Theory of Strategic Encirclement
The games being played in South Asia and Central Asia are indicative of various players being wary of the concept of “strategic encirclement” – real or imagined.
Pakistan does not want Indian presence( civil or military) in Afghanistan as it would upset its theory of strategic depth and result in encircling Pakistan from West and East by India. Kayani and the complete Pakistani state machinery are thus holding the sword over US ‘s head to limit India’s role in Afghanistan in return for its role in Obama’s Af Pak policy. Pakistan’s courting of Iran and signing of agreement on the Iran Pakistan gas pipeline irrespective of proof of Iran’s involvement with Taliban in their war against US, is a reminder of Pakistan’s efforts to marginalise India at any cost in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s own misconceptions about Afghanistan have been neatly articulated in this article.
China on the other hand is apprehensive of encirclement by the US on its back door by its continued military presence in Afghanistan. The theory gains currency as China increasingly sees America as its rival in the evolving world order. Simultaneously, China is also wary of growing Islamic fundamentalism on its bask yard. Many Chinese observers believe that a long-standing U.S. presence would cement Washington’s “strategic encirclement” of China and weaken China’s influence with regard to other Central Asian states while generally exacerbating regional unrest in a variety of ways. China does not want trail of terror from Af Pak and Central Asian Republics to influence the growing muslim unrests in Xinjiang and other provinces.
The greatest consequence for China in the event of a U.S. failure is the radicalization of the region to the point that extremism becomes contagious among ethnic minorities in China. Thus, some Chinese observers argue that Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan might actually benefit Chinese efforts to suppress terrorist and separatist activity within Xinjiang, as well as drug smuggling into China.
China can achieve this by remaining closely aligned with Pakistan on the Af Pak game. It is this paradigm and the Chinese desire to remain connected to the Indian Ocean through Gwadar port that has metastasized into an “all-weather ” friendship between China and Pakistan. Beijing also has important, and growing, direct political and economic interests in Afghanistan. These include major ongoing and planned resource investments, infrastructure development, and reconstruction projects in such areas as communications, irrigation, and public hospitals, and strong diplomatic ties with the Afghan government. And Afghanistan has oil, natural gas, iron ore, and other economic resources of potential significant interest to China. These economic issues have been brought out earlier in a post “Lest We Forget China”.
Beijing’s policies toward the Af Pak issue are compatible with its larger policies toward Central Asia, which include substantial levels of political, economic, and security cooperation and arrangements, both bilaterally and via the SCO. It also serves Chinese aim of keeping India under check by using Pakistan as a bulwark.
Both Pakistan and China are thus playing their cards in Afghanistan weary of being encircled either by India or America.
Afghanistan therefore becomes a tool for strategic encirclement of Pakistan and China depending on who is looking.
India must see this congruence in Sino Pakistani perceptions of encirclement which strengthens the all-weather friendship further. In the final analysis, both China and Pakistan end up encircling India. Add to this the theory of string of pearl and the picture is complete. Indian foreign policy has to stand for itself in the spirit of Kautilya’s Arthashastra to forge strategies and alliances to mitigate the effects of this encirclement.