Development Of Quad into Asian NATO: Policy Options for Pakistan

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The changing alliances and power equilibrium among the United States, China, India, and Pakistan bear key implications on the inter-state rivalry and the consequent crisis dynamics in South Asia. South Asia is all set to become one of the most important battlefields for the emerging geostrategic competition between the US and China. It is already home to ever-hostile nuclear-armed neighbors and the emergence of new great power politics in the region is likely to lead towards further instability. Furthermore, soaring geopolitical tensions leave no space for toning down the trend of proxy wars, once adversarial countries are bent on exploiting each other’s fault lines, it will just augment the instability and volatility in the region. Increased instability and the ratcheting-up of hostilities are likely to condense the chances of any economic cooperation between India and Pakistan, and South Asian economic integration would remain a dream unfulfilled.

 Since the introduction of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2018, mutual suspicion and hostility between India have intensified. There is a shift in the regional dynamics with the United States and India being on one side and Pakistan-China on the other. These changing dynamics will have important implications for US policy toward South Asia and crisis management down the road.  Previously, the US had rendered constructive support in Pakistan-India crisis management. This role was taken up due to US perception of India-Pakistan’s relative power balance. However, US foreign policy has increasingly inclined in favor of India as in the US calculation India can serve its strategic interests in Asia Pacific region. Since Pakistan finds itself unable to serve as China’s balancer against India in the region, the immediate solution in Chinas calculus has been to strengthen Pakistan’s capacity and potential for economic growth and stability through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a fusion of infrastructure projects and funding aimed at reviving Pakistan’s economy. The article aims to discuss the US QUAD Strategy to contain China and as a result how Pakistan will respond to have stability in the region.

The United States has been moving in all directions to make allies to contain China’s rise. The attempts to engage more with the east through Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ and now ‘Indo-Pacific’ partnerships, all are strategic actions the US is taking. Moreover, the United States’ intent to counter China hints towards its intention to create an Asian NATO with the Quad at its core.  However, it is unlikely that the QUAD will be successful in converting into an “Asian NATO” against China as such a bloc would need greater support than just Australia, India and Japan. Without the support of massive Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand, such type of alliances will not be able to contain the rise of China. Such an alliance would be heavily dependent on India to match China’s manpower and capabilities, but they fall short as China is investing in infrastructural development and become a mainstay of the economies of India’s neighbors, most notably Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, thereby themselves containing India. Without the help of Southeast Asia, the QUAD cannot oppose China despite US hopes, following are the policy options which can be adopted by Pakistan to counter the threat.

Trilateral Cooperation Need of the Hour.          By equipping India with cutting-edge defensive technologies, the US is positioning it to counter Pakistan and China. The US-Indian relationship is jeopardizing CPEC, thus trilateral collaboration has become a must. Although relations between India and Iran are not as heated as those between Pakistan and China, the US may utilize India and Israel against Iran to further its own objectives. Many of the Iran-India agreements are still just paper, but the United States forced India to abandon the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project. Therefore, Pakistan, China and Iran must join hands together to counter the threat.

Creation of Opportunities for own Strategic Importance of Pakistan.     This part is also a continuation of break-the-nexus policy. If Pakistan wants to serve its own national security interests, it has to work to break the most-lethal nexus against it. Pakistan should explore areas where India is causing trouble for US and should exploit them to Pakistan’s interest. These areas fundamentally consist of the following:

  • India’s ever-increasing defense acquisition from countries other  than US and its ties with Russia.
  • India’s unwillingness to stop trading with Iran even after plethora of sanctions by US can be well taken as a divergent point in this alliance. Because under the upcoming US’ administration, the tolerance for India’s rebel behavior is uncertain yet.
  • US encouragement of India can hurt US interests in the long run if it can no longer manage India. It’s all about power balance. If gets stronger it will be hard for the US to have it do whatever it wants.

Normalization of Pakistan-US Relations.           Pakistan and the US has shared relations with both highs and lows. However, especially during the Trump era, the relations hit a new low. These dynamics between the two were exploited by India in various ways including to urge US to coerce Pakistan at many forums particularly through FATF and IMF that not only hurt Pakistan’s economic development but also, its stature in the international community.  The frosty relations between Pakistan and US are not only harmful for peace in the region, but it also encourages other adversaries like India to mount pressure on Pakistan as was evident in the Pulwama episode. It can also not rely on China totally for its strategic, economic and defense requirements.

Kavkaz-2020.    Military drills are frequently viewed as a show of unity among allies as well as a warning to others. However, Pakistan should view these drills as a vital opportunity to strengthen its ties with the former Soviet Union, rather than as a show of power. The fact that India has decided to boycott Kavkaz 2020, as well as the sheer number of former Soviet states participating, shows that Pakistan is missing out on a good chance.

Pak-China-Iran Should Work to Secure Afghan Peace.   Afghan issue is the utmost one for all regional and international stakeholders. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of both, regional states and intruders. Pakistan has suffered a lot due to the turbulent Afghan affair. Chinese and Iranian, security and economic concerns are also tied up in Afghanistan. Therefore, these three states must join hands with the current Afghan government to achieve peace and stability.

Role of China in Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline.       Initially, India was a third party in the decades-old pipeline project between Pakistan and Iran. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline (IP) is a 2,775-kilometer (1,724-mile) long natural gas pipeline that connects Iran and Pakistan. After signing a civil nuclear agreement with the United States in 2005, India withdrew from the project. The project has been in limbo since then. Experts believe that in order to get this project off the ground, Iran and Pakistan must embrace Chinese money and expertise. The project’s progress has been delayed due to a number of geopolitical roadblocks on a regional and global level.

CPEC: Can Iran Join?     Former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared his willingness to join the CPEC, and Sun Weidong, the former Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, expressed Beijing’s desire to see Tehran participate in this multibillion-dollar initiative. There’s more to this collaboration than Iran’s energy riches and technological advancements. India has been a vocal opponent of the CPEC, seeing it as a danger to its regional economic interests. Now, in response to the United States’ opposition to the CPEC, India may throw further roadblocks in the path of the project. India’s grievances may easily turn into disruptive activities, jeopardizing the peace process.

Conclusion.      While Pakistan has done a great job in thriving in an environment where it has the most hostile neighbor and is at the crossroads of the great power competition. Amidst the changing geopolitical and geo-economic realities of the contemporary world, Pakistan’s consideration should encompass political, diplomatic, ideological, and realpolitik realities which serves Pakistan’s national interest especially in the long run.

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About Tahama Asad 5 Articles
The author has recently completed her degree of Strategic Studies from National Defense University, Islamabad. She has previously worked for Pakistan House, Pakistan Council on China, Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) and Centre of Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). Her major areas of interest include Strategic Stability of South Asia, Geo-Politics in Indo-Pacific Ocean and National Security.

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