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Opinion

June 30, 2016

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The new proxy war

Is the death of the famous qawwal singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi last week, and what is worse, in the middle of the holy month of Ramazan, a sign of our deteriorating times?

And what does it have to do with the extraordinary foreign policy quadrangulation in evidence these past few days between India and the US, Pakistan and China, with the US pushing India’s application in the world’s most exclusive nuclear club, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and China standing up to the US to stop it, also on behalf of Pakistan?

Are both shifting paradigms a precursor of the future?

The reason the murder of the Sufi singer marks a new low in the socio-economic turmoil inside Pakistan, is because despite all the strife and militancy so far, no one thought it worthwhile the time to plot and kill a man who made it his business to sing about the equality of man, irrespective of caste, class and creed.

His killing has shaken the Sufi community inside India, and sent tremors across the hundreds of ‘khanquahs’ and ‘silsilas’ who form the unpublicised – and dare I say it, unsung – foundation of the Islamic faith, from which Hinduism has taken and given back so liberally.

So as the people of India and Pakistan mourn Amjad Sabri, another extraordinary drama has been taking place in faraway Seoul, Korea, where top diplomats from India and Pakistan are battling each other to become a member of the NSG. Interestingly, this time the battle is taking place through the world’s two most powerful nations, China and the US.

The sight of Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz grinning as he declared that Pakistan had succeeded in stopping India’s bid to become a member at the NSG, has been a trifle unnerving, to say the least. It is as if the senior Pakistani leader was rubbing the salt in India’s opening wounds, saying, This is what you deserve.

So has the conduct of diplomacy come down to stabbing each other in the eye?

So what can one make of the new, proxy war between India and Pakistan, this time being fought between the US and China? Certainly, the Americans want India into the NSG, but they are also making it clear that this proxy war is being fought with a twist. That US support for India is not about them being against Pakistan, as it is about fighting the battle on behalf of India and against China.

Certainly, the Chinese are exercising their new-found confidence of being a world power to put India in its place. Beijing definitely doesn’t want to see another Asian power, India, sharing the global high table. Whether it is the NSG or the UN Security Council, China has made it clear that it will not allow India into the fold.

It’s possible to draw several conclusions from that. First, China is furious that the US is so openly supporting a middling economy like India (the Indian economy is one-fifth the Chinese) against itself. Second, the Chinese are furious that the Indians have dared to believe they are equal to Beijing. Third, the Chinese won’t hesitate to block the Americans if they feel their own primary position in the global order is threatened.

Fourth, Pakistan’s own primary position in the Chinese embrace is confirmed. And fifth, this is a brave new world and the Chinese have made it clear that any shaping of the world’s security architecture cannot be done without taking them into account.

Question is, as China demonstrates its arrival on the world stage, is it not also displaying a certain insecurity in not allowing a fellow Asian power to come on board?

Certainly, Pakistan has won this particular round of putting India in its place, whether or not the Chinese had their own reasons for doing so.

The politics of South Asia are bound to change, as China becomes a pre-eminent power. For both India and Pakistan to allow their nations to become warring sites for other nations, may not be the best foreign policy exercises in their own countries.

The wind is changing. The tides are shifting. The murderers of Amjad Sabri are at large. Can the governments of India and Pakistan stop cheering at each other’s misery and start speaking to each other?

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist who is passionate about debate and discussion across South Asia.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jomalhotra

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