Shifting Contours in the New Great Game after Abbotabad

The Abbotabad episode leading to the end of bin Laden will impact the geopolitics of the Af-Pak region and beyond in more than one way. The post-Abbotabad developments have brought into picture more intensely the widening fissures in the so called strategic partnership between the US and Pakistan. It has almost sent the relations into convulsion mode with most of the political parties and their leader demanding tough posture against the unilateral action of the US, and even some members of Pakistan society demanding to take the issue to the United Nations. In this background the visit of Pakistan’s President to Russia, and the forthcoming visit of its Prime Minister to China, have made added significance to this emerging geostrategic churning in the region. Interestingly, as hopes in some quarters for another prize catch in the name of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of perhaps the most influential network supporting Taliban or in the name of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban get high, the post-Abbotabad speculations around the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and scenario aftermath the withdrawal have also made rounds more vigorously.

However, it will be naive to predict that post-Osama scenario will help building a complete terror free atmosphere in the region, or the NATO forces will leave completely the territory of Afghanistan. At least at present it is unlikely to happen. If one reads the NATO pronouncements clearly, the organization has never declared a complete withdrawal categorically but rather with qualifications. But it is certain that NATO forces, in order to fulfil the promises of ‘draw down,’ may withdraw some of its forces in the height of jubilation over the killing of Osama. But the puzzle gets more complex, when the relations between Pakistan and the US have been affected so drastically. There is a significant section of the Pakistan’s leadership, civil society members, who have criticized the unilateral action of the US in the territory of Pakistan. One of the noted commentators from Pakistan Ezaz Haider argued that “Pakistan must take the issue to the United Nations and place the incursions on the agenda. Far from an increase, diplomatic and other cooperation with the US needs to be reduced.” The unilateral action not only reflected the trust deficit, further ensconcing the Pak anger, but also put to quandary the long established content of strategic partnership. It is speculated, if the US could have taken into confidence Pakistan in the operation, the situation could not have been that sullen.

Though Pakistan President in his article in The Washington Post published in the first week of May, the week Osama was killed, portrayed Pakistan’s position in this whole episode and harped on the point that Pakistan itself is ‘perhaps the worst victim of terrorism’, hence it has nothing to gain from Osama’s presence in its territory, Prime Minister Gilani in his statement in Pakistan’s parliament on 9 May 2011 lashed at the unilateral action called operation Geronimo that killed Osama, and threatened that any such further action will have severe repercussions and retaliation from Pakistan. The major opposition parties like PML (N) demanded a strong reaction to this unilateral action. One prominent leader of Pakistan, Imran Khan demanded that Pakistan should close all US bases in Pakistan, allow its forces to go back, and stop all transit facilities to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s territory. No doubt, the post-Abbotabad scenario has widened the rift between Pakistan and the US, which will be widened further. Inevitably, the post-Abbotabad developments will have its repercussions in the scenario in Afghanistan. The trust deficit between the two countries will provide Pakistan enough rationale to enhance its strategic position in the war torn country of Afghanistan at the exclusion of the US and its led NATO forces.

There is another dilemma as to whether NATO will leave completely Afghanistan (which is unlikely, in fact this point has been repeatedly harped by its Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen), but even if NATO reduces its forces partially, it will provide sufficient elbow room to Pakistan to use its leverage over Taliban and other militant forces in Afghanistan. It is a matter of fact that the kind of strategic leverage Pakistan is enjoying in Afghanistan due to ethnic connections and common border, no other country enjoys the same clout in that region. Here, the increasing gap between Pakistan and the US may motivate the Pakistani leaders to look for other partners in the region. The ongoing visit of Pakistan President to Russia, and forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Yusuf Raja Gilani to China, may prove game changers in this context. In an interview to the local media, Zardari invited Russia to use Pakistani territory to access to ‘southern seas’.

This may not be totally delinked from the recent developments. The meeting will cover various dimensions of relationship including trade, investment and counter terrorism, and issues related to regional organizations like Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Organization of Islamic Conference. The meeting will also likely include in its ambit the emerging fluid situation in the Af-Pak region and its fallouts in the wider South Asia and Central Asia, which can be viewed through a common prism suitable to the interests of both the countries. The visit of Gliani to China on 17 May to participate in the celebrations to mark 60 years and to improve bilateral relations will also likely take into account the recent developments. Aftermath of the Abbotabad episode, China has come to forefront to back Pakistan’s policies on ‘implementing counterterrorism strategies.’ China has also reiterated its promise to build nuclear reactor in Chashma of Pakistan despite objections from some quarters.

The coming days may witness some whirlwind of activities in the region. Though Osama is gone, the canker of terrorism is still all round. The Taliban and its ilk being very active in Afghanistan, with its leader Mullah Omar hiding in some secure place in the Af-Pak, the game of terrorism is far from over. But, the new developments will likely change the equations as to how the war on terrorism will be fought in the region, and with which allies, and to what extent the US will be able to manoeuvre Pakistan in the region to achieve its objectives. But, most likely, the pawns in this ongoing new great game will not be exactly the same.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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