The squabble in the sub-continent between India and Pakistan is enlarging the shadow of war in South Asia as both nuclear neighbors are threatening each other with full scale war. Both countries have already fought three wars in just 69 years of their division since British rule. Western scheme to “divide and conquer” are still in progress in the sub-continent. Borders and trans-border shared water resources disputes created hostility in favor of the West exploiting South Asia. That’s why an Indo-Pakistan conflict is considered the main hurdle in the progress of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC). SAARC’s annual summit was recently postponed due to Indian diplomatic pressure on South Asian nations to boycott meeting under the chairmanship of Pakistan. In fact India, is working to isolate Pakistan regionally and globally, as when it pled Russia to cancel the first ever Russian-Pakistan Druzhba-Dosti (friendship) military drills. Russia not only rejected the Indian plea by sending its troops with the massage of “friendship forever” to Pakistan but now has enhanced diplomatic engagement with South Asian nations aiming to extend its Grand Eurasian approach towards this region. As both South Asian countries, India and Pakistan can officially request to join Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), but India under the Modi government has joined the US-led West in sabotaging positive regional development. The Indian Hybrid War against Pakistan replicates the American war against Russia, as once Obama declared Russia to be the biggest threat to world security and tried to chain-up the bear by introducing anti-Russian sanctions to isolate Russia. Now Modi is repeating the same mantra against Pakistan. Therefore, New Delhi has deliberately skipped Islamabad in BRICS regional outreach through splitting up SAARC and introducing the Bay of Bangle initiative for BRICS regional outreach. India has not only violated the Ufa declaration which was adopted under the umbrella of multipolar world institutions such as BRICS, SCO and EEU, but now it has become an ally of the USA after signing the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). This defense agreement is the part of the American World War 3 strategy in the Indo-Pacific rim against the China-Pakistan nexus. For the first time in history, India has given up its non-alignment foreign policy principle by teaming up with the USA. Meanwhile, Russia has accelerated its multipolar engagement of South Asian nations aimed at pulling India along with the multipolar world for the integration of the Eurasian Silk Road. Putin’s druzhba (“friendship”) diplomacy towards India and Pakistan hints that Russia is interested in connecting both SAARC and BIMSTEC together with the Eurasian Silk Road, just as it has already been proposed to connect South Asia with Southeast Asia under the umbrella of SCO.
Are SAARC’s days numbered with BIMSTEC?
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic bloc of eight countries in Southern Asia consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the only Central Asian country that is part of it, while Myanmar from South East Asia is also a potential member of this regional association. The SAARC countries are thickly populated, comprising approximately one fourth of the population of the world on just 3% of earth’s land. Hence why SAARC is considering the world’s biggest market neighbor, China, which has become world’s fastest growing economy. Once China applied to be part of SAARC as a full member, unfortunately India blocked the Chinese bid for membership of association, as India has 70% of the area amongst all SAARC countries. The Indian refusal of China alienated SAARC into sub-groups, while Pakistan (China’s Silk Road partner and zipper) tried to engage South Asian nations through minimizing Indian hegemony over SAARC. Unfortunately, this situation pushed SAARC towards failure, as all member states failed to implement the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) for regional trade. Pakistan’s refusal to sign the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and SAARC Regional Railways Agreement accelerated the cooperation of the sub-regional Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement. This was an opportunity for India, who was already working on a sub-regional group within South Asia aimed at countering China through isolating Pakistan. Now, current Indian diplomacy among South Asian nations hints that India wants to fill the vacuum with this seven country-strong sub-regional bloc called BIMSTEC. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are member states while India is also making effort to bring Afghanistan and the Maldives from SAARC into BIMSTEC as observers, since India has introduced BIMSTEC as a regional outreach of BRICS.
Under the government of Prime Minister Modi, India has given preference to cultivating extensive economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia (ASEAN) in order to bolster its standing as a regional power and counterweight the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China at a time when the USA has engaged in a “pivot to Asia.” India’s effort to make the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) effective is part of this Act East policy, as it has skipped SAARC from BRICS outreach by staging the BRICS-BIMSTEC summit in Goa after it had already succeeded in postponing the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad. In fact, Indian think tanks and lobbyists are working with South Asian nations, except Pakistan, for enhancing regional trade and cooperation under the umbrella of BIMSTEC. Former Indian diplomat and fellow of Delhi-based influential think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Pinak R Chakravarty, told a group of Bangladeshi journalists in New Delhi on the occasion of the postponement of the SAARC summit: “Forget the SAARC at least for the time being, SAARC members Afghanistan and the Maldives will be made observers of the BIMSTEC. So, you will really have (BIMSTEC like) SAARC minus Pakistan plus Thailand and Myanmar.
China’s regional vision and the Indo-Pacific great game
China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, adopted a win-win policy as it has emerged as a global economic power leading the multipolar world by changing the international system in 21st century and joining hands with Russia, which is considered a world geopolitical superpower. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership is viewed as the strategic rival of the US-led West and a potential challenger to US global supremacy. China presented its own regional vision for Asia by introducing the Belt Road initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Almost all Asian countries and several Western countries joined this bank as founding members. Being the fastest growing economy, China is in a position to share its prosperity with world, particularly within the Asia Pacific region. In fact, the American Cold War mentality with its zero-sum game to counter “rising China” compelled China to alter the established international world order through offering Asian nations state of the art technology, thus aiming to become an Asian alternative to the United States. The American military presence in Asia Pacific, particularly in the Western Pacific, has become the greatest threat to peace and stability in Asia, especially while NATO is beating the drum of war against Russia in Eastern Europe. Hence why both China and Russia have joined hands to create a new global security model for multipolar world. Being multipolar world leaders, they have given a special leading role to India, considering it to be a regional power. Unfortunately, India under the Modi government has acted as a bridge for US-led unipolar hegemony to walk on.
Modi’s ambition to counter the Chinese regional sphere in South Asia and Southeast Asia indicates that America is leading India from behind to achieve the objectives of the manual of unconventional Warfare (UW) through using Indian influence in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia. America already has a strong military presence in East Asia justified by projecting China and North Korea as security threat to Japan and South Korea. Despite its participation in multipolar world institutions – BRICS, SCO and possibly joining the Eurasian Economic Union – India is playing the role of “deterring China” through strengthening ties with East Asian countries strategically and economically. This Indian move gave rise to a new regional concept: the Indo-Pacific. New Delhi’s Act East policy and its efforts to strengthen BIMSTEC is part of India’s strategic great game over the control of Indo-Pacific. It is working to align itself with China’s neighbors that are hypnotized by the American Cold War mentality that presents Chinese activities in the South China Sea as a threat. Australia, Japan and the United States are encouraging India to compete with China and increase alternative political, economic, and maritime security engagements in working to guard their expanding interests against China. This is formulated in the Quadrilateral Initiative in the Indo-Pacific region which is zips the Indian Ocean and South China Sea (Pacific) together. This maritime security competition between world powers is evidence that America has operationalized its so-called rebalancing Asia approach, as Washington’s new engagement of India testifies that America is pursuing its Indo-Pacific pivot dream in Asia.
Meanwhile, China, with its win-win diplomacy, is going to share prosperity through offering soft loans and aids to all neighboring countries for building infrastructure ranging from railroads to seaports as part of the Chinese Maritime Silk Road strategy. Historically, the Indo-Pacific region was part of China’s Ancient Southern Silk Road more than 2,000 years ago. People in the southwest of China traded between Chengdu, China and Myanmar, Vietnam, India, and even the Middle East. China is currently implementing its plan to revive the ancient Silk Road through modernized trade routes. For this purpose, China has proposed to build a Bangladesh-India-Myanmar-China (BIMC) corridor that was part of the Southern Silk Road. While China is clearing ancient routes around Malacca, at the same time it has accelerated diplomatic efforts to build the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean countries as transit trade routes. Therefore, China has provided soft loans to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka while China is also making an effort to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan in order to connect Central Asia with South Asia. By virtue of its participation in multipolar world institutions such as BRICS and SCO, India is also part of this grand China’s Silk Road Strategy but unfortunately in the current scenario, India’s Modi is reviving the Cold War era confrontation with China as it has planned to build airbases along China’s border. Beside this, Indo-US cooperation in the Bay of Bengal has also posed the threat of an upcoming World War 3 scenario. The USA is working to block China’s maritime routes. India should learn from the Philippine, whose newly elected president Rodrigo Duterte is going on board with China to mutually solve maritime territorial disputes. But unfortunately, Modi’s effort to make India part of the American pivot to the Indo-Pacific poses a threat to China’s grand maritime strategy. According to one report, “India is in the process of reinforcing its military capabilities in the region. In recent years there has been an effective ‘rebalancing’ of India’s naval resources towards the Bay, reflecting its relatively increased threat perceptions in relation to China as compared with Pakistan to the west. That includes the construction of a major new base for India’s Eastern Fleet, with capacity for aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. India is also developing extensive military assets in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which run north-south through the Andaman Sea, including port facilities and bases for surveillance and strike aircraft. The operational radius of aircraft based in, or staging through, the islands encompasses the Malacca Strait and large portions of the South China Sea.”
Therefore China, with win-win diplomacy, is working to solve all disputes and conflicts within Asia.
Xi addressed a room of Asian diplomats and world leaders by stating, “We need to innovate our security concept, establish a new regional security cooperation architecture, and jointly build a road for Asian security that is mutual and a win-win for all.” He argued: “In the final analysis, it is up to the peoples of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia, and uphold the security of Asia.”
Russian moves in Asia
Russian President Vladimir Putin was photographed in a blue suit during the BRICS family gathering at Goa Resort in India. The color blue symbolized the fight against evil in South Asia. The world recognized Putin as a peacemaker, and in the sub-continent he has become a ray of hope for the peaceful regional integration of South Asia. President Putin is pursing Russia’s own vision of a “rebalancing” of relations with the Asia-Pacific basin. The Russian tilt towards Asia came after Western schemes to chain up Russian bear as a result of the Ukraine crisis. In fact, Russia, under President Putin’s leadership, has won the fifteen-year geopolitical chess match with the West. The West’s aggressiveness against Russia forced it to adopt defensive measures through protecting its state structure, civilization, and its nation from NATO-sponsored destruction. For example, when Russia opened its borders for Western partners, they took this opportunity to destabilize Russia by funding and supporting terrorism in the North Caucasus.
Offensive Cold War policy is one of the reason for the nosedive in Russian relations with the West. Russia and the US are still locked in a grim state of relations over Syria, Ukraine, and NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. Disagreements between both superpowers are brewing a total world war. Therefore, Russia has disassociated itself from the West and given preference to contributing to developing Asia, as two-third of Russia is situated in Asia. At one time, the Soviet Union enjoyed maritime superiority in the Asia-Pacific in late 1980’s when the Soviet Pacific Fleet was stationed in Vladivostok and extended to the Indian Ocean via Indo-Pacific rim. Now the Maritime Doctrine of Russian Federation up to 2020 leads off with an assertive strategy aimed at regaining maritime superiority as Moscow is going to re-establish a permanent Russian Navy presence in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. Through the Suez Canal, it is easy to connect naval bases in the Indian ocean with those in the Mediterranean Sea. The Russian response of protect world maritime routes came after the provocative World War 3 military buildups by the US and NATO.
Russia and the Asian superpower (China) are preparing for an imminent war by collaborating on ways to minimize possible damage to the security of the multipolar world.
Russia has not only reached out to the South China Sea to assist its ally, but both are also working on a defense shield in response to the US’ decision to deploy the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense system in South Korea. Russia is also working on military buildup near Japan’s mainland on the Kuril Islands in the heart of Pacific in response to Japan’s decision to militarize as a part of the US’ ‘Asia Pivot.’ Meanwhile, Russia is also resurrecting military ties in Southeast Asia and the broader region. Beside this, Russia is also working on trade through Eurasian integration within Asia including Russian proposed regional integration tracks that are taking shape in the Eurasian region today on a mutually advantageous basis. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum: “We believe that this integration network and the system of multilateral and bilateral agreements, including those on free zones, could become the foundation for developing a big Eurasian partnership. We discussed this very idea at the St Petersburg international Economic Forum this summer.”
While Russia and China have teamed up for joint security mechanisms in the Asia Pacific by means of building bridges between regional organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN, BIMISTEC and SAARC, the Sino-Russian led multipolar institutions, i.e., BRICS, SCO, the Eurasian Union, and Silk Road Initiative, are planned to protect maritime trade routes and enhancing regional trade.
Russian Druzhba Diplomacy in the Asian Nuclear Triangle
Russia has extended its Druzhba-Dosti diplomacy to Pakistan from India. Russia and India already implemented the Druzhba-Dosti Vision which focused on strengthening partnership over the next decade through concrete initiatives in diverse areas so as to make the bilateral institutional dialogue architecture more result-oriented and forward-looking. Both counties have resolved to continue to meet on the sidelines of multilateral events. Now Russia is looking forward to extending such a vision to include Pakistan, as when it staged the first ever joint military drill with Pakistan under the name Druzhba-2016. Russia is currently working on maximize its engagement with the Asian Nuclear Triangle countries, China, India, and Pakistan. India and Pakistan’s induction into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the same time is part of this Russian engagement. Russia is also striving to gain maximum potential from SAARC and BIMSTEC through building bridge between Pakistan and India to connect this region with the Eurasian Union.
Russia, being the multipolar world leader, is acting as a referee between Pakistan and India. As one writer wrote in article titled Russia in SAARC, “the Russian tilt towards Pakistan and China is also one of the main reasons of India’s new strategic alignment with the USA and Saudi Arabia. History has witnessed that, due to border disputes with China and Pakistan, India always looked towards the USSR to counter Sino-Pakistan influence. Beside this, Pakistan was also considered as an American ally in this region and played dirty games to contain the growing influence of USSR at Western behest. But now at the present time, the whole situation has been changed. India is going to engage itself with Pakistan’s old ally, the USA, while Pakistan is coming close to Russia which is still considered an Indian ally.”
Although the Indian strategic tilt towards the unipolar world will take India away from Russia, this process will still take time because both are connected in deeper spheres of mutual cooperation. Russia has nevertheless planned to connect India with energy grids and railroads as the part of Eurasian integration so that Moscow could be connected with Mumbai through Baku and Tehran. Moreover, Russia aims to play its role as referee between the Sino-Pak axis and India. This is why Russia has pursued closer relations with Pakistan. On the other hand, the Russia-China nexus has hinted that both countries are working to pull India and Pakistan together through the medium of multipolar world institutions as part of the Eurasian Silk Road, just as Russia has already succeeded in bringing India and China together in BRICS and now is working on Indo-Pak induction into the SCO. During the BRICS summit in Goa, Russia and China met Modi’s attempt to isolate Pakistan with proposing bridges with multipolar institutions. Russia is aware of the Indian double-edged policy of containing China and confronting Pakistan.
Hence why Russia has boosted its diplomatic engagement with South Asian nations and has already teamed up with Southeast Asian nations. In fact, Russia is trying to minimize unipolar hegemony over the region with positive regional integration.
Russia and China both agree on a BRICS Free Trade Area (FTA) aimed at bringing India to the table for regional trade in the Indo-Pacific rim. The BRICS FTA was proposed by China, and this move would be beneficial for Pakistan and South Asia overall, which is surrounded by BRICS. This proposal came after the Indian attempt to break-up SAARC and prevent Pakistan from BRICS’ outreach by means of India’s effort to strengthen BIMSTEC (“New SAARC” minus Pakistan). Modi’s attempt to isolate Pakistan will remain fruitless insofar as both BRICS members, Russia and China, want BRICS to achieve maximum regional outreach within South Asia and Southeast Asia. Now China has obtained BRICS chairmanship for one year and is expected to invite South Asian and Southeast Asian nations to the 9th BRICS summit for BRICS regional outreach aimed at extending BRICS in the Indo-Pacific region.
Trading with the enemy
Unfortunately, despite its vast resources, South Asia considered to be the most deprived region. The World Bank Report pointed out that, with intra-regional trade at less than 5% of total trade, South Asia is the least integrated region in the world, dwarfed by East Asia’s 35% and Europe’s 60%. According to the WB recommendation, it is 20% cheaper for India to trade with Brazil than with its neighbor Pakistan. Bangladesh’s exports to India can potentially rise by 300% and there is also the potential for India-Pakistan to increase their mutual trade from $3BN to $20 BN. Unfortunately, the Indo-Pak conflict is the main obstacle facing regional integration. India depends on Pakistan’s transit trade routes to reach Central Asia and Europe. But the current scenario indicates that India is seeking alternatives to bypass Pakistan, as it is interested in developing the Iranian Chabahar port as part of North-South corridor which connects New Delhi with Kabul, Tehran, Baku, and Moscow. This Indian plan came when Pakistan stepped down to allow Indian exports to Afghanistan and Iran via the Wagah border. In 2009, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on two-way transit trade via land routes passing through Pakistan which allow Afghan trucks to carry export goods to the Wagah border to reach their onward destination in India. Pakistan would also be able to take its trucks through Afghanistan to the Central Asian republics, but later Pakistan restricted Afghan trucks from importing Indian goods and crossing the Wagah border via its land route under the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). In fact, the APTTA was drafted by the USA with the aim of solving Afghanistan’s crises through economic development, but later Pakistan refused to fulfill the spirit of the trade agreement by imposing such restrictions on Afghanistan’s trade with India. As a result, Afghanistan also banned Pakistani trucks crossing to Central Asia.
Later in 2013, China announced the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under which Pakistan gained access to reach Central Asia via the China-Tajikistan route bypassing Afghanistan. Pakistan has invited the whole world to join CPEC, but unfortunately, it has denied giving land access via transit trade routes to neighboring countries – India, Iran and Afghanistan. This denial was due to the military establishment’s concerns once Pakistan’s political government was ready to grant MFN (Most Favored Nation) status to India. Due to military pressure, the government closed the file regarding trade with India. This act hinted that trade has become an element in enhancing national security. Indian efforts to sabotage CPEC came after Pakistan’s blocking of trade routes which connect Central Asia with South Asia. CPEC and Pakistani transit trade routes had become a hope for Central Asian landlocked countries. After Iran, now Afghanistan has also shown its desire to be part of CPEC. But without gaining land access, their joining is fruitless. Iran showed its interest in connecting the Chabhar port with Gwadar through an energy corridor, but still Pakistan has not given the green light to Iran and has stopped work on the Peace (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline. The energy corridor between Baloch’s sister ports, Gwadar and Chabhar, has also become a hope for emerging centers of energy in the Caspian Sea to export their products. The Chinese were handed over Balochistan’s Gwadar port, which has the potential to become a two-way export market for East, West, South, and North. This energy corridor would turn Pakistan into India’s irreplaceable energy partner, as two proposed inter-continental gas pipelines would pass through Pakistan to South Asia via India. Hence why Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed to connect Pakistan and India with energy pipelines. Russia is going to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline in Pakistan.
Now it is time to adopt a “trading with the enemy” approach since regional integration has reached the doors of both neighbors, Pakistan and India. They should rethink their policies and learn “trading with enemy” for mutual economic benefit and in the larger interests of the poor people of South Asia. Both countries have nuclear arms and modern militaries, but unfortunately no food to feed nations. Although trading with the enemy is not a new concept, most Asian nations have adopted it for the sake of trade.
Pakistan and India fought three wars but failed to solve conflicts and border disputes after the division of sub-continent. If both countries adopt the concept of trading with the enemy, this would ensure peace with positive integration by providing an opportunity for solving disputes.
This would also be beneficial for India and China. Moreover, this concept will also benefit all regional countries in acquiring maximum benefits from CPEC and Pakistan’s transit trade routes which connect South Asia with the Eurasian Economic Union through the North-South corridor. Indian economic interests in Pakistan’s transit trade routes will also ensure peace in region. For this purpose, Balochistan could be declared a free trade economic zone connecting the China-Pakistan economic corridor with Afghanistan and Iran under the umbrella of SCO. This would guarantee regional development, even ensuring peace in region. Pakistan has already offered its ports to the SCO, and is now utilizing the potential of Chabhar as part of the Russia-Iran-India proposed North-South corridor intended to maintain strategic balance. Iran and Afghanistan are both willing to join this Eurasian security bloc. The designated strategic and economic cooperative mechanisms of the SCO can push regional integration a step forward by strengthening the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s presence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. For this purpose, the China-Balochistan Economic Corridor (CBEC) should be proposed with the Chabahar extension as a Eurasian Energy Grid and SCO naval facility. This energy grid will also provide an opportunity for Caspian Sea countries to export their energy as well as fulfill the dreams of South Asia to connect with the trans-border energy pipelines of Central Asia.
By Tayyab Baloch