Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia
The two-day international conference ‘Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia’ organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in association with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) held at Islamabad, Pakistan on November 14-15, this year.
The speakers, who included former ambassadors, intellectuals and analysts, including Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat unanimously agreed that the region of South Asia was an emerging centre of power in the new multi-polar world order—the world should no longer doubt the rise of a greater Asia—The upgradation of India from a “major power” to a “linchpin” of the US strategy extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia was also seen as problematic by many of the speakers.
Addressing the conference, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Zubair Mahmood Hayat said, resolution of Kashmir dispute is imperative for peace in South Asia…
India is stoking chaos and anarchy in the region…Indian intelligence agency RAW has established a special cell at a cost of 500 million dollars to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project….India is fanning terrorism in Balochistan and is also supporting Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP]. Pakistan will maintain minimum nuclear deterrence in the context of current regional situation…India is trying to label Kashmiris’ indigenous struggle for freedom as terrorism…is using brute force against the innocent people of Kashmir and has deployed a huge number of forces in the held territory…has been resorting to massive human-rights violations in Occupied Kashmir which include extra-judicial killings, rape and deliberate assault of the innocent masses…the trend of ceasefire violations by India has been escalating across Line of Control…Pakistan seeks peace in the region and does not want to disturb the balance.”
He cautioned that “India’s wishful thinking of escalating the tension into a greater conflict will be dealt accordingly…India is playing with fire and Pakistan’s desire of peace should not be mistaken to its weakness…India has become an extremist country from being a secular one, an example of which lied in the atrocities in held-Kashmir and attitude towards Pakistan…India wants to manipulate the Indus Water Treaty and India’s stance of not giving Pakistan its dues share under the treaty is strange to the country.
General Zubair Mahmood Hayat stated, “India has launched an aggressive anti-CPEC campaign with aims to deprive Pakistan from economic benefits. India has also established a news cell with a cost of 500 million dollars to scuttle the CPEC projects.
He added, “South Asia owes genesis to two issues one of which is Kashmir dispute and the other is absence of a political solution to Afghan conflict. Pakistan is the only country in the entire region which has successfully fought the war against terrorism and has rendered unparallel sacrifices of men and material…despite the loss the country faced, the morale of the nation and the army is high and unwavering…Pakistan will support efforts by all the stakeholders for resolution of inter-connected disputes of the region through realistic approach…Pakistan prefers cooperation over conflict and it backs the reconciliation process in Afghanistan…the regional powers need to devise counter violation strategies to combat terrorism and extremism.”
Dr Wei Zongyou, Professor, Center for American Studies, Fudan University, China, in his paper on ‘US-China Relations: Prospects and Challenges’, elaborated that with “Donald Trump elected as the US president and his America First foreign policy mantle, and Xi Jinping emerging from the newly-ended 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China even more powerful and vowing to rejuvenate his country, Sino-US relations had entered a period of turbulence and uncertainty…no-apology preachers of China Dream and America First, both Xi and Trump vowed to see their policies and agendas set in motion under their watch…How these two different visions with heavy dose of nationalist flavours can proceed smoothly against each other, especially at the backdrop of an emerging power transition, is an open question…However, for all the challenges and alarms, there’s still room for optimism of the future of China-US relations. First, Xi’s China Dream does not necessarily collude with Trump’s America First. Xi’s China Dream is fundamentally based on domestic development and modernization, to make the economy more domestic driven and consumption
oriented…The China-US economic relations are not zero-sum, but a win-win set’.
Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States (Asia Program), Washington DC, while discussing America’s strategic interests and priorities in South Asia, outlined that “the US and China had a multidimensional relationship that cut across increasingly large swathes of each other’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests…The relationship is characterized by a mix of competition and cooperation, with the balance of those elements varying by issue and region, and fluctuating according to broader trends in the bilateral relationship…The two sides are deeply embedded in a global economic order that requires the free movement of commerce and capital, providing a significant shared interest in the fundamental stability of the international system, from energy supplies to global finance… translating these higher order interests into practical cooperation has proved difficult, given the other ideological and strategic differences between the two sides…China’s primary regional focus was its immediate neighbourhood in East Asia, and recent years had seen intensification in the competitive elements of the US-China relationship there…Sino-US competition was less acute in other regions, where Beijing’s military reach was more modest and its economic activities were often beneficial…South Asia largely falls under this umbrella, and, except during times of exceptional crisis, has been a second order issue in the relationship.”
Professor Dr Syed Rifaat Hussain, Head, Government and Public Policy, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), in his paper, talked about the risks to strategic stability in South Asia. According to his analysis, “Offence-dominant thinking and aggressive Indian-mindset is one of the biggest threats facing the region…Indian commitment to pursue extremist, exclusionary Hindutva ideology posed a threat to strategic stability…By propounding and practicing extremist Hindu beliefs, BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) under Modi, is cultivating a hostile Indian mindset against Muslims everywhere. This not only bodes ill for rational handling of future crises between India and Pakistan but also allows free rein to forces of death and destruction.”
Dr Shabir Ahmed Khan, Associate Professor, Area Study Center, University of Peshawar, in his paper pointed out, “Russia recognizes Pakistan’s importance for peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan and linking Eurasian Union with South Asia, Indian Ocean and beyond…Russia has
stopped viewing India as a counterweight to China in the region…in contemporary regional geopolitical environment, Pakistan needed to take a positive and correct course of action through diversification of foreign relations, importantly by having close relations with Russian Federation to enhance its bargaining power in international dealings.”
Other participants of the conference also highlighted various dimensions which are creating obstacles in the peace, economic development and prosperity of the region.
It is notable that when during the Musharraf regime, with the Chinese assistance, Pakistan initiated the construction of Gwadar deep-seaport in the Balochistan province in March 2002; sirens went off in the capitals of foreign countries, especially the US, India and Israel who took it as a threat to their global and regional plans.
Balochistan’s ideal strategic location, its abundant mineral resources like gas, coal and gold, entailing Pakistan’s close ties with China already pinches the eyes of the US, India, Israel and some Western countries like the UK which have been destabilizing Pakistan for their collective aims. But, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which infuriates them has become their special target.
While, India was openly opposing the CPEC and China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, the US also joined India in this respect. In this regard, on October 3, 2017, US Defence Secretary James Mattis told the Lawmakers, “The United States has reiterated its support for India’s opposition to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative…the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a part of which traverses Pakistan-Kashmir.”
America’s support for India’s opposition to the Chinese project was first reflected in the joint statement, issued by the two countries after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump in June, this year.
Pakistan strongly dismissed the statement from the American defence chief that the multibillion-dollar road and rail network CPEC which is part of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, passes through a disputed territory, urging the international community to focus on blatant human rights violations and ‘heinous crimes’ committed by Indian occupation forces in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK), and reminded the US that Washington had also participated in an OBOR summit.”
Earlier, a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry also dismissed Mattis’ statement, saying that the OBOR initiative was backed by the United Nations and that CPEC was an economic cooperation initiative.
In fact, being the only nuclear country in the Islamic World, Pakistan was already on the hit-list of the US-led India and Israel, including some Western countries. But, after the shift of the Great Game from Central Asia to Pakistan, American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad, including British MI6 have been supporting target killings, suicide attacks, hostage-takings, sectarian and ethnic violence in various cities of the country, while backing separatist elements in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces. As part of the double game, based in Afghanistan, these secret agencies which have well-established their covert networks there and are well-penetrated in the terrorist outfits like the Islamic State group (Also known as Daesh, ISIS, ISIL), TTP and their affiliated Taliban groups are using their terrorists to destabilize Tibetan regions of China, Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan by arranging the subversive activities.
While, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad which have also been extended to other parts of the country, including Balochistan province and Karachi. Army and top intelligence agency ISI have broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts. Peace has been restored in various regions of Pakistan, including Karachi and Balochistan.
But, these foreign elements have, again, started terror attacks in Balochistan and other regions of the country which show that the US-led India, Afghanistan and Israel want to weaken Pakistan and to damage the CPEC.
Overtly, American high officials remark that they seek stability in Pakistan, but covertly, they continue to destabilize it, especially with the assistance of India.
In this respect, terror attacks coincide with a continued propaganda campaign against Pakistan. Indo-Israeli lobbies which are well-penetrated in the US administration and Europe, research centers, think tanks, universities and so-called human rights groups leave no stone unturned in continuing their endless propaganda against Pakistan. Particularly, RAW is availing the opportunity of the US-led organized propaganda campaign against Pakistan.
As part of the propaganda campaign against Pakistan, in its report, released on April 13, 2017 by Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) which is in partnership with Mahatma Gandhi International AISBL has especially mentioned the question of human rights in Pakistan.
The subject report has been featured under “Human Rights in South Asia Campaign” and portrayed complete Indian propaganda themes on the provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Balochistan and Sindh. Based on falsehood, the report also said that Pak-China project of the CPEC is breach of international law and is being implemented without consultation or compensation to the people of the area. It also allegedly stated the ruthless human rights violations in Balochistan and Sindh provinces.
The report which referred to the Senge H. Hasnan Sering President of Gilgit Baltistan Institute claimed that CPEC will deprive 15-20 thousand jobs of GB peoples owing to relocation of dry port from Sost (A town and Customs check post, cross-border road between China and Pakistan) Gilgit to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. In 2016, India had launched a propaganda campaign against Islamabad in relation to its narrative of so-called progressive marginalization of local populace, while Islamabad has already taken measures under Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, and people of the GB have their own government, elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council. Pakistan government has also initiated a process of deliberations to give a constitutional cover to the area like the Pakistani side of Azad Kashmir (Azad Jammu and Kashmir).
Undoubtedly, GB is the gateway of CPEC into Pakistan, whereby GB’s strategic and socio-economic importance has increased manifold. Like Balochistan, the region has huge potential in trade with China, tourism, minerals, gems, precious stones, agriculture-farming and hydro power production. Therefore, GB’s people who are strengthening their association with Pakistan, pays no attention to the false propaganda.
In connivance with the US and Israel, New Delhi has been using every possible tactic to create unrest in Pakistan in general and GB and Balochistan in particular to obstruct the CPEC project. In collaboration with CIA and Mossad, RAW has been involved in acts of sabotage, being conducted in Balochistan through Baloch sub-nationalists and other terrorists groups to hamper the progress of the Gwadar port which is the central point of the CPEC.
It is noteworthy that on March 24, 2016, Pakistan’s security forces disclosed that they arrested the serving agent of RAW in Balochistan. During investigation and in video, shown on Pakistan’s TV channels, RAW agent Kulbushan Yadav confessed that “he was the agent of RAW” and “during his stay, he contacted various Baloch separatist leaders and insurgents, including Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, to execute the task to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” project.
In the recent past, Indian former Army Chief Gen. VK Singh openly admitted that during his tenure, he supervised special army unit, Tactical Support Division (TSD) on the instructions of the then defence minister to sponsor subversive acts in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan.
With the assistance of anti-Pakistan powers, New Delhi which has already been supporting separatism in Balochistan has also accelerated conspiracy against the province of Gilgit-Baltistan by supporting the minority nationalist elements which claim an independent Balawaristan there. These external entities are also behind target killings and sectarian violence in these areas.
With the help of the US-led entities like parliamentarians, media anchors, scholars and human rights groups, India manipulates the petty matters and local rivalries to damage the national interests of Pakistan.
Notably, New Delhi and its strategic partners are, covertly, working on the policy to contain China, and they use every trick and deception in describing China in negative rhetoric. India had also raised objection to Neelam-Jhelum hydroelectric project, being constructed by Beijing on the grounds that it was a disputed territory. Since Islamabad took the decision to construct Bhasha Dam, India persuaded the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank which like other global institutes, are, directly or indirectly, under the influence of the US-led Jews, not to fund the project, as according to it the Northern Areas (GB) are a disputed territory.
It is mentionable that during his address on the Independence Day of India on August 15, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went more aggressive in a diatribe against Pakistan by claiming that people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir are thankful to him for raising voice for their suppressed rights.
On the other side, against the false anti-Pakistan statement of Modi, huge rallies and demonstrations were held in Balochistan, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, including some other cities of Pakistan. Opposing Indian intervention in Pakistan, the speakers on that occasion strongly condemned Prime Minister Modi’s aggressive designs against Pakistan. They urged international community, civilized world and human rights organizations to take serious notice of the Indian state terrorism—genocide of Kashmiris in the Indian Occupied Kashmir and interference in Pakistan’s provinces.
It is of particular attention that showing double standards vis-à-vis Pakistan and India, silence and inaction of the US-led West on gross human rights violations in India such as unprecedented rise of Hindu extremism, forced conversions of other religious minorities into Hindus, assaults on the Muslims and Christians, including their places of worships and property, creation of war-like situation with Pakistan and acceleration of state terrorism in the Indian Controlled Kashmir have encouraged the BJP-led fundamentalist government of Prime Minister Modi to continue extremist policies. Under Modi government, extremist Hindu groups like BJP, RSS VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena have intensified religious and ethnic chauvinism in India, based on anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan approach.
It is worth-mentioning that Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had led a high-level delegation to China and met Chinese President Xi Jinping and his counterpart Li Keqiang on May 13, 2017. On the same day, Beijing and Islamabad signed three agreements pertaining to economic and technical cooperation of worth 3.4 billion Yuan for Gwadar port and East Bay expressway. In the meeting with the Chinese president, P.M. Sharif stated that the presence of all the chief ministers [of Pakistan’s provinces] shows the importance our nation gives to Pak-China ties. He added, “China is our strategic partner, and has always stood by our stance on the Kashmir issue…The benefits of the Chinese investment of $56 billion with regards to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will soon reach the common man in Pakistan.” Chinese rulers also expressed similar feelings.
It noteworthy that Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) is a concept to build the first expressway between India and China, that will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh. The concept emerged in late 1990s, from China’s Yunnan province about possible sub regional cooperation involving South-Western China, Eastern India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. This eventually leads to the development of the platform which came to be known as the “Kunming Initiative”. The first meeting of the initiative was convened in 1999 in Kunming capital of Yunnan province. Proponents of the idea projected two prominent objectives behind BCIM initiative, one is economic integration of the sub-region and secondly, development of the border regions.
There is a perception among Chinese scholars that India had become lukewarm to the BCIM project by linking it with its reservations on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which passed through AJK. In the current context of trust deficit between New Delhi and Beijing, the initiative does not seem to reach implementation phase in the near future.
It seems that after witnessing slow response from India, China may put in more concentrated efforts to link Kunming with Bay of Bengal by establishing its route through Lashio, Mandaley to the sea port Kyauk Phyu in Myanmar, which is feasible in terms of distance and location. It is important to highlight that Myanmar plays a significant role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, due to its strategic location close to South East Asia and its better opening in the Bay of Bengal. However, the project is not feasible and suitable and will prove to be a non starter because of various developments such as fragile security situation in Northeastern States of India, Rohingya crisis—security in Rakhine State of Myanmar, resulting in trust deficit between Bangladesh and Myanmar and the US-backed Indian hegemonic designs to dominate the region specially Bangladesh and Myanmar, including Afghanistan.
It is also of particular attention that the US is playing double game in connection with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As regards Afghanistan, there are several groups of the Taliban and a majority of them are fighting for liberation of their country. But, in order to divert attention of their people from NATO’s defeatism in Afghanistan and to justify the unending war, Afghanistan, India and the US have accused Pakistan and Russia of assisting the Taliban.
In this context, in light of the US double game, talking to the BBC on October 24, 2017, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif admitted that “There is a huge trust deficit between Pakistan and the US over the Afghan conflict…Pakistan did not have terrorist safe havens and the US was not buying Pakistan’s narrative, neither was Pakistan buying the narrative of the US.
Asif was speaking about the meeting with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Islamabad, after the US President Donald Trump accused the country of providing “safe havens” to the Taliban. Tillerson repeated Trump’s call for Pakistan to do more to eradicate militant groups within its territory. But Asif insisted that there are no “safe havens” in Pakistan…They do not need our territory any more. Almost 40% of Afghan territory is now under the direct control of the Taliban.”
Foreign Minister Asif stated in the Senate on October 25, 2017, “Afghanistan’s role as a facilitator for India is not acceptable to Pakistan…nearly 45 percent of Afghanistan’s territory was not under the control of Kabul and that Daesh was also present in two or three Afghan provinces located in that territory…terrorists would not need Pakistan for their hideouts as they have ample space available in Afghanistan…Pakistan is not a superpower but is a nation which has sacrificed its people during the fight against terrorism…Pakistan had agreed on reconciliation in the past but it was to no avail…a military solution the Afghan problem had failed and the issue can be resolved politically through dialogue and Pakistan would play its due role in this regard…the country had to make a compromise following the 9/11 attacks, and today the country has to pay a price for it.”
The foreign minister, again, spoke in connection with the meeting held with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and remarked that in the meeting with Tillerson, earlier in the day, the civil and military leadership presented a detailed narrative about its stance on the country’s war against terrorism.
In this regard, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said that “it was clarified during the meeting that Pakistan won’t fight America’s proxy war in Afghanistan but would continue to play its role for peace and security in the region…US must admit it has lost the Afghan war…Pakistan will cooperate in war against terrorism but not at cost of its sovereignty…We want to expand relations with the United States on the basis of equality and self-respect.
He added that he further briefed the visiting envoy on efforts taken by Pakistan to control cross-border attacks and asked the US to invest in fencing the porous border from the Afghan side.
America’s double game in the region could also be judged from the interview of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to the Arab News, published on October 9, 2017. He said, “The days of Pakistan’s dependence on the US to meet its military requirements have ended…We have major US weapons systems in our military, but we’ve also diversified [our arsenal]. We have Chinese and European systems. Recently, for the first time we inducted Russian attack helicopters…the world should recognise Pakistan’s efforts in fighting the world’s war on terror.”
The premier pointed out that US’ newly devised policy to include India for peace-building in Afghanistan will be detrimental for the region. He stated, “We don’t believe that injecting India into the Pakistan-US relationship will help resolve anything, especially in Afghanistan, where we don’t see any role for India. India has a relationship with the US, and that is between them and the US.”
He clarified that Pakistan wants an “equal relationship or partnership with the US, like every other nation” and “wants to work with Washington in resolving regional and global issues ranging from the ‘economy to nuclear matters… nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan.”
He added, “The reality today is that much of the area bordering Pakistan is controlled by the Taliban. The people we’re fighting in Pakistan today, their sanctuaries are in Afghanistan, their leadership is living there, the planning is done there, the logistical bases are there, and they regularly cross the border and attack our installations.”
However, taking cognizance of the US double game, Islamabad which has already strengthened its relations with China has also been cultivating its ties with Russia. In the recent past, Pakistan’s top officials have paid visit to Moscow. In this respect, Pakistan’s foreigner minister has openly stated that Islamabad will prefer Russia over America. Meanwhile, Pakistan is also improving its relations with Iran. Recently, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa paid a visit to Tehran where he met Iranian civil and military high officials.
It is expected that taking cognizance of the US President Trump’s anti-Iranian policy and opposition of the Iranian nuclear deal and the unsuccessful US-Indian partnership which is based on extremism, Iran will abandon the American-backed Chabahar (A transport corridor between Iran, India and Afghanistan) project and will prefer to align with Russian-led China-Pakistan alliance.
Returning to our earlier discussion, the speakers of international conference have pointed out realties, while explaining ‘Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia’. In these terms, the goals of peace cannot be achieved in the region, as the principal actor-the US has been following dual strategy in the region.