The Great Game revisited

Published: January 4, 2012
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The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, and a fellow of the International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

The writer is the executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, and a fellow of the International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Imran Khan and Co. want to deal with the US as equal partners. They want the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty. The PTI also wants a permanent end to the drone war, as well as a fundamental review of the counter-terror cooperation. This came clearly through when Imran Khan, Javed Hashmi and others, addressed their big show in Karachi, as well as their media and public interactions thereafter. On the face of it, this sounds like a noble cause, pretty much in sync with the desire to have an evenly-calibrated relationship with Nato countries. In fact, Imran Khan had taken the lead in staging a sit-in against the sending of Nato supplies via Pakistan, first in Peshawar and then in Karachi.

It could be argued that the primary sticking point following the US attack on the Salala checkpost, on November 26, is the stopping of Nato supplies via Pakistan. This has also refocused attention on an alternative supply route via Russia, which is much longer.

In wake of this situation, Central Asia has become the hub of Isaf and Nato activity with countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan standing out as prime contenders to replace Pakistan’s status of a front line ally in the war against terror. Indications coming out of Washington and Kabul reinforce this, suggesting that the US may now want to station its military equipment in bases in these two Central Asian countries. This, of course, will ring alarm bells in Moscow, which would see its regional interests being challenged by an increasing nexus between America, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s negotiations with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, on October 21 and 22 last year, also underscored the American desire to create a ring around Russia and China through the aforementioned Central Asian States; the way the US is using the Pacific Ocean region for a similar ring around China (with bases in Guam, Philippines, South Korea and Okinawa).

The shift in US strategy for using Tajikistan and other states for a) marginalising the Russian influence, and b) creating alternative supply routes, came to notice when several planes owned by Russian investment group, Rolkan, were grounded in Afghanistan as well as Tajikistan. These, according to reports, were impounded and in one of the cases, a Russian and an Estonian pilot, were jailed for eight years in Tajikistan for illegally crossing the country and smuggling a disassembled jet engine. Both were, however, released by a Tajik court.

A new political realignment, it seems, is playing out in Central Asia. There is the US on the one hand, courting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and Russia on the other. The latter is somewhat alarmed and is responding to America by trying to keep the latter’s influence from expanding in the region. In addition to this, there is also an ongoing war of geostrategic interests between China and Russia — the two key members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This, too, is facing American efforts to upstage both Moscow and Beijing by enticing smaller SCO members into lucrative financial deals, including payments for military bases and transit fees.

Keeping this in view, it is therefore safe to presume that even if Islamabad and Washington smoothen out their stand-off over the cargo issue, the creeping American influence in the region will continue to constitute concerns, not only for major SCO countries but, also for Pakistan because of the US preference for long-term, if not permanent, bases in and around Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Falcon
    Jan 4, 2012 - 11:22PM

    Agreed. I think even if US pulls out of Afghanistan by 2014. It will continue to maintain its presence in some shape or form for at least a decade or two so that it contain the regional influence of emerging giants. Geo-politically, South Asia is the most important region for this century.

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  • Pro Bono Publico
    Jan 4, 2012 - 11:32PM

    IF the US is courting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then expect the people there will continue to suffer unspeakable human rights violations because tyrants serve foreign interests more efficiently.

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  • Aryabhat
    Jan 4, 2012 - 11:42PM

    If US wants presence to circle China or Russia, Pakistan should be happy that its rentier existance would be supported by US funds – one way or other.

    Since last 50 years Pakistan has milked American empire building in this region. It will continue to do so.

    In fact is Americans truely walk away from Central Asia and Afghanistan, Pakistan will default in 5-7 years.

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  • Abbas from the US
    Jan 5, 2012 - 12:07AM

    I believe the Russian led alliance of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) at a summit in Moscow towards the end of December took a collective decision that for the setting of foreign military bases on CSTO territory, there has to a approval by all member states of this alliance which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, kyrgyzstan, Russia Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Since there was an agreement that in order to to deploy a military base by a non CSTO member third country (that would be the US and NATO as the writer suggests) on the territory of CSTO members a collective decision of official approval would be required. This preempts any future expansion of US/Nato led military bases in the central asian region. Uzbek President Islam Karimov not only attended the CSTO summit in Moscow, but went on to voice his support of the alliance’s decision.
    It is quite apparent the writer is not taking into consideration the changed situation in his article

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  • Cautious
    Jan 5, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Typical Pakistan melodrama which implies the USA is trying to encircle China and Russia because of some inherent conflict. It’s time to wake up — whether you like it or not America has better relations with your “all weather friend” than you do and that applies to Russia as well.

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  • Freeman
    Jan 5, 2012 - 12:48AM

    @Aryabhat: It will be a blessing for Pakistan if America leave central and south Asia. Infact Pakistan lost over 80 Billion US Dollar since 9/11 becasue of Afghan war and Pakistan received less than 11 Billion dollar in coalition reimbursement out of 20 Bilion. Remaining money went in American administration and staff people who are in American Embassy in Islammabad. America used Pakistan brutly in the last 50 years for its own benfits. Last 10 years Paksitan’s highways and motorways have been destroyed because of ISAF and American used them as a supply routes. The day Afghan war will stop and America will leave this region it will be the end of the Pakistan’s most problems. There is no doubt about it.

    My dear grow up just do not try to show one sided picture. America gave that money to corrupt and puppet leaders who put that money in Swiss and other foreign countries banks accounts. None of that money used on any ordinary Pakistani people.

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  • Khurram Khalid
    Jan 5, 2012 - 3:33AM

    I just was wondering which seaport will the Americans use to transport goods to Central Asia for Afghanistan: Pakistani, Iranian, Chinese, Georgian, or Russian? Although Central Asia has proximity to Afghanistan, but all the central Asian countries are land locked as we do not consider Caspian sea being not an open sea. None of these ports mentioned above fits the overall scheme suggested in this article or mentioned often at other places. We can not imagine Americans transporting their stuff by air from Europe or North America. If that is the case then Americans or NATO do not need Central Asia for transit.

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  • John B
    Jan 5, 2012 - 4:45AM

    The strength of the relationship with China, Russia and central asian republics is in US favor than with Pakistan. Even in cold war USSR and US had warm relationship compared to what PAK and US are having for the past 10 years.

    If any, both US and UK media publicly begin to denounce PAK as an unreliable partner and it is in PAK best interest to go an extra mile. Of course PAK pride does not allow that. PAK is in no position to play the game.

    In the international politics the winner is who has the stamina to stay in the game until the last whistle. Does PAK have the stamina?

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 5, 2012 - 6:05AM

    Hey Author, you talk about the (supposed) desire America has for permanent bases in and around Afghanistan! Please tell us (as an example of reality) all about the “permanent bases” America now has in Iraq?

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  • Harry Stone
    Jan 5, 2012 - 6:07AM

    This should send a message to PAK – you are not the only nation in SEA.

    There will be work arounds. About all PAK can do is add to the problem. It surely has proven not to be able or willing to solve the problem.

    The only influence PAK is through its exports Recommend

  • Hafeez
    Jan 5, 2012 - 2:07PM

    By the way, what was this article about? Everybody knows that CARs are since long been courted by USA, and very successfully. And how does or should it concern Pakistan? Is it not Pakistan that wants USA to stay in the region as otherwise Pakistan always faces sanctions (a case in point is after the fall of USSR).Recommend

  • John
    Jan 5, 2012 - 3:02PM

    I am really surprised that there is no mention of INDIA and that too in a pakistani article… Happy to see some change in attitude in our relations…

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  • Bilal
    Jan 5, 2012 - 9:43PM

    @Harry Stone, “This should send a message to PAK – you are not the only nation in SEA. ”

    Correct me if I am wrong, South East Asia (SEA)??

    Secondly, at the moment, yes Pakistan is the best option right now. Besides providing the shortest/economical routes and super-obedient lackeys in Government, Pakistan is the only country in the region which is holding the whole “situation” . Moreover besides the influence it holds in Taliban ranks, Pakistan can also dictate some terms not the least by holding a nuclear loaded gun— to its own head.Recommend

  • @Freeman
    Jan 5, 2012 - 11:41PM

    My friend, Pakistan can say it lost 1 Trillion USD, why only 80 billion?

    As for America leaving, just count for Central Asia. As for South Asia, Pakistan alone can’t decide. There are other nations too.

    Also come out of fantasy of America leaving and all problems going away. Just look at today’s Iraq. One can blame America, Saddam, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. for what a mess it is today. All of this is true to an extent. What is absolutely true is, if America walks away today, Af-Pak may face similar fate.

    As for Pakistan’s leaders, you have democracy. Why only blame leaders and not the people who elect them? Or even in Army’s rule, Army top guns are also Pakistani – not Americans!Recommend

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