghan NDS. The US turned blind eye. Still there is no curb on them. Pakistan is under constant threat of terrorism emanating from there. India is also continuously engaged in funding and abetting anti state activities inside Baluchistan with underling prime objective of thwarting CPEC.
India is also undermining strategic stability of South Asia by unchecked brutalization of people of Indian occupied Kashmir and incessant violations of ceasefire along line of control/working boundary. In context of a military conflict between Pakistan and India, main preoccupation of US administration is only about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. They eagerly expect from Pakistan to continuously demonstrate that it is a responsible steward of its nuclear assets. On top of all this, mantra of Do More constrains ability of Pakistan to confront its own problems particularly of those, arising of its fight against terrorism for international cause of security.
In Afghanistan, US has refused to take ownership of its actions; neither against Russian occupation nor against Taliban on name of terrorism. They washed their hands off after Russian withdrawal and left Afghanistan to suffer at hands of ensuing civil strife. Now again Afghanistan is in ruins. Trump has stubbornly refused to build Afghanistan rather, he is inclined to resort to military force and escalation of conflict with no accompanying political and diplomatic strategy. It would only produce violence, not a political solution. US shows no substantive interest in effective border management from Afghan side and repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. Afghan government is marred with incapacity to govern, ineffective Armed Forces and rampant corruption. Illicit drug trafficking is on boom and economy on doom. Last but not the least, surge of Daesh in Afghanistan with alleged support of US. From above, one could hardly desist to think that all is being tailor made to buffet the region with violence, turmoil and instability. Probably it suits to altered priority of the US to counter China and Russia as aforementioned.
— The writer, retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.