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South Asia

China’s rise in power and India’s rise in fear: Strategic hedging amidst growing threat

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India, the nation long being under colonial oppression started its journey of foreign policy with the ideology of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment; abstaining from taking sides of the bipolar power blocs and securing its newly gained national sovereignty and independence. But soon after, it realised the crux of surviving in the internationally interlinked world that the countries were fast approaching towards. Therefore, in 1971, India joined hands with the Soviet Union in a Treaty of Friendship, but with the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 and the United States emerging as the sole superpower, India felt back into the state of isolation and helplessness.

As the famous saying goes on to say “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, India soon learnt from its mistakes to not put all its might and trust into one entity as concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘no strings attached’ are non-existent elements of global politics and international relations.

Today, the 21st century is largely seen as an ‘Asian century’, the century where Asia’s burgeoning economy and demographic dividend will make it rise to everyone’s notice and be the talk of the center stage. This is what is envisioned by experts and to no surprise it is what is slowly molding to be the fact; a fact that is greatly favoring the People’s Republic of China.

Despite the pandemic’s birth from Wuhan and the global economic stagnation in 2020, China managed to log 2.3 percent growth for 2020, becoming the only major economy that grew during a year when the virus exacted a devastating global toll (Gerry Shih, 2021). This shows the success rate of the country into turning its far-sighted ‘China Dream’ a reality. It is of no surprise that the rise of China is rampant, aggressive in some instances, strategic and far-sighted into changing the existing world order; posing a threat to the rest of the major power houses today.

India, being the largest rival neighbour to China has a lot at stake, for which it has shifted its foreign policy from hedging for to strategically hedging against the collective threat imposed by China. Contemporary geopolitical and strategic circumstances present a multifaceted challenge to India’s foreign policy, with regards to its neighbourhood, border and the Indian Ocean region, for which incorporating a pragmatic realpolitik approach is the need of the hour.

What balancing China means is to strengthen India’s capacity and linkages in order for it to be well-equipped to counter Chinese aggression. India has been working towards this aspect in the following ways-

-India has embarked on its own “Diamond Necklace” policy to counter China’s ‘String of Pearls’ through which it is building ports in strategic points such as Singapore, Indonesia, Oman, Seychelles and Iran and strategically cooperated with Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Central Asian regions.

-India-Russia and Indo-Pak relations although sour, have been tried to reconcile in the recent past as maintaining a somewhat cordial relationship with China’s ally should be one of India’s priority as both the nations are militarily heavy. India has built its defence cooperation with Russia and Putin recently told that “there is no contradiction in the relationship with India”, giving it a stronger tie. Russia has also managed to show great support to India during its fight for Pandemic. Maintaining this cordial relationship is of great benefit to both and is a way towards balancing relations.

-In addition to all this, what is more important today to withstand international threat is the coming together of like-minded states that are willing to support each other and target China with a common motive. India has therefore, signed bilateral and multilateral agreements on different fronts to achieve its hedging goals, which will be further looked upon ahead in the paper

-Along with external ties, India needs to be well-equipped domestically as well by building up its defence capabilities. It is here that India’s ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) initiative plays importance.

However, on the flip-side, India cannot manage independently without China. The two being giant players in Asia with the two largest populated countries in the world and more so, being geographically in close proximity and economically dependent on each other, it is inevitable for them to have zero contacts. Therefore, whilst battling China’s String of pearls and border disputes, India must also be wary of having a middle ground with China wherein it can conduct its peaceful coexistence and continue its trade relations.

Overall, it can be said that New Delhi’s policy of strategic hedging works on a mode of attempting to find a modus vivendi with Beijing, while also slowly moving towards building security and political links with other regional and international powers as an insurgence against China. The Modi government has adopted a mixed strategy towards asymmetric rival China by maintaining a relationship of cooperation at the regional level (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), competition at the regional level (Indo-Pacific), rejection of China’s unilateral initiatives (Belt and Road Initiative), and deterrence along the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean (Manjeet S. Pardesi, 2021).

When the survival of a state is threatened by a hegemonic state or a coalition of stronger states, they seek to join forces with other states and establish an alliance to preserve its own independence by keeping in check the power of the other state. This is the Balance of threat theory (Stephen M, 1985), wherein the threat levels can be affected by geographical proximity, offensive power, and aggressive intentions and when all this is together met with one nation alone, the severity of forming coalition and strategically hedging speaks for itself.

The United States

If the rise of China poses a direct threat on someone, it is United States’ hegemony. US being the super power in the globalized multipolar world, while India being the largest democracy, an emerging economy and a key important player in Asia proves both the states to be in a mutually benefitting coalition.

The two biggest democracies have joined hands on various fronts such as pursuing the joint interest in freedom of navigation in the highly contentious South China Sea where China has shown a great deal of interest as well. The US recently has shown a shift in their focus to the Asia-Pacific region through its new policy of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its decision to station 2500 marines in Australia. This has been regarded by China, who staked claim over South China Sea, as a hedging strategy if not outright containment by the USA. In 2020, Indo-US ties have elevated to a “comprehensive global strategic partnership”. This has been a great achievement in India’s vision for development. Moreover, both the nations have successfully concluded three 2+2 dialogues, wherein USA reiterates to support India in defending its territorial sovereignty against the “greater threat”, referring to China. In addition to these, the highlights also follow the four foundational agreements between the two nations, which are – Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The two nations have also released a Joint Statement on shared Indo-USA goals in the Asia-Pacific region. The developments so far have been quite beneficial on both sides and are a great strategic hedging handling on India’s part. And to top this policy of strategic hedging is the establishment of QUAD (Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue) between the four members- United States, Japan, Australia and India with their common vision of securing global order, liberal trading and freedom of navigation between the countries. The informal dialogue between these four nations has seen to be a driving force is curtailing a ‘rising China’.

Japan

India’s foreign policy is built on its three foundational pillars, which are security, economic development and status and Japan plays quite a significant role in all three aspects. This bilateral relation is of great benefit to India. Japan and India’s upward trajectory gives it a status of being ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, transforming the relation into a ‘cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy’. The relationship between Asia’s largest democracies is deemed to be Asia’s fastest growing relationship as well. Japan was the first country with which India held its 2+2 ministerial level dialogue which along with military and defence talks, also shared concerns of China’s rise in the region.  As Japan acquires world class navy and high-tech capabilities; if the two countries continue to add concrete securities, a high hope is instilled in this strategic relationship of becoming a game-changer in Asia. The two countries have already deepened ties in the field of maritime defence and infrastructure such as the construction of India’s first high speed railway corridor between Mumbai and Ahmadabad.

Australia

The two nations have had a cordial relationship even before independence and continue to share common interests in trade, sustainable development, and student-to-student ties. It has been building its strategic partnership and recognizes India’s critical role in the Indian Ocean and therefore, the two nations are committed to working together to enhance maritime cooperation, along with engaging in a naval exercise called AUSIDEX since 2015. Trilateral engagements with crucial nations like Indonesia and Japan, deeper engagement with regional groups like the Indian Ocean Rim Association and East Asia Summit and the very efficient quadrilateral dialogue with Japan and US have all contributed in strengthening the ties between India and Australia. A cordial relation with Australia will help India in the long run as by 2027, India is expected to have world’s largest population and henceforth require the up-skilling of 400 million people. Australia is well-equipped to assist with this huge need for knowledge-sharing, education and skill development. The two countries also have enormous potential to build on their people-to-people links and thus their soft power influence (Parakkal, 2018). India is the third largest source of immigrants to Australia and the second largest source for skilled professionals. The pandemic is seen to have exacerbated Sino-Australian relations and this further strengthens Australia’s relations with India is managing China.

European Union

The recent past has seen a reboot in the relations between India and EU which have both embarked on the journey of resuming the long stalled talks on a free trade deal with an aim to strengthen their economic cooperation in the face of an increasing Chinese assertion.

In 2013, trade talks suspended between the two nations but today it rises together to hedge strategically amidst the pandemic. The nations aim to double the trade by 2030 which shows the optimism it withholds for the future endeavours.

In a speech, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar highlighted how the pandemic has shown the necessity of diversifying supply chains, especially for the EU.  He says “Europe is looking at strategic autonomy, looking at a multipolar world, which is actually hedging its risk” (Jaishankar, 2021). This was told in the backdrop of repercussions faced by EU and more so, for the majority of the world for being overly dependent on China for trade. Glorifying on this aspect, India has an edge to build connections in the European world and sustain Chinese growth.

In addition to the trade boon, EU countries also signed the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” that aims to impose greater European influence in areas of Chinese superiority. Keeping this in hand, the two nations remain steadfast on building infrastructure across Europe, Asia and Africa in the name of “connectivity” partnership. It doesn’t brand it to be an “anti-Beijing” plotting, but a mere alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative of china, a way of disallowing Chinese investments.

Conclusion

Today it can be said that the world has come up together, galvanised in order to counter China in the changing world order. This pushback against China has been manifesting itself in multiple ways and in particular, by the regional players who have been successful in persuading more coordinated actions along the way so as to create a more stable balance of power in these highly tumultuous world that we live in.

The complex rivalry between India and China has led to hedging strategically by a mixed approach of cooperation, deterrence and balancing, which is seen to be working efficiently for India till now. After all, India’s ultimate aim is to build its own capabilities without overtly provoking China and silently transform itself to be a competition. To achieve this, India is building its relation with China’s neighbours such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, along with maintaining a cordial relationship with Russia and mending relations with Pakistan and ultimately gaining support from the western nations in strategic cooperation with a common aim.

It is evident today how China’s belligerent agenda on regional states has caused it a greater pushback with the unity of the rest of the world against it. The BRI is confronted with numerous fault lines, the Indo-Pacific is well-established, QUAD resurrected and various regional players are beginning to engage with each other much more cohesively.

The only concern that remains today is the growing influence China has over India’s neighbours through its ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ and its ‘aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy’, for which India needs to make sure to make the neighbouring countries believe in the hidden agenda and bring unity with India in countering the spread and rise of China. India’s ‘vaccine-maitri’ initiative was a good way of handling the neighbourhood, but more needs to be done in this aspect.

The way forward is to accept each other’s legitimacy in certain aspects and hedge accordingly in others. Military escalation such as in 2020 Ladakh is to be prevented in order for both to maintain its relations. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping (1988), “unless China and India are able to co-exist peacefully, “there will be no Asian century.”

Srishti Gautam is a final year masters student in Diplomacy, Law and Business from OP Jindal Global University. She completed her bachelors in Political Science from Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. Her interest lies in the field of Chinese Foreign Policy, South Asian studies, soft power diplomacy and maritime geopolitics. She is currently working as a threat intelligence analyst at Hozint- Horizon Intelligence.

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South Asia

S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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South Asia

India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon

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Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier ,  the world’s highest battleground and an old sore in India-Pakistan ties , provided the neighbour accepted the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) that separates Indian and Pakistani positions. Acceptance of AGPL is the first step towards demilitarisation but the Pakistan side loathes doing that”. He said, ‘The Siachen situation occurred because of unilateral attempts by Pakistan to change status quo and countermeasures taken by the Indian Army’ (Not averse to demilitarisation of Siachen if Pak meets pre-condition: Army chief, Hindustan Times January 13, 2022).

Reacting to the Indian army chief’s statement, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan reminisced that the Siachen could not fructify into a written agreement because India wanted Siachen and Kashmir to be settled together. India’s approach ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ scuttled the agreement. As for Kashmir, “a simultaneous effort was made through the backchannel …in what is commonly known as the Four-Point Formula” (Siachen recollections, Dawn January 16, 2022). Riaz laments Indi’s distrust that hindered a solution.

Shyam Saran, a voice in the wilderness

Shyam Saran, in his book How India Sees the World (pp. 88-93) makes startling revelations about how this issue eluded solution at last minute. India itself created the Siachen problem.  Saran reminisces, in the 1970s, US maps began to show 23000 kilometers of Siachen area under Pakistan’s control. Thereupon, Indian forces were sent to occupy the glacier in a pre-emptive strike, named Operation Meghdoot. Pakistani attempts to dislodge them did not succeed. But they did manage to occupy and fortify the lower reaches’.

He recalls how Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek agreements could not fructify for lack of political will or foot dragging. He says ‘NN Vohra, who was the defence secretary at the time, confirmed in a newspaper interview that an agreement on Siachen had been reached. At the last moment, however, a political decision was taken by the Narasimha Rao government to defer its signing to the next round of talks scheduled for January the following year. But, this did not happen…My defence of the deal became a voice in the wilderness’.

Saran says, `Kautliyan template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.).

India’s current first option

It appears that Kautliya’s last-advised option,yana, as visualised by Shyam Saran, is India’s first option nowadays. Kautlya also talks about koota yuddha (no holds barred warfare), and maya yuddha (war by tricks) that India is engaged in.

Cartographic annexation

By unilaterally declaring the disputed Jammu and Kashmir its territory does not solve the Kashmir problem. This step reflects that India has embarked upon the policy “might is right”. In Kotliyan parlance it would be “matsy nyaya, or mach nyaya”, that is big fish eats the small one. What if China also annexes disputed borders with India?  India annexed Kashmir presuming that Pakistan is not currently in a position to respond militarily, nor could it agitate the matter at international forums for fear of US ennui.  

India’s annexation smacks of acceptance of quasi-Dixon Plan, barring mention of plebiscite and division of Jammu. . Dixon proposed: Ladakh should be awarded to India. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (including Gilgit and Baltistan) should remain with Pakistan. Whole Kashmir valley should have a plebiscite with no option to independence. Jammu should be divided on religious basis. The river Chmab should be the dividing line. Northern Jammu (Muslims dominated) should go to Pakistan and Hindu majority parts of Jammu to remain with India.

In short Muslim areas should have gone with Pakistan and Hindu-Buddhist majority areas should have remained with India.

India’s annexation has no legal sanctity. But, it could have bbeen sanctified in a mutually agreed Kashmir solution.

India’s propaganda

India portrays the freedom movement in Kashmir as `terrorism’. What about India’s terrorism in neighbouring countries?

The world is listless to accounts of former diplomats and RAW officers about executing insurgencies in neighbouring countries. B. Raman, in his book The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane makes no bones about India’s involvement up to the level of prime minister in Bangladesh’s insurgency.

 Will the world take notice of confessions by Indi’s former intelligence officers and diplomats?B. Raman reminds `Indian parliament passed resolution on March 31, 1971 to support insurgency. Indira Gandhi had then confided with Kao that in case Mujib was prevented from ruling Pakistan, she would liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the military junta. Kao, through one RAW agent, hijacked a Fokker Friendship, the Ganga, of Indian Airlines hijacked from Srinagar to Lahore.

India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign minister Jaswant Singh, `coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces’… `helicopters, uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud’, delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach’. When New Delhi queried about the benefit of costly support to Northern Alliance chief Massoud, Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”

Death of back-channel

In his memoirs In the line of fire (pp.302-303), president Musharraf had proposed a personal solution of the Kashmir issue.  This solution, in essence, envisioned self-rule in demilitarised regions of Kashmir under a joint-management mechanism.   The solution pre-supposed* reciprocal flexibility.

Death of dialogue and diplomacy

Riaz warns of “incalculable” risks as the result of abrogation of Kashmir statehood (Aug 5, 2019). Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. In the absence of a dialogue on outstanding issues, war, perhaps a nuclear one,  comes up as the only option.

Concluding remark

Sans sincerity, the only Kashmir solution is a nuclear Armageddon. Or, perhaps divine intervention.

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South Asia

Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022

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Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.

Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.

Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.

Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.

Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.

Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.

Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.

Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.

US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.

Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.

Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.

Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.

Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.

With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.

In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.

In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.

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