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South Asia must heed the lessons from history!

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Salman Bashir |

President Donald Trump’s ‘Regional Strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia’ is a theoretical construct centred on Afghanistan, but in the light of recent US official comments, seems integral to the ‘pivot’ theme of the Obama years, which was designed to shore up US primacy in the broader Asian region in the face of the perceived challenge posed by the rise of China.

Interpreting the real US intent via-a-vis Afghanistan and the role of India and China has triggered a spate of speculation. Prima facie, the US strategy for Afghanistan is more of the same, fight and talk. This finds ready adherents in Kabul. Continued pouring of funds into Afghanistan and ‘indefinite’ stay provide hope to those who profit from the US presence.

South Asia must heed the lessons of history, take cognizance of today’s realities and work together for the economic rejuvenation of a billion-plus poor in this region. Cooperation and not confrontation is the way forward.

For the immediate neighbors, the readiness of the US to continue to shoulder the burden of Afghanistan is not disquieting. For Islamabad, settling Afghanistan is a priority. The US involvement is critical to underwriting any eventual durable settlement. Pakistan’s interests broadly converge with those of the US in Afghanistan. Neutralising violence and terrorism, reviving national unity and creating peace and stability in Afghanistan are critical for Pakistan’s own security and prosperity.

Read more: The US-Sino Great Game: Washington embraces Indian position on CPEC

Secretary Tillerson has recently spoken of a ‘conditions’-based approach. Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US need to do more to reach a common understanding of the conditions and requirements. The revival of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) process is a positive development. The interests of the Afghan people must be kept foremost in any joint endeavor.

To place Afghanistan and South Asia in the larger context of the ‘pivot’ could be akin to working a minefield. The pivot is a geo-strategic ‘hundred-years’ theme. Mixing it with the specifics of Afghanistan and the explosive India-Pakistan situation would be a serious mistake. It is not in anyone’s interest to have the Pakistan-India rivalry superimposed on the dynamics of the situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan should not remain ‘forever’ a victim of great games, regional or global.

It continues to gain international traction and is getting more visible every passing day. The increase in the frequency of freight train service points between China and Europe is just one example.

India has long sought to leverage the US against Pakistan. Acting the proxy has its costs in terms of loss of prestige, autonomy and more. The US tilt towards India started in the early nineties. The nuclear deal and now the defense alignment are beads in the same string. India’s willingness to serve the US in the 100 years scenario, is its sovereign choice.

To win India’s allegiance, Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson have taken potshots against the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The chorus of ‘rule-based order, universal values, free trade and freedom of navigation’ sounds hollow in the face of current trends in the US and the West. BRI is an entirely voluntary economic partnership initiative.

Read more: The Blueprint For The 100-Year-Long US-Indian Strategic…

It continues to gain international traction and is getting more visible every passing day. The increase in the frequency of freight train service points between China and Europe is just one example. To dismiss BRI as “predatory economics” is beyond comprehension. No one is being coaxed and there is no alternative equitable economic partnership scenario on offer. Geo-economics works and President Trump should have no difficulty understanding the importance and worth of this Chinese initiative for the US corporate sector.

The US tilt towards India started in the early nineties. The nuclear deal and now the defense alignment are beads in the same string. India’s willingness to serve the US in the 100 years scenario, is its sovereign choice.

The US-China strategic trajectory is expected to witness positive developments; the overlap of interests and inter-dependence warrants such a course. China-US relations are marked by intense communication, consultations, and cooperation. President Trump’s forthcoming visit to China will be important. A stable and cooperative G-2 partnership holds great promise for the future of the world.

Read more: Why Delhi needs to be cautious in ties with Washington?

South Asia must heed the lessons of history, take cognizance of today’s realities and work together for the economic rejuvenation of a billion-plus poor in this region. Cooperation and not confrontation is the way forward.

Salman Bashir was one of Pakistan’s ace diplomats. In a career spanning over three decades, Mr. Bashir reached the top position of Foreign Secretary. Among other appointments, he had been Ambassador to China and High Commissioner to India. The article originally published in India Today and reproduced with authors’ permission. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy. 


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