Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
THE growing impasse in India’s regional relations shatters Indian myopia of becoming a potent regional power to dominate the South Asian region — a divisive design which is being thwarted by the emerging geopolitical culture wherein India finds itself in an isolation phase vis-à-vis Pakistan. China’s long-term vision for capitalising strategic benefits of BRI is not limited to scholarships. Rather, it extends to allowing back and forth mobility of people between the BRI regions and the Chinese mainland. Not mistakenly, Moscow’s tilt towards Islamabad and President’s Putin endorsement of OBOR also perturb New Delhi. On the Doklam issue, China has justifiably warned India. These developments are glaring signs to exacerbate India’s regional frustration.
South Asia has been most open through the Indian Ocean. For the greater part of its history, the prosperity and security of the sub-continent has been as dependent, maybe more so, on its maritime dimensions as on the continental order. The Indian Ocean is not a closed ocean, not landlocked like the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Black Sea, or the seas near China around which other civilisations grew. Thanks to the predictable monsoons, the Indian Ocean did not have to wait for the age of steam to be united, unlike other oceans. Deep water sailing probably developed here first. The maritime domain, by definition, is a positive-sum one, and water transport has historically been easier and cheaper than that by land. For a great part, therefore, southern Asia is maritime.
And throughout history, southern Asia was most prosperous and stable when its external connections to these regions flourished alongside its internal strength. This is very different from North-East Asia or northern Europe or North America, which were relatively isolated in history and unconnected to other regions for their security and prosperity for most of their past. All in all, therefore, the geopolitics of southern Asia has become more complex of late, and are now more unpredictable. Both these evolutions – of increasing outside great power involvement and interest, and of rising competitive dynamics between India on the one hand and Pakistan and China on the other – change the context in which southern Asian countries seek economic development, regional and sub-regional cooperation, and security.
Is India abandoning its tradition of non-alignment and tilting towards the United States and the West? Is Delhi tempted by President Donald Trump’s new geopolitical construct, Indo-Pacific. The standoff between China, India, and Bhutan began because of India’s sensitivity to Chinese building activity in the region. While the Doklam plateau is not Indian territory, activity in the region gives the Chinese access to the “chicken’s neck” corridor that connects India to its remote northeastern states. The OBOR international forum in Beijing has clearly exposed the fact that India’s foreign policy in the past three years has gone into a tailspin. The China-Pakistan axis has isolated India in South Asia besides rendering it lonely in the world.
Not only Russian President Vladimir Putin has been attending the OBOR international forum in Beijing, he seems to have objectively endorsed OBOR’s global clout. What’s more, despite increasing bilateral tensions with China, Japan has sent a delegation to Beijing. The current western diplomatic unity against Russia seems to be a tactical western designs. In reality, Europe and America cannot afford to live beyond a Russian reconciliation. Not only globally, but also within the region, India has isolated itself from others with its foreign policy. The oft-repeating claim about Modi’s foreign policy success by his admirers is nothing but misleading. The “Modi fan club” coined the term “Modi Doctrine” to define the present Indian foreign policy and has even written a few books and articles to glorify it.
Pakistan is considered too important geopolitically and too consequential because of its size, Islamic weight, its role in developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia, not to mention its expanding nuclear capacity. Pakistan is equally important for both US and China. Similarly Pakistan has entered into close cooperation with regional countries especially with the Central Asian Republics to meet its energy demands including KASA-1000 and the TAPI Gas Power Project. Pakistan is working with Iran in the provision of gas in a massive LNG gas project as well. Pakistan has well maintained IAEA’s established nuclear safe guards as has been recently admitted by IAEA director general while speaking to a seminar held in Karachi.
Succinctly, New Delhi wanted to see a fragmented or a controlled Pakistan. Toward this end, it decided to work with any power that has a common interest. For the moment, that is the United States that could be serving the Indian interests in the region. But things are not going well for New Delhi as its evil designs are conversely working thereby cushioning a space for strategic harmony or canopy of Pakistan-China-Russia trajectory in the region. Indian frustration has become obvious. The culpable and obnoxious harassment of Pakistani diplomats in India serve sufficient evidence to India’s frustration of regional isolation and its complete failure to hibernate the Kashmir issue from paying global attention.
The real test of Modi’s foreign policy success does not lie in manufacturing evil designs against Pakistan but objectively lies in sponsoring such policies in the region which could promote peace, harmony and economic stability in its neighbourhood. But unfortunately, the all round efforts of Modi’s administration remain obsessively engaged in pondering negative trajectories which are anti-thesis to peace and prosperity of this South Asian region. India’s policies- in Kashmir as recently admitted by the UN’s Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’- richly speak about chaos and destabilization. The waning status of SAARC is also an alarming omen for New Delhi since it fosters no regional peace ventures.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.