The year 2013 marked the transition for Pakistan in all dimensions; may it be the new leadership in Islamabad or the country’s relations with India and the US.
Pakistan’s focus and concentration has always been towards its foreign relations, and the chronology of the events evidently manifests that nothing is more imperative to any Pakistani government than its agenda for strategic depth. The new Pakistani government in Islamabad has two fronts to bolster the relations with India and the US. Being an important player in ‘War on Terror’, Pakistan’s equation with the US and India has become imbalanced.
As 2014 is approaching, the US is eying its withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the year. At present, the US is working on a couple of strategies; firstly, it has started the dialogue process with regional actors i.e. India and Pakistan, as Secretary of State John Kerry visited the both countries recently. Secondly, it is set to bungle the negotiations, ceding ground to the Taliban to facilitate a quick exit. This has led to a race between both adversaries who are vying for a greater influence in Afghanistan.
Kerry’s India Visit
Kerry’s visit to India was focused mainly on three aspects i.e. health, economic growth and security. Kerry was hopeful about India’s decision to reduce dependency on Iranian oil. This signifies that the US does not want India to have trade ties with Iran; nevertheless, being located in the same region, India cannot isolate itself from Iran either.
India also has to compete with China; already a global economic giant that has brought most parts of the world under its economic umbrella. Any policy shift between the US and China will ultimately affect India-US and India-China ties. Beijing, therefore, must have closely watched Kerry’s India visit because bolstered Indo-US relationship can shift the power balance in Asia.
Mr Kerry also held talks with Indian officials over India’s quest to use renewable energy. The US has already pledged one-fifth of the financing needed to develop India’s solar power sector whereas the latter has installed, solar power projects of 1,000 megawatts in recent years.
Mr Kerry’s Pakistan Visit
Pakistan is passing through a critical phase nowadays; for the country has been plagued with terrorism and extremism which had ensued in an unprecedented severe economic crisis. Though Mr Kerry saw a ‘new dynamic’ in Pakistan following Nawaz Sharif’s electoral triumph and advised both India and Pakistan to invest in each other, yet the US tilt towards India is an issue that must be taken seriously in Pakistan because it could affect the balance of power in the region. We cannot avoid the factor that besides Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan, those of China and Iran are also at stake and any shift could alter the whole equation.
There is no denying the fact that to stabilise Afghanistan, a new Silk Route must be built, and that is Afghanistan connecting South Asia with Central Asia. Pakistan has a very high stake in Afghanistan owing to its geographical location. A bird’s eye view of India’s foreign relations will reveal the reasons behind strained Pak-Afghan relations.
Under the ambit of rehabilitation and reconstruction programme, India has invested nearly $2bn in Afghanistan which ensures her greater presence in Afghanistan and also makes her a key player in the region. However, India’s reservations on US drawdown and post-US Afghanistan, have led her to seek some kind of alliance with Washington to safeguard her interests. US-Iran tussle has also led Washington to foster better ties with India.
India wants to cement her relations with Iran, especially regarding oil supply. For this purpose and to pursue the plans of using Iran as a trade route to Central Asia and Afghanistan, India needs Washington’s blessings.
Now viewing the country’s position in the light of American tilt towards India, and above-mentioned scenario, Pakistan must remove the trust deficit as the country couldn’t fulfil the demands and aspirations of world community. The killing of Osama bin Laden inside its territory dwindled Pakistan’s position as the regional key player. The US looks towards Pakistan for a peaceful political settlement in post-2014 Afghanistan. In this context, Pakistan needs to stem terrorism, particularly in FATA that cannot be done overnight. In this situation, India’s emergence as an economic giant in the region, and USA’s tilt towards her is natural. Now, Pakistan has to gulp down the potentially larger and active Indian role in post-2014 Afghanistan, which may become a serious threat to Pakistan’s security. US must work to eradicate anti-Pakistan terrorist campaigns in Afghanistan so that Pakistan could cope with the menace of terrorism.
Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline was not taken well in Washington. Hence, Pakistan must also look towards Beijing to balance the situation. China can play an effective role to balance the power in the South Asia. Pak-US relations are still not as smooth as were expected after Kerry’s visit. US didn’t agree to stop the drone attacks until the elimination of terrorism from FATA and other tribal belts. Pakistan’s wish list also contains the US cooperation to overcoming energy crisis. In this regard, US have already offered help in constructing Diamer-Bhasha Dam. But, Washington has been pressurizing Pakistan to abandon the IP gas pipeline project. The American administration also severely criticized Pak-China accord over Gwadar Port.
Kerry’s visit doesn’t brought bright prospects for Pakistan. Besides unending Afghan allegations against Pakistan, soon after Kerry’s visit, the conflict with Pakistan’s eastern and western neighbours have erupted. Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and Iran all had their attentions on Kerry’s visits as the whole South Asian region will witness a power shift in the years to come.
By: Munazza Khan