The Great Asian Game of 21st centuary Unfolds

As Trump takes office of the 45th President of USA, a Great Asian game of 21st century unfolds. Traditional Asian foes are becoming friends and vice versa. The confusion in Asia shows the contours of the Great game. From the whispers and unimportant statements arises a new order, the shapes of which are visible in the shadows. I discuss below the past, present political landscape of Asia and the coming Great Asian game to change the world order. Will India get stuck again in a Non-Aligned mentality trying to maintain cordial relations with the two blocks. What are its choices and will it make the right choice?

Existing Alliances and Political Landscape in Asia during the Cold War.

During the Cold War Mainland Asia was divided into the following alliances:

USSR – India: India was USSR’s closest ally during cold war. USSR- India successfully defeated the US, west backed Pakistan dividing it into two parts.
China – US: Even though communist, China became hostile to USSR and became close to US with help of Pakistan as conduit.
Shia Iran, Syria vs Sunni Iraq, Saudi Arabia – The Shia ‘s allied with USSR and Sunnis allied with USA, Israel

Non Aligned, smaller countries became the areas of conflict of these alliances. Afghanistan, Vietnam are a few examples.

Political Landscape of Asia, Post-Cold War

Afghanistan invasion bankrupted USSR resulting in west winning the Cold War. USSR disintegrated, giving the world dominance to US and US became the sole superpower. China with help of US continued the economic miracle and became an Economic superpower. Reluctant India too edged closer to USA, while maintaining its ties with Russia. The slow but steady movement of India has currently made India a quasi-ally of US. US invaded Iraq, Libya Afghanistan post-cold war and tried its hand at Syria- the last relic of the old system. The US power in Asia reached its zenith in the first term of Obama. US dominance made it intervene in everything in Asia from South china sea to Syria.

US game plan in Asia was a clear success, which sought to benefit out of traditional political bitterness of rivals like India – Pakistan, Shia – Sunni, China – Russia.

US and west became the global rulers and could decide sanctions, military action, intervention wherever they wanted.

Rise of Vladimir Putin

Out of the confusion in Moscow and frequent changes in political leadership, arose Vladimir Putin. An ex KGB operative, having deep seated suspicion of US, he despised US and downfall of the Soviet influence in the world. US in it Hubris pushed him to the limits extending NATO to countries at the doorstep of Russia.
Putin took the Political Gamble of Crimea and succeeded, handing US its first failure post-cold war. Post which Putin entered Syria in the name of ISIS and handed US another embarrassment. Emboldened Putin now plots the New Game to change the World Order.

Other happenings

China found US at the opposite end when it tried to bully its smaller neighbours in South China Sea. India found an opportunity to meddle in the dispute revenging China’s games with India. This has brought traditional Rivals India and US close to each other. Pakistan found itself isolated in Afghanistan for its support of Taliban. A hurt Pakistan moved further towards china to seek security. China helps Pakistan come closer to Russia.

The Game Starts

Russia and China have come together on world issues to force US to the negotiating table. China has used its influence with Pakistan to start the CPEC project. Russia announced military exercise with Pakistan much to the amazement of India. Grapevine is ripe with talks of Russia joining Pakistan, china in CPEC. India perceives Russia’s outreach to Pakistan as a reaction to India’s cosiness to US. India announces a spate of military deals with Russia to placate it. Post the 10bn$ purchase of Russian arms by India & much to surprise of India, Russia announced its support to Taliban in Afghanistan, very well knowing that it stands opposite to India interest with Pakistan. Russia – China – Pakistan meet to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

A Russia – China – Pak axis is on the unveil. Anxious India feels it Influence waning away in Afghanistan and Pakistan being supported by two powerful Nations of Asia.

The Great Game

Indian confusion still grows with China and Pakistan overtures to it to join CPEC and China offering friendship treaty with carrot of solving the boundary Disputes. Pakistan and India are natural enemies and any Pakistan proposition has to be viewed with suspicion from India. China has opposed India at every forum and therefore India suspects a trap.

However what India needs to understand is that, India the final piece of puzzle in this great game. The great game is to have a Russian – China – Pak – India alliance to throw US out of Mainland Asia. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are the architects of this game. The Gateway to Mainland Asia has always been through Pakistan. US has maintained its influence in the Asian Heartland through Pakistan. Pakistan fought USSR during the cold war with US, which made US the predominant power. Russia/ China have seen an opportunity to take that influence away. Pakistan embarrassed by US , Afghanistan worries being marginalised. Its desire to have influence greater than its stature has motivated it to flirt with Russia. With Pakistan in bag, India is the only power left to bring this alliance to reality. The architects of great game want India on their Side. Russia has the influence on India but it realises that it China who can get India into the Alliance because of it nuisance value. China has started dangling the carrot of peace with India, promising resolution of border issues and promise of restraining Pakistan.
India is confused but, it will realise that it is the piece which completes the great game. While there are always fears that Pakistan may re-join US, but the strangle hold of China seems to have on Pakistan is tighter this time. While it may seem impossible for Pak and India to be on the same side, however the architects of the great game want it for them to throw US out of the region.

India needs to understand it options and take a clear decision. It has the opportunity to play the Let’s analyse the options

Russia – India – China – Pak axis

If India joins the axis the Great game is complete. US will be left high and dry. The benefits for India are clear. India might be free from PAK and Chinese terrorism, since all are on the same side. Israel and Egypt were sworn enemies at one point as both were in opposing camps, but as soon as Egypt joined US camp, problems were resolved with Israel. Similar benefits can accrue to India.
However, partnering with them would mean you are partnering with politically/ economically backward countries which will have a negative effect on the growth of Indian economy. India will start facing technology denial and sanction regimes and India’s effort to becoming a developed nation will be stunted. Also there is always a risk of military coup in Pakistan and Pakistan breaking the alliance

NAM approach

Another option is to bury its head in the sand and ignore what is going on. Doing this will frustrate both the blocks. NAM countries previously became the hotbeds for contest. So at one end India will continue to face Chinese and Pak terrorism, on the other hand both Russia and US will be frustrated, Russia might continue its transactional relations with India, but US is likely to leave India and court Pakistan back to undo its mistake, to stop the game.

India – US axis

Siding with US will have benefits, in terms of acceptance of the west. Economic growth. Also India will become a major bulwark against China, Elevating its world status. However, it is likely to face scourge of China, Russia and Pakistan. Terrorism will Increase, Pakistan will get critical technology from US. Also Indian weapons of Russian origin could face spare issues

Make the Hard Choices & Play the Game

All three approaches are suboptimal compared to the position India currently is in, where both US & Russia are supporting it. What is in India’s Interest: Pakistan stops terrorism, Pakistan does not further develop weapons and is marginalised, China does no Rise as a Superpower and Russia continues to Support India, India gets US patronage to rise. Which is status Quo. All this cannot be achieved by joining the Great game, a new game has to be thought to keep Status Quo.

Indian Strategy

India has to realise that Pak / Russian alliance over Afghanistan is not possible since unlike US, Russia has direct border with Afghanistan. Russia does not need Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan. Besides this Pakistan will always suspect Russia. Besides Afghanistan what can Pakistan give to Russia, nothing! Therefore, India need not fear a Pak – Russia – China Axis.

What India should fear is a re-emergence of a Pak – US axis once Russia becomes active in Afghanistan. Therefore, India should hasten all attempts to build the Chabahar Port, outflanking Pakistan. Once outflanked India should use its Influence with Iran to get US access. While US – Iran bonhomie may look difficult but it’s not out of question. Another thing which India can give to US is Indian Soldiers to protect Afghanistan. India has a huge army and US will find this as the biggest asset, since they can’t commit those numbers. If India sends its boots on the Afghan ground it surely replaces Pakistan as the US partner. Also with Indian Army in Afghanistan, Pakistan will be shaken. It may result in a tussle with Pakistan supported Taliban, but that would be the beginning of Taliban end. Pakistan will be cut to size. China will have no role to play in Afghanistan if India manages to outflank CPEC.

Once Pak is out Russia will realise that the great game is not possible and revert to its friendly relations with India as it benefits economically from it. India will rise as it is currently with patronage of both Russia and US. China will be the odd one out, which would suit India.

India needs to see this game quick and remain clear on its objectives. It gives it an opportunity to outflank its eternal rival china. Not playing the game will give rise to Superpower China and a more belligerent Pakistan .

 

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This article has been written by tanuj lodha exclusively for www.Defenceupdate.in

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