National and International Issues

India’s Ambitious Geopolitical Regional Agenda

Relations between Pakistan and India have remained strained ever since their inception. Both these nuclear states of South Asia have found sufficient carte blanche to rival each other in different spheres of geopolitics. The succeeding events of 9/11 have shaped the geo-strategic environment of the world which is swiftly changing from uni-polar to multi-polar dimension with its epicenter shifting towards east. Consequently, this shift in power augments the concept of the ‘Asian century’, hinging mainly on states like Russia, China and India. In this regard, pronounced as the largest democracy and rapidly developing country, India has a pressing urge to act powerful. It desires to advance its interaction with the world as a major power in the wake of declining uni-polarity. On the other hand, it seeks to boost its power projection in considerable sectors of the global economic and military indicators. Moreover, U.S. has also visualized a proxy role of India in the South Asian and Indo-Pacific region thereby promoting its face value on the international stage. Being the immediate neighbor and an age old rival of India, Pakistan can’t remain aloof from these changing dynamics of geopolitics and its repercussions in the region. Nonetheless, there is dire need to study the rise of India and its geopolitical designs in order to devise a holistic strategy to counter its influence and mitigate its negative implications for Pakistan. 


U.S.-Indian Growing Friendship
With the rapid rise of India at the global stage, U.S. considers India as strategic power in South Asian and Indo-Pacific region to counter China which it considers as a competitive challenger. During the 72 days stand-off between India and China in 2017 at Doklam plateau on the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, India tried to assert itself as tough military competitor not succumbing to the PLA. This standoff boosted up the image of India as major regional power. With the emergence of China as an economic giant, U.S. thought of balancing it through a regional player. In this regard, India was given a major position in U.S. “Pivot to Asia” strategy. Hence, U.S. is strengthening its alliance with India by deepening economic, military, political and institutional ties. In doing this, U.S. wants to strengthen its partnership with India as part of a broader effort to counter China's growing influence in the region and around the world. India, too, is interested in challenging China by asserting itself in Southeast Asia's political, economic and security domains as it pursues its "Act East" policy. Their mutual wariness toward China has brought the United States and India into close cooperation in security and defence. In addition, New Delhi figures prominently in the U.S. administration's strategies both in Afghanistan and in the Indo-Pacific region, which the Pentagon highlighted in its recent National Defense Strategy. U.S. is paving the way for India in various forums like Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which would benefit India’s economy in developing rapidly. The U.S. also supports New Delhi's bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a multilateral organization committed to non-proliferation, despite China's vehement opposition to it. In 2016, Washington named India as a Major Defense Partner, a designation that enables New Delhi to buy advanced weaponry usually reserved for U.S. allies. U.S.-based aerospace firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing, meanwhile, are exploring deals to build fighter jets in India, an arrangement that would bolster PM Narendra Modi's campaign to turn the country into a global manufacturing hub. At the same time, relations between Pakistan and U.S. are deteriorating with U.S. continuing the mantra of “do more” with regards to eradication of terrorist sanctuaries in western border areas of Pakistan, without realizing that over the last 14 years Pakistan has lost more than 80,000 people and USD 123 billion in economic losses in fighting the War on Terror (WOT).


Extensive Diplomatic Outreach
India has focused extensively on its relationship with different players on the world stage through deploying seasoned diplomats and continuous engagements with them for the benefit of its own policies. The “neighborhood first” policy is the striking feature of Modi government’s foreign policy. In his government’s strategic picture, India’s relations with neighboring countries must receive topmost priority. PM Modi has already traveled to almost all of India’s neighbors in an attempt to establish India as a dominant regional power. PM Modi is managing its foreign policy through mega events and action-driven engagements with world leaders. With the term “Indo-Pacific” gaining increasing currency worldwide in both scholarly and official circles, New Delhi’s foreign policy moves are being watched with interest across the world, especially in Asia. At the same time, countries across the world and especially in Asia are adjusting to the rise of China. The ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are no different. Many of them have huge trade volumes with China while some of them are embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing. No wonder then that they are looking at increasing their foreign policy options. The rise of India has given many ASEAN states a compelling option. Since the opening up of the Indian economy in the early 1990s and the launch of what was then called the “Look East Policy”, things have been looking up for India-ASEAN ties. After the Modi government came into power in 2014, the “Look East Policy” was re-christened as the “Act East Policy”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosting all 10 ASEAN leaders as chief guests at India’s 69th Republic Day Parade was a landmark event for India’s Act East Policy. A similar event was first seen in May 2014 when Modi invited all the SAARC leaders to his swearing-in ceremony. Modi’s hosting of the BRICS summit in October 2016 also saw an outreach summit organized with all seven leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). The last four years have been marked by Modi’s foreign visits, huge get-togethers with India’s diaspora abroad and in-home with leaders from China, Japan and Israel. All these events showcased the new genre in Indian diplomacy, which is ambitious and confident of its enhanced geopolitical role in South Asia as a major world power. Another accomplishment of Indian back-channel diplomacy is its admission as the 42nd member of Wassenaar Arrangement, a global export control regime. This development will burnish India’s non-proliferation credentials and broaden its access to sensitive technologies. India has also become member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the “Quad”) between Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. to counter influence of China in East Asia.


Relationship with Afghanistan    
India has always tried to establish good relations with Afghanistan in order to make its presence viable there in different forms so that it can pursue its nefarious ambitions against Pakistan. Afghanistan underwent a change in its political leadership when Ashraf Ghani was elected president on September 21, 2014. President Ghani came to India on his first official visit on April 2015. Modi’s first Afghan visit came in December 2015, during which he inaugurated the Afghan Parliament building that was constructed with Indian assistance. In June 2016, Modi made another trip to Afghanistan and inaugurated Salma Dam (renamed as Afghan-India Friendship Dam) in Herat, proclaiming that “Your friendship is our honor; your dreams are our duty.” India’s assistance for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan stands at $2 billion, making New Delhi the biggest donor among regional countries. President Ghani has been extremely eager to reduce landlocked Afghanistan’s reliance on Pakistan for trade. New Delhi and Kabul have decided to extend transport connectivity through Iran’s strategically located Chabahar Port which is likely to enhance trade between India, Afghanistan, and Iran. By reaching through Afghanistan into Central Asia’s road and railway network, India has the potential to shape events as a counterweight to the influence of Pakistan and China. The first phase of Chabahar Port has been recently inaugurated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This important milestone in India’s foreign policy came after the first consignment of wheat from India was sent to Afghanistan through Chabahar in October. The decision to establish an air cargo route was also taken in December 2016 when PM Modi met President Ghani ahead of the Heart of Asia Conference held in Amritsar. Besides giving a boost to bilateral trade, this air corridor is also expected to help Afghan students seeking to pursue studies and patients seeking treatment in India. Growing convergence between India and the United States on resolving the Afghan conflict, as reflected in the Trump administration’s lastest South Asia Policy, is another shot in the Modi government’s diplomatic arm.


Global Connectivity Projects
India has long been dreaming of bypassing Pakistan for further connectivity to Eurasia, which can then be capitalized upon to enhance multilateral trade, not to forget its malicious agenda against Pakistan by influencing its neighboring countries. Moreover, since the inception of CPEC in Pakistan which is the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and with the commencement of development infrastructure in the deep sea port of Gwadar, India has been feeling whirlwinds of  depravity. As a riposte to CPEC, India has signed a trilateral agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to develop a transport corridor from Chabahar through Afghanistan, which marked the culmination of over a decade of Indian hopes for an alternate land route to Central Asia. The deal depends on Indian state investment: state-owned India Ports Global Private Limited (IPGPL) is responsible for expanding the port itself to bring capacity to 12 million tons per year. Ircon International, another public-sector undertaking, will build a USD 1.6 billion railroad from Chabahar north to Zahedan on the Iran-Afghanistan border. Zahedan is a node on the Iranian rail network, which connects to Turkmenistan and eventually to Kazakhstan’s Caspian sea coast. It also provides convenient access to the start of the Indian-built Delaram-Zaranj highway, which intersects with Afghanistan’s Ring Road.


India, Iran and Russia signed the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) agreement on September 2000 to build a corridor to provide the shortest multi-model transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran and St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg, North Europe is within easy reach via the Russian Federation. The estimated capacity of the corridor is 20-30 million tonnes of goods per year. Conceived well before China’s BRI, INSTC will not only help cut down on costs and time taken for transfer of goods from India to Russia and Europe via Iran but also provide an alternative connectivity initiative to countries in the Eurasian region. It will be India’s second corridor after the Chabahar Port to access resource rich Central Asia and its market. 
In May 2017, India signed an economic cooperation agreement the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) with Japan and other governments of Africa. Unlike BRI, which entails development of both land corridor (New Silk Route) and ocean (Maritime Silk Road), AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania by rediscovering ancient sea-routes and creating new sea corridors that will link ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden and similarly, the ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar. The AAGC would consist of four main components: development and cooperation projects, quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, capacity and skill enhancement and people-to-people partnerships.


Development work has also commenced on pipeline projects including MEIDP (Middle East to India Deepwater Pipeline) which is trans-Arabian pipeline and would be one of the longest and deepest pipelines ever built, running for 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) at depths of more than two miles underwater. Projected to cost USD 4.5 billion, the new pipeline would bring 1.1 billion standard cubic feet of gas per day to India, roughly doubling the country’s gas imports and bringing much-needed energy to the country.


Conclusion
Pakistan is an indispensable player on the geopolitical arena with it being centrally located and providing a land bridge between Central Asia and South East Asia. It should capitalize on this factor and use it to its advantage by effectively engaging in diplomatic connections with its neighboring states, Central Asian countries and Russia. The Iranian foreign minister’s invitation for joining the Chabahar Port project should be taken as an opportunity and efforts be made by professional experts under government supervision for the integration of CPEC with Chabahar Port. Pakistan can even play a decisive role in Afghanistan peace process through exercising effective diplomacy with all the stakeholders involved. At the same time, enhanced measures are required for rapprochement with U.S. by effectual lobbying in the correct quarters of U.S. policymaking circles. This lobbying will invigorate our global standing regarding various geopolitical issues. At the same time, Russia is also reemerging as a major regional player. Relations with Russia have improved since the last decade, however, energized efforts should be made to further enhance military as well as economic ties with this rising global power. Pakistan is also part of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) Pipeline which will pump natural gas from the world’s second-largest gas field in Galkynysh, Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India. Diplomatic maneuvering is required to engage the resource rich Central Asian countries for more economic and infrastructural projects. Similarly, Pakistan should use forums like SAARC and SCO to build strong economic and security relations with member countries. Indian geopolitical agenda is both ambitions and aggressive. It needs to be methodically studied and checked timely to avoid being encircled by this hostile nation.


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