A seismic geopolitical shift is underway in South Asia

by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD January 26, 2018

For the second time in two weeks, Iranian intelligence forces have seized consignments of weapons moving into Iran from Pakistan.

In the first instance, Iran seized explosives and communications equipment allegedly belonging to a splinter group of the virulently anti-Shia Jundallah Islamic group, which operates in Pakistan and conducts attacks on Iran.

What the first report neglected to mention, but the second did, was that Saudi Arabia's intelligence services was behind the smuggling.

What neither report mentioned was that, according to on-the-ground sources, Pakistani intelligence had tipped off the Iranians.

On face value it would seem incongruent that Sunni Pakistan would be so benevolent to Shia Iran, especially given the fact that Saudi Arabia has been a long-time donor to Pakistan and, in return, Pakistan has turned a blind eye to alleged Saudi support of anti-Shia extremist groups based in Pakistan.

For the past year, China has brokered talks between Pakistan and Iran to foster an accommodation.

Pakistan and Iran have recently increased cooperation in tradedefenseweapons developmentcounterterrorismbankingtrain service and parliamentary cooperation.

It is in China's interest to reduce tensions along the Pakistan-Iran border because security of the nearby port of Gwadar is at risk and, being the linchpin of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it would place China's $60 billion dollar project in jeopardy. The increased security would even be more important if China goes ahead with its plan to establish a military base on the Jiwani peninsula, which lies between Gwadar and the Iranian border.

China would also benefit strategically from closer Pakistan-Iran ties not only from the standpoint of improving the prospects of its geographically broader Belt and Road Initiative, but also to further isolate India, undermine American policy in Afghanistan and, overall, diminish U.S. influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Pakistan, which considers itself the real global leader of Sunni Islam, has determined that China will be the new regional superpower and is, therefore, now willing to distance itself from Saudi Arabia and downgrade its relations with the U.S.

By reaching an accommodation with Pakistan, Iran no longer fights a Cold War on two fronts, gains a potential nuclear partner in its conflict with the U.S. and can circumvent sanctions and reap economic rewards by collaborating with the Chinese.

The Chinese-brokered Pakistan-Iran accommodation and the Chinese-brokered Afghanistan peace initiative coupled to an invitation for the Afghans to join CPEC, all point in the direction of a forced U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Toward that end, the U.S. should expect Pakistan to continue to support the Taliban and the Haqqani network and, thereby, control the operational tempo of the war as well as maintain a stranglehold on the supply of our troops, all in order to continue the hemorrhaging of our blood and treasure.

It is essential, therefore, that the U.S. devises a plan for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan and establish the means to protect American strategic interests in the region within the context of the changing geopolitical conditions.

The bedrock of such a plan would involve moving away from a cost- and resource-intensive counterinsurgency and nation-building policy futilely conducted in a region of chronic instability.

Instead, the U.S. should be prepared to exploit those instabilities to keep our adversaries off-balance and create a counterterrorism and counter-force surgical-strike capability involving special operations, naval and air power projection.

We should play to our strengths rather than submitting to those of the enemy.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of "Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution ". He receives email at lawrence.sellin@gmail.com.

 


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