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Changing Geo-Political Equation

Five years after the annunciation of the Bush Doctrine in the 2001 US National Security Strategy, the US has started to implement its new strategic direction first outlined fully 31 years ago in the famous May 25, 1965 Galbraith Memo. The 5-year hiccup happened mainly because of 9/11. Even though that watershed initiated wholesale changes in conventional geo-political direction, the main thrust of post-Cold War US strategic thinking since the Galbraith Memo has been to contain China within Asia, using India as a proxy. In the 60s the containment was meant to be mainly military, inclusive of geographical and ideological borders, with ideological differences blurred by socialism’s downfall and the meteoric corresponding rise in capitalism, China’s containment has now to be both economic and military.

Developing countries of the world aspire to graduate to the developed world. To join the global economy and act on a world stage, socialist economies became the going model on gaining independence after the Second World War. Late into the 60s and only 70s this turned dramatically to a free market orientation. While the US, committed to promotion of democratic values, has promoted political reform to go ahead or even side by side with economic reform, China as the remaining heartland of communism has carried out constant economic reforms since the late 1970s while only gradually allowing political reform. Glasnost before Perestroika led to a near catastrophic economic collapse in the Soviet Union and the COMECON countries, it is only the discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas that has sustained economic reform. In Russia and many of its former satellites, communism has been replaced by a new brand of nationalist authoritarianism, the nouveau rulers being mainly apparatchiks of the old Communist regimes.

Socialism was India’s choice on gaining independence as opposed to the capitalist bent of other countries of the region. Instead of following the free market trend in time with the rest of the world, Pakistan and Bangladesh did a 180 degree and adopted the economically insane route of a socialist economy in the 1970s, probably losing three decades of a head start.  Faced with economic collapse, both countries under military dictatorships in the 80s did another 180 degree to privatization and denationalization. India which changed direction last in the late 80s and early 90s, has gained most in the last decade by adopting the road to a free market economy. It’s population size and the entrepreneurial skills of its business leaders has helped. While China is still far ahead economically, India is bound to advance spectacularly in the next decade, mainly on the strength of its IT potential and the sophisticated manner the potential has been harnessed and exploited. India as a potential anti-dote to China has been force-multiplied in the US perception by its being a vast market for a wide range of US products. A major unspoken factor that makes India a natural strategic partner is the fact that despite India’s secular credentials it happens to be a Hindu State, and it has shown its trapping in curbing the rise of Islam within India.

The cementing of the US-India relationship was an event long overdue. India certainly has vast energy needs that cannot be met by conventional means, that it took the shape of a nuclear deal that runs counter to US policy on non-proliferation is surprising, and rather ham-handed. While giving India credit for intelligently manipulating the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline issue to force the US to offer alternate sources of energy, the obstacles to be overcome have been understated as well as the downside to the deal, viz (1) an increasingly skeptical US Congress about  India’s  nuclear  credentials (2) calling the US “evil” for over 50 years, the India’s socialist masses will take some convincing (3) ASEAN neighbors in the East and muslim countries in the Middle East worry about India as an emerging Superpower with nuclear sabres to rattle as well as domination of the Indian Ocean, and last but not the least (4) will China accept this arrangement lying down? As a US partner India will find themselves the subject of vastly increased cynosure by US legislators and the media, discovering issues long kept under wraps viz (1) the widespread Naxalite movement (2) the Christian revolts in Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram (3) a dozen others/such insurrections all over India including near anarchy in parts of Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, etc and (4) the wide disparity between the rich and the poor, etc, etc. India’s non-aligned status in the world was well respected, now it is clearly aligned to the US. Given the energy shortages Indian leaders must be gambling they may get away with it because of their past record. It is at best a calculated risk, at worst it is a major strategic blunder.

We are into the fifth decade after India’s short sharp war with China in 1962. During this time there has been growing rapprochement with China, China going so far as to give de-facto recognition to India’s occupation of Sikkim. Currently border talks are in the final stage of successful negotiations and formal two-way trade has crossed billions of US dollars. The US-India nuclear nexus has drawn a sharp response from China, it puts an official stamp on the US-India alliance for containment of China. While China does not covet any territory on the land mass of Asia, its only remaining concern being offshore Taiwan, no sovereign country in the world can stand an alliance ostensibly meant to be against it. Other than a strong denouement of the US-India nuclear deal, China has initiated moves that recognize that this poses a danger to China. One gesture is particularly revealing, China   has  invited  President  Pervez  Musharraf  of  Pakistan  to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in May 2006, Pakistan here has only an observer status. While the US has certainly more to offer to India than China, India’s interests would have been better served by cementing its relationship with its great neighbour rather than get into confrontation with it.

Even with full maturity in the realm of external affairs, of concern to Pakistan is the major US-tilt to India and how it will impact on a possible Kashmir solution or arrangement. Certainly the US would want India not to be distracted by Kashmir in its role of replacing the State of Iran as policeman of the region, they would rather India free itself of its narrow agenda over Kashmir and opt for its wider role in the world. That would be the smart thing to do, unfortunately given India’s history of pursuing tactical initiatives, most of which have turned into strategic blunders, India will probably opt for both, trying to have its cake and eat it also, maintaining the status quo over Kashmir while striving to become an acceptable world power. To that end it has been given the stamp of US (and by inference, western) approval while Pakistan has been sidelined, or so India hopes.

The Oct 8 earthquake allowed the first steps for de-escalation to be taken, a pragmatic approach will make the ground realities more palatable to both sides on Kashmir including the pulling back troops to a suitable distance from the LOC, cross-border-trade, movement of Kashmiris freely across the LOC, etc. While Pakistan should certainly go the whole mile for a suitable solution/arrangement for Kashmir, it is not in the nature of its people to be Balkan-ized as the changing geo-political equation initiated by the US-India deal envisages. All relationships have to be on equitable basis or they will fail the test of both patience and time.


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