Friday, February 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 28, 2015

Armed militias Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent out a strongly optimistic message to the audience, foreign and local, at the inauguration of the Ninth Expo Pakistan in Karachi on Thursday. First and foremost, he made the ringing declaration that armed militias in Karachi are not acceptable. The ongoing operation in the city would not be abandoned halfway and would be continued until its logical end. Peace would be restored to the metropolis by 2018 (the end of the incumbent government’s tenure). The government, the prime minister emphasised, was firm in eradicating militancy and would take solid steps to restore peace in the country. The decisive moment had arrived, he underlined, to bring peace back to Karachi and free the city of the hold of militants of all hues. The power of the gun, he said, resided with the government, not the militants. It must be said that this is true in an eventual sense, i.e. that the state can and will overcome the armed power of militancy, but the timeline of 2018 in itself is an indication of the fact that this will be a long drawn out and difficult affair. Referring to the campaign against terrorists in the tribal areas, the prime minister wished that Operation Zarb-e-Azb had been launched much earlier. Peace, he argued, was the necessary condition for economic revival and prosperity. Pakistan, he said, was successfully countering its security challenges and would swiftly be restored to normalcy. He appealed to businessmen to set up industries to fulfil his vision of making Pakistan a preferred destination for investment since the country offered a business-friendly environment. Referring to the bottleneck presented by the energy crisis, he claimed it would be overcome by 2017. He mentioned how the government’s efforts had resulted in a rise of the country’s exports to $ 25 billion, and vowed this figure would rise to twice this amount in the next three years. What the prime minister has outlined is the strategy of restoring Pakistan to peace and development. Karachi in particular plays a central role in that revival, being the industrial and commercial hub and the sole port of the country. Unfortunately, for far too long the city has been brought to its knees by the plethora of armed militias that have fought each other for turf and made the life of its denizens a fearful and uncertain misery. In particular, the rash of kidnappings for ransom have persuaded many wealthy people to migrate from Karachi either up country or abroad, taking their resources away from the city with them. This has only served to deepen the impoverishment of the inhabitants of what was once a thriving business centre. The militias range from armed wings of political parties to criminal mafias to now terrorist outfits. Without cleaning up this mess that has been allowed to fester for decades, the other plank of the revival strategy, i.e. economic development and prosperity, will remain a pipe dream since a troubled and insecure metropolis is hardly likely to attract investment, whether local or foreign. Once Karachi is cleaned up, its advantages of business experience and culture, and its former cosmopolitan and tolerant character can also be restored, providing the ambiance for making the city once again a bright star in the Pakistani and South Asian firmament. What is true for Karachi is only the thin edge of the wedge for the country as a whole. Pakistan has suffered beyond imagination from the law of unintended consequences that has been the aftermath of shortsighted policies of relying on proxy militias to project power in the region. That venture has come back to haunt us with a vengeance. Time to lay these ghosts of the past to rest and move on to brighter horizons, a goal well within the reach of the people of Pakistan.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 24, 2015

Greek drama All eyes have been focused on the newly elected Leftist Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as it wrestles with its creditors and tries to fulfil its campaign pledges of rescuing the country from the bailout package of the European union (EU), IMF, etc, which has imposed as its conditionality a rigid austerity that has led to the shrinking of the economy by 25 percent, increased unemployment exponentially to 25 percent (the bulk of it youth), cut pensions and other welfare benefits, and imposed a draconian straitjacket of maintaining a primary budget surplus of three percent of GDP. The bare figures do not adequately reflect the misery these policy measures have caused across the social spectrum. The exception of course are the rich and powerful business houses that still seem to be thriving as islands of plenty and luxury in a sea of deprivation. The Leftist government has vowed to wage a war against the ‘oligarchs’ who dominate the economy, with the rider that this would not be a wholesale offensive against all businesses but only targeting those who evade taxes or are otherwise found violating or bending the law to their benefit. As these lines are being written, the Greek government was expected to engage with its credit interlocutors to produce a set of its own reforms that were the only concession extracted in return for an extension of the bailout package for four months. The reforms and their acceptance by the EU, particularly Germany, are crucial for Greece obtaining a fresh 7.2 billion Euros aid package after completing the present programme, a target that would ease the pain of the repayment of debt amounting to 3.5 billion Euros due in June. Because of the perceived humiliation of accepting the terms of the government’s creditors, the prime minister is under pressure from his supporters as well as his right wing coalition partners for ‘betraying’ the promise of rejecting the bailout and its conditions on which Tsipras’ Syriza party had won the elections. The compromise reflects the limits of the room for manoeuvre available to the government. Perhaps the compromise was the only possible option to stave off a run on the banks and a widening series of ripples that would have destabilised not only Greece but also the wider EU community. The sense of betrayal therefore is tempered by a sense of immediate relief. While there are many voices within Greece as well as outside it that are advising the government to stand firm on its election platform, the intriguing factor in the situation is how geopolitics and domestic politics are pulling in opposite directions. In this matter, the former is swayed by the Russia factor. Itself under a cloud because of western sanctions imposed in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Russia is cautiously open to bypassing Ukraine for its gas exports through a pipeline linking it to Turkey and possibly beyond to Greece, thereby giving Moscow much needed alternative access to the southern Mediterranean rim. Of course in the climate that currently defines Russia-western relations, this is being described by NATO as a ‘threat’ to the Baltic countries as well as Greece as a member of NATO. It may be recalled that part of the west’s reaction to Ukraine contemplating a Russian financial rescue rather than the EU package was the ‘horrible’ thought that this would bring Kiev within Moscow’s orbit and make the (unstated) agenda of weaning Ukraine away into the EU and NATO that much more difficult. Imagine then the discomfiture in western capitals at the mere suggestion that Greece could go down that road. The Left’s victory in Greece was hailed as a breach in the wall of right wing or centrist governments throughout Europe. It encouraged immeasurably the Left in other countries such as Spain by its demonstration effect. However, the current negotiations have placed economics at the heart of the conundrum and shown the limits of wresting any country away from the right wing consensus that dominates the EU and the west generally, with Germany leading the charge. If and when other countries in crisis that are suffering from the one-sided austerity misery that Greece has had to endure turn away from this consensus, perhaps the deadening conformity of following Berlin may be replaced by a more creative and flexible attempt to come to terms with the recession that has brought many a once prosperous country in Europe to its knees.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 13, 2015

Jackpot? The search for iron ore deposits in the area of Rajua, around three kilometers south of Chiniot in Punjab has yielded a virtual jackpot of not only iron ore but also gold and copper deposits. This treasure has been discovered after initial studies in just 28 square kilometres of the area, which have indicated the presence of good quality deposits in around 2,000 kilometres surrounding the site. If the prospects prove true, according to Punjab Mineral Company Chairman Dr Samar Mubarakmand, the find could prove bigger even than the gold and copper sites at Saindak and Reqo Diq in Balochistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received a briefing on the find, and his euphoria was reflected in the statement that this could help Pakistan break the begging bowl. Without meaning to sound like a party pooper, perhaps we should reserve judgement until the reserves are properly assessed. While the prime minister in his address on the occasion spoke of security and energy as the biggest challenges facing the government, he appreciated the hard work and dedication that had gone into the project in Chiniot. And while Dr Mubarakmand, who seems to have made a seamless transition from nuclear scientist to mining expert (note his interventions in the gold and copper projects in Balochistan and the Thar coal project in Sindh), and the representatives of the Chinese Metallurgical Company and German consultants were all in attendance and basking in the glory of their achievements, a sour note was reported in that the officers and experts of the Geological Survey of Pakistan, who had initially led the exploration of the site, were nowhere to be seen. In fact, they were reportedly not even invited. This is bad form, but hardly unknown in Pakistan’s culture of jostling for credit and approbation, if need be at the expense of those equally deserving of recognition. Nevertheless, the achievement of the discovery and the completion of the feasibility report of the project in half the time envisaged are impressive credentials. Dr Mubarakmand told the gathering in his briefing that the presence of copper pointed the project in the direction of focusing on this metal that fetches $ 5,000 per tonne in the international market currently, as opposed to iron ore that garners only $ 100 per tonne. Certainly the testing in internationally acknowledged laboratories indicates a rich and relatively pure deposit of copper, silver and gold, apart from iron ore. But international prices of these minerals notwithstanding, perhaps it is jumping the gun to start pointing in the more profitable directions. Let the reserves and their composition be scientifically determined. On present knowledge, it seems the site will prove a multi-mineral find, and there is no gainsaying the advantages to be gleaned from all these minerals once brought to extractable state. The Chinese Metallurgical Company has already shown interest in setting up a steel mill on the site; other domestic and international investors may follow, at least that is the prime minister’s hope and invitation. While a ripple of excitement at the find and its potential is understandable, hyped up claims of breaking the begging bowl and overcoming poverty should perhaps be tempered by the experience of similar claims in the past about Reqo Diq and Thar coal. The former is still bogged down in a legal dispute with an international exploration and mining conglomerate. The latter has revealed its difficulties as interest in its potential has grown, including the quality of the coal (low grade lignite that cannot easily or safely be transported because of spontaneous combustion), distance from infrastructure that would have to be built, etc. Both these examples are enough to prove that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Certainly the project in Chiniot should be pursued with the same speed, energy and despatch that attended its early days. The rest, meaning its actual value to the country, undoubtedly positive, should perhaps still be left to hopes for good fortune and further studies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 12, 2015

Altaf’s retreat After the bitter and abusive war of words between Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain and their respective party followers the past few days, better sense has prevailed, at least partially. Altaf Hussain has shown contrition and apologised to the PTI women workers he had used unacceptable language against in a speech the other day, including PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari. But whereas Altaf Hussain has realised he had made a mistake and apologised unreservedly for it, an apology that Shireen Mazari accepted wholeheartedly, the same it seems cannot be said for Imran Khan. Unrelenting, the PTI leader has continued his verbal assault and diatribe against Altaf Hussain, calling him a jackal, insane, biggest terrorist, etc. He has charged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the responsibility of eliminating the MQM’s militant wing in Karachi and advised the government to take up cases against Altaf Hussain in the UK (Imran himself having failed in an earlier attempt in this direction). And all this even after Altaf Hussain had contradicted one of his party’s leaders who, while speaking in the rally the MQM took out in Karachi in support of their leader and against Imran Khan, had said Imran would not be allowed to enter Karachi, nor would his party be allowed to hold public meetings in the city. Altaf Hussain, on the other hand, reversing himself from his earlier guttersnipe comments on the PTI women workers, sounded statesmanlike when he said that Imran Khan was a citizen of Pakistan and would be welcomed whenever he set foot in Karachi. Both parties, in the aftermath of the bruising exchange, have written to diplomats against each other. Shireen Mazari, echoing Imran’s call to the British government to take note of Altaf Hussain’s incendiary speeches instigating violence in Pakistan from the safety of London and take action against him, wrote to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad along similar lines. MQM leader Babar Ghauri in the meantime has written to the US Ambassador in Islamabad to take note of Imran’s support to the Taliban and his past personal life that is the content of a court case against him in the US. The MQM has also moved a resolution in the Sindh Assembly in protest against Imran Khan’s abusive language against Altaf Hussain. So the situation it appears is that the MQM chief has retreated, the MQM’s ‘diplomatic ‘ letters and Sindh Assembly resolution notwithstanding. However, even this has not proved sufficient to get Imran Khan to stand down. His unrelenting abusive barrage against Altaf Hussain continues, guaranteeing that tensions between his party workers and those of the MQM in Karachi will rise further. Admitting that in the past he had refrained from speaking against Altaf Hussain for fear the PTI’s workers in Karachi may come to harm, Imran Khan now seems to have thrown caution to the winds, citing the threats Shireen Mazari has been receiving. The entire episode and bruising encounter, not to mention the language used by both sides, is enough to make any civilised sane citizen hang their head in shame. Between them, the PTI and the MQM have hit new lows in the national political discourse in Pakistan. Being political rivals is one thing, but abandoning parliamentary language, not to mention civilised norms in the public space is deplorable beyond description. The ‘original sin’ was bad enough. What makes things worse is the continuing abusive language being employed by Imran Khan against Altaf Hussain. The latter erred grievously in denigrating the PTI women workers no doubt, but at least he had the grace to apologise when he realised his mistake. Not so Imran Khan, who by now has established his reputation of a wild and woolly speaker who seldom delivers considered, sober and balanced statements, whether on a container or on television. The boorishness and immaturity to which the MQM and PTI have dragged politics runs the risk of permanently damaging the political class’ ability to conduct debate and even differences in an acceptable manner. To avoid such an outcome and try to limit the damage already inflicted on the polity, both sides should ‘cease fire’, lick their respective wounds to healing, and spare the people of Pakistan any more of their utter foolishness.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 9, 2015

Ukraine crisis Military gains on the ground in eastern Ukraine by the resistance to the Kiev government imposed through a coup against elected president Viktor Yanukovich have given rise to a flurry of diplomatic activity to find a solution to the escalating conflict that has killed 5,000 people so far. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande rushed to Moscow from the Munich security conference called by the western alliance to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to revive the ceasefire agreed in September in Minsk, Belarus, which unravelled quickly. The two prominent EU leaders hoped this would pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. However, these hopes could not be fulfilled and they returned to Munich, leaving behind staff to continue the discussions in Moscow. Analysts say there seems little incentive for Putin to bite at the peace bait when ethnic Russian forces in eastern Ukraine are making military gains. The west accuses Russia of supporting eastern Ukrainian ‘separatists’ who rebelled against a government imposed by a western-backed coup and which contained within its ranks criminal and fascist elements at whose hands the ethnic Russians fear they will be slaughtered. Russia annexed Crimea after the crisis broke, albeit after a referendum in the peninsula that endorsed its historical traditional Russian character. The crisis has evoked crippling economic sanctions against Russia and now the US is contemplating arming the Kiev government to turn the tide against the eastern Ukrainian forces’ victories on the battlefield. On this last proposal, the US and the EU seem diametrically opposed, Chancellor Merkel having openly questioned at the Munich security conference whether arming Kiev would necessarily bring about a solution or further feed the bloodshed. The differences in approach between Europe and the US reflect the differing interests and considerations of these two poles of the western alliance. The US is distant from central Europe and Russia. The EU countries are in close geographic proximity to Russia, dependent on Russian gas for their energy needs, and sceptical of being dragged along behind Washington’s gung ho campaign for regime change in all countries that do not toe the US’s line, including ambitions to bring down Putin who has resisted the expansion of NATO (in violation of past western assurances) and the EU on Russia’s periphery and vowed to protect ethnic Russians in the ‘near abroad’. While the latest round of diplomacy in Moscow may not have yielded immediate results, the EU leading countries’ decision to keep talking appears wise. Europe cannot be subjected to an expanding and deepening conflict merely to serve the US’s geo-strategic ambitions. Since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the west, and the US in particular, have embarked upon a revengeful series of military interventions to overthrow regimes they disliked in Iraq, Libya, and the abortive bid in Syria. This ‘triumphalist’ march of folly has not been confined to the Middle East. Georgia arguably was the first western-backed effort to nibble away at the former states of the Soviet Union on Russia’s periphery that became independent when the USSR imploded. That ended in a Russian counter-intervention that has left Georgia divided between the areas inhabited by ethnic Russians and the rest. Ukraine arguably was a similar gambit when Yanukovich did not yield to western blandishments, preferring his country’s best interests over the bait of being pulled into the western orbit. For that ‘sin’ he was overthrown by force and his successors made little effort to conceal their murderous hatred of all things Russian, including their ethnic Russian countrymen in the east of the country. If the west thought Putin would roll over and expect their thuggery in Kiev to go unchallenged, they have seriously underestimated the new Russia that rose out of the ashes of the Soviet Union under him. The former superpower (much reduced in territorial size and power) has sought and achieved to a considerable extent its previous place in world affairs. This is a positive development given the US-led west’s penchant for throwing its weight around and attempting to bend global affairs to its exclusive advantage and domination. The west has signally failed in its post-Cold War hubris to recognise that the debris of the collapsed Soviet Union left considerable Russian populations in all the former states of that country that gained independence after it was no more. No self-respecting leader or government in Moscow could turn a blind eye to these communities’ safety, security and continued existence in those countries. Moscow has been sending this message to the west consistently that it will not allow the ethnic cleansing of Russians in its ‘near abroad’. If the west has failed to read that message and blundered into an increasingly difficult quagmire in Ukraine, it has no one to blame but its own blinkered vision.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 7, 2015

IMF’s ‘generosity’ Meetings in Dubai between the IMF team led by Jeffrey Franks and the Pakistani one headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar seem to have found a remarkable convergence of views on the state of Pakistan’s economy. What amounts to a virtual clean chit has been handed to Pakistan on a silver platter, a development that will probably lead, after the review process by the IMF executive board is completed, to the release of the sixth tranche of SDR 360 million ($ 518 million) of the three-year Extended Fund Facility of $ 6.64 billion. The IMF’s stated view is that the Pakistan economy shows that activity and the external position continue to improve, driven by prudent monetary and fiscal policies, lower oil prices and robust remittances. The financial sector indicators are sound, real economic growth in FY 2014-15 is still expected to pan out at 4.3 percent and headline inflation is low. The external account deficit is expected to narrow to 1.2 percent of GDP despite a decline in exports driven by lower cotton prices and real exchange rate appreciation. These developments, strong capital inflows and the recent Sukkuk placement have allowed the further strengthening of foreign exchange reserves at end-December 2014 to $ 10.5 billion ($ 15 billion if the reserves held by private banks are included). The IMF rounds off its ‘generous’ assessment by stating that the reform programme is on track and all criteria have been met. In other words, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds as far as the Pakistan economy is concerned. However, the recent problem highlighted by none other than Ishaq Dar about the need to increase the fiscal deficit target to 5.3 percent from the previously agreed 4.9 percent on account of increased expenditures on the National Action Plan and the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (about Rs 100 billion) found no reflection in the IMF’s prognosis except for Franks asserting that the fiscal deficit target remains what it was despite the reduced tax collection target of Rs 2,691 billion from the previous Rs 2,810 billion (a Rs 119 billion reduction) and that the concerns of the Pakistan government in this regard were still under discussion. The optimistic view is that a combination of revenue measures and expenditure ‘adjustments’ would serve the purpose. Naturally, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has every reason to be pleased with the findings of the IMF review mission. Nevertheless, one may be forgiven for raising a few quibbles. The reforms programme envisaged an incremental expansion of the direct tax base and therefore, impliedly, lesser reliance on regressive indirect taxation. Had progress in this direction been robust, perhaps the finance minister would not have had to raise GST on POL from 17 to 22 and then 27 percent to make up for the reduced revenue from lower POL prices. Investment in the real economy is hardly inspiring, capital flows revolving mostly around the stock exchange and other speculative activity. In a bid to maintain foreign exchange reserves at the IMF-desired levels, some critics accuse the finance ministry of starving the energy sector of funds, a restraint that arguably led to the recent petrol shortage and contributes heavily to the energy crisis as a whole because of circular debt (state institutions are regarded as the main culprits in non-payment of utility bills, which feed the growth of circular debt). Headline inflation may be low according to official statistics, but the lived experience every day of ordinary citizens contradicts the rosy picture. On the contrary, even lower oil prices have failed to translate into reduced costs of everyday use items, food and other essentials maintaining core inflation at a crippling rate. The IMF and the finance ministry may be cosily in bed with each other and patting each other on the back, but the people of Pakistan may respectfully be allowed to dissent from the ‘best of all worlds’ picture painted. An ideologically driven neo-liberal agenda informs the IMF and our economic managers’ worldview, not a critical and realistic view of the problems of the economy and the woes of ordinary citizens. Shibboleths of this neo-liberal paradigm such as privatisation (‘getting government out of business’) in practice over the years since Pakistan embraced this claimed panacea are mixed at best. Countries like Pakistan need to revisit the received wisdom and utilize their own wisdom to see what is in our best interests without dictation or the vise-like grip of IMF programmes that have proved failures all over the world.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 6, 2015

Kashmir factor Kashmir Day has become established every February 5 to demonstrate our solidarity with and support for the long struggle of the people of Kashmir for the exercise of their right of self-determination. In Pakistan we tend to interpret that right according to the provisions of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions of almost 67 years ago that accorded that right through a plebiscite but confined the choices available to the people of Kashmir to join either Pakistan or India. Since these resolutions were framed within the context of the conflict that broke out in Kashmir soon after independence and were rooted in the climate of partition, the third principle of self-determination, i.e. the choice to opt for independence, was never on the table. While the (circumscribed) right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir remains the fulcrum on which Pakistan argues its case, this too is not a consistent position in the almost seven decades of war and diplomacy that Pakistan and India have gone through on this vexed issue. Whenever it appeared in the past in this long saga that India was prepared to at least talk about a peaceful political solution, Pakistan too showed flexibility. However, when India assumes an intransigent attitude as the status quo power in Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK), Pakistan too reverts to its ‘principled’ position of relying on the UNSC resolutions to press its case. While this happened in a milder version during the last Indian government’s tenure, it has come back to haunt us with a vengeance this Kashmir Day since the new Modi government in New Delhi has taken what can only be described as an extraordinarily belligerent attitude and followed it up with raising the ante on the Line of Control (LoC) by aggressive military steps. It should then come as no surprise that this Kashmir Day we hear the prime minister, Senate and National Assembly issuing the same formulations regarding the UNSC resolutions as the ‘only’ solution to the Kashmir imbroglio. The Day has fallen over time into a ritualistic series of seminars, rallies and other manifestations such as a human chain, etc, to express our sentiments. These manifestations include the ritual appeals to the UN and the international community to intervene and have the resolutions implemented. The only problem with this ‘principled’ reiteration of our deepest hopes and desires is that no one out there is listening any more. The world as a whole has tired of hearing our repeated pleas for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute, not the least because over time, other, more urgent problems have overtaken all this, but also because unfortunately Pakistan does not pull the same weight as India any more, our protestations and ambitions in this regard notwithstanding. While we remain strong on rhetoric but with an empty closet on practicable solutions to the conflict in today’s world, India has decided as long ago as when the 1989 armed struggle against Indian occupation began, to adopt a three-pronged approach: extreme repression, ignoring the oppressed and alienated people of Kashmir, and the repeated farce of elections under the shadow of the gun, participated in by parties and individuals considered little more than collaborators of New Delhi in Kashmir. To this long standing mix, India has now added under Modi the doctrine of raising the threshold of pain on the LoC to discourage any idea of infiltration of fighters into IHK to continue their increasingly difficult struggle. New Delhi has made little if any effort to alter this policy dynamic over the years, for example by engaging the genuine leaders of the alienated people of Kashmir. Modi’s government is now taking things one step further by importing the BJP’s Hindutva philosophy into the coalition government it is becoming part of in Srinagar. That could raise the level of internal conflict in IHK up another notch. Since our leadership has now come out (in retaliation to Mr Modi’s hardline stance, as argued above) with the ‘no Kashmir in agenda, no talks’ mantra again, the prospects of a rational, negotiated solution to the Kashmir conflict have receded over the horizon even further. The people of Pakistan and India, the region and the world have every reason to be apprehensive of this development, given the nuclear-armed status of both countries. This nuclear weaponisation is currently conflating from ballistic missiles and aerial platforms to deliver nuclear weapons, to tactical battlefield ones, which clearly lowers the barrier to their potential use as the result even of a conventional armed conflict. In the obtaining circumstances, and amid Islamabad’s hopes that US nudging may bring India back to the table, perhaps the only realistic option is that if both countries cannot achieve normalisation and peace, at least they should learn to manage their mutual mistrust to avoid war.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 3, 2015

Regional dynamic US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India has set off a flurry of diplomatic activity in the region soon after his departure. Indian Foreign Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj was due to meet the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers in Beijing on Monday. New Delhi’s purpose in this trip as a follow up of Obama’s visit and the agreements signed between India and the US is to reassure its friend Russia regarding these agreements, particularly defence deals (Russia has been the traditional supplier of defence equipment to India), and Obama’s criticism in India of Russia’s role in Ukraine, on which Russia maintained a studious silence. Simultaneously, India is seeking the support of China for its bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. On the other hand, China’s terse response to the pact between India and the US regarding keeping open the air and sea passages in the South China Sea indicates that Beijing does not appreciate this intervention in the dispute it is having with South East and East Asian countries regarding sovereignty over some contested islands. Ms Swaraj, who was to have both bilateral as well trilateral discussions with her Russian and Chinese counterparts, says her country seeks resolution of the vexed boundary question with China. She suggests a six-point template to build Sino-Indian ties to march towards what has been dubbed the ‘Asian century’. These six points, according to Ms Swaraj, comprise the two countries following an action-oriented approach, broad-based bilateral engagement, convergence of common, regional and global interests, developing new areas of cooperation, expanding strategic communication and fulfilling common aspirations. The Indian foreign minister’s visit to China is considered the preparatory work to lay the foundations for a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2015. What the visit and its stated purposes amount to is in essence an effort to reassure friend Russia and friend/rival China regarding the burgeoning US-India strategic partnership as not pointed against any third country. How far Ms Swaraj will succeed remains to be seen, but both Moscow and Beijing harbour reservations regarding the development and may adopt a wait and see attitude on what transpires next before committing to any of New Delhi’s requests. There is little doubt that what we are witnessing is the beginnings of the realisation of Washington’s desire to see India emerge on the world stage as a great power, with the US not so hidden agenda interred in this to build India as a counterweight to China. However, the regional dynamic cannot be reduced to such simplicities. India seeks cooperation in the security and economic fields from and with China. Nor does New Delhi wish to alienate its old friend Russia by too close a flirtation with Washington. Despite the ringing declaration by the Obama administration of a ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific region following its retreat from West Asia, there is little doubt that the 21st century will be, if not an ‘Asian century’, at least a time when Asia’s fate will be decided by the countries in this region rather than by a far away ‘godfather’. India may seek strategic and economic ties with the US, but not at the expense of its friends Russia and China. The latter too would not want to abandon India’s friendship and thereby throw it irreversibly into Washington’s lap. A quadrilateral, nuanced diplomatic minuet therefore amongst Washington, New Delhi, Beijing and Moscow is the most likely scenario for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, in the midst of this rapidly changing regional scenario, Pakistan’s foreign policy seems entrenched, if not paralysed, in its desire, on the one hand, for parity with India in Washington’s eyes, and on the other in its fond hope that the US will nudge India towards a resolution of the Kashmir bleeding wound. Islamabad may be contemplating expanding security ties to Beijing and Moscow as a counter to the so-called Indo-US axis, but it should be aware that in today’s world, no country, and certainly not a world power, would put all its eggs in one (precarious) basket at the expense of its interests and potentialities in its relations with other countries in the region. In other words neither the US, Russia or China are willing to play the Pakistan-India zero-sum game. They will maintain and develop relations with Pakistan as far as their interests dictate, but will probably more strongly maintain and develop relations with India with an eye to its future potential. Pakistan then remains yesterday’s friend, India tomorrow’s. Unless Islamabad wakes up to the new regional dynamic playing out before our eyes, it may find itself left behind in the new regional relationships architecture.