Two things have changed the regional dynamics in Asia post-September 11, 2001. Firstly, the threat of terrorism and the tools required to prevent it have got US attention diverted to the Middle East. Secondly, regional connectivity has become the new currency of the world order, re-shaping the global geo-strategic environment.
Apropos, the prospects for India & Pakistan have also changed with various opportunities to change foreign policy paradigms. While Pakistan is topping charts of FATF, has been declared a terrorist haven by the U.S -its crucial ally in Afghanistan, and is struggling with own state-sponsored terrorism and civil-military divide internally, India seems to have been successfully capitalizing with improved bilateral ties and is emerging as a regional player.
However, this has not gone unchecked.
Taking advantage of the relations between Pakistan and India which have remained strained ever since their inception, China visualized a proxy role of Pakistan. It has been vigorously backing Pakistan against India by emboldening its military and economy. In fact, given its internal instability, fissiparous tendencies, and doddering economy, it would not be possible for Pakistan to wage its proxy war against India in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country, but for China’s support.
Both these nuclear countries of South Asia have found sufficient carte blanche to rival each other in different spheres of geopolitics. Being the immediate neighbor and an age-old rival of Pakistan, India is not aloof of the growing China-Pakistan friendship, the changing dynamics of geopolitics and its repercussions in the region. Nonetheless, India’s strategy to counter their growing influence is creating ripples.
At a time when relations between Pakistan and U.S. have gone downhill with U.S. emphasizing on “act” with regards terrorist sanctuaries nurtured in Pakistan, serious cuts in military and security aids are announced, India has put its best foot forward. It is seen that with the rapid rise of India at the global stage, U.S. now considers India as a strategic power in South Asian and Indo-Pacific region (primarily to counter its competitive challenger China). India is given a major position in U.S. “Pivot to Asia” strategy. U.S. wants to strengthen its alliance with India by deepening economic, military, political and institutional ties 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. The 72 days stand-off between India and China in 2017 at Doklam plateau on the tri-junction of India, China, and Bhutan, India asserted itself as a tough military competitor which ascertains India’s rise as a major regional power.
India has focused extensively on its relationship with different players on the world stage by deploying seasoned diplomats and continuous engagements with them for the benefit of its own policies. The “neighborhood first” policy is the striking feature of this government’s foreign policy.
“Look East Policy” re-christened as the “Act East Policy”
At present, India’s relations with neighboring countries receive the topmost priority. The term “Indo-Pacific” gaining increasing currency worldwide in both scholarly and official circles, is becoming a cause of worry for many. The rise of India has given many ASEAN states a compelling option with things looking up for India-ASEAN ties. Growing ties with ASEAN, SAARC, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) leaders and formation of QUAD showcases the new genre in Indian diplomacy to counter Pak-China.
Other projects-prospects for India, causing uneasiness to Pakistan
Pakistan’s decade-old narrative of using Afghanis as a source of strategic depth is badly haunting Islamabad. On the other hand, India, with a commitment of $2 billion, is already the sixth largest donor & the biggest donor among regional countries to Afghanistan. It has been involved in diverse development projects in infrastructure, education, and agriculture. It is seen that President Ghani is extremely eager to reduce landlocked Afghanistan’s reliance on Pakistan for trade.
As a riposte to CPEC, India has signed a trilateral agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to develop a transport corridor from Chabahar through Afghanistan. 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 last year. By reaching through Afghanistan into Central Asia’s road and railway network, India will be in a position to shape events as a counterweight to the influence of Pakistan and China.
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.
International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC)
India, Iran and Russia signed the 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..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.
Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)
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.
MEIDP (Middle East to India Deepwater Pipeline)
MEIDP (Middle East to India Deepwater Pipeline) is a 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 to import gas from Iran and Oman into India. The MEIDP project would start from Chabahar on the southern coast of Iran and from Ras Al-Jafan on the northeastern coast of Oman. These two branches of the Middle-East to India Deepwater Pipeline should merge in the subsea deepwater of the Oman Gulf before crossing the Arabia Sea up to Porbandar in the State of South Gujarat in India.
India is an indispensable player on the geopolitical arena and it should continue engaging in diplomatic connections with its neighboring states, Central Asian countries, and Russia. Russia is reemerging as a major regional player, therefore, energized efforts should be made to further enhance military as well as economic ties with it. Diplomatic maneuvering is required to engage the resource-rich Central Asian countries for more economic and infrastructural projects. Forums like SAARC and SCO should be used methodically to build strong economic and security relations with member countries.
13 Aug 18/Monday. Written by Afsana