Evolving Global Dynamics – 2023
By Asif Haroon Raja
Challenges in 2023
Global politics are undergoing a big change. The biggest challenges faced by the world in 2023 are inflation, food security, energy crisis, climate change, rising pressure on global supply chains and power tussle between the global powers. Ukraine war is proving to be the mother of all social upheavals which has accelerated confrontation between the major global powers, and is treading towards a nuclear clash and possible 3rd World War. A full-scale reconfiguration of alliances is underway. New blocs are shaping up and the pivot of geo-economics is shifting from west to east.
Hegemonic USA Led Western World
The megalomaniac USA aspiring to maintain its global hegemony is in confrontational mode against Russia and China. Tussle for dominance is drifting the world towards a new cold war between the USA and China. The US-China showdown is in the making since the former egged on by the neocons has made plans to wage war against China by 2025.
The western powers, having tasted the sweetness of colonization, are now contemplating neo-colonization of Asia and Africa to boost their declining economy. The western world has usurped the wealth and resources of the rest of the world inhabited by 88% of mankind. The global financial system managed by the 1% rich in the USA through the Federal Reserve, World Bank and IMF controls the capitalist monetary system of the world and assists Washington to retain its monopoly. The US-EU-NATO Axis remains the biggest threat to international peace.
Goals of USA in Middle East
One of the objectives of the Muslims specific Global War on Terror (GWOT) unleashed by the neocons in the US and western allies was to change the boundaries of the Middle East (ME) as spelled out by Lt Col Ralph Peter in his article published in defence journal ‘Blood Borders’. The map outlined Greater Baluchistan and Greater Pashtunistan to truncate Pakistan. Purpose was to neo-colonize the Muslim world and to create conditions conducive for the establishment of Greater Israel. Seven Muslim countries in the ME were marked as targets while Pakistan was to be denuclearized.
After occupying Afghanistan in Nov 2001, the gory game started with the destruction and occupation of Iraq in 2003 on fake charges, followed by the CIA-MI-6-Mossad sponsored Arab Spring in 2011 which destabilized Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, and Somalia-Sudan-Nigeria-Niger in Africa. During Obama’s rule, a regime change was affected in Iran and its nuclear program rolled back in exchange for lifting sanctions in 2015. Trump re-imposed the sanctions at the behest of Israel in 2018.
The US is a Declining Power
The USA that had emerged as the sole superpower after the disintegration of USSR in 1992 has lost its old flame owing to ill-intentioned 20-year GWOT, global recession in 2007-08, defeat at the hands of ragtag Taliban and humiliating ouster from Afghanistan in Aug 2021, onset of deadly coronavirus, trade & tariff war with China, failing to denuclearize Pakistan, loss of Iraq and Syria, and unable to achieve any of its goals in the ME or in the Af-Pak region despite pushing the two regions into the vortex of chaos. The unwinnable war in Ukraine has added to the worries of the US and Europe. Ukraine couldn’t be turned into a graveyard for Russia, nor could the sanctions cripple Russian ruble, or affect a regime change in Moscow.
Effects of Imperialism upon the USA
Driven by imperialistic ambitions, the Military Industrial Complex in its bid to earn huge profits has craved wars, conflicts, clandestine operations, regime changes, proxy wars. It bound the policy makers in Washington to pursue jingoistic policies against the US rivals and to milk the resources of the Global South. Washington’s extraordinary support to fascist and racist regimes of Israel and India and its partisan policies has made America unpopular in the Muslim world. Its war mongering and anti-peace posture have radically reduced the circle of its friends and diminished its respect and diplomatic clout.
Even the ever-green friendship with Europe and with traditional allies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is souring. Apart from the setbacks on the external front, its internal harmony is in a mess. All these factors have had a telling impact upon the US economy and today it carries the biggest burden of debt of over $ 31.5 trillion. Most US banks are technically near insolvency and hundreds are insolvent.
Unipolarity which was intended to hold its sway throughout the 21st century is gasping for life and has been overtaken by multipolarity, with China emerging as the future super power. Strategically aligned with resurgent Russia under President Putin, the two communist giants are determined to replace the US led unfair international order with a New World Order encompassing equitable justice, fair play and peace.
Rise of China through Peaceful Overtures
As opposed to the USA’s belligerent posturing, China has increased its influence in the developing world through peace and cooperation. Since 1979, it didn’t embark upon any military adventure or get involved in covert operations. It focused only on development, technical knowhow, technological advancement, exports, GDP growth, PLA’s fortification, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution. China is saving Africa; Rwanda is a case in point. Its peace diplomacy has captivated the Global South.
After forging strategic ties with Russia, establishing BRICS, and strengthening SCO, China under President Xi Jinping further built up military muscles and took proactive offensive steps to safeguard South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and its security interests in Asia-Pacific by countering the threats posed by QUAD and AUKUS.
China has made economic inroads in Afghanistan under the Taliban and all parts of Asia and Africa as well as South America, and it dominates the global supply chains. Beijing’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine has become popular. Jinping has also waved a friendly signal to Japan and is keen for North-South Korea reconciliation or unification. These successful overtures have made China a game changer.
Resurgence of Russia
Russia also improved its standing by extending support to the oppressed nations. Its full-fledged support to India during the cold war, its air intervention in Syria in 2015 to save the sinking regime of Assad, military and technological support to Iran when it was besieged by US-Israel-western nexus, coupled with 22-point MoU signed in 2018 which gave a fillip to Russo-Iran energy ties, enhanced Putin’s reputation as a trustworthy benefactor.
China-Russia Race for Dominance
While Russia has indirectly locked horns with the US, EU and NATO in Ukraine to checkmate the US-NATO expansionism in East Europe since 1991, China has become the 2nd largest economic power and is well poised to overtake the USA in the economic race by 2028. For this purpose, Jinping launched gigantic BRI in 2014 with CPEC running through Pakistan as its flagship project.
Significance of CPEC
With operationalization of the largest seaport of Gwadar, CPEC has edged closer to the point of takeoff. It envisions taking 3 billion people of South Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia, ME and Africa and intends to step into the Mediterranean Sea. It would rid China of the Malacca dilemma.
China’s Diplomatic Successes in ME
For the success of this ambitious project, China surprised the world by forging a 25-year strategic treaty worth $ 80 billion with Iran in 2021, which dissociated India from Chahbahar port and railway project connecting Zahidan with northern Afghanistan.
Jinping on his visit to Riyadh in Dec 2022 signed a strategic partnership treaty to enhance defence and energy cooperation. The two have become largest trading partners, and their bilateral trade has reached $ 87.31 billion. KSA is the main supplier of oil and gas to China and both have agreed to trade in local currency. Discovery of the biggest Lithium mine in KSA would become an added attraction for China.
Soon after, China sprang another big surprise by brokering a fence mending deal between the two ideological rivals KSA and Iran in March 2023. The two antagonists have agreed to restore diplomatic ties that were ruptured in 2016, promote investments and trade and to remove each other’s economic, energy and security concerns. Other Arab Gulf States are following suit. KSA and UAE have announced their intentions to make big investments in Iran, while KSA has joined SCO and is likely to join BRICS. Iran, Argentina and Algeria are prospective members of BRICS which has overshadowed G-7. It would further empower the Global South.
Waning US Dollar Monopoly
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (members of BRICS) have opted for a new currency. ASEAN is actively considering shifting from dollars to local currencies. KSA, Russia, UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Algeria in defiance to the wishes of Washington have decided to cut oil production until end 2013. China and UAE have inked a gas deal in yuan. Prospects of breakup of the petrodollar monopoly have brightened. Possibility of petrodollar converting to petro yuan cannot be ruled out.
Impact of Saudi-Iran Rapprochement
The Saudi-Iran détente would help in ending war in Yemen since Iran has agreed to stop aiding the Huthis.
It would also help in ending the civil war in Syria since KSA has agreed to restore ties with Damascus.
Bashar al-Assad has taken trips to UAE and Oman. With an invitation to the Arab League summit next month, his country has returned to the Arab fold as a key player. Syria can help in restoring peace in Lebanon.
China has deep economic interests in Syria and Lebanon and desires their inclusion in BRI.
China plans to invest $ 400 billion in Iran’s banking, transportation and development sectors. In return, China will receive a dedicated oil supply of oil and a Lithium deposit of 8.5 metric tons discovered in Hamadan (Iran).
Vacuum in the ME. West Asia has slipped out of the hands of the US. The vacuum is being filled up by Russia, Iran, Turkey and now China.
Reasons behind Saudi Shift
Some of the reasons which impelled crown prince MBS to veer towards the Russo-China bloc were that in spite of the security umbrella provided by the US to KSA, the latter faced multi-directional external threats from Iran, Yemen, Iraq, ISIS and internal insecurity. The other reasons were the US bullying attitude; forcing Riyadh and other GCC States to sign Abraham Accords and restore diplomatic relations with Israel; compelling KSA and UAE to buy arms from the US worth trillions of dollars to fight the Huthis in Yemen, and then opting out of the Yemen imbroglio; Joe Biden’s intentions to pursue murder of Khashoggi in which MBS is suspected as the mastermind.
The US failure to bridle Iran’s expansionism and aggressiveness in the ME and failing to topple Assad regime disappointed Riyadh. Perverse influence of the US over the oil policy of OPEC became counterproductive. In the wake of reduction in revenues from oil trade, MBS in his quest to modernize KSA decided to open new avenues for revenue generation, search new markets, cut down expenditures as well as generosity to dole out financial assistance to the needy Muslim countries. Docking of the first Russian warship at Saudi port is an indication of Riyadh’s shift in tackling its security concerns.
Iran Endured Crippling Sanctions/Threats
In spite of crippling sanctions imposed upon Iran from 1979 onwards, isolation, war with Iraq, antagonism of the Arab world, and continuous threat posed by US-Israeli nexus to destroy Iran’s nuclear plants, Tehran withstood the pressures heroically and managed to develop its military power and technological and economic bases indigenously. Of course, Russia, China, India and Pakistan have been helping Iran in its testing times.
Iran has managed to improve its perimeter of security by hoisting a Shia arc stretching from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. IRGC has become a formidable force which commands the proxies of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Huthis in Yemen and Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria. Hezbollah and pro-Iran Hamas have posed a threat to Israel.
There is a possibility of Huthis teaming up with Hezbollah to confront Israel once the war in Yemen ends.
Pakistan’s Relations with other Countries
China. Mutually beneficial CPEC laid in 2014 has further cemented Pakistan-China time-tested friendship, which has morphed into strategic partnership. Both fondly call each other ‘iron brothers’. Their alliance has become a serious concern for the US and India and both have been trying to sabotage CPEC through acts of terror.
Russia. Of late, Pakistan has significantly improved relations with Russia. The latter is supplying wheat at cheaper rates and has agreed to provide crude oil at reduced prices and help in building a gas pipeline from Kasur to the border with Iran as well as expedite the construction of the North-South 1100 km gas pipeline project.
Relations with the USA have a history of ups and downs. Both could never develop trust due to the duplicitous and self-serving attitude of the US. The US has always sought a heavy price for its financial and military assistance. The US induced Pakistan to join western pacts in 1954/55 and assist in containing communism. It provided $3.5 billion aid to engage in a proxy war against the occupying Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It twisted Pakistan’s arm to become the frontline state in fighting the global war on terror after 9/11.
The US has been actively meddling into Pakistan’s internal affairs and repeatedly imposed sanctions. In collusion with India, the US played a role in keeping Pakistan politically destabilized and economically dependent. The USA’s handmaidens FATF and IMF aggravated Pakistan’s economic afflictions and it appears that Pakistan’s current multiple crises have been fomented with a wicked design.
KSA. Pakistan has maintained very close ties with KSA and the latter always came to its rescue whenever it faced a financial crunch. Pakistan had a big role in training the armed forces of the Arab Gulf States and providing troops for security whenever asked for. This harmony remained intact except for a brief spell of coolness in 2016 when Pakistan declined to send troops to take part in the Yemen war.
Pakistan has also enjoyed cordial relations with Iran particularly during the era of Reza Shah. The warmth lessened after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and conflicting interests in Afghanistan. Bonds with KSA also irritated Tehran. India took advantage of it and signed a defence treaty with Iran in 2001 and a strategic partnership treaty in 2015.
It enabled India to position Kulbushan Yadav at Chahbahar and to establish safe havens for the Baloch separatist groups in Iranian Baluchistan to launch cross border terrorism in Baluchistan. IRGC and Iran’s intelligence aligned with RAW are creating instability in Baluchistan through Baloch National Army.
Except for the five-year rule of Taliban under Mullah Omar from 1996 to 2001, Pakistan’s relations with its western neighbor have remained strained on account of Kabul’s refusal to accept Durand Line as an international border, Pashtunistan stunt, and its claims over Pashtun inhabited territories in Khyber Pashtunistan (KP) and Baluchistan, and Kabul’s support to dissidents in Baluchistan. It allowed western powers and India to wage the biggest covert war against Pakistan.
Currently, Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which was dismantled by Pak security forces in 2015 and pushed out into Afghanistan continues to be armed and funded by foreign agencies. It has not been restrained from cross border terrorism in Pakistan by Afghanistan’s interim regime headed by Haibatullah Akhundzada as was pledged. The TTP has become a chief irritant in Pak-Afghan relations.
TTP-TTA alignment is governed by blood relations, Pashtunwali, customs and common desire for an Islamic Emirate. The TTP is closer to Haqqanis and have all their safe havens in East Afghanistan. There is a personality clash between the Khostwalis under Sirajuddin Haqqani and Qandharis under Haibatullah.
Allowing a sizable segment of 5000 strong TTP militants to resettle in Swat and Waziristan by the previous regime in Islamabad was imprudent. It enabled the regrouped TTP to recommence terrorism in KP and Baluchistan for which the incumbent government is contemplating an army operation.
Kabul’s agreement to become part of CPEC is a good sign.
The new alignment of China-KSA-Iran-UAE could help in influencing the Taliban regime to bring peace on the western border of Pakistan.
India. It remains the arch rival of Pakistan. It has neither reconciled with its existence, nor has it given up the quest for fragmenting Pakistan through conspiracies and covert operations. In league with the US, Israel and the West, it would work towards disrupting peace deals in the ME, or it could abandon its descending chief patron and join the rising Russia-China bandwagon as it did in 1991.
The changing scenario has brightened the prospects of commissioning of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and Gwadar-Chahbahar complementing each other’s commercial interests. Emerging opportunities are enabling Pakistan to free itself from the perverse western shackles and step into new domains offering mutual benefits of peace and economic progress. However, the internal situation in complete disarray has constrained Pakistan from reaping rewards from the evolving landscape.
As if the grave political, economic, social crises and tense civil-military relations were not enough, judicial crisis followed by brewing constitutional crisis and head on collision of the parliament with the apex court have added to the enormity of the precarious internal situation.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, took part in the epic battle of Hilli in former East Pakistan, defence, security and political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Center. email@example.com