U.S. Policy Towards South Asia: Neither Vision Nor Insight
Apart from other points of tension and rivalries in Asia, for the time being, we may concentrate on South Asia in the context of strategic moves by Washington, Beijing, Moscow apart from other Asian powers like India, Japan and regional powers like Iran and Central Asian states, with our concern being the subcontinent, and Saarc, which also includes Afghanistan, with China very keen to join it, to have another forum to show its wealth and muscle. We missed the boat in making something out of SAARC with a Baniya like miserly policy in trade matters.|
But I would only like to add my thoughts on the situation in Afghanistan, which is very crucial to the security and well-being of Central, South West, and South Asia. It is nauseating to listen to so-called experts paraded on India's corporate channels reiterating again and again as if the heavens would fall, as and when America withdraws from Pakistan. This is Washington's view which has been sold out and reiterated repeatedly by these ignoranti, including former Indian diplomats specially those who were posted to USA. One very well dressed looks like very affluent and prosperous Armitage who had threatened Pres Musharraf to bomb Pakistan back to Stone Age. (They have Afghanistan to stone and heroin age seeping into Pakistan and even Indian Punjab.) There is a speechless tongue tied fake Aslan. Why is he always there? Then there is a charioteer winding his way through almost everywhere international problem, with one bigoted country experience of Islam, a very wide, vast rich and complex religion. Sometimes we have others equally weighty experts, who sold their integrity and honesty as 'Ambassadors in Residence' in various universities in the United States. USD 40,000 bribes per month and good-looking steno -secretary will elicit all that they remember of what they had seen in the GOI top-secret files. Not that the Americans now need it with the control over commutations like e-mail and other means of communication as exposed by Snowden. Just rechecking!
Let us return to the situation in Asia, especially Afghanistan. I had written an article more than four years ago on 9 July 2010. Some extracts below.
Confusion at the End of Afghanistan Tunnel! http://cms.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=6803
9 July 2010.
"--Stakeholders in Afghanistan
The Kingdom of Afghanistan was accepted as a de facto buffer state by the British and Russian empires at the end of 'the Great Game' in Central Asia in 19th century. Various British efforts to conquer Afghanistan ended in disasters. By the end of the 20th century, the British and Russian empires in Asia had unraveled and many new states have emerged out of them. Thus the very raison d'etre of a buffer state no longer exists. Since the US provoked entry of Soviet troops in 1979 ,their withdrawal in 1989 , fighting between residual Najibullah regime and Pakistan supported warlords and finally takeover of most of the Afghanistan territory by Taliban with Pak military and ISI participation and funds from the Gulf states established a rudimentary and medieval regime under Mullah Omar .
However the Tajiks, Hazaras , Ozbeks and other mainly non Sunni groups have been governed by their ethnic warlords and resistance fighters against Russian occupation troops like the legendry Masood , who was treacherously assassinated just before 11/9 .Masood had headed the Northern Alliance of Tajiks, Hazaras , Ozbeks and others who resisted the Taliban regime .The Alliance was supported by Iran, Turkey ,India ,Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and others.
The 2001 December bombings and invasion of Afghanistan did not have UN sanction and was based on the premise of US and hence Nato's right to defend US territory after 11/attacks .In spite of US wish to enter Kabul as liberators , the Northern Alliance troops of Masood entered as liberators . Since then except by air attacks including by drones, which have killed large number of Afghan civilians, including women and children, ISAF and Nato troops have not fared too well on the ground. The increase in foreign troops, deaths, reluctance of most Nato member states to go on, has put intolerable burden on the cohesion of Western occupation forces .The number of western troops killed has been highest in June, but West as per its racial attitude, in Gen Colin Powell's words do not do body count of enemy troops and civilians (both in Afghanistan and Iraq.) The Afghan territory is under control of different armed groups, foreign and local, with Washington installed President Hamid Karzai, with US mercenaries as his bodyguards, barely controlling the city of Kabul. Except for Karzai, a Pushtun, most of the ruling elite consists of Northern Alliance ethnic leaders , with Karzai family making hay ( money ) while the sun shines .Recently US media reports gave details of how billions of dollars meant for military and development projects have been flown out of Afghanistan ( Similar loot of funds in Iraq has also been reported from time to time. Western governments and media mount propaganda campaigns for donor meets whether for Serbia or Iraq or Afghanistan and amounts are pledged ( but much less is given ) with large share being spent on foreign ( mostly Western ) experts or just plain stolen and brazenly shipped out by air .
The number of stakeholders in Afghanistan is large ,the Afghan people , 40% Pushtuns, the rest Tajiks , Hazaras , Ozbeks and others with their ethnic kinds in Iran, Uzbekistan ,Tajikistan ,Turkmenistan ,Kyrgyzstan, who provide support and even manpower ,neighboring countries like China via Xinjiang and the former ruler of central Asia , Moscow . India also has historic interests and invested billions of dollars in development projects to have influence and friendly relations with Afghans, which it had when Pakistan was part of united Hindustan.
Pakistan's interests have already been brought out since the Soviet occupation in 1979 and involvement in Afghan affairs .As the major financial contributor of the 1980s Jihad against USSR , and even otherwise the Saud dynasty , with its coffers bulging with petrodollars , its purchase of US and British arms would be of dubious value which many feel Saudis are unlikely of using , like the Kuwaitis in 1990 .But Riyadh has its Wahabi ideology and cherub books for funding not only Madarsas, mosques but also for arms to Pakistan, and Pushtun Afghan groups .
After the destruction of Iraqi Sunni power, USA's Sunni allies from Egypt to Jordan,in western Sunni Iraq ,even Yemen are worried about the rising power and clout of Iran in spite of all obstacles and sanctions against Tehran by US led West .It has its advance guards in Lebanon's Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza .Hezbollah , Iranian and Syrian leaders who stand up to US and Israel are extremely popular with Muslim masses not only in the Arab world but elsewhere too .
So what if after Afghanistan if Pakistan unravels too .Little effort has been made by its leaders since 1947 to even develop territory based nationalism. China would not also escape further problems in Xinjiang and Tibet.
Prof Kennedy on US exit from Afghanistan; "heads, you lose; tails, you don't win."
Hoping that someone in NSC or the State Department is devising some get-us-out-slowly-but-steadily stratagems', Prof Kennedy admits that "the Afghanistan-Pakistan entanglement is an issue so vexed and complicated that it would have tested the wisdom of the greatest leaders and strategists of the past. It is not totally fanciful to imagine Augustus, William Pitt the Elder, Bismarck or George Marshall pondering over a map which detailed the lands that stretch from the Bekaa Valley to the Khyber Pass. None of them would have liked what they saw." Look at the distances, the awful topography, and the willingness of the other side to accept appalling casualty rates, make a limited war— a finely calibrated war — something of nonsense. Kennedy after talking to those with Afghan field experience feels that US "at least cannot "win" in the sense that knee-jerk congressmen and rabid Murdoch newspapers understand that word, a victory grotesquely skewed by their habit of invoking American football language: smash, overrun, crush, annihilate."
"Pulling out should not be construed as appeasement since US "would not be the first to leave those wretched mountains and their defiant tribes to their own devices; indeed, we would simply join that long list of former occupation armies which eventually thought the better of it and made for the exit. -- A three-time British Prime Minister and four-time Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury once observed, nothing is more fatal to a wise strategy than clinging to the carcasses of dead policies." Yet , Kennedy feels ,"few administrations have the resolve to let go; and frankly, in the case of Afghanistan, a mushy compromise—half-concealed withdrawal—might be the least-worst way to go, at least for now. But not forever."
What do the various stakeholders in Afghanistan want and what they can obtain is difficult to forecast. A declining Hegemon US cannot even try what it forced on the Afghans in 2002 .It is 2010 .The Pushtuns would be the main deciders .If they can come together they can wipe out the British imposed but unenforceable Durand Line .The Pushtuns have ethnic homogeneity , Deoband ideology for now , opium and contraband trade links with neighbors and Dubai ,even a flag and perhaps Mullah Omar as one of the leaders .But they are likely to first fight among themselves as after the exit of Soviet forces . But unlike mid 1990s , after what the Pakistani , predominantly Punjabi military has done at Washington's behest and allowed raining of drone deaths , in North West Pakistan and in Afghanistan, Pushtuns are unlikely to be run by ISI .And if a Pushtun state become de jure , what happens to the other provinces in Pakistan , which has failed to even create a territory based national identity.
And what about non Pushtun people of Afghanistan , who form almost 60% of the population and oppose Taleban/Pushtun domination and ideology as they did after the Taliban were enabled to take over most of Afghanistan .Barring Karzai , a Pushtun, most of the establishment comprises of non-Pushtuns , who had resisted the Taliban under Northern Alliance .They will have support of neighboring states , Iran, Uzbekistan, and others like a now resurgent Moscow and economically important New Delhi .What about Beijing and its dream of connecting its turbulent Turkic Uighur majority Xinjiang province to Gwadar port in Baluchistan on the Arabian Sea for transfer of energy from the Gulf, bypassing the insecure sea lanes via Indian Ocean and Malacca straits , a project which Washington would do its utmost to nullify .Neither Moscow nor India would like that to fructify too.
And what about the US design to keep its military bases at least in non-Pushtun northwest Afghanistan and detach mineral rich Baluchistan ( the old news about the mineral wealth was highlighted simply to justify in the eyes of the US population which has become disenchanted with the unending war in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan.) What about Washington encouraging dissensions in Kyrgyzstan , with the multi ethnic Ferghana valley states becoming unstable and chaotic like Afghanistan and engulfing central Asia and Xinjiang .New Delhi must remember , whatever the final outcome in Afghanistan, sooner or later Pushtuns would seek good relations with India .It should re-establish contacts with Taliban and other leaders .
This sums up the problems and possible outcomes of the Afghanistan tunnel with little clear light at the end .There are other tunnels too , the Iraq tunnel , which US entered in 2003 and the keystone problem of Palestine , with Israel becoming no less important for a downsized United States , after Russians are back in Ukraine , its ally Georgia bashed by Moscow two years ago and US position becoming shaky in Kyrgyzstan.
Since then, many high waves have collided with the walls of harbors in North Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, and this side at Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The whole area has been brought into chaos and destruction by rampaging U.S.-led West its NATO allies and petrol pumps in the Gulf masquerading as states. (Did Kuwait use its arms against Saddam's invasion in 1990? Thus, the situation has become even more difficult to predict as to what will happen in Afghanistan and around it. Forget for the moment what is happening and what will happen in Greater Middle East and North Africa, the standoff being connected to US Russia confrontation from this area to Ukraine via the Black Sea.
Let me again reiterate that I see no reason to change my opinion. It will be good riddance if the American troops leave not only Afghanistan, but whole of Eurasia.
I am reproducing below the excellent article by Ramtanu Maitra.
K Gajendra Singh 27 December 2014, Delhi
U.S. Policy Towards South Asia: All Strategic, but Nary a Vision Nor a Spark of Insight
By Ramtanu Maitra
During the past five decades, like some other poorer regions of this world, the nations of South Asia have been mere spectators watching global politics unwinding and undergoing phase changes. Since the end of World War II, global political power has been monopolized by the premier Western nations, most of whom were former colonial powers much-derided by the majority population in South Asia. The first distortion these powers imposed (while the rest of the world watched) came with the launching of a Cold War.
During the Cold War days (1950-1990), the erstwhile Soviet Union and its ideological allies were targeted by the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies, who not only rejected outright the Communist system that the Soviet Union was peddling, but also organized a formidable economic and military bloc with the aim of isolating and eventually dismantling the Soviet system in, and in effect, Russia. As a result, two contesting blocs were formed.
The Old Order
The South Asian nations had been ravaged by the Western colonial powers for centuries and were mere political and economic weaklings, struggling to stay afloat. Most of these nations had little individual internal strength to resist political and economic pressures exerted by the Western powers to help facilitate their anti-Soviet campaign. An added complication was that since many of these Western nations were their former colonial rulers, the entire social, political and military establishments of these South Asian nations were directly linked to the members of the anti-Soviet bloc.
Despite the existence of those links, some countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, did attempt to maintain their distance from the contesting blocs by becoming active promoters of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). NAM was hated intensely by the powers-that-were in the United States. The unwillingness of some South Asian nations to join the anti-Soviet hunt laid the foundation of distrust in Washington on which U.S.-South Asia relations rested for decades. The Cold War is long gone, but that distrust continues to influence almost every Western policymaker even today.
During the post-Soviet era, which started in the 1990s, the United States became the primus inter pares among nations and was most generous in exhibiting worldwide its dominant economic and military power to maintain order in this fractious and turbulent world. While the division between the two contesting global political blocs vanished when the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, the South Asian nations, still as weak economically, politically and militarily as before, remained distant onlookers who were seldom heard in Washington, or in London, or anywhere else in the West. Moreover, scrounging for foreign exchange reserves to import necessities, such as oil and gas and other essentials to marginally survive, some South Asian nations became fully dependent on Western markets to sell their goods and earn their blood money in the form of U.S. dollars. In effect, the process gave the United States, and its trans-Atlantic consorts, decisive control in any particular South Asian nation over production decisions, product pricing and how many and which of those products each country could sell. Thus the Western powers secured overwhelming hands-on control over the South Asian economies and over those local individuals who were managing those weak economies.
Among the South Asian nations, Pakistan was perhaps the only full-fledged ally that the United States had in the South Asian region throughout that sordid Cold War period. Of necessity, Pakistan's military, which played an active role in helping the West contain the Soviet Union, had developed a transactional relationship with the Western bloc. Other South Asian nations—such as India, Bangladesh (which came into existence in 1972, breaking away from Pakistan), Nepal and Sri Lanka—watched the collapse of the Soviet Union, and their leaders waited to see what the long-hoped-for changes would bring. They were expecting that the United States, now free of the "communist threats," would institute a South Asia policy that would be mutually beneficial. But such a policy never materialized. Washington had no intention to re-work its decades-old distorted policies toward the region. The only perceived change was that none of these South Asian nations were tagged as an "enemy" or a "potential enemy" nation any longer. That was it.
Emergence of a New Order
Now, even that post-Cold War interim phase has begun to wither away. The world has moved into another phase in which, unbeknownst to U.S. policymakers, the United States is no longer the primus inter pares. In South Asia's neighborhood, China has developed into a full-fledged economic powerhouse and a not-to-be-taken-lightly military power. Russia—after years of chaos and transition that saw the break-up of its wings and destruction of its own distorted economy by foreign and domestic carpetbaggers and outright criminals—is once again asserting itself on the world scene by trying to put itself back as a rightful world power. Economically weak, Russia is in the process of forming strong working economic relations with its former Cold War adversary, China, while trying to find a way to improve its friendly but under-utilized economic relations with India.
Though Indo-Russian economic relations have remained virtually stagnant, Moscow recognizes, as it did during the hot days of the Cold War, that India will not act on behalf of any other nation to undermine Russia, the way Pakistan, or even China, did on behalf of the Western powers in the past. Russia is also beginning to participate in South Asian developments, albeit haltingly.
The brightest promise for the South Asian nations in the phase now unfolding is China's rapid growth and India's slower but significant growth over the last two decades, turning it into a major economic power in the world. The geographical contiguity of these two most-populous nations of the world has helped to bring them closer politically and economically than they ever were during the Cold War days, or during the interim period from the time the Soviet Union vanished into the pages of history and China emerged as a mighty economic power. That period, roughly speaking, lasted two decades from 1990 to 2010.
India-China trade relations, though wrought with difficulties, have now begun to grow in a limited way, and these two countries have begun to speak in unison in some international forums on various global issues. There are now indications that both New Delhi and Beijing are feeling internal pressure to get closer to resolving the difficult border-demarcation dispute. The present border that separates the two countries is contested by both parties and brought them to the verge of an all-out border war in the early 1960s. Recently both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have come to the conclusion that their vision to transform their respective countries into major powers requires benefitting from each other's strengths and that such benefits can accrue only when the six-decades-old border dispute is resolved.
Relevant to attaining the objective of mutual cooperation, both countries have since taken a positive step forward. Russia, India and China, along with Brazil and South Africa, a late-comer, have formed an economic and cultural cooperation power bloc called BRICS—the acronym is made up of the first letter of these five countries. Although the first BRIC Summit took place in 2009 (South Africa joined the group in 2010), the BRICS came to life during the past year.
At the sixth summit in July 2014 at Fortaleza, Brazil, the group made some historic decisions. Identifying the utter bankruptcy of the present global monetary system and the mule-like obstinacy of the Western nations, who continue to wield monopoly control over all international institutions as they have since the post-World War II period, BRICS challenged the G5 to recognize the economic power of the BRICS nations and pay heed to the decades-old necessities of developing nations. In its 72-point Fortaleza Declaration, the BRICS nations announced the formation of a New Development Bank (NDB), initially capitalized at $50 billion, to fund infrastructure projects in BRICS and other countries, as well as a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) with $100 billion to help nations deal with capital flight and other forms of financial warfare.
Subsequently, in October, China and India, along with 19 other Asian nations (including three other South Asian nations: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal), signed a memorandum of understanding initiated by China to set up a $100-billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The bank will formally set up shop in 2015 and will be capitalized with $50 billion. Most of the money will be contributed by cash-rich China.
The focused objective in setting up the AIIB was elaborated at a press conference last November by the Chinese president at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing. President Xi said on that occasion: "How to develop infrastructure is the main bottleneck obstructing economic development. China has initiated the AIIB to offer support and facility to regional infrastructure development. These proposals and initiatives are open and inclusive in Asia; they are not exclusive. We welcome the active participation of the United States and other relevant countries, so that together we can promote and share prosperity and peace in the Asia Pacific. We recognize the positive actions both have taken in helping African countries."
A similar theme was expressed earlier at the Fortaleza Summit, as well. Indian Prime Minister Modi emphasized then to the plenary session of the Summit "the uniqueness of BRICS as an international institution." Modi said that "the very idea of BRICS is thus forward-looking," and averred that it brings together "a group of nations on the parameter of 'future potential,' rather than existing prosperity or shared identities." Modi concluded his presentation stating: "We have an opportunity to define the future—of not just our countries, but the world at large. ... I take this as a great responsibility."
South Asia's Infrastructural Needs
What Prime Minister Modi's statement at Fortaleza and President Xi's statement in Beijing suggest is that the old economic and political order is not only no longer acceptable to the newly emerged powers, such as India in South Asia, but the BRICS nations as a whole are keen to chart a different course, one which will ensure economic and skill development, building of physical infrastructure and recognition and fulfillment of the future potential exhibited by hundreds of millions of youth in the developing nations, many of whom reside in South Asia. The BRICS nations conveyed that the interlinking of the world through high-tech transportation systems to lay the foundation of a worldwide development that benefits all is the future; and the old geopolitics that the Western nations have orchestrated for decades to maintain overall control under the pretext of stabilizing the world only resulted in creating unacceptable levels of disparity worldwide and a world replete with conflicts and wars.
These BRICS-initiated developments point in only one direction and that is: the world is not only changing, but it has changed—despite the fact that the so-called keepers of the world have refused to acknowledge those transformations. Significantly, the Western world has made no effort yet to move away from its old distorted order and make the necessary arrangements to embrace the new world order that has begun to emerge. In fact, no one at the highest level in the Western countries has even shown the courage to publicly acknowledge this reality.
Because of such an ostrich-like approach, U.S. policy toward South Asia remains stuck in the old rut. The rise of China and India as economic and military powers of substance, and the Western countries' unending animosity toward Russia, have seemingly further narrowed Washington's options in defining what should be its policies toward South Asia. Two geopolitical issues define its vision of the entire South Asian region: How to maintain its presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia following the withdrawal of a majority of Western troops from Afghanistan; and how to form a coalition of allies in Asia to ensure the containment of China. Washington continues to look at the region, and beyond, through that narrow prism.
The Old U.S. Geopolitics
Those two issues now dominate U.S. policymaking in a wide region from Afghanistan in the west to the Korean peninsula in the east. South Asia, located in that long stretch of land mass, is looked at by Washington as a potential willing contributor to those policies or an obstacle to those policies. In the past U.S. policy has never addressed the South Asia region as a whole.
Washington has maintained a transactional policy with Pakistan and a geopolitical relationship with India, but has no substantive primary relationships with the smaller countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The U.S. approach to these countries is generally defined by circumstantial convenience.
For instance, following the January 2014 Bangladesh parliamentary elections, Washington refused to acknowledge Sheikh Hasina's legitimacy because the pro-Islamist Khaled Zia-led Bangladeshi Nationalist Party boycotted those elections. An election, in which one party boycotts, Washington argued, is contrary to democratic norms that the United States says Bangladesh must follow. Ignoring Sheikh Hasina's insistence that a boycott by the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party did not undermine her legitimacy, Washington rallied international pressure for a swift re-run that would include all the major parties.
This bullying has been ignored by the Bangladesh government, which is seeking to improve Bangladesh's economic conditions and take on the Jihadi terrorists. But it is exemplary of Washington's selective use of "democracy" and "human rights"—or environmental and ecological concerns—as weapons in international affairs.
The U.S. approach to Pakistan, about 1000 miles west of Bangladesh, is totally different. Washington has maintained a relationship with Islamabad for decades—democracy, or no democracy. During certain periods, such as between 1975 and 1989, Washington was celebrating the decidedly undemocratic rule of General Zia ul-Haq as Pakistan's president. The U.S.-Pakistan tie is a transactional relationship, based on the premise that a greater power dictates to a lesser, or a negligible, power to do what it wants to have done in exchange for financial remuneration.
Washington has been fully aware all along that it is the Pakistan military that calls the shots, and not the government elected by the people, particularly on three key issues: its dispute with India over Kashmir, Pakistan's Afghanistan policy, and in developing, broadening and maintaining A-to-Z control over the country's nuclear weapons arsenal. While American individuals, officials and pundits have expressed their concerns from time to time over the last two issues, in particular, Washington did not succeed in budging Islamabad on them. Yet the transactional relationship, which includes cash remuneration and other benefits, continues.
Washington has periodically tried holding back financial aid to pressurize Pakistan when it did not carry out its assigned task in the transactional relationship. Washington knows well that the Pakistan military gets first dibs on every bit of money that is given to Islamabad, and delaying, or threatening to call off delivery of military hardware to Islamabad would activate the Pakistan military to help conclude the transaction. Over the years, whenever Washington found that Pakistan was not playing ball the way the United States wanted it to play, it has directed the IMF to hold back tranches of loans or to impose harsher conditions.
A Failed Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy
Under internal financial and domestic political pressures, the United States and NATO have pulled back the bulk of their troops from Afghanistan. After a stay of 13 years, during which they have failed either to establish a stable political system there or to make it terrorist-free, that withdrawal has become a major factor in U.S. policymaking toward South Asia. The most visible aspect of this is its shifting policy toward Pakistan.
Now the transaction is as follows: Pakistan must not play any negative role in the upcoming period. Pakistan must not use the militants and terrorists that they control and harbor to undermine the Kabul regime under President Ashraf Ghani, who Washington made sure, was elected. If Pakistan plays ball with Washington this time around and does not get actively involved in undermining the Kabul regime, as it did throughout the 13 years of foreign troops' stay in Afghanistan, the Obama administration, and the administration that would follow in Washington, will make sure that Pakistan receives its quota of annual developmental aid and that the Pakistan military continues to receive American arms and training.
That is the extent of the deal. Washington will not plan new measures that could help alleviate Pakistan's acute energy shortages and other chronic and debilitating economic and social problems. Washington will remain one-dimensional in its Pakistan policy, as always.
Despite the transactional nature of the U.S. policy, Pakistan is satisfied in that Washington has ignored Islamabad's close relations with the U.S. rival, China, and has overlooked Islamabad's "necessity" to maintain active hostilities toward India, using its home-bred militants to carry out occasional terrorist attacks inside the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The likely explanation for this nuance in Washington's Pakistan policy is that for decades throughout the Cold War period, Pakistan was the only real ally the United States had in South Asia, while India was close to an enemy. Moreover, Pakistan's geostrategic location, its proximity to Central Asia and its close relations with the Sunni Gulf nations are of keen interest to some U.S. geopolitician.
Indeed, from the time U.S. and NATO troops went into Afghanistan in 2002, Washington's Pakistan policy turned uniquely narrow. Simply put, the policy turned into a request to Pakistan to help the U.S.-NATO mission in Afghanistan to be a success by curbing the terrorists that Pakistan trains, arms, harbors and controls from operating inside Afghanistan. That request made clear that if Pakistan extended such help to Washington, it would be adequately remunerated and its regional and domestic policies will not be the subject of scrutiny in Washington. History tells us, Pakistan did help Washington, but did so selectively, making sure that it did not need to abandon all its militant assets. Islamabad's duplicity, visible to one-and-all, caused heartburn among some in the United States, particularly in the U.S. intelligence community. However, weighing up its options vis-a-vis Pakistan and its need to show the world that the Afghanistan invasion was a "success," Washington chose to fret and fume against Islamabad's duplicity from time to time, but made no effort to change its policy toward Pakistan.
Now that the United States has withdrawn most of its troops from Afghanistan as per schedule, once again Washington has begun to court the Pakistan military that has run circles around them for years. RFE/RL reported on Dec. 2 on a "productive meeting," according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, between Pakistan's visiting Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and Kerry. Sharif also met U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno and other U.S. military leaders, including senior officials at U.S. Central Command. On the downside, just before Sharif's arrival in Washington, the Pentagon released a report alleging that Pakistan is using militants—such as the Afghan Taliban and Islamist fighters from the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network—as proxies to undermine India's presence in Afghanistan.
Undermining Sri Lanka
Take the case of another South Asian nation, Sri Lanka. The United States did not come out directly against Colombo during the bloody battle that the Sri Lankan Army fought in 2009 to eliminate the Tamil Tiger terrorists, who had carried out 26 years of a violent secessionist movement in northern Sri Lanka, while being endowed with huge caches of cash and arms and occupying a large tract of land. The United States did not side with the Tamil Tiger terrorists; nonetheless, Washington later helped to organize the United Nations to set up the Experts Panel on Sri Lankan Human Rights to investigate the violation of human rights by Colombo in the latter's war against the terrorists. On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Mission in Geneva issued this statement: "We continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its obligations to its own people and to take meaningful, concrete steps to address outstanding concerns related to democratic governance, human rights, reconciliation, justice, and accountability."
What is important to note here is that the United States had labeled the Tamil Tigers as a foreign terrorist outfit in 2001 and did not allow the Tigers to develop a strong network within the United States. But the terrorists were very active throughout their existence in Britain, Norway and Switzerland, among other European nations, where they raised funds, ran illegitimate businesses (a prostitution network in Switzerland, for instance) and purchased arms illegally. In picking up the cudgels against Colombo recently, Washington was acting on behalf of its trans-Atlantic partners to undermine a South Asian nation's regime. In fact, it also managed to collar then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2012 to join 23 other nations to vote against Sri Lanka at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution passed by the U.N. body was sponsored by the United States and called for "promoting reconciliation and accountability" in Sri Lanka after its army won the long-drawn-out civil war by eliminating the rebel Tamil Tigers. Fifteen countries, including China and Russia, backed Sri Lanka, which had rejected the resolution, stating that the resolution unduly interfered in the country's domestic affairs and could hinder its reconciliation process.
What prompted the United States to adopt such a policy toward a South Asian nation that fought a well-funded terrorist outfit that was waging war to break up the nation? It is difficult to pin-point a single issue, but we've already mentioned support for trans-Atlantic partners. Another factor may well be Sri Lanka's growing proximity to China, considered a rival and a potential challenger to U.S. naval domination in the Asia-Pacific region.
U.S. Problems in China Containment Approach
India, by far the largest nation in the region, is now getting more attention from the United States. However, Washington does not have a clear South Asia policy that could help it play a significant role in its planned cooperation with India. To begin with, India is the predominant power in South Asia, and New Delhi has now begun seriously to think about integrating the entire region. Washington's transactional ally, Pakistan, is openly hostile toward India and routinely runs terrorist operations to undermine New Delhi. Other than making some noise, Washington does not want to make any efforts to restrain those terrorist activities; and from time to time, as during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s, has even echoed Islamabad, saying the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is the key to ending the enmity between the two South Asian nations. Washington is aware, but apparently chooses to ignore the fact, that India does not consider Kashmir a disputed territory. India considers that the accession of Kashmir was fully legitimate and that it was Pakistan who invaded and captured a part of Kashmir.
Interestingly, Washington acknowledges that such terrorist activities do take place and that the militants enjoy the protection of the Pakistani authorities. These terrorist activities were carried out back when Pakistan was Washington's sole ally in South Asia against the Soviet Union, and are still carried out today, long after the Soviet Union became history. In other words, although the United States claims to have engaged in a worldwide "war on terror," its failure to make anti-terrorism an anchor in its South Asia policy has created a huge trust gap with New Delhi.
The U.S. policy toward South Asia got hazier because of the old Cold War impulses that still dominate the policymakers' mindset in Washington. During the Cold War, any country that was not with the Western allies of the United States was identified as "them." That policy identified India as one of "them" because of its leadership position in NAM and its refusal to identify the Soviet Union as anything but a friend.
In the present-day context, Washington's policy determination includes some other factors that keep the American policymakers' views similarly opaque. For instance, any nation that is friendly today toward Iran or Russia, on both of whom the United States has imposed heavy sanctions as punitive measures in recent years, is considered a "suspect," though not labeled as one of "them," the way a country would have been referred to during the Cold War.
On the issue of any South Asian country's relations with China, the U.S. policy approach rewards fear and animosity. Any country that opposes China's alleged hegemonic proclivities and its alleged intent to dominate the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific is considered a friend who should be put on a higher pedestal. While Japan, South Korea and the Philippines fit into that category, Washington does not consider that it is time yet to identify as enemies those countries that are accommodating Chinese trade and infrastructure-related developments.
Instead, Washington is now trying to coax some South Asian and Southeast Asian nations to join those others who consider that China's hegemonic impulses will pose a danger to their sovereignty status in the future.
But, here, too, U.S. policy runs into a problem. The problem is that Washington's policymaking apparatus continues to ignore the reality that the South Asian nations, like many other nations in Africa, South America and Central Asia, have long been aspiring to grow. But the prevailing international monetary system, represented most visibly by the IMF and the World Bank under virtual control of the victors of World War II, has degenerated to a point that for decades it has been well-nigh impossible for most of the South Asian nations to secure even the minimum developmental money to build up their physical infrastructure—the foundation of all economic development. The harsh conditions that these two institutions routinely impose, in the name of fiscal responsibility, protecting the environment, arresting global warming, respecting human rights, adopting an international standard in executing projects etc., made utilization of allotted developmental finance virtually impossible.
Needless to point out that the measuring stick used on all these criteria was put in place by the Western powers, with their overwhelmingly distorted voting rights in these institutions. Led by the United States, this group has meticulously avoided reforms of these institutions that would adjust downward the voting rights of many of the now-bankrupt Western nations and raise the share of votes in these institutions of nations such as China and India.
The changes mentioned earlier in this article have now given the South Asian nations some leeway to move away in the future from the old international monetary system and avail the yet-to-be-developed monetary system represented in the BRICS and AIIB proposals. In addition, China, flush with cash reserves and deeply dependent on land-based and maritime trade routes with the rest of the world, is busy trying to build high-speed railroads to interlink China with Central Asia and beyond, as well with Africa, the Americas and the Middle East through the Indian Ocean, Pacific and the Arabian Sea. Many of these transport corridors will pass through South Asian nations to reach the sea, benefitting those countries' transport infrastructure.
Beyond developing transport corridors and offering funds for other infrastructure development in the South Asian countries, China is also keen to become a member of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a group that was formed in 1985 and now consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
China became an observer in 2005, supported by most member states. Now, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal are supporting China's full membership in SAARC, a development that New Delhi does not condone since China is, indeed, not a South Asian nation.
However, China's growing involvement in the South Asian region, particularly in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal, through trade and investment has not gone unnoticed in Washington. China's interest in developing a transport-cum-economic corridor through Pakistan, linking up the Karakoram Highway with the Arabian Sea, has not gone down well among U.S. policymakers. Although Washington is not addressing this involvement of China with Pakistan and smaller South Asian nations as a plan designed to undermine India's sphere of influence, it has expressed its own concerns about China's alleged intent to dominate the sea routes in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
Time to Spell Out a South Asia Policy
On the other hand, India is not sitting idle any longer and has begun to initiate moves to have its presence felt in the South Asian countries, barring Pakistan. Under the new administration led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has made proposals to enhance connectivity with the nations east of India, in particular. Modi's newly coined "Act East," a variation of the late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's "Look East" policy, also includes helping the South Asian countries, such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, to link them through transport corridors and to help develop their energy sectors, either by linking up their energy generation sources with India's power-grid system, or developing those independently.
What needs to be recognized at the outset is that India's infrastructure is extremely weak. Under the current five-year plan, India requires $1 trillion in investment by 2017, and Prime Minister Modi is busy trying to lure foreign investors to play a significant role to help finance a part this large amount. India is also a power-starved nation. It is likely that the efforts now underway, when materialized, may alleviate most of the transport and power requirements in the smallest of South Asian nations such as Bhutan and Nepal, but it would not make much of a dent in Bangladesh's requirements. Moreover, India does not have a direct land link with Afghanistan, where India is keen to invest, because of Pakistan's belligerence and its refusal to allow India a direct access to that country. As a result, most South Asian nations will continue to depend heavily on investments from major economic powers such as China, Japan, the U.S. and the E.U.
Considering the state of affairs in South Asia, what role does the United States want to play? Its South Asia policy does not indicate as of now that it wants to be any part of such developmental processes. What the U.S. policy toward South Asia presently centers around is how to contain China or how to maintain a strong presence in the neighborhood, which could prevent China from exercising its "hegemonic" tendencies.
The other issue is Afghanistan, which is now a part of the SAARC. With the withdrawal of the bulk of the U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the United States would like Afghanistan to remain close to Washington. It is evident that the United States' South Asia policy will also be attentive to the SAARC nations' actions vis-a-vis Afghanistan. If any South Asian nation opposes the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, it is likely Washington will react adversely.
At the same time, Washington will be trying to organize the South Asian nations to distance themselves as much as possible from both China and Russia. That policy could lead to some security arrangements; but the South Asian nations must not expect any monetary benefit coming out of such association in the short or mid-term. For Instance, India and the United States, along with Japan, are carrying out annual naval exercises, the Malabar naval exercise. This exercise is conducted basically to coordinate three navies; but it is also an effort to develop a trilateral cooperation. Left unsaid is that the United States considers this a necessary countermeasure against the growing naval power of China.
It is likely that the United States will make efforts in the coming years to expand this exercise to incorporate some Southeast Asian nations, as well. Last July, at a Senate Committee hearing, answering Sen. McCain's query, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said: "We will be doing joint exercises with Japan and India in the MALABAR exercises later this fall. And we see opportunities for increasing the collaboration across Southeast Asia. We are engaging more frequently in consultations and dialogue with the Indians on ASEAN, and look forward to increased and frequent consultations across the East Asia sphere."
At the same hearing, Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation said: "Indo-Japanese ties, in particular, are expected to get a major boost under Modi's administration since Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are both increasingly concerned about China and appear prepared to take new policy directions to deal with the challenges posed by Beijing's rapid military and economic ascendance."
While these statements cannot be construed as a policy statement of the Obama administration, precious little is coming out of Washington that could be identified as well-formulated future U.S. policy toward South Asia. Washington must note that neither India nor China would like the United States to have a dominant position in either the Indian Ocean or in the Asia-Pacific. In fact, both would consider it better for the United States to be playing a lesser, but cooperative, role. Notwithstanding the Malabar naval exercises, Washington must note that over the decades India has steadfastly opposed any U.S. military base in either Sri Lanka, Maldives or in Bangladesh. India's position on that has not changed and is not likely to change in any foreseeable future.
The key to the success of U.S. South Asia policy, if it is ever articulated in clear words and actions, will be for the United States to participate in South Asian infrastructure development along with India and other BRICS nations, and to develop non-transactional bilateral relationships with these countries. Such a policy would identify development as a key factor in securing a sovereign nation-state.
In the case of India, a big power that will get bigger in the coming years, United States' policy should be to support India's growing stature in the international arena and make diplomatic efforts to ensure the linkages and connectivity efforts in the region that India, China and others are engaged in come to fruition. In addition to very many individual economic and military contracts and deals that would be trumpeted by the media as examples of the strengthening of India-U.S. relations, the Obama administration must note that the Modi administration has already put its emphasis on economic diplomacy as its cornerstone. Prime Minister Modi will play ball with every country—China, Russia, United States, Japan and even Pakistan—if that country chooses to contribute firmly to India's huge developmental requirements. If any country does not contribute, or does not want to contribute, India's relations, under Prime Minister Modi, with that country may fall by the wayside. That country will not become an enemy nation, but will be simply considered by Modi's India as less relevant.
During Prime Minister Modi's September 2014 visit to Washington, a vision statement for the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership—"Chalein Saath (Forward Together We Go)"—was issued. That statement said, in part: "Our strategic partnership is a joint endeavor for prosperity and peace. Through intense consultations, joint exercises, and shared technology, our security cooperation will make the region and the world safe and secure. Together, we will combat terrorist threats and keep our homelands and citizens safe from attacks, while we respond expeditiously to humanitarian disasters and crises. We will prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and remain committed to reducing the salience of nuclear weapons, while promoting universal, verifiable, and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament."
It further said: "We will support an open and inclusive rules-based global order, in which India assumes greater multilateral responsibility, including in a reformed United Nations Security Council. At the United Nations and beyond, our close coordination will lead to a more secure and just world."
If in the coming days, the Obama administration, and the administration that will follow in 2016, could abide by these stated commitments, the United States will finally have a South Asia policy which is mutually beneficial for both.
Until such time, the muddle will continue.