South Asian Summary: September 3-7, 2021

Many South Asian writers seem to think that the subcontinent has replaced the Middle East as the most contested/valuable geopolitical prize, apparently because it is where Russia, China, India, the US, and the Muslim world meet. Although some seem to be aware of Chinese claims on Taiwan, they are not aware of the Chinese obsession with Taiwan. As Ashutosh Varshney puts it:

China’s Taiwan preoccupation is not adequately appreciated in India’s intellectual and political quarters, which remain understandably concerned with China’s border plans. But…Chinese security policy has a relentless Taiwan obsession. For Beijing, the border with India is a much less significant game. China has never given up its ambition of capturing Taiwan, which it views as a “renegade province”.

As Varshney argues, it is understandable for India to be primarily concerned with Chinese designs on Indian territory, but it might be dangerous to exaggerate the geostrategic implications of those concerns. Dangerous because it might make Chinese and US moves unpredictable and seemingly irrational.

An example of this kind of strategic myopia can be found in a piece from Sri Lanka, written by a former Minister of Science and Technology and provincial governor under the Rajapaksa regime. The piece imagines an American attempt to start a war with China in the South China Sea that will spread west and make Sri Lanka the strategic battleground:  

In this scenario Sri Lanka is in grave danger. With India under pressure, from re-invigorated Muslim countries on the West and China on the East, besides its sizeable Muslim internal population and Opposition from Congress, the USA is bound to turn to Sri Lanka.

The writer then mixes this scenario with the US’s Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—a bogeyman among Nepalese Marxists and nationalists, as we noted in recent weeks—and Sri Lanka’s current fiscal/food crisis:

Attempts will be made to activate the MCC and SOFA agreements, that would make Sri Lanka an economic colony of US multinational corporations (MNCs), and also a military base of the USA. The deliberate running down of the economy, with a very low foreign exchange reserve, and a high level of debt, will be used against us to compel us to get IMF Loans, with all their neo-liberal conditions. That will end the good move of the present SLPP-led [Rajapaksa] Government to build a national economy free of debt (sic).

In the background is a portrait of a China without territorial ambitions:

China is a (Third World ) country that has emerged from its poverty through industrialization and trade. Sri Lanka and other countries face no military threat from China. Not being an imperialist country it is focused on trade.

The point is not that this particular concatenation of ideas is mainstream in Sri Lanka or South Asia more generally, but rather that, especially it seems in Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, there are wild geopolitical visions in which the US is the villain and China the opponent and the writer’s particular country as the key to the coming battle.

A similar example from Pakistan:

Conventional skirmishes can be enacted in Kashmir and along with the LoC but we need to set up an army of trained civilians and natives for assistance in case of war instead of sole dependency on regular army. We can mobilize, motivate and train the youth only after the economy starts ticking back again…

In the context of India-US-Israel realignment and strategic partnership has raised concerns to national security. The West-ba[c]ked India is threatening the peace of the region. India is dreaming of monopolizing Asian region. India has ventured to empower its defence through war jets. The US is also facilitating India to improve its naval nuclear capabilities to subjugate China, Russia and Pakistan. It is of pivotal significance for us to ponder over deterrence against the enemy at present and in future. We need to reshape our foreign policy to push India back from the world power umbrella…

The long Washington-Islamabad ties experiences have manifested that Pakistan should look for alternative options in the international community especially in strategic fields. Moscow and Beijing can prove very valuable in this regard.

In India, one argues that in case of the outbreak of a Sino-Indian war, perhaps India should turn to Russia for help instead of the US, because if the US is leaving its alliance with Pakistan, it might abandon the US in the future, as well.

India, now considered a US ally should judge its foreign policy anew. Despite India being actively involved in QUAD, what is the guarantee that the US will come to India’s rescue in the event of a Sino-India conflict? For security, the countries that are dependent on the USA should keep another option open. Once Pakistan was the closest non-Nato ally of the US. America only prioritizes its own interests; India should not distance itself from her time-tested ally, Russia.

Meanwhile, the debate about the implications of the Taliban’s victory continues. It is not clear whether or not the Taliban will be able to create a stable state, even with Pakistan doing all it can in Kabul and the Panjshir Valley to help the Taliban along. There are fissures both ethnic and ideological in the country and the Taliban. One writer differentiated between the ‘Doha faction’ and the ‘Haqqani faction’.

And then there is the eternal AfPak Question and ultimately whether Pakistan will be more under the influence of Afghanistan or vice versa. Pakistani writers often celebrate the Taliban victory and Pakistan’s role there, and in the next breath warn against allowing any influence of the Taliban and their ideological kin into Pakistan. China, it is hoped, will be able to finance a more stable Afghanistan, since Pakistan won’t.

If things do not go well in Afghanistan, the expectation is that it will have been because of Indian meddling (with the blessing of the Americans), and yet Iran has already kicked up a fuss about the alleged support provided by Pakistan to the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley.

One place where it is feared/hoped that India might have some leverage is the Durand Line, which no modern Afghan government has recognized. Pakistan has been busy fencing the border that cuts through Pashtun lands, and according to India’s The Statesman, the Taliban has asked Pakistan to stop, implying that it does not recognize the border either.

In a piece by a former president of Pakistan’s National Defense University, the obsessions with the AfPak border, India, Islamist spillover, the US, and the China-Pakistan Economic Border are all rolled into one:

India has no shared borders or any religious or cultural affinity with Afghanistan; however, it has enjoyed substantial Machiavellian influence in the country due to its unflinching support to the regime brought in by the US. It used this clout to manipulate perceptions of the occupied, the occupier governments and the masses, about Pakistan, to promote its own agenda. Taking advantage of the post 9/11 environment, it sowed seeds of discord among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US governments through fake narratives, to divert attention from its barbarity in Kashmir and to bracket the freedom movement there, with terrorism. For the same reasons, they continued to endorse the untenable Afghan claims on Pakistani territory, who myopically opposed our border control measures through fencing. This enabled India to destabilize us through coordinated terrorist attacks by their Afghan proxies like the TPP, Baloch rebels and ISIS (K). Last year, the Indian FM disclosed that India had ‘400 plus projects, spread over all 34 Afghan provinces’. Ostensibly, these are development schemes but as usual, India would misuse them, like their Consulates, to continue its dirty games in Afghanistan. While offers from Pakistan for training the Afghan civil and military bureaucracy were mostly rejected by the former Afghan rulers, according to Indian media, 8000 Afghans, including 800-1000 officers have been trained over the last decade in Indian civil and military institutions. The RAW-NDS nexus, witnessed during all terrorist attacks in Pakistan and the hostility and rancour, exhibited against Pakistan by former Afghan NSA and Vice President and others of the old regime, are indicative that these persons were thoroughly brainwashed, to regard Pakistan as the enemy. The present Indian worry is that the change in Afghanistan may deny them their unlimited freedom to hurt Pakistan besides boosting the morale of the Kashmiris. They have therefore vowed to do all that they can, to oppose and undo this. For this, they will use Afghan dissidents, former Afghan officials and their links with their Afghan alumnus….

[A]rms and ammunition left by the Afghan security forces could have fallen into the wrong hands…

The new Afghan government must be cognizant of the clear and present dangers to its internal security from India. (3) Pakistan must share all previous and new dossiers, containing evidence of Indian terrorism in Pakistan, originating from Afghanistan, with the new regime. (4) For its own sake, Afghanistan must commit to respecting the Pak-Afghan border, disarm all former combatants and collaborate with us in dismantling terrorist outfits and foreign proxies on its soil. (5) Afghanistan must not encourage export of its ideology to Pakistan or elsewhere and (6) make early, serious and sustained efforts for return of all Afghan refugees to their country. (7) We must communicate all our concerns to Afghanistan at the highest level, without mincing words….

China and Pakistan must renew their offer to Afghanistan, to benefit from the CPEC, to support their failing economy…

 It is impossible that the US and its allies were ignorant of Indian misuse of Afghan soil against Pakistan which points at their complicity in the matter. For this, they must apologize to our people and compensate us.

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