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Saturday June 22, 2024

The future of Eurasian geopolitics

By Javid Husain
November 19, 2022

Powerful forces are inexorably redrawing the Eurasian geopolitical map. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the latest, but not the only one, of the momentous developments which will have far-reaching repercussions on the future of Eurasian geopolitics.

China’s dramatic rise, growing Sino-Russian strategic partnership, the US policy of containment of China, India’s emergence as a potential great power in the foreseeable future, China’s growing economic and political penetration of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf region, and the continued turmoil in the Middle East are other developments which will radically transform the Eurasian geopolitical scene. Pakistan cannot remain immune from the repercussions of these powerful forces. Therefore, its policymakers, while setting the domestic house in order, must also pay heed to the implications of these forces for Pakistan’s security and economic well-being.

The growing US-China rivalry would be the most important strategic development and the defining feature of the 21st century both at the Eurasian and global levels. As China rises in economic and military power, it will pose a serious challenge to the international order which was established primarily by the US-led West in the aftermath of World War II to safeguard Western fundamental interests behind the veneer of multilateral institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, and the IMF. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Western powers play a predominant role in these institutions and no major decision relating to international peace and security or world economic order can be taken without their concurrence or approval. As China’s GDP catches up with that of the US in nominal terms before the end of the current decade and its military expenditure exceeds America’s in due course, it will seek to modify the rules of the present international order for the accommodation of its interests.

Therefore, the world is likely to witness in the coming decades – especially in the second half of the 21st century when China is projected to become the most powerful economic and military power in the world – a tussle for global supremacy between China and the US. This will lead to increasing international tensions, localized conflicts, re-alignment of alliances as countries seek the support of one or the other in their quest for security, growing sway of realpolitik, diminished authority of the UN in dealing with major security issues, and generally a world in disorder. While the Sino-American rivalry will be waged globally, the Eurasia and Pacific regions will be its main arenas.

Against this background, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has achieved mixed results from Russia’s point of view, assumes special significance. On the one hand, it has strengthened Nato as evidenced by the accelerated process of admission of Sweden and Finland into the Alliance and enhanced US strategic cooperation with Europe because of the Europeans countries’ heightened perception of threat emanating from Russia. On the other, increased tensions between the West and Russia have brought Moscow and Beijing strategically closer to each other as reaffirmed by presidents Putin and Xi Jinping on several occasions, the latest being the SCO summit in Samarkand in September this year. The growing Sino-Russian strategic cooperation may also have the effect of blocking or at least reducing US strategic influence in Central Asian Republics.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Russian armed forces because of the reverses suffered by them at the hands of Ukrainian forces supported logistically by the West. The mixed results achieved by the Russian invasion in Ukraine have also brought out the limitations of military power alone in achieving strategic objectives. What is required instead is a grand strategy encompassing political, economic, military and diplomatic dimensions of national power for the realization of national goals.

From Pakistan’s point of view, the US policy of containment of China will be most consequential. Despite the cooling down of cold-war rhetoric at the recent meeting of President Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali, it is highly unlikely that the US will reverse this policy in the foreseeable future. In fact, in pursuance of this policy, the US is strengthening its strategic partnerships with Japan, South Korea, India and Australia, building up a string of alliances around China such as Quad and AUKUS, enhancing its pressure on China through such issues as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and employing economic sanctions on a selective basis to slow down China’s economic and technological progress. America’s rapidly growing muti-dimensional strategic cooperation with India particularly poses a serious threat to Pakistan’s security by upsetting the strategic balance in South Asia in India’s favour, leaving Pakistan with no choice but to seek closer strategic cooperation with China to counter this trend.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), first announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013 during a visit to Kazakhstan, primarily aims at developing China’s economic and commercial links with Eurasian countries, the Middle East, and Africa while bypassing the Malacca strait off the coast of Singapore which is a US ally. The BRI involves China’s investment on a huge scale to develop trade routes and undertake economic projects in participating countries thus promoting economic and commercial linkages with them.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, formally launched in April 2015 during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan with envisaged investment amounting to $62 billion, is one of the most important components of the BRI. According to the latest information, projects worth $25 billion have already been completed or launched since 2015 under the aegis of CPEC, thus providing much needed investment for accelerating Pakistan’s economic growth.

The emerging strategic realities in Eurasia pose serious challenges for Pakistan’s policymakers. Perhaps the most important of them is the establishment of the right balance between the strengthening of our vital strategic, security and economic links with China and the maintenance of friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation with the US and with European countries.

Second, we need to adopt a prudent long-term policy to overcome the growing threat to Pakistan’s security posed by a Hindutva-driven India. Pakistan will have to rely essentially on its own national power encompassing political stability, economic and technological strength, military might and proactive diplomacy in dealing with these issues while carefully choosing its allies in the turbulent times ahead.

The writer is a retired ambassador. He can be reached at: javid.husain@gmail.com