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U.S. Containment Policy towards China: Threats to Security in South Asia

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The Future of Politics will be decided in Asia and the United States will be right at the centre of the action”-Hillary Clinton

South Asian region is home to a large population that faces multiple internal and external problems. The biggest challenge for South Asia as opined by various writers is peace and security. Former Advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz emphasized on the need for South Asian political leadership to develop a clear narrative on security issues which are a great hindrance to the peaceful development and stability of the states of the region. Internally regional states have been experiencing instability, underdevelopment, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, sectarian conflicts, terrorism, and many other problems. Externally the involvement of foreign powers also remains a big source of tensions throughout the region. Particularly, when it comes to the US-China relations and their security policies in South Asia which mostly revolve around three major factors i.e. human rights, trade, and security. Both Washington and Beijing have contending worldviews which lead them to the divergence of opinions concerning security interests in South Asia. However, an interesting fact to note is that on one hand United States considers China as a staunch adversary and on the other hand, they are major trade and business partners worth $737.1 billion during 2018 and worth $559 billion during 2019. Furthermore, the US introduced the policy of “Rebalancing or Pivot to Asia” which is considered as part of a greater strategy of containment of China. Beijing’s fast economic growth compelled the US, being a dominant power, to introduce a new policy that aims to contain the increasing Chinese influence in Asia via looking over the changing global economic, political, financial structures of the world. In this regard, Washington has been trying to engage with more nations in the South Asian region particularly India and Pakistan.

For containing Beijing, Washington adopts a two-pronged policy based on hard and soft power, United States has historically been involved in the South Asian region owing to multiple reasons such as Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, India-Pakistan nuclear tests, 9/11 incident, Washington-Delhi rapprochement, and above all for the containment of China. The rise of Beijing compelled the United States to engage deeply with South Asian nations to limit Chinese influence and engagement, particularly with Delhi to create a balance of power in the region. In this regard, the Chinese factor became the major reason for Washington to make India an important trade and investment partner. In addition to this, increasing strategic significance of the Indian Ocean with growing Chinese presence worried the US. The ocean provides direct access to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. As for Chinese policy concern toward the US, it pledges to opt the policy of hedging i.e. two contradictory policy directions simultaneously being pursued, which in this case are: balancing and engagement. On one hand the state maintains a strong military, builds and strengthens alliances, while on the other hand it builds trade networks, increases diplomatic links, and creates multilateral frameworks. Hence, China projects soft power through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and tries to make more alliances. Moreover, China aims at changing the global structure in which the US has a dominant position through political, economic, and financial structures of the world. Moreover, Beijing particularly aspires to be the regional hegemon particularly in South Asia because of its near abroad and first testing ground for success of BRI project to become successful globally.

While the growing Indo-US nexus has posed serious threats to the security of the South Asian region. Pakistan, being a strategically important nation, could best serve American interest through being a part of American policies and actions in which Afghan issue and BRI keep much importance. Also, Washington keeps an attentive eye over Afghanistan and Iran in the region for limiting Chinese influence therefore it doesn’t want Iran and Afghanistan draw closer to China by being part of BRI. China and Iran share cordial relations but American sanctions over Iran create restrictions for Beijing to engage with Tehran for trade and other exchange of goods. Presence of the US forces in Afghanistan, after 9/11, has worsened the security condition of the region. Because of this South Asian region has become fragile giving birth to multiple terrorist elements such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Taliban rendering the region unstable and fragile. Moreover, Washington’s support for the Indian-led transport corridor project under development in Iran and Afghanistan results in growing Indian influence and involvement in both the countries. Resultantly Delhi misuses its influence and involvement in both states against Pakistan and carries out terrorist activities on Pakistan’s soil as is evident from the arrest of an Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who entered Balochistan, one of the provinces of Pakistan, from Iran with malicious aim of carrying out terrorist activities. Therefore, all these acts of Washington to contain Beijing in South Asia gives birth to many security concerns in the region. Such as increasing interstate tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, insurgency, violent conflicts, and security problems ranging from militancy to organized crime which makes it more complex and insecure.

The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, and Ph.D. scholar in the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad,Pakistan.

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Defense

Prospects for a Settlement of the Libyan Conflict: Three Scenarios of the Mid-Term Forecast

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More than ten years ago, in February 2011, the Arab Spring began in Libya. The armed uprising quickly escalated into an armed conflict that had Muammar Gaddafi overthrown. Since then, the civil war has not stopped in the country. At the heart of the current conflict in Libya is the confrontation between the Government of National Accord (GNA), located in Tripoli, and the Libyan House of Representatives, located in Tobruk. The government in Tobruk is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. In April 2019, the LNA attempted to seize Tripoli, but it was forced to retreat following months-long siege of the city.

Current developments

2020 was marked by unprecedented efforts by international organizations, world powers and regional players, as well as attempts by both sides of the Libyan conflict, to resolve it by political means. On January 19, 2020, an international conference was held in Berlin, the participants of which called for the disarmament of all paramilitary groups and devised specific mechanisms for controlling the arms embargo. However, neither the conference resolution nor the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic led to—at least—a cessation of hostilities.

On October 23, 2020, representatives of the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire agreement in Geneva, which the UN labelled historical. In November 2020, the Joint Military Commission, composed of representatives of the warring parties, agreed on practical steps to implement the agreement. In particular, agreement was reached on the creation of a military subcommittee to monitor the withdrawal of troops. On December 27, 2020, an official Egyptian delegation arrived on the first visit to Tripoli since 2014, where they discussed the prospects for mending Libyan-Egyptian relations as well as the economic agenda and security issues. Parliamentary elections in Libya are scheduled to be held in December 2021. Besides, there was agreement to hold a referendum on the Constitution in 2021.

Some politicians, scientists, and representatives of the expert and analytical community are optimistic about an early settlement of the Libyan conflict, but many of their colleagues, on the contrary, are quite skeptical. On the one hand, the escalation of hostilities that began in April 2019 has indeed subsided. On the other hand, experience shows that setting any specific dates for the electoral processes in Libya and provisions for transparent mechanisms to establish legitimate government bodies do not mean that elections will be held and their results will be subsequently recognized.

When predicting what the Libyan conflict will be in the medium term, it is necessary to take into account that the war in Libya is an absolute disequilibrium system. While the existing trends are susceptible to change sparked by the course of how things unfold, the conflict may take on new trajectories.

Scenario I. Political settlement

The civil war in Libya has been going on for more than ten years, and there have been repeated attempts to come to a political solution to the conflict over this time. The hope that this will happen remains. The efforts undertaken in 2020 to reach national consensus may not have been in vain as they could become a solid foundation for a political settlement of the conflict. The country may well manage to hold all-Libyan elections, with the people who will come to power enjoying relative legitimacy, both in the eyes of the world community and among ordinary Libyans.

Libya has 44.3 billion barrels of proven oil reserves[1]. Cessation of hostilities will allow counting on Libya’s oil exports partially restored and, possibly, on new oil pipelines constructed. The long-awaited reconstruction of the transport infrastructure, oil production and oil refineries will ensue, which will play an instrumental role in the economic renaissance of the united Libyan state.

The new Libyan authorities will face a number of important tasks, including restoring production facilities, infrastructure and the housing stock of the country. Russian and foreign companies will have the opportunity to participate in the restoration of the Libyan state. At the meeting of the Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation with the Libyan delegation on January 28, 2021, they discussed not only the prospects for diversifying trade between Russia and Libya but also avenues for participation of Russian companies in restoring energy, agriculture, industry, social and transport infrastructure in Libya.

China will certainly show its interest in the post-war revival of Libya. The GNA has welcomed the possible participation of China in reconstructing the country’s infrastructure once the war is ended. Over the past few years, Chinese diplomats have repeatedly met senior officials from the GNA to ultimately sign a Memorandum of Understanding under the Belt and Road Initiative.

There will be an opportunity to resume the deliveries of Russian weapons to the country. However, although the economic situation in the country will stabilize, the Libyan leadership is unlikely to have enough financial resources to pay for military imports. Competition with manufacturers from Europe and the USA may lead to a forced decrease in export profitability[2].

At the same time, there is a strong imprint of tribal relations on the Libyan society[3]. Even if political peace is established in Libya, it will be quite fragile. The society will remain fragmented, which means that the risk of social tensions growing will remain. Extremist and terrorist organizations operating in Libya can use this to destabilize the situation in the country. Weapons proliferation (mainly small arms)—which for many years were virtually freely distributed throughout the country—will serve as an additional factor in a hypothetical social explosion.

Scenario II. Escalation

It is possible that the establishment of even a fragile peace in Libya will not take place at all. One of the possible scenarios may be another escalation of hostilities. There can be many nominal reasons for the opposing sides to bring forward mutual accusations. These range from provocations during the pre-election period to non-recognition of the results of electoral processes. As a result, this can lead to a sharp escalation of tensions.

As Stephanie Williams, head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, noted, every time the situation in Libya seems to have reached its lowest point there is a surge of violence. In September 2020, the UN announced that the LNA and the GNA—despite the relatively calm situation on the front line—will resort to receiving help of allies from abroad, thus accumulating modern weapons and military equipment. In two months, some 70 aircraft with suspicious cargo for the LNA landed at airports controlled by Khalifa Haftar’s army, and three cargo ships stopped in the ports in the east of the country. 30 aircraft and nine cargo ships delivered cargo for the GNA.

At a meeting on the Libyan political dialogue on December 2, 2020, Stephanie Williams announced that there are ten military bases in Libya that are fully or partially occupied by foreign troops and that host about 20,000 foreign mercenaries. The cessation of hostilities was used by the government in Tripoli and the LNA to cement their positions and enhance the combat effectiveness of their troops, including through assistance from abroad. In January 2021, it was recorded that the mercenaries were building a defensive line and fortifications—presumably, in order to repel a possible attack by the GNA troops on the LNA-controlled territory.

Against the background of the confrontation between Russia and the United States likely to intensify, the degree to which the conflict is internationalized may increase, much as the control over the arms embargo tighten and the role of private military companies as a foreign policy asset of individual states expand. Private military companies help reduce political risks that a state’s engagement in the war in Libya entails, while actively supporting one group or another by sending weapons, military instructors or mercenaries.

There is a danger of destroying the remnants of Libya’s oil infrastructure, the backbone of the country’s economy. Artillery shelling of residential areas will cause additional interruptions in water and electricity deliveries to Libyan cities. Illegal migrants attempting to enter the EU countries, especially Italy, will become more frequent.

The Republic of Turkey, which claims a leading role in the region and seeks to revive the “former greatness” of the Ottoman Empire, is sharply intensifying its actions[4]. Most likely, Ankara will support the government in Tripoli, not only with weapons, but also with troops, as it happened in January 2020. Egypt will continue to support the LNA, as it hopes this can minimize Libyan weapons being smuggled into Egypt. At the same time, the possibility of direct military intervention by Egypt remains extremely low. Even if Turkey sends large military units to help the GNA, Cairo will be reluctant to enter into a protracted military conflict, the outcome of which is unclear. Moreover, a direct military clash between Turkey and Egypt is practically impossible on account of their belonging to military and political blocs. Rather, in response to Ankara’s decisive actions in Libya, Cairo will deploy troops on the border with Libya or transfer part of its units to the LNA-controlled Libya’s eastern regions. However, the prospect of the Egyptian troops advancing further to the West seems unlikely.

Scenario III. Maintaining the status quo

Despite attempts by both sides to embark on political dialogue, official statements by representatives of the opposing sides contain aggressive, accusatory rhetoric. For example, in a video message to the delegates of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Faiz Saraj referred to Khalifa Haftar’s offensive in Tripoli in April 2019 as “a tyrannical attack of the aggressor.” In addition, he urged not to compare foreign support for the “militants of Khalifa Haftar” with the help provided to the government in Tripoli “within the framework of legitimate agreements.”

In today’s conditions, it will be rather difficult for the main political forces in Libya to organize the work of the central electoral commission and other bodies in preparation for the elections. Besides, it should be borne in mind that the GNA, the LNA and a number of independent armed factions operating in Libya can control the electoral processes and, if necessary, sabotage them. One of the parties may try to disrupt the elections altogether. At the same time, the escalation described in scenario II seems rather unlikely to occur, as the world community is paying greater attention to the war in Libya.

The war in Libya provokes conflicts in at least 14 countries in Africa and Asia, mainly due to weapons smuggling[5]. Despite the possible strengthening of international control, maintaining the existing balance of power in Libya will provoke new conflicts and serve as a hotbed of destabilization in the neighboring countries, such as Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. Should the next plan for a political settlement of the conflict fail, Libya risks becoming another Afghanistan, close to Europe.

What of the Libyans?

The last two scenarios seem to be the most likely. In 2019, the Arab Barometer[6]. conducted a sociological study that clearly shows how Libyans themselves perceive the situation in their country and what they see as key problems [7].

Top challenges (Figure 1) cited include foreign interference (19%), fighting terrorism (16%), corruption (14%), security (13%), economy (12%), internal stability (9%) and political issues (8%)[8].

It also turned out that Libyans have little confidence in political institutions (Figure 2). Among the most trusted institutions are the army (59%), the police (46%) and the judiciary (37%), while the least trusted are the government (10%), parliament (9%), and political parties (4%)[9].

Figure 3 offers an interesting view of the surveyed Libyans on democracy. According to the polls, democracy is always the preferable political system (58%). At the same time, many rated democracy as indecisive (37%), unstable (34%) and bad for the economy (34%)[10]. With this in mind, it is possible that the Libyans are unlikely to trust their single government.

No matter how the conflict’s landscape changes, there is reason to believe that the Libyan society will in any case remain divided for quite a long time. Its further fragmentation will almost certainly occur against the backdrop of hostilities coupled with the pandemic and a decrease in Libya’s oil exports. Socio-economic problems will create additional space for radical sentiments growing. The Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have high mobility as well as an ability to regenerate, which means that an attempt may well be made to revive a new Islamic Caliphate, albeit not as large as it is was a few years ago.

In the report of the Valdai International Discussion Club “The Middle East: Towards an Architecture of New Stability?”, Vitaly Naumkin, Scientific Director of the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, and Vasily Kuznetsov, Head of the RAS Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, noted that the situation in Libya will affect the entire Maghreb in the foreseeable future[11]. It is almost certain that Libya and the neighboring countries will be overwhelmed by a new wave of radicalization. According to the Arab Center for Research and Political Studies report, 2% of Arabs have a positive attitude towards ISIS and other radical groups, with another 3% having an extremely positive attitude towards them. This is the highest percentage since 2014–2015[12].

The situation in the region may aggravate, and it is necessary to increase effectiveness of the control over the transportation of weapons to and from Libya. In October 2020, the UN Security Council, chaired by Russia, adopted a resolution that extended the permit to inspect ships on the high seas off the Libyan coast. Indeed, this was the right step. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, humanitarian aid to Libyans also remains relevant, and it may include supplies of the necessary medical equipment to equip hospitals as well as personal protective equipment, of which Libya is now experiencing a shortage.

From our partner RIAC

  1. Fedorchenko, A. Krylov, D. Maryasis, N. Sorokina, F. Malakhov. The Middle East in the Focus of Political Analytics: Collected Papers: on the 15th Anniversary of the Center for Middle East Studies, 2019. P. 49.
  2. Ibid. P. 452.
  3. Ibid. P. 12.
  4. V. Avatkov. Ideological and value factor in Turkish foreign policy [Vestnik MGIMO], 2019, no. 12(4). P. 124.
  5. Fedorchenko, A. Krylov, D. Maryasis, N. Sorokina, F. Malakhov. The Middle East in the Focus of Political Analytics: Collected Papers: on the 15th Anniversary of the Center for Middle East Studies, 2019. P. 24.
  6. Arab Barometer is a nonpartisan research network that provides insight into the social, political, and economic attitudes and values of ordinary citizens across the Arab world.
  7. Libya Country Report /Arab Barometer V. 2019. P. 2.
  8. Ibid. P. 3.
  9. Ibid. P. 5
  10. Ibid. 2019. P. 7.
  11. V. Kuznetsov, V. Naumkin. Middle East: Towards a New Stability Architecture? 2020. P. 16.
  12. The 2019-20 Arab Opinion Index: Main Results in Brief, Arab Center for Research and Political Studies. P. 58.

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The Irony of Afghanistan: US Plans Departure amidst Anarchy

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A family runs across a dusty street in Herat, Afghanistan. (file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

The peace and prosperity in Afghanistan have been a mere myth for decades. With a succession of invasion by a blood-ridden Taliban rule followed by a 2-decade long US invasion, the said country has seen little tranquillity when it comes to human rights and secure living. While the US vowed to ensure a democratic regime laced by a rule of law in Afghanistan, the withdrawal seems anti-climactic: especially after spending trillions of dollars and suffering thousands of soldiers in warfare. As the egress nears, however, the one glimmer of hope dwindles faster than expected. The hope of peace. It is ironic, however, as to how an invasion initially programmed to contain terrorism is culminating whilst the transition witnesses similar bloodshed and instability.

The Taliban have been infamous for launching attacks against the Afghan armed forces and the US military on a perpetual basis. Not to mention hundreds and thousands of civilians facing the raucous vigilantes for years. While the agreement ensured the safety of the foreign soldiers, however, the civilians continue to face the brunt. The recent attack in the capital city of Kabul is a prime example of how the world superpower leaves the battlefield after instigating the barbaric factions for almost 20 years.

The bombs detonated last Thursday in the neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, resonating the community pithing the peripheries. The Shia-Hazara community, the largest community in the region, was the main target (as it has been for years by both Taliban and Islamic State). The targeted school rendered a majority of female students who were conceived to be the main target instead of their religious affiliation. Regardless of the underlying intent, the attacks left 68 dead while 165 victims are still struggling in hospitals. The sheer brutality of the attacks signifies how brazen the rebels stand in their positions while the western powers stagger off the mainland under a facade of victory when all that has been achieved is a fragile democracy and a ravaged land that potentially stands open to any militant group even before the forces exit.

Surprising, unfortunate, and even maudlin is hardly the sentiment to describe the brutality. It is the outright indifference that incriminates the US in the warfare that follows its exit. As the officials collect stationery and books strewn across the street, doused in blood, the US is blame-worthy to the slaughter that would most likely not be the end of the tyranny of the militants. The fact that is ridicule-worthy, however, is that the Taliban attended the mediation talks recently and ensured order and calm in Afghanistan, attesting to their will to enforce Shariah in Afghanistan whilst not meddling or overthrowing the government in the ensuing of the US egress. Mere days and the streets are coated with blood especially as Eid festivities are marking the same streets scattered with the remains of the innocent.

While the Taliban denied any involvement in the recent attack, either side poses a problem. If the involvement is in fact a reality, like it has been on similar occasions in the past, the gruesome fact stands tall. No one can stop the Taliban from spreading chaos if they truly want to. The pervasive nature of their rebellion could be gauged by a thorough historical analysis. A group that reached the United States in 2001 and a group that could not be withered by legendary powers like the Soviet Union in the 80s. The Taliban have steered the negotiations and even the US is aware of the leverage they enjoy given it is their homeland whilst the foreign forces have failed to dent their vice-grip on the terrain of Afghanistan.

If, however, the Taliban are taken true to their word, this poses a far sinister possibility. The attacks signify an underground nurturing of an offshoot militant group, possibly the IS or Boko Haram. With US and NATO exiting in September, the Ghani-regime struggling to ensure stability, and the Taliban holding power in scores, anarchy is much more plausible than tranquillity. The US withdraws from the land in the name of ending the endless war. The reality, however, is that the US is receding from an endless war. The war that was ignited by the US would continue to burn with or without the US. The difference is the switch from armed personnel to innocent students and minorities. It is a matter of perspective and, well, ownership and acceptance.

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5th Generation Warfare: A reality or Controversy?

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In the truest sense, the constant repetition of phrase ‘the 5th generation warfare’ by our military leaders in every media conference has been true in the light of the exposition of the Indian sinister campaign against Pakistan in the ‘Indian Chronicles’. Those who were mocking the idea of 5th generation warfare in the context of Pakistan need to revisit their opinions, suggestions and warfare analysis.

Needless to say, Pakistan is facing enormous threats across its borders. The temperature has been red hot in the East and west borders of the country. Since the government of the Modi in its absolute fascistic endeavors took over the valley of Kashmir, the idea of the 5th generation warfare has become incredibly important to understand the volatile and emerging situations. While the India is accusing Pakistan regardless of its pathetic human rights violation in Kashmir, it seems that the war of demonization continues between these two arch-rivals.

Technically speaking, the dossier that Pakistan has recently published of its intelligence reports which clearly indicate the network of India that has been put in place to malign Pakistan and to come true in its ominous ambitions. In the light of the possible threats, Pakistan has to protect the CPEC projects from India and all the workings going on along the one belt and road project as we have undeniable evidence of the threats to the projects. Amid the rivalry of India and Pakistan, there is a play of world super powers as well as both America and China wants to expand their influence in the Asia, and Middle East.

If one belt and road initiatives stand tall in the face of the foreign funded attacks it would become the strength of the country in the near future. Along with protection of the OBOR projects Pakistan needs to understand the fact that it needs regional players to take part in OBOR extension to raise the stakes in it so that other regional actors will help making OBOR a successful economic venture. Since South Asia has been at the center of war from the last three decades only economic success is deemed to cut this root out. It will hopefully carry out people who have been radicalized because of the prolonged war on terror and the subsequent longest war of America in the Afghanistan territory.

The root cause of the Pakistani society of becoming violently rogue has been due to the pathetically designed strategic policies. Now, every effort on the part of the state must ensure economic progress. Wading into foreign wars, in the name of saving Islam has proved detrimental and counterproductive. The recent dossier that Pakistan has published largely identified this fact that the fallout of extremism and the wide network of India has exploited the regional issues, especially secessionists movements, in the country. It is time for our state to take responsible actions against these terror hideouts. Naming them or just publishing a dossier would not make difference until the whole infrastructure of the terror sites raze down to Earth.

The intelligence report that Pakistan has published certainly brought some results to the fore. One, India has been demonized subsequently more prominently in the Arnab Goswami case where it has been openly told to the world that India had fake surgical strikes inside Pakistan. This whole drama was just a political tactic by the BJP party to win in the general elections lately. This proved to the world that India has been maligning Pakistan and its interests in the world. But things are unsettling now. Time has come for India to take upon itself the weight of  its sinister plans against a neighboring country.

It is also theoretically important for the state of Pakistan to really see the emerging trends in the lens of 5th generation warfare as military cadre has been pointing repeatedly in every media conference. If one see the attacks on the infrastructure of the OBOR, insurgents activities along the Durand line, and through the case of Aranab Goswami case, it is vividly clear that the nefarious activities in the guise of 5th generation warfare are true.

There are many political commentators in the Dawn Newspaper who have downplayed the visible threats of 5th generation warfare calling it a facade because of their abnormal understanding of the emerging situation in south Asia. That is why to understand a situation like surgical strikes that too fake one, one is left with no choice but to look up to the themes like 5th Generation warfare.

Until we expose India and our many other enemies through precise and strategic actions with the help of our strategic think tanks, Pakistan will not grow up economically because for economic ease peace is the necessary condition. The core strategy of Indian so far has been deploying maximum pressure upon Pakistan. It is true that India has been successful in some way to malign Pakistan. Visibly, Pakistan has made a lot of investment in the building up of the infrastructure for OBOR projects but apparently our intra-regional trade has been dipped to 7.4 down from 12.2 percent in 2011. It means we have been massively slowed down by India with the help of rising up temperature at the borders and planning attacks inside the country.

All in all, 5th generation warfare has been true in the context of Pakistan. To understand this, we need to connect the dots. The connection of Pakistani intelligence dossier, to attacks inside the country, to Arab Goswami case  and to the Indian lab of disinformation proves the fact that 5th generation warfare is not lost on us. It is a time to rethink on these lines as we will have a tough time in balancing our economy through OBOR, opening intra-trade to maintain political instability in the country.

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