In 2016, the world spent U.S. $1686 billion that was around 2.3 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). India plans to spend $ 55.7 billion in 2017 which is 2.25 percent of its GDP; in comparison Pakistan’s defense budget is $9 billion which is 3.4 percent of its total economy. Thus, Pakistan trails far behind India in defense spending; its financial provision is almost 7 times short of India’s defense resources. It has to defend its autonomy and meaningfulness in the South Asian state system within these limited resources. This is an attempt to understand the need and importance of defense spending for a nation-state, examine a comparative analysis of India and Pakistan’s patterns of defense spending and its impact on Pakistan.
According to Global Index of Defense Budgets, India has surpassed Germany at eighth position in highest military expenditure. It spends more on national defense compared to Brazil, South Korea, Italy and Canada. Pakistan on the other hand is on the 27 number of the same index; accordingly, it is expected that by 2020 India will rank third in world defense expenditure of 70 billion dollars after USA and China.
The debate on the defense spending generally focuses on the notion of guns versus butter model that demonstrates a relationship between a nation's investment in defense and civilian goods. It is argued that the basic responsibility of a state is to protect itself and its citizens from outside aggression. Any failure on this count will stun the growth of all the sectors of a state and its society. It might lead to disorder in the society and result in the ultimate collapse or possible annihilation of the state. Keeping this perspective in view, a number of studies both qualitative and quantitative have been done to demonstrate the linkage between the defense spending and the increase in economic growth of a nation-state. The best example is the European Union that started with the Marshall Plan, taking roots after the establishment of the security structure in the form of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The opponents of this perspective argue that defense spending is a process of diversion of resources from productive economic sector to unproductive defense sector. They perceive the defense spending as a burden on the national economy that distorts the growth of all sectors of a nation-state. The studies done in this perspective have focused on the linkage between defense spending and the increase in the ratio of poverty in a country especially in the Least Developed Countries (LDC). Interestingly, most of the developed states spend huge proportion of their resources on the modernization of equipment and training of their forces. These developed states benefit immensely from the returns of their dominant strategic relationship with other states, trading in defense-related equipment and technology and using their defense-related knowledge and technical know-how in the civilian areas. Essentially, it is difficult for any state to differentiate between two fundamental objectives of its existence that is to ensure the national security and welfare of its citizens. No subordinate state can provide its citizens protection and prosperity against direct or indirect intervention or aggression of the other dominant state.
Thus, gun and butter are inseparable interests of a meaningfully autonomous nation-state; they pursue at the same time the twin objectives of security and prosperity. For an autonomous state, allocation of an adequate amount of funds for defense is a compulsory and competitive phenomenon that is conducted through the interpretation of the balance of threat and geo-strategic location in which it is placed. It is a perpetual, rational and integrated phenomenon of adjustment-readjustment of resource spending priorities to maintain mutually beneficial balance. That is why; defense spending is an ever-changing and complex behavior of a nation-state. It continuously swings focus between security and economic priorities.
In the South Asian state system, two factors determine defense spending of a state. Firstly, the relatively dominant position of India as compared to the rest of the regional states in terms of almost all the elements of power – geography, population and economy. This position of India gives it an illusion of grandeur and power and encourages it to struggle for the establishment of a hegemonic relationship with the smaller states of the region. Secondly, Pakistan with its middle power stature desires to remain autonomous and seek solution of the Kashmir issue through revision of the South Asian state systems borders. A unique asymmetrical strategic position exists in the region in which Pakistan cannot allow India to treat it like other small states of the region because this will turn it into an insignificant colony of Indian cheap goods. This meaningless position has never been acceptable to its people. Therefore, Pakistan is pushed to resist Indian attempts to establish its hegemony and defend its autonomy to remain meaningful to itself, regional and international powers’ structure.
India considered it essential to modernize its armed forces through establishment of defense industry and transfer of technology. Its 362 million people – almost 29.5 percent of its population – live in abject poverty. Ignoring them totally, it has spent huge amount of its finances to accumulate weapons systems and develop defense-related industry.
On the other hand, India faces no serious threat, both regional and international, to its security and way of life. Its struggle is for a status and role at the international level by its domination of the South Asian region. It wishes to attain power to extend or deny security and prosperity to the regional states. The hegemonic policy is projected as a defense against the threat mainly from China and secondly from Pakistan though relatively not very significant. India considered it essential to modernize its armed forces through establishment of defense industry and transfer of technology. Its 362 million people – almost 29.5 percent of its population – live in abject poverty. Ignoring them totally, it has spent huge amount of its finances to accumulate weapons’ systems and develop defense-related industry.
In 2003 and 2004, the Indian defense budget was around 14 billion dollars, 2.3 percent of its GDP; since then it has increased by 7 to 9 percent every year and has reached 55.7 billion. Russia has been the main beneficiary of this defense spending. It has filled almost 70 percent of weapons and technology needs of India to make its aggressive doctrine – Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) – a reality. In return, Russia has received huge amounts of payment; for instance, it received 9.355 billion dollars in the period 2001-05. India accounted for 14 percent of global arms imports from 2011-2015, a 90 percent increase over the previous five years. Due to this Indian arms manufacturers are among the top 100 companies worldwide, with billions of earnings. Now United States has also jumped into the business; in 2014-15, it sold over 1.4 billion dollars worth of weapons to India.
The obsessive power accumulation on the part of India to achieve regional hegemony has very serious consequences for the autonomous existence of Pakistan. It has faced three wars with India; in one conflict in 1971, its eastern part was separated from Pakistan and established as a separate state, Bangladesh. The Indian intervention through the instrument of Mukti Bahini converted a normal protest movement, after a decade long autocratic rule, for political rights into a violent secessionist movement; later India invaded East Pakistan to complete its hegemonic designs. It was part of Indian covert warfare against Pakistan that resurfaced in 1980s in Sindh, and now in Karachi and Balochistan. It also supports sectarian terrorism to weaken Pakistan. Thus Pakistan has been forced to invest relatively more of its national resources into defense.
India accounted for 14 percent of global arms imports from 2011-2015, a 90 percent increase over the previous five years. Due to this Indian arms manufacturers are among the top 100 companies worldwide, with billions of earnings. Now United States has also jumped into the business; in 2014-15, it sold over 1.4 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to India.
The Pakistani leadership realized that it had to match its capabilities against the sophisticated weaponry of its adversary; that is why it demonstrated no hesitation in investing in the defense of the country. But two factors weighed in the minds of the decision-makers: firstly, that they cannot match many times bigger economy of India; and secondly, no plan should undermine the economic health of Pakistan. Therefore, at times of high defense spending like the conflict with India and the Afghan crisis, the rate of growth was high, like in the late 50s and 60s, it was more than 8 percent. Additionally, the defense spending, despite extreme situations, remained far less than the 45 percent for loan repayment. The decade of 90s was the most difficult period for Pakistan. Due to unstable domestic political situation, foreign aid had been discontinued and sanctions were imposed on Pakistan because it had conducted nuclear tests. The defense spending till 1999 was around an average of 6.4 percent of the GDP but after that it started to decline further to provide more space to other sectors of the economy. In 2000, it was 5.1 percent of the GDP; it was to the tune of $2,842 million back to the level of 1990. It was a decrease of 22.48 percent. The year 2000 was a period of major transformation of the economy. Pakistan privatized state-subsidized utilities companies such as banks and Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation. Additionally, reforms were also introduced in trade and tariff, higher education, money laundering, intellectual property piracy, and agricultural and industrial sectors.
In order to support the economy the defense spending was further brought down to 4.1 percent; in 2007-8, the defense spending was frozen. By the end of the decade, Pakistan’s economy started to show signs of improvement. The defense spending was around 3.1 percent of the GDP; in terms of dollars, it was $ 7,641 million. But these figures are in sharp contrast to Indian GDP of two trillion dollars with the defense spending of 55.7 billion dollars, a fact that can never be lost to Pakistani decision-makers and people.
In conclusion, it is argued that the growing sharp imbalance between India and Pakistan could have very serious consequences both for Pakistan’s meaningful autonomous survival and strategic harmony and prosperity of the South Asian region. Pakistan cannot ignore its security and welfare of its people. It will face extreme difficulties if its economy does not grow and increase the amount that is needed to defend itself.
Pakistan has always tried to reduce the burden of defense expenditure on the economy while improving the quality of its men and material for a credible security apparatus. In this regard, Pakistan has followed two policies. One, it has attempted to build alliances with the developed states to have access to sophisticated technology and capital. The pursuit of such a policy brought it closer to the United States and China. Two, Pakistan has developed indigenous defense industry to reduce its dependence on foreign sources and to contribute its share in the domestic economy. Pakistan joined the U.S.-sponsored defense pacts in the 50s. In return, it received help to develop both its armed forces and its domestic economy. The growth of import substitute industries in the 60s was the result of this policy. In 1965, Pakistan was able to effectively defend itself against the aggression of many times more powerful India. Similarly, the U.S. assistance during the Afghan Jihad and war against terror improved the capabilities of Pakistan and helped it to sustain the economic losses.
At the same time, the alliance with the U.S. created a dependency on the U.S. and entangled Pakistan first in the international conflicts of the Cold War and later in the war against terror. At the domestic level, it created social divisions that hindered the process of integration of various sections of the society in the post-independence nation-building process. At the time of independence, Pakistan had practically no defense industry that could fulfill its basic defense needs. India refused to give it its due share in defense equipment; after a lot of reluctance it merely gave six crore rupees as compensation. In 1951, Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) was established to initiate the process of indigenous production of equipment. In 1971, the Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) was set up to fulfill the requirements of the Army to rebuild, upgrade, and manufacture tanks, tank guns and armored personnel carriers. In order to fulfill the requirements of the Air Force, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex was built at Kamra in 1972, the Heavy Forge Foundry in 1978, and the Heavy Rebuild Factory in 1979. Pakistan’s defense industry provided equipment worth 6.3 billion dollars in 2009 and 10.4 billion dollars in 2015 to armed forces to fulfill its requirements through domestic infrastructure. In 2016, the local defense industry saved foreign exchange worth 1.5 billion dollars. During four years, 2012 to 2015, the defense industry also exported its products worth over 100 million dollars to more than forty countries; and in just one year, 2016, the exports reached 63 million dollars. Though it is a commendable achievement but still it is far behind the Indian exports of 330 million dollars in 2016 and its defense minister Manohar Parrikar has set the export target of 2 billion dollars by 2019 as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” scheme.
The comparison of India-Pakistan defense spending is a reflection of relative power differentiation between the two countries. The Indian economy is 8 times the size of Pakistani economy and is growing by over 7 percent as compared to 4 percent of Pakistan. In economic terms India virtually adds one whole of Pakistan’s total economic turnover to its economy every year. According to Global Index of Defense Budgets, India has surpassed Germany at eighth position in highest military expenditure. It spends more on national defense compared to Brazil, South Korea, Italy and Canada. Pakistan on the other hand is on the 27th number of the same index; accordingly, it is expected that by 2020 India will rank third in world defense expenditure of 70 billion dollars after USA and China. This rising Indian power is continually increasing Pakistan’s historic sense of vulnerability. Pakistan’s situation becomes more complicated when it is facing a domestic challenge of terrorism that is getting covert support from India through unsettled Afghanistan. Its present allocation that is around 18 percent of its budgetary expenditure is not quite adequate. It badly needs to expand its economy to broaden the national cake so that within the present percentage the required volume of resources are multiplied. Additionally, it is also required to increase its technological level to balance the Indian edge.
In this regard, it may not have the support of USA that is developing closer strategic relations with India against China. China has a 53 billion dollars trade surplus with India. Furthermore, India is the largest importer of arms in the world, from 2011 to 2015 its arms import accounted for 14 percent of the global arms imports. Almost every country wants to have a share of this trade. This purchasing power has provided India a new sense of power and influence in the region and beyond. It likes to dictate terms of state-to-state interaction in the South Asian State system whose limited effect Pakistan has faced in the shape of eight F-16 sale deal with USA or in case of JF-17 sale deal to Sri Lanka. In future with increased strategic and economic imbalance it can attempt to block Pakistani access to high-end technologies.
Pakistan for long thought that conventional strategic imbalance can reasonably be corrected with the development of a nuclear deterrence. It has developed a relatively effective nuclear deterrence against India. Nuclear weapons are political instrument and cannot be used rationally in war situation because after a nuclear war there will be no difference between the victor and the vanquished. Thus, nuclear deterrence is used as a psychological phenomenon to achieve strategic-political objective. It is a delicate deterrence which requires constant upkeeping in order to yield positive results; if any action undermines the nature of deterrence, its effectiveness is undermined. The new weapon system that Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is developing can have negative impact on the nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan. It is developing K-4 (SLBM). K-4 is a nuclear capable intermediate-range 3500 km submarine-launched ballistic missile that will nuclearize the Indian-ocean with Indian Arihant-class submarines and give India second strike capability. Secondly, India is developing indigenous ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. It has tested Ashwin missile that is an advanced air defense (AAD) anti-ballistic missile designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in the endo-atmosphere at an altitude of 30 km. Though, anti-nuclear defense systems are very expensive to develop and to give an illusion of defense against a nuclear attack, there is no deference whether a nuclear weapon explodes at ground or in air. These developments have a theoretical possibility to undermine the deterrence value of the nuclear deterrence. These proactive and aggressive Indian strategic plans can in future lower the nuclear threshold level and force Pakistan to enter into regional arms’ race.
In conclusion, it is argued that the growing sharp imbalance between India and Pakistan could have very serious consequences both for Pakistan’s meaningful autonomous survival and strategic harmony and prosperity of the South Asian region. Pakistan cannot ignore its security and welfare of its people. It will face extreme difficulties if its economy does not grow and increase the amount that is needed to defend itself. India as the larger state in the region has the key to restore strategic harmony and utilize the potential of the region in new economic world to end poverty and bring prosperity to the people. It will never be able to subjugate the region because of its people and competing foreign powers; even the USA will not allow it to pursue regional hegemony thoughtlessly which will push India to a disastrous arms race and outside great powers intervention. For a peaceful South Asia, it needs to resolve its long-standing conflicting issues and stop its interference in the domestic affairs of the regional states.
The writer is on the faculty of Quaid-i-Azam University (School of Politics and International Relations)
Various myths about the defense budget of Pakistan have been created, not only at international forums but national as well, which need to be looked at from the perspective of its internal as well as external security challenges.
Concepts like state survival, security and national interest are termed to be some of the principal objectives of foreign policy of any country. National interest is the fundamental interest of a state, of which survival is the first and foremost interest. A state's independence and territorial integrity come above all other interests. Therefore, the supreme duty of the state is to preserve itself. If the state disappears, then no other interest remains. For survival, security, and securing its national interests, states increase their military might by spending more on defense. A country’s defense spending depends on different factors that include: war or the perceived risk of war, security environment such as military expenditure acquired by its neighbours keeping in view the relationship between the two neighbours; the impetus of the regional and international arms race; geo-strategic considerations; and the availability of economic resources.
The violent conflicts in different regions of the world help explain the one-year military spending growth in nearly all of the nations with the largest spending increases. For example, the apparent threats from Russia, which used its colossal military strength to annex Crimea in 2014, likely prompted Poland to increase its military spending. The Philippines is another example that swelled its military budget by over 25 percent due to territorial dispute and heightened tensions with China over the South China Sea. However, Sam Perlo-Freeman, Olawale Ismail and Solmirano, in their findings compiled in June 2010 in Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SPIRI) Yearbook, mention the U.S. to have led the rise in military spending along with other regions in these words:
“The USA led the rise [in military spending], but it was not alone. Of those countries for which data was available, 65% increased their military spending in real terms in 2009. The increase was particularly pronounced among larger economies, both developing and developed: 16 of the 19 states in the G20 saw real-terms increases in military spending in 2009.”
The general perception about Pakistan is that it has increased its military expenditure than other sectors over the years. However, as opposed to the general perception, the percentage of its GDP 'vis-à-vis' various challenges, Pakistan’s defense spending has remarkably declined. It is particularly so when viewed in the light of Pakistan Army’s additional responsibilities in recent years, like countering extremism and terrorism, and fighting separatists supported by foreign agencies besides many other challenges.
The current article assesses the defense expenditure of major powers including Pakistan. The numerical data for the purpose of this article has been collected from diverse sources with minor differences in numbers of the defense expenditure of the major powers. While scholars and thinkers debate on the lack of success in promoting strategic restraint among nuclear armed states, for example the relations between and among the U.S., China, Pakistan and India, whether on unilateral or bilateral or plurilateral basis.
Taking the case of the four nuclear states mentioned above, the reasons are long-standing conflicts, changing concepts of the national interest and its needs, prevalent mistrust among them, domestic pressures, and resentment toward foreign interference. But one factor that has been ignored is the strategic chain that links Pakistan to India, India to China, and China to the U.S. Pakistan is unlikely to restrict its nuclear programs unilaterally if India continues to build up its arsenal. Without Chinese restraint, India will be reluctant to limit its programs unilaterally or engage in bilateral controls with Pakistan that, according to India, would limit its options vis-à-vis China. And without U.S. constraints on capabilities of concern to China, Beijing may continue to resist curbing its strategic modernization efforts.
In this scenario, according to figures from 2016 in a report by SIPRI, the U.S. has the highest annual military expenditure. In 2016, it grew by 1.7 percent and reached $611 billion. China remains in second place, by increasing its military spending by 5.4 percent, or $215 billion. Russia ranks at number 3 in the world by increasing $ 5.9 percent in military spending, overtaking Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and China maintained their top positions and Europe presented a progression in military spending for the second consecutive year. India's military expenditure reached $55.9 billion in 2016, making it the fifth largest spender. The report showed the military spending to grow continuously in Asia and Oceania, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, in North America and in North Africa. At the same time, North America saw its first annual increase since 2010.
The countries perceived to be most powerful in the world, including Germany and UK also rank in the top 10 for military spending. The defense budget of UK after 9/11 has increased yearly, reaching £ 45 billion in 2011. Since then, the defense budget has remained steady at £ 44 – 45 billion per year. In terms of GDP, its defense spending from 2002 to 2009 was constant at about 2.65 – 2.70 percent of GDP. However, since the Great Recession, defense spending has been in steady decline, breaking below 2.4 percent GDP in 2016. The above figure illustrates the military spending of countries in billions in 2014.
Indo-U.S. strategic partnership has changed the balance of power in South Asia and has significant implications for Pakistan. While India and the U.S. are expressing their concerns about the longstanding Pakistan-China cooperation in important areas, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is also concerned about Indo-U.S. cooperation in areas like U.S.-India nuclear civil deal, which is also viewed with suspicions by many states in the region.
In case of the U.S., the current President, Donald Trump during his election campaigns asked the NATO members to allocate more budget to defense spending so as to help reduce international commitments of the U.S. However, he expressed that he would be willing to intensify the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, which could be very expensive. According to the SIPRI report, more than 10 percent of the U.S. defense budget goes toward developing and testing products. Even if U.S. military spending was cut by 10 percent, it would still be more than double to China's military spending which is the second largest. According to the report when it comes to military spending per person and as a percentage of total government budget, the U.S. falls behind Israel that spends nearly $2,000 per person annually on defense, and Saudi Arabia where more than a quarter of government spending goes to defense. While the above figure shows the ranks and the defense budget of major powers in billions in 2016, it also mentions how India has increased its defense expenditure and was ranked at number 5 in the year 2016. Various myths about the defense budget of Pakistan have been created, not only at international forums but national as well, which need to be looked at from the perspective of its internal as well as external security challenges. Certain quarters have been assessing Pakistan’s foreign and defense policy to be India centric, this scribe argues that it has to be India or any other country centric if there is a serious security threat from that country. The history of international relations unveils many states whose foreign policies revolved around those states that were a threat to their security and survival. For example, U.S. foreign policy may be called as Soviet Union centric during the Cold War and vice versa, and now it is China centric keeping in view the latter’s rapid rise as an economic giant. In a similar fashion, India’s foreign policy can be termed as Pakistan and China centric. One reason for this argument is Indian belligerent policy towards Pakistan since its independence as Pakistan has always been a victim of Indian ambitions for hegemony in the region and hence the threat perception is essentially India centric.
It is important to be aware of the reality that Pakistan is sandwiched between a hostile neighbour on its East (India) and neighbour on the West (Afghanistan) that relies more on India than on a its immediate neighbour. While the Indian threat has been there permanently, the border escalation with Afghanistan is also a concern. Therefore, it is understandable that Pakistan, in the wake of the recent mounting clashes with India and Afghanistan, may push for increase in its defense spending.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is struggling with its economy due to its partnership in the war on terror that brought not only a war that was not its own but also non-state international actors to its territory. The general perception about Pakistan is that it has increased its military expenditure than other sectors over the years. However, as opposed to the general perception, the percentage of its GDP 'vis-à-vis' various challenges, Pakistan’s defense spending has remarkably declined. It is particularly so when viewed in the light of Pakistan Army’s additional responsibilities in recent years, like countering extremism and terrorism, and fighting separatists supported by foreign agencies besides many other challenges.
Moreover, for operations like Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan needs more funds to tackle the prevailing law and order and security situation within the country. Additionally, for nuclear development program, a continuous resource allocation is needed since Pakistan conducted nuclear test in response to India’s tests, or else India’s conventional superiority facilitated by nuclear weapons would have become an unacceptable threat to Pakistan. It is not Pakistan that will provoke India, keeping in view the asymmetric power situation besides India’s Cold Start Doctrine which means a precipitous strike by India against Pakistan in the event of a terrorist attack in India where it is India that decides whether or not it is sponsored by Pakistan or not. Moreover, Indo-U.S. strategic partnership has changed the balance of power in South Asia and has significant implications for Pakistan. While India and the U.S. are expressing their concerns about the longstanding Pakistan-China cooperation in important areas, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is also concerned about Indo-U.S. cooperation in areas like U.S.-India nuclear civil deal, which is also viewed with suspicions by many states in the region.
In view of the threat perception as discussed above, Pakistan’s defense budget is still the lowest in the region. The allocated defense budget for 2016-17 was increased by 11-percent from Rs. 775.8 billions to Rs. 860.1 billions. Out of the total budget, only Rs. 216 billion are earmarked for the operational expense whereas the rest of the amount goes into employee related expenditure and physical assets. Keeping in view the size and range of national security challenges faced by Pakistan over the last two decades, its defense spending as a percentage of its GDP is much less than other countries with lesser threat levels.
On the other hand, India has tremendously beefed up its defense expenditure over the years, which is, an increase from $11.8 billion in 2001 to $ 52 billions in 2016-17 – i.e., 2.25 percent of Indian GDP. That explains that India’s defense budget is much more keeping in view its larger GDP. The Indian defense budget is much more than the one mentioned above, as it does not include pension, border forces, nuclear warheads/missile development. It spends roughly 2.30 percent of GDP keeping in view that its GDP is much smaller than India. India is expected to spend a massive amount of $70 billion in the year 2020 on military power projection, leaving Pakistan more susceptible against the former, which is amassing and developing military prowess. The comparison between India and Pakistan is highlighted in a report by SIPRI that reveals that India outspends Pakistan on defense and China is outspending India. It is in this scenario that Pakistan-China strategic partnership is unnerving India.
India is desperately building and introducing aircraft carriers, Su-30MKI jets, artillery guns, stealth destroyers, stealth frigates, conventional and nuclear submarines, various offensive and defensive missile systems, military satellites, new mountain strike corps, attack helicopters and much more every year. Pakistan’s economy in comparison to India has serious size limitations; nevertheless, in wake of Indian designs and the arms race in the region, it will be imprudent of Pakistan not to develop a credible defense system to maintain its security and above all preserve its sovereignty. It is also pertinent to say that in order to preserve itself, Pakistan needs more funding for its security and to address the internal threats aided by foreign agencies and growing external pressures on its Eastern and Western borders. Another source, while compiling the defense spending of both India and Pakistan, compares the difference in the following figure.
To conclude, as indicated by Kamal Monnoo, “India is about to develop a nuclear missile shield, which will not be a defensive but an offensive deployment of radars and ballistic missiles designed and deployed to take down incoming missiles at a faraway distance; thus neutralizing Pakistan’s strategy of off-setting conventional warfare disadvantage by developing nuclear deterrence. With so much at stake, it is essential that Pakistan does not fall behind in securing its national defense. It is in this context one hopes that even if an increase in 2016-17 is not possible, at least the historic pace of rise in defense spending should continue at any cost.”
The writer is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.
• Kamal Monnoo. (May 25, 2016). Pakistan’s Defence Budget. http://nation.com.pk/columns/25-May-2016/pakistan-s-defense-budget • Sam Perlo-Freeman, Olawale Ismail and Carina Solmirano, (June 2010). Military Expenditure, Chapter 5, SPIRI Yearbook. p.1 • Robert Einhorn and W.P.S. Sidhu. (March 2017). The Strategic Chain Linking Pakistan, India, China, and the United States. Foreign Policy at Brookings. Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Series Paper No. 14. • http://nationalinterest.org/feature/does-america-really-need-spend-more-defense-17245 • http://www.idsa.in/issuebrief/india-defence-budget-2017-18_lkbehera_030217 • http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/11936179/What-are-the-biggest-defence-budgets-in-the-world.html • https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-05-24/border-clashes-seen-forcing-pakistan-to-boost-defense-spending
Iran and Gulf countries of the West Asia or the Middle East are very important for Pakistan as with them we have historical, cultural, religious, economic, political and strategic relations. Unfortunately, this energy rich, strategically important Muslim West Asia is in turmoil and facing multiple conflicts in which major world powers, regional powers and non-state actors of various shades are fighting many battles in different dimensions. It is difficult to identify who are allies and who are adversaries. Since 2011, Syria has been in the eye of storm. Some recent developments in and around Syria and Trump’s more aggressive attitude towards Iran have rung alarm bells for a major global conflict.
Pakistan has high stakes in the area; Iran is our next door neighbor with a long historical background. In the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, millions of our nationals are gainfully employed and are contributing to Pakistan’s limited foreign exchange balances. To really understand the multi-dimensional crisis of this most unstable region, it is necessary to have a look at the background of the involvement of major powers.
After the defeat and breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the European powers established themselves in the Middle East. England and France divided spheres of influence in the region under Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and later acquired mandate from the League of Nations to run those countries. Palestine was one of the countries that came under British Mandate. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised homeland to the Jews in Palestine and a fair deal to the Arab majority of Palestine. Thus they sowed the seeds of conflicts in the region.
Before WW I, United States had limited contacts with the Middle East, confined to education, missionary work and business. American oil companies became active in the Middle East during the interwar period starting in 1920s. Israel was established in 1948 and Israel’s support and protection has remained an important element of American foreign policy since then. The policy of strategic control started after the Second World War, preventing any rival political power from entering or emerging in the strategic region (whether USSR/Russia, Arab nationalism or Islam) has been the top priority. The United States appears to have three important interests in the Middle East: 1) Oil; 2) Israel; and; 3) Control of the strategic region.
Oil had already been discovered in the Middle East. With Anglo-French control of the Middle East, several European and seven American oil and gas companies entered in the region and there was tough competition between them in quest for obtaining petroleum concessions. In 1928 the Red Line Agreement was signed to avoid conflict and petroleum war between major companies, and areas of operation were demarcated.
The United States of America emerged as a major global power as a result of Second World War. In August 1944, Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement was signed, and President Roosevelt told the British Ambassador, 'Persian oil is yours, we share oil of Iraq and Kuwait, and Saudi Arabian oil is ours'. The USA firmly established itself in Saudi Arabia and used it as a base for promotion of its interests.
American policy makers and scholars started saying that Middle East was strategically the most important area of the world and one of greatest natural prizes in world history. The USA began to extend its influence in the region with full determination.
Israel. In 1947, the UN decided to partition Palestine. Israel got established and the USA was the first country to recognize it. The war started and Palestine was not allowed to become a state. Israel gained strength with American economic and military support. It almost became America’s forward military post in Middle East. Rising nationalist sentiments were posing problems for Western powers in Syria, Iran, Kurd areas of Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere.
Iran. In 1951, Dr. Mossadegh, the Premier of Iran nationalized Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The United States intervened to restore the authority of Raza Shah and the influence of United States was established in Iran also.
Egypt. Naguib-Nasser revolution was friendly to USA from 1952 to 1954, but later Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for obtaining arms.
Bagdad Pact (CENTO). In 1955, Bagdad Pact was formed to check Soviet Union’s expansion in the Middle East. After the revolution of 1958, Iraq left the Pact and it was renamed CENTO. Pakistan also came under U.S. influence along with Iran and Turkey.
In 1956, Syria signed an agreement with former Soviet Union, providing Russia a foothold in the Middle East (from 1958 to 1961 Syria remained united with Nasser’s Egypt). The nationalization of Suez Canal provoked England and France to attack Egypt in 1956, President Eisenhower of USA sided with Egypt. The United States established its foothold in Egypt, too.
During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel defeated the Arabs, occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Syrian Golan Heights and other Arab territories. In 1973, when Egypt took the initiative and recovered large area of Sinai, United States intervened on the side of Israel, and became more deeply involved to strengthen Israel. Meanwhile, in 1971, with retreat of Britain from the Gulf region, American influence also spread in those Gulf States. In 1978 U.S. arranged Camp DavidAccord. In 1979 Egypt and Israel established diplomatic relations, undermining Arab unity.
The year 1979 was a very important year, The Islamic Revolution of Iran in February 1979 deposed the Shah of Iran, who was an important ally of USA and Iran was a major center of American Power. The CENTO was dissolved and Sadam Hussain became the President of Iraq, who was used against the Islamic Revolution. In December 1979, the Soviet army intervened in Afghanistan. The United States developed a new concept of “Greater Middle East”, which also included Pakistan and Afghanistan. The next decade was the decade of war, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Iraq failed in defeating Iranian revolution and began to be looked upon as a threat to Israel.
In Afghanistan, the resistance was organized and supported by United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many others under the cover of UN Resolution. It was glorified as Jihad and thousands of fighters from 43 countries were brought into FATA and Afghanistan to support the Afghans against the Soviets. The Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan and was badly weakened and split into 15 States, leaving America as the sole Super Power, in which hawkish thinkers and politicians began to make plans for global domination and a New World Order.
Post-USSR Period. In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz of the U.S. defense department proposed new concept of Global Domination by USA which is known as Wolfowitz Doctrine. He wrote: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.”
With the rise of nationalist sentiments in Muslim countries, Western writers and thinkers started writing against Islam as a potential threat to Western civilization and values. Even the Secretary General of NATO, after the fall of the Soviet Union, in order to justify to continue NATO far into the future said, the next threat and challenge was going to be posed to the Western civilization by Islam. Although red has been removed, now green has to be removed from the map. So this is the thinking, this is the background. If we ignore this, we can’t understand what is happening in the Middle East.
In 1997, a new think tank was established in Washington D.C. by two neocons, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, under the name of ‘A Project for New American Century’. This was the think tank of the neoconservatives, whose aim was that the advantages USA had gained by becoming the only super power in the world, should be further enhanced, by increasing the military power of USA to establish USA’s hegemony over the global affairs.
They issued in June 1997 a statement of principles, which was signed by 25 neocons, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowiltz, who later became the senior members of President Bush's team.
Rebuilding America's Defenses. In 2000 a project of modernization of defense forces was launched to be able to place powerful armed forces in all theaters of crucial operations e.g., the Far East, the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. The aim was to prevent the rise of any rival that could challenge the U.S. hegemony and have the capacity to fight wars on various fronts.
The fundamental essence of PNAC's ideology required America to create the global empire. Therefore it suggested the following:
* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East; * Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing fighter aircraft, submarine and surface fleet capabilities; * Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a strategic dominance of space; * Control the "International Commons" of cyberspace;
* Increase defense spending by additional 15 to 20 billion dollars every year.
This PNAC document described “Core Missions" for the American military. The two central requirements for American forces were to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars," and to "perform the 'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.” The military must fight these wars one way or the other to establish American dominance for all to see.”
The Bush Administration. With the election of President Bush many important neocons and promoters of the ideas mentioned earlier became his cabinet members and global domination become the official policy. The policies of pre-emptive strike, regime change, preference for military approach over diplomacy became manifest. Pressures for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Iran began to unfold slowly. Unfortunately in 2001, 9/11 happened (or was made to happen as some people believe). And provided excuse for invasion and removal of Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been planned earlier by USA. Under the UN cover, ISAF – a coalition of NATO and non-NATO countries invaded Afghanistan. In 2003 NATO assumed the leadership of ISAF.
Sadam Hussain who was initially used against Iran, was now considered a threat to Israel and his removal from the power was recommended. This recommendation led to the policy of regime change in several countries, including Libya and Syria.
In Iraq, the Saddam regime had been kept under pressure since the first attack in 1991. The imposition of sanctions and no fly zones, as well as bombing from time to time, had weakened Saddam, falsely accusing him of having WMD. Saddam was overthrown in 2003 and Iraq was destroyed. The results were unfortunate for U.S. policy makers, because the Shia majority, whom Saddam had controlled came to power, and developed co-operative policy towards Iran. A new arc or power area developed connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where Hezbollah was defying Israel, and fought a major battle to expel Israel from Lebanon. In Afghanistan also, the objective of destroying Taliban’s strength failed. The Taliban are still a major force, controlling large part of Afghanistan.
In 2006, the Bush Administration started another project for the “New Middle East”. This project was introduced publicly by Washington and Tel Aviv with the expectation that Lebanon would be the pressure point for re-aligning the whole Middle East and thereby unleashing the forces of “constructive chaos”. This “constructive chaos” – which generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region – would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives.
The “New Middle East,” was announced at a press conference by the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during the Israeli siege of Lebanon. The Israeli attacks on Lebanon – which had been fully endorsed by Washington and London – exposed the existence of the geo-strategic objectives of the United States, Britain, and Israel.
Anglo-American military buildup wanting entry into Central Asia via Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan later called Af-Pak policy was the stepping stone to extend U.S. influence in the former Soviet Union and the Soviet Republics of the Central Asia. Brzezinski, who was Foreign Policy Advisor, said, "We should balkanize the Middle East and reshape it completely and create a crescent of insecurity and chaos, through which it would be possible to reshape the Middle East". This is Brzezinski and that was Condoleezza Rice. Both wanted to generate creative chaos, which would be helpful for reshaping Middle East as desired.
A new map was issued on June 2006 as to how the new Middle East should be made to look and that was issued by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and it was published in the Defence Journal of the super power. This map has been shown and introduced in several military training institutions in some of the NATO countries.
The Obama Administration. Under Obama Administration the policies of President Bush continued. There was, however, some noticeable change of attitude regarding Iran and Cuba.
The huge expenditure incurred in two useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to global economic and financial crisis, which started in USA in 2007, and spread to Europe and other regions in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, China’s economy continued to grow and China also helped to protect countries in East Asia against economic meltdown. The geo-economic center of gravity gradually moved from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration started policy of “Pivot to Asia” and re-balancing.
The neoliberals floated the ideas of “Humanitarian Intervention” in the name of supporting democracy and human rights, and that destabilized the Middle East and North Africa. USA has been supporting co-operative dictators and rulers and destabilizing regimes seeking to follow independent polices.
The huge expenditure incurred in two useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to global economic and financial crisis, which started in USA in 2007, and spread to Europe and other regions in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, China’s economy continued to grow and China also helped to protect countries in East Asia against economic meltdown. The geo-economic centre of gravity gradually moved from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration started policy of “Pivot to Asia” and re-balancing.
Any regime whether a democracy, dictatorship or a monarchy, which supports imperial policy is accepted and patronized. But any regime, even if democratically elected, which follows independent policy is subjected to pressure, for policy change or to subversion, even intervention for regime change. The neocons have their doctrine of dominating by military power, neoliberals have developed the theory of “Humanitarian Intervention” on the declared aim to promote human rights and democracy.
Arab Spring. Economic pressures and political discontent pushed the youth in Arab countries towards protest and demonstrations against long established ironfisted regimes. By use of social media, protests developed into mass movements. Starting from Tunisia and Egypt, these movements spread to many Arab countries and were given the name of Arab Spring by the U.S. Magazine Foreign Policy.
The neoliberals evolved the concept of humanitarian intervention claiming to support the human rights and democracy, and tried to turn the movement to serve the imperial interests. We can see what has been happening in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The destruction of Libya and coup against the elected leader of Egypt, explain the point how humanitarian intervention destroyed innocent human beings and their homelands.
Non-state actors are an instrument of policy of regime change. By 2012, Arab Spring had been reduced to Autumn or Winter of Arabs, except in Syria, which is now in the eye of storm. Many terrorist groups, regional countries and big powers are all involved in Syrian civil war.
Syria. In order to understand Syria, we re-call the story of Afghan Jihad. We know how Al-Qaeda was created, and who brought and trained fighters from 43 countries to FATA and Afghanistan. We know how they were later given the new title of terrorists, and encouraged to move to different countries, and to set up their cells or centers.
In Iraq developed an Al-Qaeda of Iraq, (AQI). Some ex-soldiers of Saddam joined it against the present regime. It was an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, and it was split into two parts, Al-Qaeda of Iraq and Al-Nusrah. They both were fighting with each other and somebody was supporting both sides. Who was supporting both the sides? I have not found the answer yet. Al-Nusrah later on became the resistance force in Syria and it was banned by the Syrian government. So part of AQI or Al-Nusrah became the favourite “popular resistance” to the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, whose removal is now the declared aim of USA and its allies. AQI was converted into Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), from the year 2008 to 2013. Then after 2013 or in 2014, it became Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh. i.e., from ISIL to ISIS. Most of us know how original Al-Qaeda got created and by whom.
The U.S. claims that it has made a coalition of 65 countries to fight Daesh/IS; Saudi Arabia has a coalition of 39 countries for that purpose, then one wonders, who is supporting Daesh? Iran and Russia, who support Bashar al-Assad, are obviously working against Daesh. When Russia bombs Daesh, why do only a few nations protest, if they really are against Daesh? Turkey was getting involved in Syria and against Russia, but after the failed coup attempt, Turkey has changed its policy.
The Trump Administration. During his election speeches, Donald J. Trump had given some indication that he would improve relations with Russia, act against Daesh and try to settle the Middle East Conflict. However, the Deep State has forced President Trump to be on the defensive by starting investigation about Russia's involvement in U.S. election. The situation has forced for launching missile attack in Syria and to complicate the situation further.
Iran has remained under great pressure and tension for its peaceful nuclear program. Now, there has been a fifteen year agreement between Iran and Western powers, but long term objective of regime change in Iran has not really been abandoned.
Clash of Civilization theory of Huntington has been modified to promote clash within the Islamic civilization on sectarian basis. Recently, an effort has been made to raise this clash to the level of states, i.e., between Saudi Arabia and friends against Iran and friends. What else is needed to destroy political Islam? Now, President Trump is taking a hard line against Iran, even raising doubts about the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement and enhancing the chances of war.
Unfortunately, the strategic partnership between the global hegemon and two regional hegemons Israel and India, will continue to pose serious security problems to the Middle East as well as to Pakistan. Russia, China, Iran and Turkey have a good prospect of working together to settle the crisis in Syria and the Middle East. Pakistan must continue to participate in these efforts for peace and stability in the region.
The writer is a former senator, Secretary General and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Pakistan The views expressed here are his own.
The long-lasting solution to the Afghan conflict lies in the rebuilding of region-based political consensus that may produce a political settlement among all the elements of Afghan society, including the Taliban. This requires that the Afghan government and the people, the United States and regional stakeholders agree on a negotiated framework for an inclusive peace process.
The international community for good reason is yet once again stepping up efforts to find a peaceful solution to bring Afghanistan out from the 16 years long conflict with the Taliban. This is largely because the fragile security across the country has further deteriorated, and it continues to follow a downward spiral with recurrent armed clashes between the security forces and the Taliban, fluctuating in the degree of their intensity. It reached a record high in 2016, and continued at that stride in 2017. 807 troops from Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) died just between January 1 and February 24, 2017.
The April 2017 attack in the northern Balkh province killing at least 140 soldiers of the 209 Shaheen Army Corps, responsible for providing security to most of northern Afghanistan showcases the deficient position of the 8,400 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of defense and agency contractors and Afghan security forces in the face of the Taliban and other armed groups resistance. The Taliban are now gearing towards more bellicosity with their recently announced spring offensive titled, Operation Mansouri. The statement released by the Taliban noted, “Mansouri would be carried out in two parts, military and non-military.”
Moreover, the Afghan security apparatus, besieged by the spiraling battlefield casualties, high number of desertions and non-existent soldiers on the payroll, has hitherto failed to halt the Taliban and other militant groups’ resurrection. Afghan National Security Forces are rapidly losing ground in their own country, and if it continues to accelerate at this pace, it could cause a “domino effect” by the fall of more government controlled areas of the country to the hands of Taliban and other militant groups. During the first eight months of 2016, the Afghan forces suffered death toll of 15000, the highest since 2001.
The recent 2017 report by an official U.S. watchdog, quoting senior U.S. military officials, stated that calling Russia, Pakistan and Iran “malign actors” in Afghanistan that enable insurgents or terrorist groups in Afghanistan does not help the situation. General Nicholson also said that Russia lends public legitimacy to the Taliban, which undermines the Afghan government and NATO efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report is very damaging to the Russia’s initiative of which China and Pakistan are a part. It includes quotes from General Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations and Joseph Votel, Commander United States Central Command, suggesting that Russia may be “supplying the Taliban”. The Russian government has publicly rejected such remarks.
The latest report of the SIGAR underscores that the Afghan government has actually lost control of further 5% of its territory to the Taliban since the beginning of 2017. It further claims that the area under the control or influence of the Afghan government has decreased to just 52% of the nation’s districts in 2017 with half the country either contested or under the control of the insurgents, compared to 72% in November 2015.
The Moscow-led initiative which was initially not welcomed by Afghanistan because it was not invited to the meeting, is now joined by it. India and Iran are also a part of it. In fact the Afghan spokesperson actually called Russian government “an important ally”. In April, Pakistan had also invited the U.S. to participate in the Russian sponsored initiative, calling U.S. the biggest stakeholder. However, U.S. declined it saying the purpose is unclear. In fact the statements made later are indicative of American mistrust of Russian intent.
According to the recent brief on third round of the negotiations issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that: “The 12 participant countries including Afghanistan, Russia, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, and the Central Asian countries, came up with a joint narrative that there is no military solution to the Afghan crisis and that it can only be settled through the restoration of national accord by political means, in keeping with UN Security Council resolutions.”
The Conflict-matrix if perceived through the prism of the Pentagon, maintains a positive view of Afghanistan; while the ground reality contradicts it diametrically. The latest report of the SIGAR underscores that the Afghan government has actually lost control of further 5% of its territory to the Taliban since the beginning of 2017. It further claims that the area under the control or influence of the Afghan government has decreased to just 52% of the nation’s districts in 2017 with half the country either contested or under the control of the insurgents, compared to 72% in November 2015. In volatile Helmand province, the Taliban are contesting for 10 of the 14 districts. The Afghan government now roughly controls 60% of administrative districts with 29% under dispute and 11% in the hands of Taliban.
Essentially the Indian initiative and the Chinese initiative translate very differently on the ground in present day security situation. India is a cultivated protagonist in the conflict; secondly Indian government is losing ground. China has come up with a more 360 degree approach of cultivating both, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Its influence on Pakistan and the growing convergence between China and Russia plus China’s neutrality of conduct helps the situation immensely.
The civilian casualties connected to the conflict were around 11,418 in 2016 and also a significant increase in internal displacement where 660,000 fled their homes due to fighting, the highest number recorded since the U.S. invasion. This is notwithstanding the spending of more than $117 billion on different development schemes by the U.S. The country still remains near the bottom of most human development indexes, largely because of the corrupt Afghan government which is incapable of effectively governing and handling the security situation of the country. According to the Transparency International report, Afghanistan stands at 166 of 168 countries in its Corruption Index and an eighth of all the money that goes to Afghanistan is lost to corruption. American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the amount spent to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan. The United States has also invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security force. Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls and ghost soldiers with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for non-existent soldiers. The United States has also spent $8.5 billion to battle narcotics in Afghanistan; opium production in 2016-17 has reached an all-time high. The failures of American war strategy in Afghanistan are both glaring and humiliating.
The new under-consideration strategy of the U.S. administration in Afghanistan of further deployment of between 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops would not reverse the momentum and direction of the Afghan war or American failures. In 2011, U.S. deployed 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan at the peak of the surge. The massive surge has remained futile to control the unabated Taliban insurgency. In fact, the Taliban and other militant groups have emerged with more robust potent threat to the already beleaguered security apparatus of the country. Hence, the plan to increase the number of troops does not have the potential to end the stalemate in Afghanistan.
Any increase of several thousand American forces in Afghanistan would be well below their 2011 peak. Although U.S. military is all set to pitch a revised Afghan war plan to President Trump in mid-May, on conditions of anonymity officials concede that the situation in Afghanistan is even worse than they had expected, and that any politically palatable numbers would not be enough to turn the tide, much less create stability and security.
This longest war in the U.S. history, dating from October 2001, now appropriates over three-quarter of a billion dollars to it. The U.S. achieved nothing and has failed miserably in Afghanistan on all fronts, with the fatalities of around 2300 U.S. military personnel and over 20,000 wounded.
More recently, the U.S. again show-cased its fierce military might by dropping the 21,000-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), dubbed as the "Mother Of All Bombs” on a huge tunnel complex used by the IS-Khorasan in the Tora Bora mountains of the Nangarhar Province. Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani supported the bombing but senior state official Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan envoy to Pakistan, criticized the strike as "reprehensible" and "counterproductive" and maintained that “If big bombs were the solution, we (Afghanistan) would be the most secure place on earth today”. Former president Karzai also tweeted against it saying Afghanistan should not be used as a testing ground for American weapons. The strike that reportedly killed 90 militants show diminutive sign that the bomb dealt a devastating blow to the militants, as the area still remains an active combat zone and the U.S. troops still have restricted access to that locality.
In addition, the strike rather than disposing of the Afghan resistance, may galvanize the dissenting Afghan insurgent groups together against a common enemy with increased support of the people, and is more likely to exacerbate the insurgency. One of the bomb’s predecessor, named the BLU-82B or “Daisy Cutter,” was also many times used against the militants during the early phase of the war but yielded only short term tactical and strategic gains. The Special Forces' dictum, that ‘if an insurgency isn't shrinking, it's succeeding’, precisely fits in the existing lattice of the Afghan imbroglio.
More failure is not an option due to growth of terrorism and expansion of the conflict spectrum, which is stimulating and brewing anxiety in the peripheral countries like Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia.
Even, in spite of budget deficits and cost over runs, members of the U.S. national security apparatus, elected and appointed officials, senior military officers, and other policy insiders, accept war as an ongoing normal way of life. Andrew J. Bacevich in his article “The never-ending war in Afghanistan”, observes war in Washington has just become more tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated, as quickly as possible.
The conflict in Afghanistan is attracting new stakeholders to the conflict. It is rapidly becoming a strategic hub of competition and conflict among regional and global players. The U.S. is there, not ready to realize the underlying causes of the conflict in spite of monumental failures and costs. India, China and Russia are the new entrants. Russia is now looking at a regional and global role, as an active player. Its proactive role in Afghanistan is essentially driven by the expanding foothold of IS-chapter in Afghanistan and it is trying to integrate itself with China’s growing economic footprint in the region, One Belt, One Road project by improving its connectivity with the region.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s affiliate in the South and Central Asia, Wilayat Khorasan (WK); the latest emerging threat in 2015 in the country’s east, now threatens to expand its sway in the region. It has enticed various splinter factions from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, as well as Jundallah and other local groups. Moreover, WK also draws the sympathy and recruits from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Jamaat Ansarullah of Tajikistan. They attract disaffected Taliban and unemployed Afghan youth with huge economic incentives, normally $700 a month to join them. According to the U.S. military officials, the group holds 600 to 800 fighters hugely concentrated in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces of the country, whereas the Afghan officials estimate around 1,500 fighters, with twice as many ancillary helpers and up to 8,000 less active supporters.
The Russia-China-Pakistan led peace-initiative on Afghanistan is also a response to this new threat. It is to step up efforts to promote the intra-Afghan peace process while maintaining the leading role of Afghan government and integrating the armed opposition into peaceful co-existence. United States’ continued resistance to the initiative post its acceptance by the Afghan government, indicates that the U.S. is still incapable to grab the gravity of the situation and is unilaterally focusing on accentuating the military presence, a strategy that has met with nothing but failure.
The Russian led peace-initiative is now welcomed by Pakistan, Iran, China and Afghanistan itself, the direct affectees of the conflict. Iran favors the initiative as its calculus of keeping the Wilayat Khorasan at bay and competing for influence over the Afghan Taliban fit with this model. China also supports the move as the country is eagerly pursuing for stability in the region to ensure the success of its One Belt, One Road initiative.
Whilst, during the second session of this initiative, India and China did not see eye to eye and deeply came at odds with each other, especially on the latter’s demand to initiate talks with Afghan Taliban. India had confined itself to sticking to developmental support in Afghanistan to increase its influence by working on its linkages with the weak government of Afghanistan.
Essentially the Indian initiative and the Chinese initiative translate very differently on the ground in present day security situation. India is a cultivated protagonist in the conflict; secondly Indian government is losing ground. China has come up with a 360 degree approach of cultivating both, the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Its influence on Pakistan and the growing convergence between China and Russia plus China’s neutrality of conduct helps the situation immensely.
Since 1990s, the strategic significance of Afghanistan for China has escalated astronomically with concerns ranging from Uyghur militants posing threats in Xinjiang province to Afghanistan emerging as a key player in the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. China is now ready to play an overt role for peace in Afghanistan. China recognizes the Afghan format and wants the Taliban to join the peace process. India, on the other hand, describes Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan largely because it views Afghanistan through Pakistan’s prism.
Russia provided both the diplomatic and logistical support to U.S. military in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2015. Although, over the last two years, it has been critical of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and its role to end the war. This led to significant shift, which now has become more obvious from Russia’s prior policy of neutrality to assertion in Afghanistan.
U.S., now perceives the Russian engagement and its peace negotiation moves in Afghanistan as country’s policy to expand its influence by taking advantage of the turbulence in the country to establish itself as a major player in the region and extending its foothold to the other critical parts of the world.
The long-lasting solution to the Afghan conflict lies in the rebuilding of region-based political consensus that may produce a political settlement among all the elements of Afghan society, including the Taliban. This requires that the Afghan government and the people, the United States and regional stakeholders agree on a negotiated framework for an inclusive peace process. It can only be materialized by a positive shift in varying threat perceptions, competing interests, and conflicting assessments by the actors of the conflict; hence moving beyond the “Rashomon effect” to peace cultivation. A stable Afghanistan should be the top priority of the U.S. and regional players with a paradigm shift of winning a war to reaching peace. The Russia-China-Pakistan initiative appears as a silver lining on the conflict-ridden horizon of the region.
Dr. Huma Baqai is Associate Professor at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi in the Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, and, Qudsia Khaliq is Research Assistant to Dr. Huma Baqai.