18.10.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Wendy Sherman Visits Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan


The activity in the foreign policy arena of the first US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is impressive. Since her return to the diplomatic service in mid-April of this year, the 71 year old woman has made three extensive tours abroad, during which she has visited more than a dozen countries. They are all located in the Indo-Pacific region, which unmistakably shows where the fundamental interests and concerns of the world’s leading power have shifted.

The exception is Switzerland, where Sherman has been on two recent tours. However, in both cases, the country served mainly as a venue for talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry’s delegation on strategic stability. Establishing the need to launch such negotiations was perhaps the primary outcome of the meeting of the Presidents of Russia and the USA in mid-June.

The second round of such negotiations was one of the major goals of the last foreign tour of Wendy Sherman, which lasted from September 29 to October 8. The other goal was related to those very “key interests and concerns.” The latter, in turn, are centered on China becoming a global power and the main geopolitical opponent of the United States.

Therefore, Washington pays special attention to probing and trying to influence the situation in the territories of China’s neighbors in one way or another. Along with the President, Vice-President, ministers of the American administration, let us repeat, Wendy Sherman is very active. This time, she visited Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan successively after Switzerland.

In this case, the three countries were united by a sub-objective of the entire tour related to the Afghan issue. Apparently, after the “accelerated” (to put it mildly) military withdrawal from Kabul, Washington became concerned about acquiring the possibility of delivering so-called “over-the-horizon strikes” against “terrorists” from the territory of any of these countries. Better yet, all of them at once.

In other words, there is yet another attempt to realize a long-standing dream of all militaries related to the so-called “crooked gun concept.” When you, positioned behind the wall of some structure, shoot at your opponent, and he can’t shoot at you. It is a very nice “concept.” However, there is always a possibility that an enraged “somebody” (“terrorist”) will bring down the wall on the head of the “clever person” hiding behind it.

Well, never mind: the “wall” is on someone else’s territory, and only some hardware with “artificial intelligence” can suffer. We’ll build a new one. Fortunately, the defense budget allows for it.

Hidden in the idea of “over-the-horizon strikes” is a primitive two-pronged approach, of course, easily seen by all three countries and therefore, apparently, did not meet with understanding in any of them. By the way, it is unlikely that highly educated Wendy Sherman (Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership in the US Universities) offered such nonsense to her interlocutors on her own initiative. But being in the civil service, you have to fill orders of your superiors.

It should be noted that the USA has a much more effective tool for continuing to influence the situation in Afghanistan, which is due to the apparent interest of the Taliban (banned in Russia) in maintaining contact with the recent occupier. Forced to run the country now, the Taliban need access to the previous Afghan leadership’s financial reserves in US banks. This topic was discussed during the first (post-US troop withdrawal) bilateral talks in Doha.

However, the main component of the second part of Wendy Sherman’s latest tour abroad was the transformation of the system of relations in the PRC-USA-Pakistan-India strategic configuration. The end of the Cold War was crucial in the nature of the changes taking place in it. Until then, the first three and the last had been on opposite sides of the barricades that had divided opposing factions in the global conflict from early 1946 to December 1989.

With the collapse of the leader (USSR), one of the factions has launched a process of radical changes in the positioning of India and Pakistan in relation to the main actors of the new global conflict, which are now the USA and the PRC. Having lost its former foreign policy support represented by the USSR and continuing to be in a state of very complex relations with the rapidly growing China, India began to drift towards its current global opponent, the USA.

On the other hand, amid a sharp deterioration in relations between the USA and China and being in a state of almost hopeless conflict with India, Pakistan has begun to strengthen relations with China. Today, it simply has no other choice, for the other pillar of the Cold War period (the USA) has staked out India in a new global conflict.

This is the general picture of the situation in South Asia, which Wendy Sherman undoubtedly took into account before her trip to the region. It should be noted that the strategic task of strengthening relations with India is becoming easier for Washington as Sino-Indian relations deteriorate. The perception of relative “silence” on the Sino-Indian (quasi-)border that has (allegedly) been established after the tragic events of last summer in Ladakh apparently does not quite match the actual situation.

There are various testimonies to this. Thus, groups of armed forces with 50-60 thousand troops from each side remain near the area of last year’s clashes. At the end of September of this year, i.e., on the eve of Sherman’s arrival (which is remarkable), there was reported in the Indian press about hundred Chinese soldiers allegedly staying (“for several hours”) a month earlier on the Indian side of the same Ladakh border zone.

While Wendy Sherman was in India, it turned out that ten days earlier too “one hundred” Chinese (but, of course, already others) had arranged some incident (most likely, an altercation with a show of middle fingers) with Indian border guards on one of the border sections of the Arunachal-Pradesh state which is 2000 km far away from Ladakh. By the way, China believes that the territory of this state (with an area of about 100,000 km²) is part of India on illegal grounds.

Note, however, the fact that the 13th round of bilateral talks (“at the level of corps commanders”) was held on October 10 with the topic of Detente near the (quasi, we repeat) border. Perhaps their main positive is in the very fact mentioned.

In general, Wendy Sherman seemed quite comfortable discussing a wide range of bilateral issues with his Indian counterparts and the situation, particularly the Indo-Pacific region and Afghanistan. Commenting on her meeting with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Spokesperson for the US Department of State Ned Price noted the parties’ agreement to “maintain close coordination on shared  goals and priorities to deepen the US-India partnership.”

Various aspects of regional and global security were also discussed in the context of relations with “Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and the PRC.

After a four-day stay in India and en route home, Wendy Sherman made a brief stopover in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where she held talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. A sparing report by Ned Price followed it. To add to the few lines of his commentary, it’s unlikely that Washington is hoping to restore the Cold War-era relationship with Pakistan.

But why not try to exploit Islamabad’s fears over the uncertainties of the situation in neighboring Afghanistan after the (seemingly) friendly Taliban (banned in Russia) came to power? These concerns stem from the possibility of the turbulence inherent in the Afghan Pashtuns, i.e., the Taliban’s base, being transferred to Pakistani territory. The same Pashtuns constitute almost half the population of Pakistan as well.

Naturally, China has been keeping a close eye on the “Indian” component of the latest tour by the first deputy foreign minister of the country, which is now Beijing’s main geopolitical opponent. The article-commentary of the Chinese Global Times is built around Wendy Sherman’s statement about the US readiness “to challenge China where necessary.”

However, there seems to be some positive developments in US-Chinese relations, as noted in the same article. But this should be discussed separately.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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