“The US has permanent interests in South Asia and will maintain its presence in Afghanistan to have influence in that region” said US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, at the Pentagon in August, 2018. Was Dunford revealing something new? The US’ media has also started raising probing questions on Afghanistan.
What are the US’ strategic compulsions that are forcing it to continue a bloody war inside Afghanistan? Thanks to shale technology, which facilitated the US to pump-out huge amounts of oil and gas from within its borders, they do not have the same need for Central Asian oil and gas exploration, which was their primary reason for their continued presence in Afghanistan. It was during Obama’s second tenure that the US launched its ‘Asia Pivot’ policy, whose key areas of focus were ‘expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights in the countries of Asia-Pacific’. However, since its inception, there has always been a suspicion that this policy was created just to counter China’s growing influence.
The reason why the US was prompted to introduce the ‘Asia Pivot’ policy was due to its one trillion dollar debt to China, the repayment of which had started to create tensions between the two nations. It took a nasty turn in 2010 when the Chinese president directly asked the US to return the full debt amount, widening the gulf between the two countries and eventually prompting the US to unveil ‘Asia Pivot’ as its future policy for the Asia-Pacific region in 2012.
Interestingly, China had already introduced the concept of ‘Belt and Road’ back in 1999 and President Xi formally presented the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative in 2013, with the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) taking centre stage in the endeavour.
The CPEC is not only an infrastructure project, but it has its vital strategic significance too, as it is an overland transportation route, which connects Western China to the Arabian Sea, through the port city of Gwadar. Before its official launch, the Chinese were worried that in the case of a military confrontation, the usual import route for oil through the Malacca Straights in South China Sea could be blocked.
The CPEC will not only provide a safe route for Chinese exports and imports but will also facilitate as an alternate transportation route for China to import oil, thus re-shaping the future of Asia. China imports around 9 million barrels of oil per day. In a situation where other supply routes, such as the South China Sea, are blocked, CPEC could prove to be a strategic answer to facilitate China’s trade.
“Chinese were worried that in the case of a military confrontation, the usual import route for oil through the Malacca Straights in South China Sea could be blocked.” In a situation where other supply routes, such as the South China Sea, are blocked, CPEC could prove to be a strategic answer to facilitate China’s trade
India, a regional power and US ally, perceives CPEC as a threat to its economic as well as strategic position in South and East Asia. It has continuously been challenging and opposing CPEC on all international forums. Consequently, it has opted for Afghanistan as an alternate route, by using Iran’s Chabahar port to gain access to the land-locked country and other Central Asian countries beyond. However, the Trump administration has recently backed out from the US-Iran nuclear deal and has announced its plan for economic sanctions against the Asian state.
Due to growing tensions between the two nations, India’s regional policy has started facing roadblocks. At the same time, the US has been blaming Pakistan for their failures in Afghanistan, and have been encouraging India to take a greater role in the country. But this raises the question as to how they expect India to have access to Afghanistan in an environment in which the US has locked horns with Iran and is twisting Pakistan’s arm?
Clearly, CPEC is a game-changing project. It will change Asia’s future. The Trump administration, while promoting Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’, is expanding its infrastructure drive in the Asia-Pacific region. Pompeo’s ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Vision’ will increase the financial support that the US government provides to countries in the region through USIDFC along with US$113 million in direct government investment.
The plan would double the global spending to US $60 billion. Brian Hook, a senior policy adviser to Pompeo, said Indo-Pacific is the most consequential region of the globe. This is the reason why the US wants to stay in Afghanistan.
The writer is the author of Half Truth. He can be tweeted at @ferrukh_mir
Published in Daily Times, September 25th 2018.