Pakistan’s Geopolitical Dilema China Or US: Viewpoint From Pakistan

By Khan A. Sufyan 

The dynamic nature of geo-political environment is transitioning from American efforts to retain its uni-polarity to a stage where the emerging competitors and challengers are moving to a position of asserting their influence. This is likely to result in geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic changes, realignments and re-assertions, in certain regions which are likely to play important, if not pivotal roles in the future. These are high-stake political games which may well result in either prolonging geo-political status-quo or the commencement of changes towards a multi-polar balance of power.

To maintain the geo-political status-quo, major US concerns are likely to remain focused on Asia. These include an emerging China, sustaining support for a countervailing India, a resurgent Russia and a concerned Muslim world attempting to redefine its place in the world polity. While US led efforts aimed at containment of Russia are stabilizing almost along the original Russian borders in Europe, endeavours to curtail her expansion towards the south and limit Russian and Chinese influence in Eurasian hinterland are underway.

In February 2002, Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee that, “America will have a continuing interest and presence in Central Asia of a kind that we could not have dreamed of before.” Chairman of NATO Military Committee while on a recent visit to Australia stated that, securing the safety of Washington and Brussels requires the expansion of a US dominated military alliance into “the Euro-Asian and Asian-Pacific regions.” Major US and NATO presence in Afghanistan and their efforts to enhance military presence in various Central Asian countries under the garb of providing support for Afghan war are clear indications in this direction.

In the post 9/11 environment Asia therefore became the test-bed of American attempts to assert and realign the politico-economic order to maintain her full-spectrum domination and deny or delay the emergence and assurgence of competing powers. US invasion of Iraq was essentially a venture to sustain these objectives and not against terrorism which had roots in Afghanistan. It was thought that the US adventure in Iraq would achieve its objectives soon and would allow shifting the focus to stabilize Afghanistan for a protracted US presence because of geo-political compulsions. While the US was busy in Iraq, they co-opted Indian support to replace Pakistan as a stabilizing influence in Afghanistan, mainly due to Pak-US trust deficit. This also provided Americans an opportunity to project Indian influence in Central Asia to dilute the existing Russian and increasing Chinese support base.

Having failed in her earlier attempts to coerce Pakistan through application of direct strategy, India readily took this opportunity to pay back Pakistan for its alleged interference in Indian Occupied Kashmir and ventured in to a strategic encirclement of Pakistan. Under a calibrated strategy, US also supported India by attempting to persuade Pakistan to allow passageway for sustaining the Indian influence in Afghanistan and beyond. While addressing a press conference in January this year in Islamabad, Hillary Clinton openly supported this venture to the discomfiture of her hosts. However, Pakistan did not acquiesce and avoided a self-inflicted strategic encirclement.

Moreover, in order to dilute and contain resurgent Taliban, US contrived with Indian and Afghan support to shift the terrorist center of gravity to Pakistani territory resulting in manifold increase in drone attacks in Pak regions bordering Afghanistan. However, the US desire to confine this war to Af-pak region was short-lived. Soon the Taliban outside of so-called Af-pak region re-emerged stronger, warranting a US surge followed by a crisis of command and strategy.

Also, the Americans soon realized Indian inability to replace Pakistan’s strategic influence in its backyard. This also solidified the fact that the geo-politically influenced strategic pivot provided by Pakistan could not and would not be replaced by India, no matter how powerful India may be. Pakistan had withstood the challenge, no matter how weak it had been or would be. Achievement of US geo-political and geo-strategic goals therefore would become extremely difficult without co-opting Pakistan. This fact can not be overstated by citing a statement of Senator McCain (courtesy wikileaks), who while talking to David Cameron in a 2008 meeting said that, “if they (Pakistan) don’t cooperate and help us, I don’t know what we are going to do.”

Many believe that India is a regional power, yet they fail to realize the fact that its regional prowess can only be exercised against nations as small and vulnerable as Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh. It has not been able to convincingly project its power potential against present day Pakistan and China and it is unlikely to happen in the future as well. US Embassy, New Delhi (courtesy wikileaks) corroborates this fact indicating that, with present Indian military capabilities, Cold Start doctrine would encounter mixed results.

US, France, UK, China and Russia etc can project their power potential because either they do not have a powerful regional threat to counter or they have enough capability to deter a regional threat and also project their capability to take care of extra-regional threats.

India cannot laterally expand its influence beyond its western borders due the existence of geo-political impediments in addition to the geographical restrictions placed by the presence of Pakistan. Expansion of its influence towards the east is impeded due to the large geographical lay of China. Myanmar can provide India with limited ability to expand towards South East Asia. She attempted to undertake such a venture but due to its internal upheaval in adjoining areas failed to take timely advantage. Chinese influence in Myanmar has in the meantime increased manifold which may limit future Indian endeavours. Therefore the only direction it may be able to expand its influence is towards the vast expanse of sea in the south.

As per the perceived US game-plan for India, garnering of a seaward influence is likely to be supported by the US and West. This fact is corroborated by increased number of Indian naval exercises with navies of US and other western nations in recent years. The plan seeks India to act as a countervailing force against China, as a milkman to sustain US economy while competing with Chinese economic progress and to stabilize regional disputes with limited force projection capability.

India may become a strong economic power and be able to generate fair bit of economic influence in all those countries which are its trading partners and may also be able to exercise fair bit of negativity against Pakistan and China in this domain. However, it’s overall power projection and generation of influence in the key regions would still remain limited unless it drastically improves relations with both Pakistan and China. It also highlights the importance of strategic nature of Pak-China relationship.
US follows a two pronged strategy against China, what some analysts term as “Contaigement” (Containment and Engagement). China counters this through application of a multi-faceted direct and indirect strategy. The engagement aspect does not irk both US and China to the extent of it being positive. Some of the major facets employed by China to counter the containment are; enhancement of politico-economic and military cooperation in key world regions, development of its military capability and seeking multiple trade corridors. Pakistan can offer major cooperation in many of these facets and thus emerges as a crucial player in facilitating for China a safe alternative outlet in to the global strategic zones.

China developed eastern Chinese region as a deliberate and well thought out policy. Now that this region has been well on its way to becoming a developed reality, western Chinese region bordering Pakistan is also being developed. The population of western China is close to 300 million people. The closest trade access to the sea for this large set of entrepreneurs is through Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar ports linked via Karakoram highway.

Pakistan’s sympathetic leanings towards China is one of the major causes of present trust-deficit between US and Pakistan, since the US in its endeavours to contain China is also eyeing Pakistan’s southern sea ports to acquire its own strategic corridor with links to Central Asian resources and to safeguard its interests. If this assumption is correct then it is quite likely that the US will continue to act as Pakistan’s neighbour for quite some time through its presence in Afghanistan and other regional countries and its projected withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to remain restricted to end of combat operations.

In the 1960s, US attempted to follow the strategy of Pivotal Statecraft with regard to India and Pakistan. The strategy entailed that as US had influence and leverages in both India and Pakistan, it could manipulate or coerce both countries to find solutions to bilateral problems, under US auspices. However, the attempt failed as India had an alternative in the form of Russia and Pakistan looked for Chinese support. Apparently, US is attempting to follow a similar strategic posture again. Interestingly, in the ensuing geo-political environment India has no other entity to align with except the USA, whereas Pakistan can still lean towards China and frustrate US desires.

Pakistan therefore sits at the cross-roads of strategic interests of major world powers – an unenviable predicament or an enviable opportunity! Pakistan’s security and prosperity in the future therefore depends in a large way on how it exploits this geo-political tangle vis-à-vis these major contenders. It is here that Pakistan’s ability to generate a cooperative response from the great powers would be tested. Pakistan may not and should not become a party to any of the big powers and use its influence to generate a cooperative and all-supportive environment for future stability of the region. Pakistan’s decision makers must appreciate the strength Pakistan has placed itself in, despite the impediments and must not loose this strategic advantage. The success of Pakistani grand strategy depends upon its ability to manipulate co-relation of contending powers to its own advantage.

Khan A. Sufyan is a security analyst on South Asia, and has advised government, semi-government and private organizations and institutions on national and international security issues, as well as participating in a number of national and international seminars and presented papers on various regional and global security issues.

NOTE: This is a cross post from Eurasia View.

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  • Javaid Haider  On April 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    yasmeen sahiba,

    thank you for posting this most interesting analysis. my views have been similar to those expressed here. there is america and the west on one side. there is powerful russia and the rising global power, china, on the other. the west has sought the help of india. the Great Game is on. coming days will be most interesting. bad news is, pakistan will be the arena where this Game is going to be contested.

  • Bajwa  On April 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    These geopolitical dilemmas are as old as the Kushan Dynasty! Indus Valley has historically swung from one sphere of influence to another. From Greeks to Guptas is just one illustration.

    Historical cycle has now brought Indus Valley to a point where India has grown into an Jumbo Elephant . Pakistan, the latest political configuration of Indus Valley,has to move closer to Central Asian states. Fortunately they have constituted a Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation which includes two autonomous provinces of China. Pakistan should try to join that organisation.

    Pakistan’s real problem is its religious wrapping and a failure to open up its economy even to countries with which it has military alliances. There is also the problem of Fourth Estate always unsettling civilian governments. Jean Paul Sartre thought journalists would help intellectuals build up progressive societies.Our journalists have proved him wrong.


  • Haroon Wasti  On April 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Educative. Thanks.

  • Khalid  On April 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    One of the best I have read recently. This gentleman has explained almost the total geopolitical jigsaw-puzzle in limited number of pages and also explained the Pakistani position in this milieu. He has explained the major US concerns, how the US is trying to come to terms with her concerns and how China is attempting to circumvent US hedging. One of the most interesting things that emerges is the almost limited geoplitical strength India can ensemble at this stage. Apparently, if Pakistan can take care of its act internally, this country seems to be in a very strong geopolitical position at this stage. Marvelous article indeed.

  • Zulqarnain  On April 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Taking a cue from Khalid Sahib’s comments about India …

    Pankaj Mishra in Apr 6 article in The Hindu titled “The deception at the heart of ‘Rising India’ asys that, “The (wikileaks) cables offer many such instances of the ideological deceptions practised by the purveyors of ‘Rising India’. Virtually all economic growth of recent years, a senior politician admits, is concentrated in the four southern states, two western states (Gujarat and Maharashtra) and ‘within 100km of Delhi’…………………. Visiting the White House in 2008, Mr. Manmohan Singh induced a nationwide cringe when he blurted out to the most disliked American President ever: ‘The people of India deeply love you.’ (Even George Bush looked startled.) This love unblushingly speaks its name in the cables; even the Pakistanis appear dignified when compared with the Indians stampeding to plant kisses on U.S. behinds. Mr. Singh has presided over an ignominious surrender of national sovereignty and dignity.”

    In a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said, “Our two militaries (US and Indian) enjoy a robust series of exchanges, visits, and exercises that create critical linkages between personnel and further deepen habits of cooperation. From counter-piracy to disaster relief, our two militaries have much to gain from each other….”.

    From counter-piracy to disaster relief …. this where the cooperation begins and this where the cooperation ends even after Indians plant kisses on American behinds. Ha ha ha.
    The author Mr. Khan A. Sufyan has very aptly highlighted the almost nothingness of India in the emerging geopolitical environment. And that is where the rising India stands or limps?

  • siddiqui my  On April 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    A very interesting and thought provoking article which requires serious attention
    Khalid sb has added an important note…” ………..Pakistan can take care of its act internally”
    This is a severe obstacle and problem; Pakistan holds many aces but does not know ( or unable ! ) how to play!!!!!!!! or unable ( not allowed ) to play ?
    It is not just Leadership problem but National problem; we have been gradually made into zombies thro a rotten education system………………..

  • Syed Wajahat  On April 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    I was looking at the map of Pakistan that is inserted in the article below.

    Which made me wonder, how much grief can be saved in Pakistan,
    for those who have been a victim of the Taliban conflict, if we thought
    out side the box doe juat once.

    Then came the what if scenarios:

    What if Pakistan and Iran collaborated in creating a safe corridor
    for Afghanistan from, for example, Port of Pasni, straight north, no deviations.
    A corridor that will transport all the shipping destined for Afghanistan from the Arabian Sea
    over this ribbon of Highway and Railroad Tracks. These can Link up directly to the Afghan
    National High way that runs between Herat and Kabul.

    This corridor will run through Iran and Baluchistan. Which will give
    the burden of supervision to all 3 countries.

    The positive side of this move will be very significant. All of the Afghan traffic that now
    moves between Karachi and Kabul through the heart of Pakistan, wilkl have shifted off
    to the most remote corners of Iran and Paksitan. Thus making it difficult for the ill intensioned
    elements from using populated areas of Pakistan as a heaven for hiding out.

    Funding can come from the international community. The wealth being dumped for
    ill concieved projects in Afghanistan will more than pay for this vital link. The employment so
    created will keep the population busy for years to come. These remote area will have an opportunity
    to be developed for natural resources and cultivation. This will act as the safety relief for the
    steam that is building up in the pressure cooker.

    It is said, “A busy mind keeps the Satan away”

    Syed Wajahat Hussain

  • Zahid  On April 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Wajahat Sahib,
    The Indians with the help of Iran (obviously) are building a corridor to bypass Pakistan and link Cnetral Asia through Iran and Afghanistan. A shallow water port at Chahbahar in Iran located just north of Gawadar has been built with Indian help and is being linked through Zaranj – Dilaram road to Aghanistan and then on to Central Asia. This road incidently is being built by Indian Army organization known as Border Road Organization (BRO). Further details are available in various press reports.
    Your idea is very good, if Iran agrees – but apparently they have already decided in Indian favour to bypass Pakistan. The irony however is, who is going to use this road through Iran as long as the Americans are sitting in Afghanistan or as long as there is no counter revolution against mullas in Iran.
    The game is on Wajahat Sahib. Only if our leaders act in greater interest of Pakistan and do not give priority to their petty little interests.

  • K. Bajwa  On April 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    The Scheme may come true if Pakistan gets leaders who want to comprehend the interests of Pakistan and can afford to forego their personal interests.

  • S U Turkman  On April 18, 2011 at 12:33 am

    The article is written by a man, who only can think in perspective of 15th Century. Its being told like USA is an Enemy of USA, when USA is the biggest importer of Chinese Goods and while even companies’ owned by Chinese Generals and China’s Political their Shares are being trading in US Stock Markets because they are registered there more than a decade ago and China does not want to lose American Investors and exports to USA.
    Its like no Pakistani knows, China’s progress had only started after USA had permitted American Industrialists to start building their factories in China to use her cheap labor.
    It has been propagated by ISI that USA wants Indian Kashmir to spy on China, when whole telecommunication system of China is owned by Americans and they do not have to spy on China because they are China themselves.
    Hate and Jealousy of India is evident in comments of Pakistanis and they have no proof that India with 4th largest Foreign Exchange reserves and hardly any IMF Loans is not becoming the next China. On the other hand Pakistan has been a Beggar Country since 1953 and is not even trying to advance. Its only trying to advance in Sneak Attack Terrorism and killing its own people more craftily.

  • kaizer durrani  On April 18, 2011 at 3:45 am

    Xlent,we have a situation,Pakistan if it xploits it properly can garner a long term source of income,if it makes a road from jiwani, gwader,pasni ports, connect it with turbet,punjgur,dalbadin,and to AFGHANISTAN, this will outmanuvre all else hagemonic designs of all think tanks,it will also open up the hinterland of BALUCHISTAN,give jobs and income to the downtroden masses.The road should be 8 lane and of the highest quality .REST LATER.

  • Turkman Bashi  On April 18, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Iyi gunler Turkman Bashi. I am sure you don’t even understand what is the meaning of that because it is written in Turkman language. Mr. Turkman, the author has clearly highlighted US strategy of containment and engagement ‘Contaigement’. Please read before you shoot. Yes the US and China trade is almost touching a Trillion dollars, yet if you read US military strategy papers, yes written and issued by US government departments, they talk about hedging against China – they say that China is their major concern – I wonder if you understand what it means.
    Sir, in the 1950-60 USA did have a snooping station in Indian Occupied Kashmir and helped India raise and train Force 22 or something to fight behind enemy lines. The US generals have visited Indian Occupied Kashmir on numerous recent occasions and so too the Israelis – what for. Is there a chance US may do it again – they may.
    And the 15th century perspective. Good lord, you need to read Clausewitz to find that, as apparently you don’t know anything about 15thc century environment. Get yourself educated Sir before gibberishing on such intellectual forums. Go to other forums where your gibberish may work – not here. Thank you sir

    • sturkman  On October 18, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      USA had trained Force 22 in 1950’s and 1960’s, when she was gifting Naval Ships and Jet Fighters to start Pakistan’s Navy and Air Force?
      USA was doing that when she was building Pak Army that had only 16 Tanks in 1949?
      Pakistanis were eating USA Wheat and Sugar everyday and USA was doing that and building Spying Station in Kashmir?
      You sound insane.
      I do not think, there can be people of any country more thankless and backstabbing than Pakistanis. LaanaT …!

  • TMH  On April 18, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Where our national interest lies, which way we have to go, or with whom we have
    to build out multi faceted relations, with trust. The balance sheet is very clearly
    point us to build our further relation with more vigor with China. It is not a
    difficult choice. We have been greatly benefitted from our relations with neighbourly China.
    Whereas our relation with America were more of one sided, when we needed we were
    used and discarded at the end, this happens so many times.


  • Haroon Wasti  On April 18, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Nothing is flowing in “OUR” favour, anywhere in the world.
    A century of downward trends for the UMMA as a whole.

  • Admiral Sirohey  On April 18, 2011 at 9:17 am

    It might save Pakistan from daily embarrassment of illegal crossings via Iran through Turkey in to Europe. We need to create opportunities and conditions in Pakistan for the unemployed to earn their living. The creating and providing jobs to the favourites is adding to the frustration and anger.


  • Talha  On April 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Excellent wrte-up by Sufyan Khan. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. The comments by various people are very very illuminating. Good.

  • Raashid  On April 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Excellent idea by kaizer durrani.

  • siddiqui my  On April 18, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    Durrani sb’s idea is good but will it be allowed by the Powers in being ? Look what has happened & IS HAPPENING to Gwadar ?
    It is of course will be possible if we are a NATION and not divided; first we require internal cleansing; educate ourselves; stand togather and be proud of our inheritance and choose our leaders carefully……………….it is all possible and doable; did’nt we do this in 1947…by just one frail and dying man and we all stood solidly behind him…he was honest to the core and sincere to the hilt……..
    We all have to look into ourselves; we have been too long at the blame game….I am sure you all know Who was AMEEN & SADIQ ???????????????????? the world was changed since then ??????
    I assure you it can be done; TIME is of no essence…it is over the horizon…………….

  • Qamar  On April 19, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Surprisingly the analysis conducted by Mr. Sufyan Khan published here has now started emerging in other analyses and articles and op-eds being published by known mainstream world media outlets. Amazing foresight this gentleman had when he penned down his thoughts on future geopolitical environment of South Asia. Marvelous indeed.

  • zafarrao7  On October 15, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Reblogged this on zafarrao.

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