South Asian Politics: Impacts of Emerging Basic Changes
By Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Two parallel issues of the region – the exit of US-led foreign Forces from Afghanistan and the near break up of over seven decades of friendship between the United States and Pakistan, have made South Asia a hot cake for political analysts and commentators across the world.
In Afghanistan, America launched a decisive war against the terror groups on 7 October 2001, and after two decades, suddenly declared the withdrawal of its Forces from the country, either without gaining any victory or making them a spent force socially and politically or ensuring postexit arrangements for the future of Afghanistan, pushing the nation towards a stage of civil war, a situation full of chaos, anarchy and uncertainty.
However, in the context, no less serious is the matter of Pakistan’s unilateral declaration, especially by its Prime Minister Imran Khan that now his country no longer requires the help of the United States of America only because it has got a stronger nation, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a real friend who is always ready to assist Islamabad whenever and wherever it desires.
From far away it looks very simple and plain, but in reality, it is not true, particularly in case of Pakistan where American veto has worked well in the last seven decades in installing and toppling the government, if not democratically, with the active help and support of military and its top agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The recent statements of Imran Khan may be a reflection of public mood as China too, has helped Pakistan a lot, keeping in view its own regional and global strategy as one scholar has aptly put it that Pakistan has always been important for big powers as a ‘third party’ and before Beijing, Washington too, had used the nation as its tool in both Cold and post-Cold war periods as China is doing now. By saying so and doing all that suits China most, Beijing is fully using Pakistan but the future- far and near, will show the extent to which Pakistan uses China in its interest.
Beginning of US-Pak military relationship
It’s no secret to anyone that initially the United States, following the division of the Indian Sub-continent, was more interested in establishing and deepening its relations with India, it however, on being disappointed turned to Islamabad in the early 1950s and formed with it military and defence relations with Pakistan in order to check the power and influence of both, Communist USSR and China in the region South Asia and exclusively performed the role assigned by the US in western military strategy that also culminated in Pakistan’s membership of SEATO and CENTO around mid-fifties. As because of its dispute with India, by birth, on number of issues, the Pakistan-US military alliance was felt essential to strengthen Pakistan’s military might vis-à-vis India and the same logic was put forward by the then rulers of Islamabad.
In fact, it was done in line with the spirit of Cold War in which Pakistan was used as a first line of defense against the Soviet’s expansionist designs but it was also used to allay Indian fears. On the other hand, the US also assured India that this military alliance was, in no way, a threat against New Delhi and it did not extend any substantial military help to Pakistan either in 1965 or 1971 and check Islamabad from deploying the military hardware under the terms agreed with India.
Even Just after its creation when Pakistan was in the dire need of economic and military help, the United States refused to oblige Islamabad while some years later when it came within the purview of US calculated designs, it embraced Pakistan and began to assist. The long and initial interactions between Defence Forces of the two countries pave the way for a definite role of military power in Pakistan’s politics and as a result nearly half of its history, it has been ruled by its powerful military and for the first time in 2013 one democratic government completed its term and transferred power to another elected government, but at this juncture, repeat of the history cannot be ruled out.
Extent of China-Pak understanding
It appears that gone are the days when the United States of America remained always ready, regionally and globally, when Pakistan needed its help and every time Islamabad expressed its gratitude towards Washington. But in the last two decades the People’s Republic of China has grabbed the US position and Islamabad has openly began accepting the facts of China-Pakistan realities through public utterances and statements in the legislature.
In this drastic change five factors contributed explicitly; a) Closing of relations between India and United States, b) Warming of China-Pakistan relations c) Unexpected growth of China and becoming the second largest economy of the world after the United States, d) Rise of intense rivalry between US and China for supremacy at regional and global levels and e) Decades old rivalry/enmity between India and China, proving the later stronger than the former.
All these causes taken together reshaped the Foreign Policy of Pakistan in recent years and the US exit from Afghanistan has uncovered the naked truth of regional polarisation which has a direct bearing on world politics or politics of superpower.
On the other hand, the long US engagements in Afghanistan, which proved very costly in the name of eradicating terror with the support of Pakistan, became an open secret in 2017 when American President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of helping terror groups rather than the United States and charged them of telling lies till date. It invited wide reactions in the region and abroad. Consequently, Pakistan has come very close to China and reached a position to defy the US.
Possible regional changes
In comparison to others, two countries of the region – China and Pakistan appear happier because getting together their strength has multiplied in the changed geopolitical situation. China has got an ally who, traditionally worked for the US in last seven decades while Islamabad has gained a friend who is four times stronger than India and who also happens to be enemy of both China and Pakistan. In addition, over the years, China has succeeded in bring a solid difference between Washington and Islamabad and with the help of the latter it has planned to extend its power and influence up to Afghanistan. In the context of a one plus point for them is the friendship of Russia against the US, if not India, with whom Kremlin wants to maintain a working relationship.