Major power rivalries and Pakistan

The US is moving decisively to reinforce and retain its singular position as the global hegemon and pre-eminent economic power. Its current focus appears to be Europe while Asia is in its crosshairs too. To this end, it aims to counter the twin challenge posed by the Sino-Russia Combine to its overall global exceptionalism. The contours of its strategic design to dominate the world are visible. It has ostensibly operationalised its Strategy of Offshore Balancing to deal with this threat, albeit piecemeal—first Russia, then China. In Europe, it is Ukraine that is bearing the brunt of Russian aggression while the rest of US-led Western Europe has been marshalled in its support. In Asia, the US has established the QUAD to counter China. There are likely to be two potential theatres of war within the Asian context; the Indo-Pacific and the South Asian region. In the potential Indo-Pacific theatre it will be Japan and Australia supporting the US with India in tow. In the potential South Asian theatre, the US would like to pitch India against China although currently, the former seems seriously (and realistically) disinclined and hesitant to sign up. As a rider clause, in both instances, coalitions of the willing will be created to support the overall war effort(s). Consequently, it appears to be tackling Russia first. It has lured it into attacking Ukraine and is in the process of weakening it through a multidimensional approach. At the military level, it is aiming to dismantle the Russian claim to invincibility through a strategy of attrition. The US-led West has bolstered Ukraine’s anti-aircraft and anti-tank resources substantially. Russian losses have been meaningful, though by no means crippling or decisive. In the diplomatic domain, the US-led West is endeavouring to totally isolate and demonise it as an aggressor. All countries that have not fully supported this US policy have started feeling the pinch of US’ ire and sanctions. In the economic domain, sanctions on Russia are turning out to be double-edged weapons with Western Europe (especially Germany) being most affected.
In the South Asian theatre, it is India which will have to bear the onus of taking the fight to the Chinese on behalf of the US. Is it willing to do so? Will it have its soldiers bleed and die in the service of Uncle Sam? Though US and Indian interests might converge against China but are their desired end states, their objectives and the intensity thereto, the same? Can India credibly ever dominate or subdue China, even with the unstinted support of the US? Does it really need to, considering the levels of bilateral trade between them? Is it willing to pay the costs thereof in men, materials and treasure? The US will again prefer to deal with Pakistan and China piecemeal. It will intend to neutralise Pakistan first, isolate China within the South Asian context, and then confront it.
It would be of paramount interest to the US-led West to see the BRI-CPEC being systematically delayed, disrupted and eventually destroyed as it ominously challenges its economic dominance of the world. Furthermore, there is a portentous clash of interests of three of the world’s major military, nuclear and missile forces in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir Region (IIOJ&KR). It will be a herculean, nay impossible task for the US to neutralise the potential threat from Pakistan without any solution to the long festering IIOJ&KR, Siachen, water, Sir Creek and other issues with India. India will not concede to any such demands from the US and Pakistan will not accede otherwise either! China has thus far not proactively reacted to the various geopolitical moves underway in the South Asian region. It has made colossal investments in the BRI-CPEC and plans to further expand these into Iran, the GMER, Africa, Afghanistan the CARs etc. It is not likely to perpetually allow the delaying, disrupting and destroying of its magnum opus, the BRI-CPEC, without a compatible response. It is in Pakistan’s interest too to see the BRI-CPEC flourish and bring about an economic revolution for its people.
Is Pakistan about to become an inevitable battleground for major power rivalries, then? Is the preparatory phase in progress here too? Will Pakistan be subjected to a multidimensional assault again? Is Pakistan to be perpetually maintained in a destabilised, controlled-chaos state? On the internal political front, it is not difficult to foresee an era of extreme political instability through potential civil unrest, disorder and upheavals. Furthermore, terrorist/sleeper cell activities within the country will suddenly flare up with Chinese personnel and institutions in particular coming under attack. BRI-CPEC projects, Pakistan’s future economic lifeline, and the Armed Forces in particular will be targeted. The Pak-Afghan border will heat up further with Terrorism Central, mustered for such an eventuality, becoming proactive astride the Pak-Afghan border. The LOC/Working Boundary is bound to become active and hot all over again. The IFIs will target Pakistan’s fragile economy, its Achille’s heel, to force its hand. Pakistan will thus, in all probability, suffer the consequences of major power rivalries; with India and other hostile countries/agencies diabolically stirring the pot even further. It will require unity, very strong, courageous, decisive leadership, wisdom and astute statecraft coupled with sublime diplomacy for Pakistan to weather the impending storm without prejudice to its vital national interests.

Imran Malik

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at and tweets @K846Im.

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