Historically, South Asia has proved to be the toughest region to chalk out a foreign policy for. Look, if any country wants to chalk out a policy for Asia, it is easy since they only have to draw a policy balancing India, China and Japan out. As soon as more breakdowns are needed for the South Asian region, catering to individual demands of countries gets tough. No wonder, the Biden administration is copying Jinping’s strategy in it. Though there has been some sourness in the USA-Pakistan pact in the last week, the long-term trends are not encouraging.
Complexity involved in South Asia
The South Asian region consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and of course India. If we look at the region from the Biden administration’s point of view, having a favourable regime in each of these countries is necessary for it to counter the rise of China. However, it is simply not humanly possible. Mainly because, the region is not homogenous in religious, cultural, social, and economic make up.
On one hand, there is Afghanistan whose incivility can only be matched by the forefathers of modern-day Europeans. Its immediate neighbour is Pakistan, which is better known as terrorist nation. Maldives, another Islamic nation, is relatively calm due to being ostracised by water from all its surroundings.
On the other hand, we have countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. These countries have virtually nothing to do with cross border violence. Bhutan is in fact the happiest country in the world. However, Sri Lanka and Nepal have traditionally held strategic importance for India and China, which means it is strategically important for the USA as well.
At the current juncture of time, the only way to make inroads in Sri Lanka is through paying for the products they buy. India has done that by giving assistance worth over $4billion to the Lankans. No other country has the audacity to do it. Obviously Americans too are never going to do it. However, it is trying to carve out a strategic goodwill for itself in the conflict torn country. By September this year, the US government had provided assistance worth over $240 million to Sri Lanka.
Lots of agencies have landed in the country to work for American soft power diplomacy, raising concerns for American imperialism. The National Endowment for Democracy, a US organisation was the main catalyst in protests which erupted in Sri Lanka earlier this year. The organisation is infamous for its regime change operations.
For now, India has overshadowed American influence in the region, but they are building their base for future domination. Just like the Chinese did with their debt-trap policy. Notice how Americans are signing financial contracts with Lankans and not giving Lines of Credits or any other humanitarian form of grant like India is doing. This is nothing but debt-trap in a new form.
Through the debt trap, the US wants to achieve exactly what China wished for. Apparently, it would help the US to keep a close track on India’s strategic interest. Within no time, they would establish a military base in the country and we would not even get a sniff about it. China is already apprehensive of it.
They have their reasons to do so. America has been trying to do the same with Nepal for the last few years. They have been trying to take advantage of diminishing Chinese influence in the country. Earlier this year, the Nepal government was forced to ratify a $500-million grant deal named Millennium Challenge Corporation with the US. The fear among Nepalese is that the terms of grant violates Nepal’s sovereignty which was allayed by Nepal Parliament in a clarifying 12-point declaration. Within weeks, Nepal also voted against Russia in the UN, something which India would not like it to do.
And then Nepalese government laid out a red carpet for Charles A Flynn, Commanding General of the United States Army Pacific. Nepali government was within touching distance of signing a State Partnership Programme (SPP) with the United States. The deal, though mainly civil in nature, would have given a prominent space for the American military to gain a prominent place in Nepal’s military establishment. Nepali Army sensed it and opposed it due to which the government had to cancel its plan at the last moment. If not for the timely entry of Nepalese Army, the nation would have easily been stuck on fallen dates.
Apart from these two countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood, the USA is trying its best to remain in the good books of Pakistan. It is giving a predictably futile shot at reviving the dilapidated Pakistani economy through its investments. Uncle Sam is also trying to revive investment climate in the country by telling countries that Pakistan is not a hub of terrorists. Within a week or so, the terrorist state will be out of the grey list of Financial Action Task Force, an agency dedicated to stop terror funding. Do not know who they are fooling.
This is the exact feeling expressed by EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar when the USA had decided to give $450 million to Pakistan for F-16. Summarising the full picture, it is not difficult to decipher what is going to happen in Pakistan. With the help of American money, Pakistani government with replenish its Kashmir terrorism seed which is in hibernation for the last few years, mainly after abrogation of Article 370. Apparently, Americans have also vindicated their prospects by arming them with F-16.
Does it sound familiar? You do not need to go much far in history to draw a parallel. Throughout the last decade or more, the Chinese used the same strategy in Pakistan. Through projects such as CPEC and other infrastructural ones, the Chinese poured over $62 billion into Pakistan. What did Pakistan do with that money? No points for guessing, it used it to foster terrorism inside India as well Afghanistan. It is only when China realised that it had raised a Frankeistein monster, did it decide to run away from the war and inflation torn country. Terrorism in Pakistan had started to take away the lives of Chinese, whose money was the reason behind it. Chinese are leaving Pakistan and the place is being occupied by Americans.
Interestingly, both China and the USA have tried to get Pakistan for the purpose of keeping each-other and India at bay. China betted on Pakistan as it was America’s den as well as potential ally in countering the rise of India. America is now doing it because Pakistan has now become China’s den and acts as a fear factor in the Biden administration’s engagement with India.
In neighbouring Afghanistan also, the US is also trying to maintain its presence. Though, it is acting more like a jilted lover there. The US is still sending Dollars to Kabul and holding secret meetings in order to keep Russia and China at bay. All 3 countries are eyeing the rich mineral reserves of the Taliban dominated region. The US is trying to take advantage of enmity between Pakistan and Taliban.
Basically, it is trying to counter one Frankenstein monster from another. To ensure that Pakistan, the first Frankenstein monster, does not go much haywire, the Biden administration is cajoling Bangladesh as well. Few days ago, a resolution was tabled in the US House of Representatives declaring Pakistan Army’s action against Bengalis and Hindus in 1971.
In one way it is the declaration of decline of the American Empire. The moment you are down to copy your rivals, you are only declaring your weakness.
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