Us-pak strategic partnership: Strategic implications for china


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009

By Dr. Subhash Kapila
Introductory Observations
The United States – Pakistan Strategic Dialogue which ended in Washington last month came up with a strident declaration that both the United States and Pakistan are determined to establish a long term strategic partnership.
Contextually, this declaration was seen as a one more transactional engagement which spasmodically have dominated the Pakistan Army’s military and political collusiveness with the United States.
The Pakistan Army always was eager and stood ready to serve United States strategic objectives in return for financial aggrandizement of the Pakistan Army military hierarchy and unrestrained supply of American advanced military hardware to off-set Indian military superiors.
Notwithstanding the above, the background to the recently concluded US-Pak Strategic Dialogue and its concluding declaration of forging a US-Pak Strategic Partnership with long term contours, forces one to look beyond its occurrence as a just one more spasmodic transactional engagement and that there are other strategic factors hovering which have impelled such a move despite the acknowledged trust-deficit existing between the United States and Pakistan.
One is led to ponder more in the last named direction keeping in mind the employment by the United States of a “high-voltage” collection of the United States political and military hierarchy to reverse United States strategic priorities in South Asia and thereby induce Pakistan Army for a Strategic Dialogue with the United States as a prelude for a full-fledged “Strategic Partnership” with the United States with wider strategic aims that go beyond the mere facilitation of the US military exit from Afghanistan by a collusive Pakistan Army.
Seemingly and markedly those who figured prominently in the United States “high voltage’ team for motivating the Pakistan Army towards this end, included US Vice President Joe Biden, Chief of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, National Security Advisor General Jones, C-in-C US Central Command General John Petraeus and the US Generals in Afghanistan. A number of US Senators and US Congressmen known for their pro-Pakistan stances and Senator Kerry were also pressed in action. It is reported that General Kayani during his Washington visit was with Senator Kerry for a three hour dinner engagement.
US media reports also indicate that President Obama was prevailed upon by the Pentagon, and implicitly by the above group to pressurize India for yielding to Pakistan Army demands so that it could be made more collusive on the Afghan frontier. Chief amongst these demands was that the Indian Army may be made to undertake sizeable troop withdrawals from Kashmir Valley, which regrettably India, obliged.
On this note, one would like to assert that in terms of United States policy formulations towards South Asia, the Pentagon has been allowed to acquire a dominating say. This assumption is evidently reasonable and logically flowing from this is that in Pentagon’s strategic perspectives on South Asia, it is not only that Afghanistan, Pakistan and India figure. One should logically expect that in Pentagon’s strategic perspectives on Pakistan, the on going Pakistan-China strategic nexus and how Pakistan can be weaned away from China also becomes an important determining factor in US strategic thinking.
The United States inextricably conscious that Pakistan is a fragile state and that it lacks the strategic weight to bail out USA from Afghanistan has gone ahead and proposed a US-Pak Strategic Partnership at the Washington Strategic Dialogue in March 2010.
Then how has Pakistan and more specifically the Pakistan Army has dramatically appeared on the US radar as a long range strategic investment other than Pakistan’s likely use in future US strategy, and more pointedly in relation to China.
Pentagon’s military planners seem to be conscious that China enjoys geographical contiguity with Pakistan and Afghanistan and that this Chinese strategic advantage can be reversed against China by yet another reinvention of Pakistan Army’s indispensability to US strategic interests by enlisting it into a long-range strategic partnership focusing on China.
Viewing the issues and implications involved in the initiation of a US-Pak Strategic Partnership this Author would like to briefly examine the following issues:
US-Pak Strategic Partnership: The Compelling Strategic Motives
China’s Existing Strategic Investments in Pakistan and its Motives
Is the Pakistan Army an Eternal Ally of China?
US-Pak Strategic Partnership: The Strategic Implications for China
China’s Possible Strategic Ripostes

US-Pak Strategic Partnership: The Compelling Strategic Motives

The compelling strategic motives of the United States for initiation of a “high voltage” over-drive to reverse policies and seek a substantive strategic partnership with Pakistan can be discerned to have arisen from the following two determinants:
Pakistan as a substantive base for US military strikes against Iran
Pakistan as a usable component of United States “China Containment Strategy”
Afghanistan along with Pakistan would have emerged as the ideal substantive base for possible US military strikes against Iran as part of US strategy to tame Iranian nuclear ambitions. With Iran not cowed by US threats and Afghanistan still unstable and uncontrollable by US & NATO Forces, Pakistan’s salience as a substantive base for US military strikes and operations against Iran becomes indispensable.
India has not turned out the prize catch for the United States as a strong component of the American “China Containment Strategy”. The only alternative to India for a US “China Containment Strategy” is therefore the Pakistan Army, as a collusive partner for any highest bidder.
Pakistan’s first engagement with the United States in the 1950s was as an over-enthusiastic military ally in the US containment strategy of the Communist bloc of Russia and China. Can the United States induce Pakistan and the Pakistan Army to repeat that historical linkage again. The answer is a possible Yes.
Of course, the Pakistan Army would have to carry out a swift profit and loss exercise from such a realignment of Pakistan. Pakistan in its current critical stage may find the US option better than the Chinese option.
Strategic analysis cannot be dismissive about the possibility of the United States enlisting the collusive participation of the Pakistan Army in a US “China Containment Strategy” in the region. In terms of long term strategic perspectives, the analysis does not throw up any other strategic rationales for the “high-voltage” American effort to move Pakistan towards a “US-Pak Strategic Partnership.

China’s Existing Strategic Investments in Pakistan and its Motives
Ever since 1962, China has made sizeable and extensive strategic investments in Pakistan. More notably can be cited (1) Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons and missiles arsenal (2) Pakistan’s nuclear reactors (3) Pakistan Army’s and Armed Forces military hardware inventories are predominantly Chinese (4) Pakistan’s indigenous defence production infrastructure is entirely Chinese in nature.
In addition the development of Gwadur Port as a Chinese naval base, prospective oil and gas pipelines grid through Pakistani territory and mineral prospecting in Baluchistan also have strategic overtones.
Chinese strategic investments in Pakistan are therefore extensive. China was impelled towards that end by two major considerations.
Pakistan as a Chinese strategic counterfoil against India
Pakistan’s strategic nexus with China as a Chinese counter-pressure point against the United States.
The last four decades have adequately highlighted that China’s use of Pakistan as a strategic counterfoil against India has dismally failed. Neither China nor its proxy Pakistan have been able to arrest India’s rise towards a global player status.
China’s use of the China-Pakistan strategic nexus as a Chinese counter-pressure point against the United States has not brought about the expected dividends. Pakistan and Pakistan Army have time and again swung back to the United States strategic embrace.
In any prospective strategic reversal by Pakistan from the Chinese embrace, Pakistan knows fully well that it would be backed-up by United States countervailing power.

Is the Pakistan Army an Eternal Ally of China?
To a pragmatic nation like China with a long history of practising state-craft the answer should be obvious. Other than making “strategic use” of China where has Pakistan reciprocated China’s strategic investments in Pakistan?
The way the strategic dynamics of the Asian Security environment are unfolding China would discover that Pakistan has less and less to offer China. Pakistan has outlived its strategic utility to China.
Strong US pressure likely on Pakistan to serve US strategic interests in Afghanistan and Iran could possible bring Pakistan and China on wrong sides of the strategic divide in the region.
China needs a strategic re-think on the strategic indispensability of its “Eternal Ally” – the Pakistan Army.

US-Pak Strategic Partnership: The Strategic Implications for China
So far, the Pakistan Army has successfully played USA against China and China against the United States in strategic terms. Pakistan Army’s insidious games were also facilitated by the United States geo-politically tilting towards China as part of US strategy to keep Russia down.
If a substantive and meaningful US-Pak Strategic Partnership emerges, grave strategic implications will face China. The more prominent implications being:
China will be eased out from the possible use of Pakistani port of Gwadur as a Chinese naval base in proximity to Hotmuz Straits.
China’s use of Pakistan’s North-South grid of communications including the Karakoram Highway and use of Pakistan territory for Chinese oil and gas pipelines from Iran will be denied.
China would become militarily vulnerable and more particularly on its western peripheries when Pakistani air-bases, primarily concentrated in the North are used by the United States Air Force as part of the US ‘China Containment Strategy’.

In this connection, a logical question that could come up is as to whether the Pakistan Army can adroitly manage both a ‘US Pak Strategic Partnership’ and a ‘China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus’ at the same time.

The answer is that Pakistan does not have the Comprehensive National Power strength to manage multiple strategic partnerships or at least two major ones.

Pakistan Army in the pursuit of its imperialistic pretensions requiring appropriations and misappropriation of exorbitant national revenues has reduced Pakistan to a parasitic supplicant nation existing on external doles.

China sometime back refused to bail out Pakistan from a financial crisis. This trend is likely to continue. The United States is adept at throwing good money after the bad, when it comes to the Pakistan Army and therefore provides a better inducement.

It is here that the United States will outsmart China to bring about a major shift in Pakistan Army stances towards China.

China’s Possible Strategic Ripostes Again Pakistan

China’s immediate ripostes against Pakistan Army should it move towards a decisive shift towards a substantive US – Pak Strategic Partnership would be to close the tap on all that flows into Pakistan from China as part of the China-Pakistan strategic nexus. It is substantial.

Other riposte measures from China could include (1) Stirring turbulence in Afghanistan to keep both Pakistan and USA militarily off-balance (2) Reinforce Iran’s opposition and defiance of US strike threats (3) Create political turbulence in Pakistan –occupied Northern Areas and Gilgit (4) Underwrite insurgencies against Pakistan and against US interests in Baluchistan and Western Frontier regions.

There are many ifs and buts in the development of a situation where the Pakistan Army becomes a prominent component of United States “China Containment Strategy”. But one thing would be certain that China’s strategic ripostes would not be lacking when this happens.

Lastly in this connection it can be surmised that Afghanistan would become the laser-focus of Chinese strategic moves to outflank the strategic takeover of Pakistan heartland by the United States as part of the ‘China Containment Strategy’.

Concluding Observations

Many would be tempted to outrightly dismiss the emergence of the Pakistan Army as the central regional component of a future US “China Containment Strategy”. But in the field of strategic realism and strategic analysis no development should ever be completely ruled out, however bizarre it may first appear.

In terms of long range perspectives the only worthwhile strategic rationale that exists for forging a substantive US-Pak Strategic Partnership is the collusive cooption of the Pakistan Army as an essential component of the US ‘China Containment Strategy’ in this region.

China as a nation noted for pragmatic realism would be well-advised to dispense with clichés like Pakistan as an “Eternal Ally” and analyze more deeply the compelling motives of the United States to draw Pakistan into the embrace of a log term US-Pak Strategic Partnership.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])

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