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    South Asia
     Jan 15, '14

US holds the Indo-Pak line of control
By Majid Mahmood

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The year 2013 ended with the meeting of the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and India to take stock of the prevailing fragile situation over their disputed border.

Despite the inherent bilateralism of the first encounter between the groups for 14 years, the current trajectory of Pakistan-India relations can hardly be isolated from the existing geopolitical landscape of South Asia. The evolving geo-strategic architecture in South Asia is connected with US's policy of pivoting towards

the Asia-Pacific region. It is necessary therefore to zoom out a bit and recall US objectives in South Asia before zooming into the developments on the Line of Control (LoC) in order to get a broader understanding of the links between the two spheres.

It was not until Bill Clinton's second administration in the latter half of the 1990s that United States began its new approach towards South Asia to account for changed post-Cold War realities. The objectives of this approach were threefold and remain valid today. The first was preventing the emergence of a great power in Eurasia, which translated into containment of China and Russia; the second to establish control over the sources and route of energy supplies from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean via South Asian land corridors; and the third objective was suppression of the forces of political Islam.

After 13 years of military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US aims to extricate itself from conflict in the Islamic world and focus on other emerging power centers.

Moreover, the shifting of economic and manufacturing centers from the West to the East also meant that China and its geographically contiguous Asia-Pacific region would witness strategic maneuvers by the United States in response. This includes the US bolstering its regional alliances and increasing multilateral economic cooperation. South Asia thus represents a key axis with India as the linchpin in its Asia-Pacific strategy of US vis-a-vis China.

Within this overall geopolitical context, the United States policy in South Asia is to establish a new strategic and economic order anchored around India's political and economic influence in the region, with the US overseeing the Indian management of the region through its limited presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

The trend is familiar - as one can witness in Middle East, where regional powers such as Iran and Turkey along with other traditional allies are being delegated the responsibility to manage Iraq, Syria and the Arab Spring within the parameters of US interests.

Notwithstanding the challenge posed by Indian domestic political dispensation, stabilizing what is otherwise an historically hostile and complicated relationship between India and Pakistan represents a real barrier for fulfilling US objectives in South Asia. Changing the conventional war-fighting paradigm of the Pakistani military toward a more Counter Insurgency-oriented doctrine thus represents an important pillar of efforts.

The current thrust of Pakistan's policy towards India is normalization of relationship in both strategic and economic realms. High-level visits to India by Pakistani officials and the DGMOs meeting itself should be viewed within the US policy framework for South Asia. The flare-up at the LoC which started to pick up heat in January 2013 threatened public and back-channel US efforts to stabilize India-Pakistan relations on Indian terms.

Yet viewed from Islamabad's perspective, the outcome of the current Pakistani policy framework vis-a-vis India will be net-negative as this framework will enable India to play a dominant role in the region. Moreover, at the regional level, this would result in an India-centric containment arc stretching from South East to Central Asia in future. Coupled with United States presence in Afghanistan, this arc will complicate China's energy security prospects.

Consider for example new information that came up during the DGMOs talks that India has deployed 15 additional brigades on the LoC. It had already been known that India had begun the construction of multiple military observations posts along with an ambitious project to build a "Berlin Wall" on the LoC - developments that are in violation of the ceasefire agreement.

These advances will help India in the preparation of a separate Kashmir-related future contingency for swift raids on Pakistani posts and then retreating back, improving its capacity to increase the surveillance of Pakistan army at the LoC and making it an international boundary.

This is one critical implication of many other undesirable outcomes of Pakistan's current policy towards India, which is rooted in the larger US pivot towards Asia.

Pakistan should address the India question by first identifying its own role in the larger Eurasian geopolitical and geostrategic architecture. Should it seek to create a new balance in Eurasia, many opportunities exist in South Asia. Otherwise, Indian hegemony looms large over South Asian with Washington's blessing.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Majid Mahmood is Research Officer and Defense Analyst at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) in Islamabad.

(Copyright 2014 Majid Mahmood)

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