One endgame, many players
Pakistan has finally resumed the NATO Afghan supply lines after a hiatus of about seven months, with US rendering an apology. The opening of these routes followed some ominous developments. While most of the discussion around the issue of supply lines portrays it as a matter principally between Pakistan, US, and Afghanistan, the debate fails to account for the larger geopolitical dynamics. PoliTact has consistently maintained the politics of the neighbouring region of Middle East will define the shape of politics and alliances in the South and Central Asia.
Three unprecedented events may have led up to the decision by Pakistan to resume the Nato Afghan supply lines. First, the opening of the supply lines took place at a time when Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation to western sanctions against its oil exports. The sanctions went into effect on July 1st. While Iran has not deployed that option as of now, the US has asserted such an action will be taken as a declaration of war. Iran, on the other hand, just concluded a missile exercise that projects Iranian response to any attack on its nuclear installations. The nation claims it has the capability to pretty much wipe out US bases in the region, and that its naval ships in the region are sitting ducks.
In this context, the deployment of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) USS Enterprise in the territorial waters of Pakistan near Gawadar is especially noteworthy. According to media reports, the aircraft carrier was moved there in the second week of June, carrying over 4000 marines and 80 fighter jets. The surveillance system of the carrier covers over 1000 kilometres, which puts most of Pakistan in its range. Enterprise is replacing CSG Abraham Lincoln that was located near the Iranian territorial waters previously and was then moved to the Persian Gulf, passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The placement of these carriers suggests that US is preparing contingencies for a number of regional scenarios that can play out in the near future.
The second event was the introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives last Thursday, urging President Obama to declare the Haqqani network a terrorist organisation. The designation will make provision of any support to the organisation unlawful. The bill was initiated by the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers; Buck McKeon, Chairman of House Armed Services Committee and Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The initiation of the bill was widely seen as applying pressure on Pakistan to open the NATO Afghan supply lines.
The deportation of Abu Jundal (Syed Zabiuddin Ansari) by Saudi Arabia to India, for his involvement in the Mumbai incident, is the third consequential occurring. His expulsion and arrest is believed to be deeply embarrassing for Pakistan and points to the sea change in its traditional good relations with Saudi Arabia. It is potentially an outcome of Pakistan insistence on continuing the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project and energy dealings with Iran. While the US recently exempted India, and even China, from its oil sanctions on Iran, Pakistan so far has not been.
On the other hand, the study of the emerging alignments of Middle East indicates that NATO and GCC countries are acting in unison while Russian and China are continuing to oppose military action against Iran and intervention in Syria. The matters have worsened to such an extent that both Russia and China boycotted the Paris meeting of the Friends of Syria. In reaction, Hilary Clinton stated that there should be a price for the positions China and Russia are taking in support of Assad’s regime. Meanwhile, the Friends of Syria agreed to hugely increase support for the rebels. There are also indications that the Syrian’s had shot down the Turkish fighter jet on June 22 using a Russian anti-air Pantsyr-1 missile, which were recently supplied to it. In short, the gloves may be coming off as far as the situation of Syria is concerned.
With the Muslim Brotherhood at the helms of power, Egypt has emerged as an unknown factor in these emerging alliances. The Gulf countries are especially worried what the Muslim Brotherhood inspired revolutions can do in their own backyards. To prevent this, attempts are already underway by GCC countries and Turkey to bring Egypt on board.
In the case of South Asia, the alignment is more like Nato, Afghanistan and India, with Pakistan being the unknown. If and when hostilities break out in the Persian Gulf, Pakistan’s relations with Iran will take on an added emphasis. Moreover, what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which have US presence, will be equally critical for Iran. This is where the matter of Nato’s Afghan supply lines becomes quite complex.
If Iran is attacked, the bases of Afghanistan are likely to be used as well. The downing of US stealth drone RQ 170 near the Iranian border with Afghanistan had already raised such a prospect. However, Pakistan will be seen as allowing supplies for Nato forces that are waging an attack on a state that is friendly towards it. In such an eventuality, Pakistan’s posture is bound to raise the suspicion of Iran, China and Russia.
Strikes on Iran can also cause sympathy of the Afghan Shiite population to rise in favour of the country and against Nato forces. This could put it in the worse possible position, under attack from Taliban and the forces that have usually been cooperative with the coalition forces. On the other hand, the increasing Sunni-Shiite tussles in the region assist in mitigating such an outcome.
As the Chinese and Russian position grow harder against intervention in Syria or military action against Iran, Pakistan will face the pressures to clarify its position. Although India started off being neutral initially, it has gradually moved closer to the Nato-GCC alliance. From how it looks now, Pakistan will have to decide between the Nato-GCC alliance on the one hand and the China, Russia, and Iran on the other. And, in this respect the future of Iran and Syrian conflict may also dictate events in the AfPak region.
The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org