The defining event in November in South Asia remained abrupt slump in US Pakistan relations after 25 Pakistani soldiers were killed on two posts in Mohmand Agency, a tribal area on the Pak Afghan border in air and helicopter strikes by NATO forces operating from Afghanistan. This led to a rapid drop in US Pakistan relations yet given American commitment in South Asia the impact is likely to be felt not just in Islamabad and Washington but across the Indian Sub Continent, here is why?
United States and South Asia has developed umbilical relations over a period. America has always been close to Pakistan with the multilateral pacts such as CENTO and SEATO in the early years of its independence, front line status against Soviet presence in Afghanistan as well as in the war against terror. Despite the present hiatus Pakistan remains a major non NATO ally of Washington. United States military and economic commitment to Afghanistan is one of the largest seen in the last decade and is likely to continue in some form in the years to come.
The US discovered India in the past decade though with over 2 million Indian origin citizens in America the relationship could not have been estranged for long. Strong people to people relations between US and India will drive the dance of democracies over the next many decades. US and Bangladesh are getting closer each year with some even stating that the relationship is strategic in nature. This is paying America major dividends given that Bangladesh has a large moderate Muslim population and the US wants to improve its image in the Islamic world.
The US has even turned to Myanmar technically on the periphery of South Asia but integrated with India and Bangladesh in the land as well as maritime domain. Thus it will be an important factor in that country increasingly. Another important country for the US on the periphery of South Asia is Iran.
The strain in US Pakistan relations will have an overall impact particularly as the decline has been sudden. The death of large number of soldiers in an incident of fratricide between allies in war against terror led to further strain in the frayed relationship which had somehow survived the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad by US special forces and the Raymond Davis affair wherein the latter a possible CIA operative was charged with murder of Pakistani citizens presumably in an intelligence feud. This incident certainly had portends of greater tensions.
Pakistan saw this as an affront to sovereignty and ordered US to vacate the Shamsi air base leased through the United Arab Emirates. Islamabad has also threatened to boycott the 2nd Bonn meet on Afghanistan wherein the overall strategy for peace and stability in that country will be outlined and commitments made. Pakistan has also suspended NATO supply route from Karachi to Kabul and Kandahar, with over 50 percent supplies transported over the same.
US Pakistan relations have remained testy for a long time now as the coalition is seen by many as a transactional one rather than based on common aims and objectives. But the drop post Mohmand deaths is likely to affect not just Washington and Islamabad but also the South Asian region as a whole and thus needs some deliberation.
While Pakistan is not likely to adopt an adversarial relationship with the United States, yet the series of incidents including the Memogate wherein there were allegations of the Pakistan civil government attempting a soft coup through an appeal to the former US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has added to resentment towards America. Restoring this is likely to take time even though the US is the largest donor in the country including for flood relief. While the US needs Pakistan, the latter despite the rhetoric requires it more due to the state of economy and pledged support in various fields including the military.
A positive role by Pakistan in Afghanistan is a norm that has been well established. At Bonn commitments made in an international forum specifically for this purpose will have to be adhered to and thus participating governments would be held accountable. Thus in case Pakistan chooses to stay out despite calls by the Afghan President, the German Chancellor and the US Secretary of State so far, there would be reservations on Islamabad’s obligations.
With Islamabad already leaning towards China and Russia, both of which have sympathized with Pakistan on Mohmand deaths, political spin at the global and regional level may suck in other players including India and Iran. The latter’s relations with the United States are on an edge and any misstep could even conflagrate into a shooting war which some of the energy analysts are already factoring in their projections on the price of oil rising to as high as USD 175 per barrel. That would be no doubt catastrophic to the global economy with little signs of recovery. The delicate strands of peace being woven between India and Pakistan may also not remain unaffected.
Thus there is reason for concern that deterioration of US Pakistan relationship may not remain contained bilaterally, but also conflagrate in the region. Hopefully some of the portends stated herein do not turn out to be true, but that would necessitate some bold statesmanship in one of the politically most trouble some regions in the World.