IPRI International Conference
“Conflict and Cooperation in South Asia: Role of Major Powers”
The Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) organized a two-day international conference, entitled “Conflict and Cooperation in South Asia: Role of Major Powers” at the Marriott Hotel (Islamabad) from 11-12 December, 2018. The conference was inaugurated by H.E. Ambassador Tehmina Janjua, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, and comprised of four academic sessions with one inaugural and one concluding session.
- The Global and Regional Geopolitics:
- The foundations and architecture of global multilateral institutions underpinning the existing world order are gradually witnessing an erosion of legitimacy. The confidence in such institutions is depleting due to their inability to arrest the rise in inter-state conflicts, fix dysfunctional or fractured states and minimize the ensuing humanitarian costs. It is desirable that strong regional and extra-regional countries, especially the global powers, should use their influence to bridge the differences between the South Asian countries, reduce inter-state violence and coercive policies.
- Asia remains one of the most vulnerable continents in terms of violent conflicts. The immense human rights violations in Palestine and Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) under repressive occupation remain unchallenged and unaccounted for.
- The nature of emerging multi-polarity demands that the US should reassess its interests and engage with the other powers and regional states, especially towards conflict resolution and promotion of regional trade/connectivity.
- The geo-political competition and rivalry among major powers in South Asia is likely to increase due to their respective conflicting interests and divergent strategic outlooks. The “Pivot to Asia” doctrine and the increasing importance of the Indian Ocean will accentuate the existing tensions in the South Asian region. It is desirable that the major powers should explore ways and means to live and prosper together and work to build a shared destiny.
- The Indian Ocean Region has gained an increased strategic significance in recent years for the following reasons: 1) it is a major trading route; 2) It has a huge population, thereby offering a potential consumer market; 3) It is an important land link to the Eurasian connectivity, and; 4) It has unfathomable deposits of untapped mineral resources.
- While bilateral trade between India and Pakistan may take time to evolve, multilateral trade among South Asian states can be a source of creating a healthy competition, specialisation, quality exportable goods, massive profits, foreign exchange surpluses and reinvestment. China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can benefit more from multilateral trade agreements.
- Peace and Reconciliation in Afghanistan:
- Peace process has taken precedence over the military approach given the flurry of peace diplomatic efforts. Pakistan, on its part, has made consistent efforts towards Afghan peace and reconciliation.
- The prolonged nature of the conflict itself, economy of conflict and divergent interests are also complicating the peace process. This is a paradox that has to be overcome, and players need to engage pragmatically and realistically.
- Pakistan’s view on Afghanistan has been vindicated with the US finally understanding that the road to peace is through negotiations with all stakeholders and not hard power.
- Pakistan has always been there and ready to help Afghanistan in its struggle for peace, but the ultimate responsibility for the establishment of peace rests with the people and government of Afghanistan.
- Pakistan strives to maintain friendly ties with its neighbours and strengthen regional connectivity with the region in line with the vision of its leadership. Pakistan’s efforts are, therefore, geared towards ensuring positive engagement with all its neighbours with the aim of developing a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan and the region.
- Pakistan facilitated the Murree talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. It worked with Afghanistan, the US and China in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), but unfortunately, both times the peace was undermined. Pakistan’s policy remains to constructively engage in all initiatives and processes for peace, but peace will remain a distant dream if past history continues to overshadow it, and become a lost opportunity of broken promises, trust deficit and buck passing, if the same old pattern is repeated.
- Indo-US Strategic Partnership:
- The US interests in the South Asian region have usually been security-centric; different administrations have tried different approaches to secure and further them.
- The Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) between the US and India is expected to develop into a geostrategic partnership with India’s defence industrial base and promote business ties between the two defence industries.
- The Trump administration is pursuing for defence and security space with India, which is polarizing the region and could have negative consequences. The US is directly engaging the Taliban and looking for a political solution by putting US’ presence as a bargaining chip on the table since the monetary cost has been enormous and Congress seems unwilling to bear it any further.
- Policy Issues under the Trump Administration:
- President Donald Trump’s government is a minority-rule government. Popular vote went to Hillary Clinton. This fact pushes Trump to kowtow and appease rightist forces, which also happen to be his core constituency.
- Domestic politics and foreign policy are deeply intertwined with each other, especially in democratic states. To understand the new administration’s foreign policy, it is important to keep a vigilant eye on political developments in the domestic front in the US.
- Trump’s credentials as a tough and hard-nosed businessman make him to often deal with foreign policy issues as financial and commercial transactions, where the only thing that counts is a cost-benefit analysis.
- It is also important to take into account the institutional factors that play a huge role in foreign policy-making in the US.
- The present US administration appears to prefer ‘country of origin standards’, labour provisions and access of agricultural producers to regional markets as it may be observed in Trump administration’s new deal of United States Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace NAFTA (proposed after the recent G 20 Summit in Buenos Aires 2018).
- Pak-US Relationship
- It now appears that the US is no longer dependent on Pakistan because in the post 9/11 era, their counterterrorism objectives and desire to do something about al-Qaeda have been achieved. However, when it comes to the US objectives in Kabul and Pakistan’s role in the Afghan problem, the results have been mixed due to great power contestations.
- While China has already assisted Pakistan by initiating CPEC, US can promote multilateral trade by exercising its influence especially in the global trade institutions.
- Nobody should expect that one can wait-out Trump or that the US-Pak relationship could return to its previous state, but we can hope it stabilizes to a lower state because the worst case would be apathy.
- Russia’s South Asia Strategy:
- Russia’s Look East policy in South Asia will be selective and country-specific. Moscow will not compromise its relations with one country for another; rather it will be driven by need, necessity and priority.
- Moscow’s increasing romance with South Asian countries is not an isolated development, but resonates with its National Security Strategy (NSS); Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (FPCRF); and Maritime Doctrine. However, striking a balance between New Delhi and Islamabad will be problematic for Moscow, just as it has been for Washington.
- For historical, ideological and strategic reasons, Pakistan and Russia have not had good relations. The evolving geo-political situation in the region has thrown up new opportunities for both the states to work and cooperate on issues of mutual interests. Russia is concerned about the presence of Islamic State in Afghanistan. It also wants a politically negotiated settlement to end the Afghan conflict. More destabilization means greater potential of threat of terrorism and extremism affecting Russia through Central Asia.
- Both Pakistan and Russia face the shared threat of narco-trafficking which has its roots in Afghanistan.
- Russia would also help Pakistan to tackle its energy crisis by building gas pipelines and investing in energy corridors.
- China-Pakistan Relations:
- With China as the biggest trade partner and largest foreign direct investor, South Asia has entered an era of opportunity where all countries are now aspiring for peace, development and cooperation.
- The Chinese interests in the South Asian region are economic integration, eradication of terrorism and extremism and fostering stability.
- China, through CPEC, has offered an opportunity for regional connectivity and inter-regional cooperation. Pakistan believes that regional connectivity will qualitatively change the lives of 1.9 billion people of South Asia. The inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor, although a small step, is still a big leap of faith in this direction.
- In the past, China-Pakistan cooperation had mainly concentrated on politics, strategy and security, while economic cooperation had not been fully explored. However, the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has broadened the scope of their bilateral relationship. China, being a true friend of Pakistan, is helping the later to accelerate its economic and social development.
- China is also actively involved in regional hotspot issues, especially in the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan.
- China can promote the Afghan reconciliation process by ensuring that it is Afghan–led and Afghan-owned, and by promoting the comprehensive dialogue among different ethnic groups and seek consensus. The peace process which is the only way out must be led by Afghans themselves.
- The CPEC has created a geo-economics framework for conflict resolution in South Asia. It is likely that the framework of conflict in the region is being replaced with a framework of economic integration through connectivity and economic cooperation.
- The BRI is purely an economic venture, but it can possibly have geo-political effects. Indian perception of both BRI and CPEC is different from China’s.
- In this regard, Gwadar Port will play a pivotal role. Gwadar port is among the largest fifteen ports, with the capacity to handle 40 million tons of loads annually. The Gwadar deep seaport will serve as an economic gateway for the entire region. (Blowback effect of the Afghan crisis had induced massive violence in Pakistan.) The last line lacks cohesion.
- Pakistan needs to plan ahead and learn especially from China to work on developing Sovereign Wealth Funds.
- The initial measure by Pakistan to trade in its own currency appears as a first step in the right direction towards utilising assistance from China, thereby leading to an increase in domestic production and regional trade while maintaining the value of Pakistan’s currency.
- Irritants in India-Pakistan Relations
- India has held South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) hostage and has become a hurdle in the way of hosting SAARC Summit in Pakistan. As far as Pakistan’s policy towards India is concerned, Pakistan has always been ready to resolve all issues, including Jammu & Kashmir dispute, on the negotiation table.
- India is developing its defence industrial base through an indigenous production programme called ‘Make in India’, and here US support is vital, especially through co-production projects, which will also eventually involve technology transfer.
- India’s ‘Act East’ policy, an expanding naval footprint in the Indian Ocean, belligerence towards Pakistan and diplomatic standoff with China are pushed by her regional power ambitions. Her nuclear weapons and missiles and space programmes must be kept under watch.
- The informal trade between India and Pakistan is approximately US$ 5-6 billion, and the significant factors for increasing trade are geographical proximity, language and GDP.
- India may expect Pakistan to follow Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) to help Indian goods being transported to Afghanistan.
Brig. (R) Mohammad Mehboob Qadir, Acting President, IPRI, welcomed the distinguished session chairs, speakers and participants in the conference. He said that the foundations and architecture of global multilateral institutions underpinning the existing world order, are gradually witnessing an erosion of legitimacy. The confidence in such institutions is depleting due to their inability to arrest the rise in inter-state conflicts, fix dysfunctional or fractured states and minimize the ensuing humanitarian costs. A slumping world economy, trade wars, return of protectionism, re-emergence of narrow nationalist and ultra-right forces in the West, climate change, food insecurity and so on, are other significant challenges that remain to be grappled with successfully. Brig. Qadir stated that Asia remains one of the most threatened continent in terms of violent conflicts with gross human rights violence in Palestine and IOK under repressive occupations remaining unchallenged and unaccounted for. He stated that America’s hazy role in Afghanistan, rising China with a slogan of ‘Shared Destiny’ and the future of re-emerging Russia are inextricably intertwined with the political, economic and security trajectories of the South Asian region. He said that the relations between the United States and Pakistan have undergone a serious transformation from strategic alliance to strategic dissonance. Describing China’s role, he pointed out that China, through CPEC, has offered an opportunity for the regional connectivity and inter-regional cooperation.
Brig. (R) Qadir said that ‘Pakistan believes in regional connectivity and knows the fact that regional connectivity will qualitatively change the lives of 1.9 billion people of South Asian region. He stated that the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, although a small step, is still a great leap of faith in this direction. Similarly, Pakistan’s Gwadar deep seaport will serve as an economic gateway for the entire region. He, however, cautioned that blowback effect of the Afghan crisis had induced massive violence in Pakistan. He recommended that powerful regional countries and global powers must shoulder their responsibilities by using their influence to bring the South Asian countries to the table, shun violence, coercion and more importantly destabilizing proxies.
Ms. Tehmina Janjua, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, in her inaugural address said that South Asia is the most happening region in the global political landscape being at the center of the Eurasian heartland and currently, the world is observing realignments taking place due to the evolving nature of geo-strategic and geo-economic realities. However, the decades old conflict in Afghanistan has adversely affected the country itself, its neighbours and regional countries, with Pakistan suffering the most from continued turmoil in Afghanistan. She said that Pakistan’s view on Afghanistan has been vindicated with the United States finally understanding that the road to peace is through negotiations with all stakeholders and not hard power. Ms. Janjua stressed that India has held South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) hostage, and become a hurdle in the way of hosting SAARC summit in Pakistan. While highlighting the strength of Pakistan’s ties with all global powers, she said that Pak-Sino relations are exemplary which received a boost by the recent high-level visit to China. Reiterating the policy towards India, Ms. Janjua said that Pakistan has always been ready to resolve all issues, including Jammu & Kashmir dispute on the negotiation table. She further said a solution to the Afghan conflict is highly imperative and Pakistan is in favour of dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. She made it clear that Pakistan has always been there and ready to help Afghanistan in its struggle for peace, but the ultimate responsibility for that rests with the people and government of Afghanistan. However, she warned that the increasing violence, expanding influence of Daesh, growing ungoverned spaces, all result in an unstable environment which is alarming for Pakistan and other neighbours. It also raises concerns at regional and international levels. She added that India is also spending massively on its conventional force modernization and Pakistan is concerned that such an arms race would be detrimental to peace and stability of the region. She said that Pakistan strives to maintain friendly ties with its neighbours and strengthen its connectivity with the region in line with the vision of our leadership. She concluded her speech by saying that Pakistan’s efforts are, therefore, geared towards ensuring positive engagement with all its neighbours with the aim of developing a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan and the region.
Ambassador Yao Jing, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, delivering his keynote address on “Role of BRI in the Development of South Asian Region”, said that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) had reached its 5th anniversary since its announcement in 2013. Since then, China has concluded more than 100 agreements and created a quarter million jobs, with a rate of return on investment at 20 percent. He outlined that under Pakistan’s new leadership, both China and Pakistan have agreed to further enlarge and broaden the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and improve social sector development and trade cooperation. He hoped that CPEC could become an example for future community building and more resources for development. Ambassador Jing lamented that South Asia is still facing numerous security challenges like the conflict in Afghanistan. Though, he was hopeful that with China as the biggest trade partner and largest foreign direct investor, South Asia has entered an era of opportunity where all countries are now aspiring for peace, development and cooperation.
Ambassador Yao Jing concluded that given the historical ties between South Asia and China, China is a natural partner for the region, and China and South Asia are neighbours forever. He also expressed his confidence that a prosperous and strong China would make even greater contribution to world peace and development by making joint efforts with all the countries to build a community of shared prosperity for mankind.
Dr. Ahmed Ijaz Malik, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, gave his presentation on “United States (US) and South Asia: From Uni-polarity to Multi-polarity”. He stressed that the nature of post-Cold War multi-polarity demands that the United States should reassess its interests and engage with the other greater powers and regional states, especially towards conflict resolution and promotion of regional trade. ‘The evidences of multi-polarity in current international relations accentuate the need for minimizing incidents of war, promoting negotiations to resolve conflicts and initiating trade between developing states. Describing the US role in South Asia region, he stated that the Defence Technology Trade Initiative (DTTI) between the US and India is expected to develop a geostrategic partnership with India’s defence industrial base and promote business ties between the two defence industries. India is developing its defence industrial base through an indigenous production programme called ‘Make in India’ with the US support of technology transfer projects. It will have adverse strategic implications on South Asia, undermining strategic stability and pushing the region into an arms race.
He further stated that China and the US have developed a relationship of financial cooperation since China’s inclusion into the World Trade Organization (WTO). China receives Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and its Sovereign Wealth Funds manages the reinvestment of foreign exchange reserves and investments in bonds and funds in the international market as well as US’ domestic financial and entrepreneurial organizations. He suggested that CPEC can serve as an infrastructure for Pakistan to utilize Chinese model of generating foreign exchange reserves and reinvesting in regional as well as international market.
Mr. Malik said that the options for negotiation, conflict resolution and regional multilateral trade in South Asia will work if major powers such as the US, China and Russia exercise their influence in initiation of trade-related negotiations between South Asian states as well as global financial and trade regulating institutions.’
Dr. Najamudin Ayoola, Assistant Professor, Center for International Peace and Stability, National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, spoke on “Russia and South Asia: Putin’s Look East Policy”. He outlined that Moscow’s increasing romance with South Asian countries is not an isolated development, but resonates with its National Security Strategy (NSS); Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (FPCRF); and Maritime Doctrine. However, he cautioned that striking a balance between New Delhi and Islamabad will be problematic for Moscow, just as it has been for Washington. He opined that Russia’s Look East policy in South Asia will be selective and country-specific. Moscow will not compromise its relations with one country for another; rather it will be driven by need, necessity and priority.
While discussing Pakistan-Russia relations, he said that strategic alliance between the US and Pakistan in the 1950s, 1960s and even in the 1970s became an impetus for Indo-Russia relations. It also unfolded realities in Pakistan-Russia relations. He concluded saying that the success of Russia’s Look East Policy would be gauged by Russia’s performance during the Cold War i.e., technology and industrial development, while it might be different in new regional realities. They might depend on energy sharing through energy corridors, strategic alliances and arms agreements among states.
Dr. Wang Shida, Deputy Director, South and Southeast Asia Institute, Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Beijing, China, delivered his speech on “China and South Asia: From Low to Rising Profile and Economic Outlook”. Talking about energy cooperation between China and Pakistan, he said that for a long time, China-Pakistan cooperation has concentrated on politics, strategy and security, while economic cooperation has not been fully explored. However, this issue has completely changed with the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said that CPEC will enhance economic development of Pakistan to a great extent. He further said that Afghanistan is in a state of turmoil and there might have been a spillover effect all over the region. However, China is working closely on not only quadrilateral group but there are also other initiatives and other regimes on which both Pakistan and China are working. He remarked that the Afghan peace process is the only way to end the Afghan quagmire and China supports these processes.
Appreciating Pakistan, he said that it extended a helping hand to China when China was in difficult times. Therefore, China, a country valuing friendship and righteousness, is now willing to return the favour to help accelerate Pakistan’s economic and social development. He shared that China is also actively involved in regional hotspot issues, especially in the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. He further opined that in future the Afghan situation will definitely have an important impact on the entire region. China can promote the Afghan reconciliation process by ensuring that it is Afghan–led and Afghan-owned, and by promoting the comprehensive dialogue among different ethnic groups and seek consensus.
Dr. Joshua T. White, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, Washington D.C., US, spoke on “Trump’s South Asia Policy: Hopes and fears for the Region”. He said that there are three US assumptions: Pakistan is fundamentally a fragile state; US is highly dependent on Pakistan; Pakistan-US bilateral relations fluctuate between apathy and hostility. While highlighting US President Donald Trump’s South Asia policy he discussed how there had been an evolution of views in Washington vis-à-vis Pakistan and its role in Afghanistan. He said that it now appears that the US is no longer dependent on Pakistan because in the post 9/11 era, their counterterrorism objectives and desire to do something about al-Qaeda have been achieved. However, when it comes to US objectives in Kabul and Pakistan’s role, the results have been mixed due to great power contestations. President Trump reflects himself in the US policy. He advised that nobody should expect that one can wait-out Trump or that the US-Pak relationship could return to its previous state, but one can hope it stabilizes to a lower state because the worst case would be apathy.
Regarding India, Mr. Joshua remarked that the Trump administration is very much following up on defence and security space with India, but the perceptions this space is creating is polarizing the region and could have negative consequences. The US is directly engaging with the Taliban and looking for a political solution by putting US presence as a bargaining chip on the table since the money spent in the region has been more than what Congress is now willing to bear. He concluded his speech by saying that this is consistent with what Pakistan has been asking of the US from beginning.
Prof. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, Vice Chancellor, University of Sargodha, delivered his views on “Reconciliation and Reintegration: Understanding the Complexities of the Afghan Peace Process”. While sharing his views he said that South Asia may now be on a new path since the peace process has taken precedence over the military approach given the flurry of peace diplomatic efforts. He said that Pakistan, on its part, has made serious efforts towards Afghan peace and reconciliation. It has facilitated the Murree talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. It also worked with Afghanistan, the US and China in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), but unfortunately, both times the peace was undermined. He made it clear that Pakistan’s policy remains to constructively engage in all initiatives and processes for peace. He, however, warned that peace will remain a distant dream if past history continues to overshadow it, and become a lost opportunity of broken promises, trust deficit and buck passing, if the same old pattern is repeated. The prolonged nature of the conflict itself, economy of conflict and divergent interests are also complicating the peace process. Dr. Ahmed stressed that this paradox needs to be overcome, and players need to engage pragmatically and realistically. He remarked that CPEC has created a geo-economic framework for conflict resolution in South Asia. It is likely that the framework of conflict in the region is being replaced with a framework of economic integration through connectivity and economic cooperation.
Dr. Shehryar Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Iqra University, spoke on the topic titled “Emerging Trends in the Security Architecture of South Asia: Role of Pakistan.” He argued that it is better to analyze South Asia with Regional Security Complex Theory (RSCT) as the region is a bit distinct from other security regions. In South Asia, the security complex is defined by a group of states, whose primary security concerns are related to the processes of securitization. Despite modern advancements in the fields of technology and transportation, the reality remains that security threats have a higher potential to travel over short distances rather than long, and the capacity of most states to extend and assert power beyond their own regional sphere is relatively limited claims Berry Buzan – author of Regional Security Complex Theory (RSCT). Consequently, the relationship between geography and anarchy in the existing international system has facilitated the rise of regional security complexes, whereby geographically adjacent states are bound within a distinct regional dynamic, be it conflict or cooperation.
While applying the tenets of RSCT in South Asia, Dr. Shehryar said that if we look at the distribution of power between India and Pakistan, there was imbalance between the two that Pakistan tries to balance with its nuclear weapons. However, he asserted, balance of power between India and Pakistan has been imbalanced in the recent past. India is doing far better than Pakistan economically as well as politically. India is also acquiring latest technology and weapons. India is also reaching out to South East Asia through its blue water navy. If security complexes are discussed, India is not only working at inter-regional level but also at the international level. On the other hand, he said that Pakistan is suffering from plethora of issues ranging from political instability, fragile economy to terrorism and insecurity in neighboring countries, such as Afghanistan, which has slowed down Pakistan’s growth. Dr. Khan claimed that there is also no change in the enmity between India and Pakistan that is evident from India’s adventurism in the region, including surgical strikes and continuously rejecting Pakistan’s efforts for peace talks. Plus, there is continuous blame game going on between India and Pakistan. Moreover, India is also trying to encircle Pakistan through its involvement in Afghanistan. In sum, he concluded that negative security interdependence is augmenting in the region, especially between India and Pakistan.
Mr. Harrison Akins, Research Fellow at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H Baker Jr., Centre for Public Policy, gave his speech on “Geopolitics of South Asia and Interests of US”. He began his speech by quoting Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and National Poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal. He said that “Nations are born in the hearts of poets; they prosper and die in the hands of politicians. Nations and their interests are often conceived of in the ideal. Poets and statesmen dreaming of what is possible and desirable in the virtuous pursuit of governing and improving the lives of their fellow men; this is a vision embraced by many of the great men of history, such as the Quaid-i-Azam, but this dream is dependent upon imperfect men and women with competing ideas about how to achieve those goals and even what those very goals are. As history shows us they all too often fall short.” (Great words of Allama Muhammad Iqbal) These words ring true even to this day and encapsulates today’s topic of discussion.
To understand the current US administration’s South Asia policy, it is important to know its foreign policy interests in the region, challenges in achieving them and decision-making process under President Trump. The US’ interests in the region have been security-driven. During the Cold War era, Washington needed allies to halt the expansion of communism in the South Asia. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan increased bilateral military and security cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. The 9/11 attacks and the ‘War on Terror’ considerably increased the strategic significance of Pakistan for the United States. The US policy toward this region has been dependent on the shifting saliency of these issues, which, in turn, have determined the increase and decline in strategic necessity of Pakistan.
President Trump’s August 2017 policy reflected this approach. He linked the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan to the ground conditions there; took a hard line against Pakistan and extended a hand of greater economic cooperation with India.
It is assumed among political analysts and in foreign policy circles that states are rational actors and pursue policies that aim to achieve their national interests. Diplomacy and foreign policy decisions are shielded from the demands and vicissitudes of domestic politics. To extract any rationality from Trump’s foreign policy, it is important to take into consideration the great influence domestic politics has on President Trump. This great pivot to domestic political arena and its capacity to influence foreign policy decisions can be explained by some important facts. President Trump’s is a minority government; it did not get the majority popular vote. And his constituency is pre-dominantly right-wing and to appease them he wants to look tough on foreign policy front. His inexperience on foreign policy issues, his logic of short-term gains and conducting himself as a businessman who makes tough deals, help understand the erratic nature of his decision-making. Despite these things, the US’ long-term policy toward South Asia under the Trump administration has been relatively consistent.
Dr. Liu Zongyi, Research Fellow at the Institute for World Economic Studies and Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, Shanghai Institute for International Studies (SIIS) , spoke on the “Geopolitics of South Asia and Interests of China”. Dr. Zongyi said that American scholar Robert D. Kaplan argues that the Indian Ocean region is the Geographical Pivot of 21st Century. And in recent years, some Western scholars and officials believe that The Geographical Pivot of History has shifted to Asia-Pacific region. These arguments provide a theoretical basis for the United States’ “Pivot to Asia” or “Rebalance to Asia-Pacific” and “Indo-Pacific” strategy. In American geostrategic design, South Asia and Indian Ocean region are very important components.
Today, the geopolitical situation of South Asia is very complicated, which is a result of superposition of three levels of geopolitical competition and cooperation. First, with the shift of global geopolitical structure, the United Sates tries its best to defend its hegemonic status and contain competitors, which has caused conflicts and contradictions with Russia, China and other emerging powers, including India. The second level is the regional structure problem led by the simultaneous rise of China and India.
The third level is India and Pakistan geopolitical conflict in South Asia. This competition reflects not only on the bilateral boundary issue, but on the Afghanistan issue as well. In 2013, India and Afghanistan forged strategic cooperative partnership. Furthermore, this competition has made regional economic cooperation and integration into stagnation. SAARC can no longer survive because of the conflict between India and Pakistan.
The three levels of geopolitical conflicts are entangled with each other. If such geopolitical competitions could develop further, it’s possible that a serious geopolitical confrontation, or another Great Game, would take place in this region with the United States, India and Japan as one side, and Russia, China, and Pakistan as another side.
However, there are not only geopolitical competitions, but also geo-economic cooperation in South Asia. Nowadays, geo-economic cooperation in South Asia mainly include the BRI, New Silk Road Project raised by the United States in 2011, International North-South Transport Corridor among India, Iran and Afghanistan, BBIN, BIMSTEC, and Sagar Mala, etc. The Belt and Road Initiative is the top-level design of China’s opening-up and economic diplomacy in the new era. It’s a geo-economic initiative.
However, Indian strategists and the government believe there is some geostrategic design behind the BRI. Some Indians believe that the 21st century MSR is just an alternative wording that sounds more pleasant and is used to replace the so called “string of pearls” strategy forged by the Western scholars. China’s interests in this region are relatively simple, which mainly involve anti-secessionism and boundary peace and stability, anti-terrorism, regional peace and stability and security of sea lanes for trade and energy. With the advancement of the BRI and challenges appearing constantly, China is encouraged to pay more attention to the peace and security of South Asia and Indian Ocean region and try best to eliminate the negative effects that caused by the BRI cooperation. A harmonious Asian Common Community of Shared Future is China’s national interest.
Dr. Sarwat Rauf, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages, read her paper on “Sino-US Geo-Political Competition: Implications for Pakistan”. She said that the geopolitical competition between the US and China will have an impact on Pakistan’s internal and external policies. A geopolitical transformation, shaped by the moves of China and the US, has made Pakistan a central actor of ongoing competition.
Revisionist powers (such as China and Russia) have become a challenge for traditional power like the United States Indeed and the global geopolitical competition is having a profound impact on world politics, changing the nature of US-China engagement with South Asian states. The new geopolitics has highlighted the interests of the new players and leaders of the emerging powers. The considerable peaceful rise of China is contrary to other emerging powers who grabbed the resources by attacking other states, made colonies and expanded their area of influence by using coercive means. China’s rise is exorable and the US cannot stop the rise of China, industrial development and infrastructure buildings are drivers of China’s rise. China has acquired resources through peaceful means. It implicates that social stability and economic prosperity will be the leading drivers of China’s domestic and foreign policy behaviour for the next few decades. However, the rising economic and military power of China is being critically reviewed by the US because of the US interests in the Pacific region.
In order to deal with global powers, Pakistan should adopt a balanced approach. Internally, Pakistan should focus on its economic development, elimination of fundamental mindset and industrial development must be its priority. Externally, Pakistan should continue to strengthen its relations with China. It should find the solution of the existing irritants in relations with Iran and Afghanistan. The geopolitical competition has brought additional ramifications in relations of India and Pakistan. Hence, resolution of Kashmir issue and other disputes with India must be a priority. Multilateral platforms of negotiations can be used for the resolution.
Dr. Maria Sultan, Director General, South Asia Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI), presented a paper on “China-India-Pakistan Nuclear Triangle: Paradigm of Nuclear Power and Regional Equilibrium”. She said that the Indian Ocean rimland technically hosts 28 nations, which are now emerging as the hub of international economic trade. These states will likely influence and shape the potential rivalry between major powers of the world. The ‘pivot to Asia’ is moving towards the Indian Ocean region, particularly to South Asia, because of the following important factors: 1) it would be a major trading route; 2) it would perhaps be the most securitized region of the world; 3) it would record the largest population growth; 4) it has the most industrialization and port development potential; 5) it has Eurasian connectivity, and has access to Pacific; and 6) future consumption patterns will be concentrated in this region.
Energy connectivity will play a significant role in shaping future rivalry among major powers. The Indian Ocean carries half of the world’s sea-borne oil. It houses 23 out of world’s top 100 ports, and Gwadar Port will emerge as a significant port in the port. At this point, there are 12 mega ports in the world, which are of 200 million ton plus and Gwadar will be the 13th largest port of the world. This indicates that this region will not only become a hub of international trade, but will also be the centre of rivalry among major powers to control the maritime routes. Economic interests will reflects security projections of great powers, in the process making the Indian Ocean the most securitized region of the world.
In the 1970s, the maritime trade or container traffic was concentrated mostly in Europe, followed by parts of China and America. A significant difference was witnessed in 1980s with the developments of mega ports in China and America. The decade of 1990s witnessed the rise of Singapore and Asian Tigers in the Pacific region dominating the global trade. But something significant changed in 2006 and in 2017. Now the global trade is connected through five important inter-connecting points. It is now not just about Trans-Pacific anymore, it is also about Eurasia, where most of the global trade will be centered. The BRI by China will increase the significance of this region substantially. It will facilitate North-South connectivity, connecting China not only to Pakistan and Middle East but also to Africa. Pakistan will play a pivotal role in this regard.
This region faces many threats, like cyber security threat, piracy, terrorism, rise in ISIS threat, great power rivalry, nuclearization of Indian Ocean, increased militarization of major chock-points, development of naval bases and presence of extra-regional powers and their security interests. Then, there is presence of NATO to deal with hybrid security threats.
There are two dominant global trade routes, Trans-Pacific and Eurasia. The former includes United States and China, but the latter does not include United States; it is only between Europe and Asia. So the future rivalry will be determined in terms of who controls the North-South route. This explains the growing number of military bases in the region and in future this region will be dealing with a new military pattern.
In this regard it is important to take stock of India’s military build-up in the Indian Ocean, which has been encouraged by America in three significant manner: 1) America has been pushing to give India access to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) 2) Strategic Trade Authorisation-1 (SDA-1) status to India that will facilitate high-tech industrial cooperation between the two countries. 3) Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that allows for defense cooperation between India and USA. There are other agreements, like Logistics Support, that allows US to use Indian bases for logistics purposes.
It is ironic that Pakistan has fought the war or terror with United States to eradicate the threat of terrorism, but defense and strategic cooperation between India and the United States has risen substantially in terms of geo-strategic partnership. This has put Pakistan under great strain.
Dr. Huma Baqai, Associate Dean, Institute of Business Administration, presented her paper on “Investing in Peace: Economic Interdependence in South Asia”. In her presentation, Dr Baqai said that South Asia is one of the most dis-integrated regions in the world. Security and strategic issues have always remained dominant in South Asia, though there are geo-economic trends that are steadily emerging, but the geo-political realities will continue to govern and shape this region. Recently, the World Bank came up with a report that talks about the immense potential of regional integration in South Asia. China could potentially be a precursor to the regional integration of this region, but it happens to be an extra-regional player. The major and important question is: can China do to South Asia what US did to Western Europe after WW-II?
The SARCC, which was supposed to promote regional integration, has come under an existential threat. There are many impediments that undermine the potential of regional integration. The most important is the rivalry between the two main protagonists: India and Pakistan. The relationship continues to be acrimonious and talks and negotiations have stalled between the two countries. Trade is minuscule and whatever little trade takes place is normally through a third party. The “Look East” Policy of both the countries are also divergent. India looks up to US, Australia, Russia, Japan and Myanmar, whereas Pakistan looks up to China as a strategic and an economic partner. It is also important to factor in Afghanistan, where rivalry between the two regional protagonists can be seen. Regional integration remains hostage to Afghanistan situation and even Pakistan’s relations with the United States remains hostage to the situation in Afghanistan.
There are other complications for middle-powers like India. It has to adjust its economic and military ties with big powers. For example, it has great trade and economic ties with China, but its strategic outlook is west-oriented. It is the only country in the region that is not part of CPEC.
One of the impediments to regional integration in the past was the Cold War and one of the impediments that is preventing regional integration now is the new Cold War between China and the US which is unfolding now. This rivalry has pushed United States into the Thucydides Trap.
The geo-political and geo-economic trends will continue to run in parallel and it should be hoped that states learn to overcome the impediments, and geo-economics prevails over geo-political trends.
Dr. Naeem Ahmed, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, presented his paper on “Moving from Conflict Management to Conflict Resolution: Way Out for India and Pakistan”. Dr Ahmed said that Pakistan-India relations have been characterized by mutual distrust, conflicts and hostilities. Peace talks and negotiations have always proved to be short-lived and unsuccessful.
Pakistan-India relations are extremely complex and should not be seen through a single prism. The first perspective is the religious perspective. Both states have different religio-politico ideologies that also shape their relations with each other. The second perspective is the territorial disputes, that stand remain unresolved, leading to two major wars between Pakistan and India. Then there is the weak-strong dynamics and the issue of imbalance of power between the two neighbors. This power disequilibrium makes India to behave like a hegemon and pushes Pakistan to seek alliance with extra-regional powers to secure its security interests.
Since Pakistan and India have had antagonistic relations with each other, it is important that both states move beyond conflict management, that only establishes a precarious peace, to conflict resolution. Conflict management is a pragmatic approach not to allow de-escalation of conflicts, whereas conflict resolution requires prevention of conflicts. Though it is a long and difficult situation, it is a win-win situation.
Mr. Leonid Savin, Founder and Chief Editor of Journal of Eurasian Affairs, Moscow, gave a presentation on “Geopolitics of South Asia and Interests of Russia”. According to Mr. Savin, there are three most important countries in terms of geopolitical characteristics and significance that are located in the heartland of South Asia. These are Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The rest of the countries serve as a kind of buffer and for objective reasons cannot have a fundamental impact on the geopolitical processes in the region. The role and status of the other five countries are limited; they fall into the sphere of influence of other actors, although they can act as significant subjects. So, for example, Sri Lanka has become an important element in China’s “Strings of Pearl” strategy.
It is important to understand that there is no clear definition of Russia’s actions in the international arena. On the one hand, there are a number of documents related to national security and foreign policy. A number of excerpts from these documents are needed to show the general trends and some limitations in the strategic thinking of the people who made up these doctrines.
One of the main security concerns is the persisting instability in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. After the withdrawal of foreign forces, Afghanistan poses a major security threat to Russia and other members of the CIS. The Russian Federation, together with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as well as other interested states who rely on the possibilities offered by the UN, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other international organizations will be consistent in its efforts to resolve as soon as possible the problems this country is facing, while respecting the rights and legitimate interests of all ethnic groups living in its territory so that it can enter post-conflict recovery as a sovereign, peaceful, neutral state with a sustainable economy and political system. Implementing comprehensive measures to mitigate the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan against other states, including neighbouring countries, as well as eliminate or substantially reduce the illicit production and trafficking of narcotic drugs is an integral part of these efforts. Russia is committed to further intensifying UN-led international efforts aimed at helping the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its neighbouring states counter these challenges.
The global terrorist threat has reached a new high with the emergence of the Islamic State as well as other international terror networks. They aspire to create their own state and seek to consolidate their influence on a territory stretching from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to Pakistan. The main effort in combating terrorism should be aimed at creating a broad international counter-terrorist coalition with a solid legal foundation, one that is based on effective and consistent inter-state cooperation without any political considerations or double standards, above all to prevent terrorism and extremism and counter the spread of radical ideas.
- Apart from the traditional security threats, the South Asian countries face multiple common challenges in the realm of non-traditional security. It is imperative that regional cooperation be sought to address such collective concerns like rising poverty, food insecurity, water shortages, illicit trafficking, poor human development indices etc., in the domain of social sector and human resource development.
- It has been observed that an over-emphasis on kinetic approach over a political discourse has failed to deliver the desired results in the realm of conflict resolution. In fact, such actions have led to more instability and turmoil. Hence, emphasis should be placed on diplomatic means, political dialogues and negotiations at both bilateral and multilateral levels to amicably settle inter-state disputes. Pakistan’s recent peace overtures towards both Afghanistan and India are unfortunately not being reciprocated. The existing political and security paradigm demands that countries must resume dialogues and open communication channels at the minimum to exchange views and opinions regarding issues of critical nature. The global powers should play a proactive role in bridging the divide between the disputants by facilitating political engagements between the South Asian countries.
- Being a less integrated region, the South Asian countries should emulate the conflict management techniques as exhibited in the cases of China and India, France and Germany, whereby deeper economic engagements can create joint stakes in resolving bilateral conflicts through mutual trust and cooperation. It will also help in diminishing prospects of any future wars, especially given the nuclear dimension of the region.
- History is witness to the fact that financially-stable countries are more likely to draw the attention of global powers than weak or fragile states. Pakistan should, therefore, focus on strengthening its economy through structural reforms and robust trade regimes. Bilateral transit trade agreements and SAARC’s agenda should be promoted so that regional trade volume could be enhanced.
- Regarding the on-going peace efforts in Afghanistan, there should also be an emphasis on reinforcing the legitimacy of the government in Kabul and facilitating an internal consensus, apart from making efforts to bring the warring side to the negotiating table. Similarly, apart from developing a consensus on eliminating the sanctuaries of replanted Islamic State-Khorasan aka Daesh in Afghanistan, the South Asian countries should focus on the long-term agenda of ensuring sustainable peace in that devastated country.
- China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers a vision of common economic development for the entire South Asian region, which may eventually lead to a common security architecture. China is the biggest trade partner of the South Asian countries. Rather than attempting to sink these economic initiatives in controversy, they should be seen for what they truly are i.e. means for mutual economic prosperity and development.
- China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the South Asian flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose full potential could be realized with the success of the former.
- The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should not be held hostage to Pakistan-India hostility. Since India is attempting to isolate Pakistan at the international and regional level, other SAARC member countries must prioritize the greater interest of the region, and should not align themselves with mutually exclusive policies towards each other.
- With the rising silhouette of multi-polarity, the United States should reassess its interests and engage with other emerging powers such as China and Russia to help the South Asian countries in the area of conflict resolution. Afghanistan is one such ravaged country that needs regional and extra-regional cooperation to stabilize itself.
- The emerging regional alignments in South Asia, such as the Indo-US and Pakistan-China strategic partnerships are meant to ensure each other’s security and economic interests in the region. The major powers should also help resolve issues of critical concerns. Political polarization in South Asia should not impact conflict resolution in the region.
- Domestic politics plays an important role in the shaping of foreign policy under the current President Trump-led US Administration. This explains the shifting attitude of the United States towards Pakistan. Bearing in mind the domestic compulsions of the current US administration, Pakistan and the US must rationalize their expectations from each other in terms of their objectives in the region and common concerns. The US and Pakistan must move from transactional to principle based relationship.
- In order to promote regionalism, states must make effective use of regional bilateral and multilateral organizations to ensure security of sea lanes, energy and trade corridors by keeping aside their bilateral or multilateral differences.
- South Asia as a region has always been affected by regional and super power rivalry. Given the geo-economic initiatives of China within South Asia, the regional countries must dedicate their efforts to materialize mutual benefits out of these projects and promote regionalism, instead of initiating their own state-centric ventures. The South Asian countries must dedicate efforts to outline ventures that could engage as many regional countries as possible which would result in regional stability and connectivity.
- The South Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan, should invest their energies and resources in resolving critical issues like Kashmir on a priority basis in order to ensure greater stability and security in the region.
- The major powers should use their influence as a facilitator or mediator in resolving the South Asian conflicts. For instance, Russia could play a constructive role in South Asia in non-traditional security domain such as that of water sharing between India and Pakistan since it enjoys the goodwill of both the disputants. Similarly, the US which has been quite active in diffusing crisis between Pakistan and India in the past, can play a proactive role between the two countries which can help it develop the necessary trust to resolve Afghanistan and other international concerns related to the region.
- Apart from economic cooperation, states must invest in intellectual cooperation based on increased participation at the academic front, creation of alternative political theories with the larger ambition of promoting regionalism at this critical time and age.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.