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Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Changig Regional Geo-Politics

Daily Times Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Changing Regional Geo Politics: Opportunities and Challenges for Pakistan


The late Prof. Dr. R M Naib used to tell us, ‘Change is the only constant. Different species must adopt and adapt to the continuous process of change to survive. Those who cannot simply vanish, get extinct’. States like any other species must adopt and adapt to their changing environments or be ready for extinction.  The Geo Political environment of South and West Asia is undergoing a fundamental change with both Internal (regional and state level) as well as International. These changes provide opportunities and challenges to all regional states. This essay focuses on Pakistan.
The major elements that define the regional geo political changes are
 a. The US / NATO drawdown from Afghanistan (region), b. The turmoil in Middle East, c. The US policy of accepting China out invest it and play a major role in the region but also limit it, d. Iran Nuclear Deal and sanctions free Iran, e. the Chinese assertive policy towards a regional economic zone with increased role in Afghanistan, heavy investments in regional transport infrastructure (with a major chunk in Pakistan), f. The continued religious extremist violence in the larger Middle East (from Saudi Arabia to Central Asia), g. the rise of ‘Islamic state’ (DAESH) and its gradual replacement of Al Qaeda and Taliban, h. The often-contradictory alignments like China Pakistan at the same time with China, Russia and India as well as China India and Iran, i. The changing US Pakistan and the US India relations, j. Peaceful elections and transfer of power in Afghanistan, k. Ashraf Ghani’s overtures and Pakistan’s response leading to expectations/ declarations of paradigm shift in Pakistan’s Afghan/ Counter Terrorism Policy and Pak Afghan relations.
The US /NATO drawdown from Afghanistan, should not be compared with Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan or even US withdrawal from Vietnam. US has partially achieved what it came for and can achieve further without being directly engaged in day to day fights, making it more affordable both materially and politically.  The Chinese assertive regional policy driven by heavy economic investment, accompanied by political and security elements, in the region stretching from Myanmar to Central Asia, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, is not seen as a loss by US. Rather US and China has much more in common than is acknowledged. Both strongly agree in denying any space to terrorists, which means more of, if not only, AfPak territory. US while not negative about increased Chinese role would not want it to be the only regional power. Here comes India. However, US look at India as balancing China rather than confronting it, thus diluting Chinese status. On Afghanistan, India, China and Russia have more in common than is presented. Iran also belongs to the club of these three on Afghanistan and terrorism. The signing of Iran Nuclear deal, which will see a sanctions free Iran, most of the fundamentals on which Pakistan basis its regional policy are put to serious test; providing both opportunities and challenges.
The BRICS Conference at ULFA Russia shows something, which needs to be carefully understood rather than blaming or acclaiming anyone. Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met and declared their resolve to fight against terrorism and resolve their bilateral issues through negotiations.  They met with clear prodding from China, Russia and United States. The big three told them bluntly they must mend their affairs and focus on terrorism. Pakistan had no choice but to go along and keep mum on Kashmir. Keeping in mind Pakistani military role in its security policy, one can safely deduce, Nawaz Sharif did not go along alone. Pakistan’s whole establishment was on board on the meeting, the agenda and the declaration. The heating up of the situation on Pak India borders in its immediate aftermath shows the continued existence of forces opposed to any change in Pakistan’s security policy. It appears that that there may be differences on many points, but internationally there is a consensus on countering the rising tide of terrorism. Significantly, for Pakistan, China is at the forefront of this global consensus, increasingly, more so in this region. It has differences with USA and India on many other issues, but on terrorism, it stands with them.
In the wake of the Army Public School, Peshawar tragedy in December 2014, Pakistan made a very public attempt to resolve issues with Afghanistan, facilitated by President Ghani policy of finding peace in Afghanistan through negotiations and agreement with Pakistan rather than Taliban. Pakistan declared action against all terrorists. For the interest of this write up, that action was also to target those using Pakistani territory for terrorist activity anywhere, especially Afghanistan. Afghanistan expectations of Paakistani help in facilitating peace with Taliban and denial of the use of Pakistani territory against it, however, have dwindled within months. Serious concerns and doubts has been publicly expressed about Pakistan’s declared commitments in this regard. The high point was, President Ghani saying ‘Pakistan is engaged in undeclared war against Afghanistan’.
Pakistan is central to the emerging regional geo political map. This centrality provides it both with challenges and opportunities. Those who see interests in the new geo politics (China being one such State being its main architect, with heavy investments) may not take a lighter view of the hurdles in its path. Pakistan can be the hurdle or facilitator. To be a beneficiary part of the change, Pakistan has to show through credible and visible action it is denying Pakistani space to all type of terrorists, move forward on relations with Afghanistan, try to decrease and gradually mend its relations with India and develop more substantial relationship with Iran. It must also understand, movement on one is not possible without the others.
Even though one notes some attempts at change, but somehow, Pakistan appears unable to. It appears Pakistan’s external environment is pulling and pushing it towards change and be a beneficiary of the changing regional situation, however its internal situation and alignment of forces are too strong to let go. These pulls in the opposite direction is tearing Pakistani State and Society apart.

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