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.

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