Geopolitics of Central Asia – The New Great Game

| Isha Tripathi

  • Pakistan is trying to cash in on the US-China rivalry to its advantage like it did in the Cold War.
  • If Pakistan and China can successfully manage the diabolical Taliban, India will be the biggest loser in the New Great Game.
  • In Afghanistan, humanity has been sacrificed at the altar of economic-political gains, a dangerous precedent has been set.
  • The Central Asian nations have grown wary of China’s debt trap, and are apprehensive of the surging Islamist extremism.
  • India is trying to adjust its foreign policy accordingly in Central Asia where there are too many conflicting elements pooling into one cauldron.
  • Instead of getting fussed with the Afghan situation, New Delhi should use it as an opportunity to coax Russia, USA, CARs and Iran to its favour.

(This is the 2nd part in the 2-part series on India in Central Asia. The first part can be read here)

Changing Dynamics

New rivalries and changing dynamics in global politics have made Central Asia a lucrative geo-strategic, resource rich region where everyone wants a stake. China is seeking supremacy in Asia to project itself as a superpower; Russia wants to protect its sphere of influence where China is trying to encroach but without allowing any foothold to America; USA and its allies as well as India are apprehensive about Chinese expansionism guided by the Middle-Kingdom approach; Iran is eager to enhance trade routes to bolster its staggering economy; and all concerned parties are holding their breaths over the consequences that will follow once Taliban consolidates its position in Afghanistan once more.

A key player in this scenario is Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to cash in on the US-China rivalry to its advantage like it did in the Cold War, and it seems like its bonhomie with extremist Islamists groups will pay rich dividends once more. The proposed PakAfUz connectivity project basically seeks to build corridors to connect Afghanistan and Uzbekistan with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion flagship project of China’s BRI. If Pakistan and China can successfully manage the diabolical Taliban, India will be the biggest loser in the New Great Game.

But here lies the catch- religious extremism always yields unpredictable results. It would be a folly to assume that the Taliban would assume control over Afghanistan and then run peaceful relations with its neighbours like a responsible government- engaged in building roads and bridges for BRI, and buying mangoes from Pakistan. Their extremism will spill over in Pakistan, Xinjiang, CARs, India, Iran. Pakistan is known as a breeding ground for terrorists it can’t always control. Uighur militants are known to find safe haven in Afghanistan. Taliban has not only provided them shelter, but also training, and arms. India is a favourite target of Islamist terrorists. Iran is proudly Shia while Taliban is staunchly Sunni which will definitely create friction. CARs have faced brutal terrorist attacks in the past, and hardliner elements in their societies will gain ground which will ultimately lead to internal unrest. On top of all this, ISIS has also taken roots here and a turf war will likely take place.

Cauldron of Conflicting Elements

Countries like China and Pakistan, by bringing this terrorist organization to the negotiating table at par with the civilian Afghan government, have lent it a certain legitimacy both within and outside Afghanistan. Humanity has been sacrificed at the altar of economic-political gains, a dangerous precedent has been set, and eventually this decision will result in horrors because as India has always and repeatedly stressed- there is no such thing as good terrorism-bad terrorism, your terrorist-my terrorist. It’s a menace that must be nipped in the bud, but instead it is being encouraged here under the delusion that they can be ‘managed’.

It is worth remembering here that the mujahideen were created by the US against Soviet Russia, but it only took one Laden to turn all those guns against America itself. Afghanistan is known as the Graveyard of empires, and if historic precedents are anything to go by, it seems the ‘Middle-Kingdom’ has already sealed its fate.

USA’s moves still remain unrevealed. It seems unlikely that it withdrew from the region without planning on another way inside. It makes no political sense that America would leave the heartland for China to take over. Afterall, it went against Soviet, and later against the Taliban with much fervour to maintain a foothold here. Saudi Arabia will also have a role to play here, given the Sunni Islamic element of the conundrum. Even Turkey has sought greater involvement in Central Asia over the recent years.

If at all India wants to become a major player, even within Asia alone, it should concentrate its efforts on implementing connectivity projects proposed by various developed countries.

All-in-all, there are too many conflicting elements pooling into one cauldron- obviously they won’t fit together. India is trying to adjust its foreign policy accordingly. For instance, there have been reports that India is finally (secretly) engaging in dialogue with the Taliban. India is the head of the Taliban Sanctions Committee at United Nations Security Council, and this June it acceded to US’ request to exempt certain Talibani leaders from travel ban.

If at all India wants to become a major player, even within Asia alone, it should concentrate its efforts on implementing connectivity projects proposed by various developed countries. Connectivity is the only thing China is selling to the world at this point, and even though most countries are aware of the hypocrisy of its narrative, they tag along. The poorer developing countries do it out of lack of funds and infrastructure, the richer countries do it for more profits that follow more trade. But they all would like to have a viable alternative.

Conclusion

What India lacks in terms of economic resources vis-à-vis China, it makes up for in terms of willing partners. The Indian establishment should weigh the pros and cons of the number of proposed projects, and lend its weight to one of them, instead of scattering its attention and resources to multiple agendas. One of the reasons that makes BRI so lucrative is that it is not just on paper. When India decisively backs a plan, other nations will most definitely rally their efforts behind it because China has rubbed most of them the wrong way, and connectivity is most sought after anyway for its own reasons.

The Central Asian nations have grown wary of China’s debt trap, and are apprehensive of the surging Islamist extremism. India can provide them much needed support against terrorism and against hegemonic expansionism.

The Central Asian nations have grown wary of China’s debt trap, and are apprehensive of the surging Islamist extremism. India can provide them much needed support against terrorism and against hegemonic expansionism. India can provide them alternative routes to wider markets. It is for these reasons that the CARs as well as Russia have welcomed India to be a part of the various multilateral mechanisms that concern the region like EAEU, SCO and others. The groundwork for greater engagement with Central Asia has been done.

Instead of getting fussed with the Afghan situation, New Delhi should use it as an opportunity to coax Russia, USA, CARs and Iran to its favour. For example, it should urge America to grant New Delhi exemptions from sanctions over trade with Iran. Even the Wuhan virus pandemic should be employed towards setting a certain narrative. The current PM of India, known for using catchphrases, had used the phrase ‘Apada mein Avasar’ (opportunity in crisis), albeit in a different context. Let’s see if the current government can make lemonade out of lemon here.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *