India has always claimed itself to be the regional power and used a variety of tactics to increase its influence in the region. So, it wasn’t surprising when it built the matrix of its foreign policy upon the dictum of nationalism. Till Rajiv Gandhi, real politick was the face of India’s relations with its neighboring states. After him, economic liberalism dominated India’s foreign policy, for a shorter period though. With the onset of Modi’s premiership, Hindu Nationalism came into full bloom again. With him came the Kotlyian politick fully reinvigorated. Coupled with it is the dynamic interplay of power shift at the global level, which has been shaping America’s “Contain China” policy. Though Donald Trump’s bizarre presidency has added the Nixonian flair to the US foreign policy and pronounced the element of unpredictability, Trump managed to form an anti-China partnership from South Asia to the Middle East. These developments have made the regional and global power play too intense. Amidst all this fierce competition stands the flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR), of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part.
South Asian politics took an interesting turn when China announced to invest in economic enterprises under its OBOR project. It rang alarm bells in India, which always claimed South Asia to be its area of influence. Its sense of threat heightened extremely with the inception of CPEC. In India, Chankyian forebrains got into such an anti-Pakistan frenzy that they opposed and supported OBOR simultaneously. New Delhi initiated a series of diplomatic and political campaigns to counter Chinese influence and weaken Pakistan’s growing economic prospects.
Its more pronounced overtures have been towards Iran with regard to Chabahar Port. Narendra Modi’s takeaway from Iran, MoUs on Chabahar and India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral agreement, became a matter of worry for Pakistan. There are many technicalities though, which make Chabahar less of an operation port as compared with Gwadar. On his two-day visit to Iran, Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister, Nitin Gadkari represented India at Hasan Rouhani’s oath-taking ceremony as the President of Iran. Nitin held discussions with Iranian officials and decided to make Chabahar operational by 2018. He also discussed the issue of ratification of the trilateral agreement. This agreement has been signed by India and Afghanistan while Iran was reluctant to ratify it.
This development necessitates caution from Pakistan’s side. For quite some time, we have been facing some troubles in Pak-Iran ties. Iran needs partners to make its economy strong. India has been showing readiness to forge a strong partnership with Iran. Despite Iran’s reluctance, Pakistan has not been successful to take much benefit of this situation.
Linked with OBOR is India-China standoff at Dokalam, Bhutan. China held Belt and Road Forum in July this year to facilitate smooth implementation of OBOR with other countries’ consensus. New Delhi not only refused to participate in it but forced Bhutan also to stay out of it. Bhutan complied just like Bangladesh complied while boycotting SAARC conference in Pakistan. It didn’t stop there but constructed road to gain access to the area which is under Chinese control. India’s bid of regional hegemony got in the way of peaceful agreements on OBOR.
Sri Lanka’s Hambantota’s port is also a case in point. For long, India meddled in the affairs of Colombo in the name of the Tamil issue. Governments in Colombo used China card to dodge the Indian interference. On 28 July 2017, Sri Lanka handed the port to China Overseas and Port Holdings Company. The agreement on the port was presented in parliament and approved for further implementation. India has always considered Sri Lanka its area of influence where, now, China has entered as a credible economic partner. It does send shockwaves in the capital of India while the standoff at Dokalam exacerbates the Indo-China ties ever more. The regional geopolitics is blooming with intensity of competition and rivalry ever more.
If looked from the perspective of global geopolitics, interstate politics appear nonetheless brimming with changes and shifts. China-US rivalry has become its recurring theme. Trump’s overly friendly gesture towards Saudi Arabia was an effort to isolate Iran in the region. He did succeed in his attempt but it accelerated Beijing-Tehran partnership, which afterwards brings Turkey, Russia, Germany and other dissidents of Trump from the EU bloc. In South Asia, he has been bonding with India to pursue “contain China” policy and, in the Southeast Asia, he is putting pressure on Beijing due to the North Korean issue.
All these developments have made regional and global geopolitics a chessboard, which is facing an intense phase of shifts and turns. Pakistan, in this milieu, must adopt such a neutral foreign policy which attracts its neighbors and other countries. Pakistan must make economy cornerstone of its internal and foreign policy if it wishes to stand less affected by the vicious rivalries at the regional and international level.