New Delhi: The US cannot afford to create or encourage divisions in South Asia as over the next 10-15 years, the region could be poised to play a pivotal role on the global economic and political scene, says a new book.
"The Battle for Pakistan: The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighbourhood" by political and strategic analyst Shuja Nawaz showcases a marriage of convenience between unequal partners.
The relationship between Pakistan and the US since the early 1950s has been nothing less than a whiplash-inducing rollercoaster ride, it says.
With neighbours like India and Afghanistan, Pakistan does not wish to break ties with the US. Nor does it want to become a vassal of China and get caught in the vice of a US-China rivalry, or the Arab-Iran conflict, it says.
The author says the US cannot afford to create or encourage divisions in South Asia. "Over the next 10 to 15 years, South Asia could be poised to play a pivotal role on the global economic and political scene." Given its size, he says India is in a position to take the regional lead, and Pakistan could end up playing either a major supporting role or the role of a critical spoiler, if its polity deteriorates instead of stabilising and improving.
"Afghanistan also may well offer a springboard for a new regionalism, reverting to its historical role as the gateway to South and Central Asia. And Iran, if it can fully rejoin the global community, may successfully hook into South Asia's economy, while playing a key role in the stabilisation of Afghanistan and the neighbourhood." Nawaz says Pakistan can play an important security and development role in the region and as a partner of the US, even as it maintains its separate relationships with its immediate neighbours, China, Afghanistan, India and Iran.
"Imran Khan's apparent efforts to work with the military on national economic and strategic issues will stand him in good stead but they may also delay the establishment of civilian supremacy in a democratic Pakistan. The country and its surrounds have changed dramatically in the past two decades," he says.
According to him, if current trends bear out, populations in the greater South Asia region will continue to become more politically and economically active.
"If its leaders can provide responsive governance and a clear and consistent economic direction, South Asia may be able to surmount over time its persistent security challenges, both within countries and from hostile neighbours," he says.
"The challenge for Pakistan will be to balance its internal battles with the need to create a more congenial regional atmosphere that fosters stability and economic growth," says Nawaz, who is currently is a distinguished fellow at Atlantic Council's South Asia Center in Washington.
He is of the view that Pakistan must learn to live and thrive in its neighbourhood without becoming a vassal of surging India.
"Otherwise, it risks becoming a backwater and asterisk in future atlases. Especially, if its centrifugal forces triumph over the centripetal forces holding it together. In fighting this hostile future, it needs to learn from its history and those of other countries that have struggled to establish a clear and sustainable national identity," he suggests.
Nawaz also says that Pakistan will need to balance carefully its quest for security against its need to develop economically and to ask itself if its investment in defence has effectively purchased it adequate security.
Regarding its external relations, the book, published by Penguin Random House imprint Vintage, says that Pakistan does not have to choose between its traditional ally, the US, and its relatively newer friend, China.
"On its part, the US can take advantage of the presence in the same region of two relatively sophisticated military and political systems in India and Pakistan that together could provide stability and growth to the wider region," it says. PT