US Loses Key Ally in South Asia: Screwed Up in Muslim World

  0 comments   |     by Alex GORKA

So, the US has lost another major ally. President Trump does not shy away from openly chiding Pakistan in his tweets using harsh words. On January 1, he said Pakistan was a “safe haven to the terrorists”. National Security Advisor HR McMaster chimed in saying Pakistan would become North Korea if it does not stop nuclear blackmail. Nikki Haley, US permanent representative to the UN, believes that "Pakistan has played a double game for years." According to her, Pakistan is involved in state-sponsored terrorism. This is the reason why the United States withholds $255m of military aid. In addition, Washington suspended some $900 million in Coalition Support Funds. For comparison, the entire defense budget of Pakistan amounts to roughly $8 billion. So, the US deprived the country of more than one tenth of its defense expenditure.

In return, Islamabad has suspended all military and intelligence cooperation with Washington. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said his country was no longer a US ally. Nevertheless, the supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan would not be closed.

The relationship has always been extremely complex and turbulent. It was rather a marriage of convenience than an alliance. Mistrust and suspicion have always clouded the bilateral ties.

It’s not the problem of fighting terrorism. The US itself has been many times rebuked for clandestinely backing terrorist groups. The United States has taken an extremely hostile stance toward Iran - the country which enjoys friendly relations with Pakistan. There are many reasons for that. Good relations with Iran help Pakistan to avoid unrest in its common border region predominantly populated by ethnic Baluchis. Despite being a Sunni Muslim country, Pakistan does not belong to the Saudi Arabia-led anti-Iran coalition. It does not go against Iran’s interests. For instance, it does not oppose the Iran’s involvement in Yemen.

Islamabad has been increasingly looking to China recently while turning away from the United States. The two powers have historically maintained good neighborly relations. Pakistan pins great hopes on the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a to boost Pakistan’s economy. The CPEC is part of China's One Belt One Road initiative expanding across the entire world. Special economic zones are part of the plans.

Pakistan's strategically located Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, located 180 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, features prominently in the CPEC. A network of road, rail and pipelines will be built to link Xinjiang in far-western China to Pakistan’s port. Chinese naval ships will be anchored at Gwadar to provide security and protect sea lanes, if need be. A joint task force of four to six ships will be deployed, with Chinese Marines guarding the port area.

China's authorization to Pakistan to produce all kinds of missiles as well as main battle tanks is being discussed. Beijing wants to scale up its defense cooperation with Islamabad in near future. Its assistance to Islamabad’s nuclear program has been critical. China has become more important for Pakistan than America. It is seen by Islamabad as a real friend unlike the US, which was described by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif as "a friend who always betrays.”

The relations between Moscow and Islamabad have never been better. Military cooperation is thriving. “Druzhba” military exercise is held annually to boost interaction between the armed forces. It’s not the only joint training event held regularly. Pakistan is considering the possibility of purchasing more weapons from Russia, including Su-35 fighter jets.

Talks on the construction of the ‘North-South’ gas pipeline (from Karachi to Lahore), with the Russian investment of $2 billion, are underway. Pakistan can provide a convenient international route to Russian goods via the CPEC.

Last year, Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a full-fledged member. The SCO membership presupposes security cooperation in Central Asia and regular summits allowing the leaders of Russia and Pakistan to meet on regular basis. The organization is on the way to set up an economic integration union, including the creation of a free trade zone, bank and a development fund. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that linking the SCO with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), of which Russia is a leading member, the China’s One Road, One Belt and the economic projects implemented by Association of Southeast Asian Nations could build the foundation for a larger Eurasian partnership.” Pakistan has approved a Russian request for using the Gwadar Port and is interested in joining a free trade agreement with the EEU.

Too many serious problems beset the US-Turkey relationship to call Ankara an ally of Washington. Iraq is gradually moving away from the United States to diversify its foreign policy priorities. The decision to recognize Jerusalem has deteriorated the relationship with Jordan. There are other examples of the US credibility undermined in the Muslim world. Now America has lost Pakistan, the fifth-most populous nation with a population exceeding 210 million people. This is a part of a broader picture as the US influence in the region is diminishing globally while the clout of Russia and China is growing. 

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