In 2012, Robert D. Kaplan in his book The Revenge of Geography argued that “as the United States and China become great power rivals, the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of the geopolitics in Eurasia in the twenty-first century”. Now we can foresee what Kaplan had predicted almost a decade ago. However, India seems to be the unprepared kingmaker in Eurasia. China understands the future challenges and it is prepared for the long geopolitical game.
India’s natural boundaries are weak because of the territorial division inflicted upon it by the British occupiers in 1947. The territory of West Punjab and Sindh should have been in India, but today these two provinces along with occupied Balochistan and Pashtun dominated areas in Afghanistan are under the domination of an oppressive ethnic Sunni Punjabi community.
Pakistan is India’s biggest geographical dilemma, and without regaining control over its breakaway territory, it is unlikely for India to rise as a regional power. India should have resolved the issue of lost territory decades ago, but Indian political elite hesitated to formulate a bipartisan strategy to regain Indian territory. They strived to normalise relations with Pakistan and even began to imagine Pakistan as a unique historical sovereign entity with no historical relations to India. The delusion of the Indian political elite and bureaucracy only wasted India’s time and further weakened India’s position in the region.
America always favoured Pakistan during the Cold War, but the reality of the global order was different after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The United States for the first-time favoured India against Pakistan during the Kargil Conflict in 1999. According to Bruce Riedel, then-President Clinton’s Special Assistant, the Kargil conflict changed the equation in the region, and it set the trajectory of America’s engagement with India. Bill Clinton’s India visit in March 2000, cemented the relationship between the world’s oldest and world’s largest democracies.
He stayed for four days in India, addressed the joint session of the Indian Parliament, and both countries formulated a framework for institutional engagement and cooperation. Clinton also visited Islamabad only for a few hours, not for cooperation but to save Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s life who was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup in October1999. Pakistan was already in decline, great Baloch leader, Hyrbyair Marri who is connected to the roots of freedom struggle for generations once again motivated, reorganised, propelled the masses for complete independence of Balochistan, from the oppressed Pakistani regime by reigniting the 5th Balochistan liberation movement in mid-1990s.
Pakistan had lost its significance in the international arena after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and US policies were more focused on China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. During the Presidential campaign, George W Bush criticised Bill Clinton for being too soft on China. President Bush faced his first foreign policy crisis in the South China sea immediately after taking office. In April 2001, a Chinese interception jet collided with an American EP-3 signal intelligence aircraft in the international waters. One Chinese jet was destroyed during the incident, and US Navy crew were forced to land their damaged aircraft in China’s Hainan Island. American soldiers were detained, and vital intelligence-gathering equipment was also compromised.
China was the new threat for the West in the 2000s; however, 11th September 2001 changed everything for America and the rest of the World. All rivals of America supported American efforts to topple the Taliban Government and cap ture those responsible for terrorist acts on American soil. United Nations resolution 1373 gave legitimacy to the War on Terror. America centred its core foreign policy strategy from geopolitics to counter-terrorism wars. Pakistan reaped the benefits of the post 9/11 world, on the one hand, it supported the American invasion of Afghanistan, on the other hand, it saved the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and prepared them for the next battle. Pakistan became one of the major non-NATO allies, gained access to crucial military hardware and received billions of dollars in aid. America lost the war because it trusted Pakistan and mistook a geopolitical driven proxy war in Afghanistan as a homegrown insurgency.
America started to re-shift its geo-strategic doctrine from counter terrorism to great-power conflict after the death of Osama Bin Laden. During the last years of his presidency, Obama increased the strategic focus on China. China is not the same state which it used to be in a pre 9/11 world. China was the 6th largest economy in the 2000s, and now it is the World’s second-largest economy. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative granted it access to the world’s geostrategic regions. China has built a naval base in Djibouti near Bab al-Mandab Strait, and a new naval base next to Hormuz is under construction in Jiwani, Balochistan.
Moreover, the new pact between China and Iran will give it more leverage in the Strait of Hormuz. India has an advantage in the Strait of Malacca against China, but that advantage will fade away as global warming melts the Arctic’s ice and China implements its new Arctic policy. Also, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will ensure Chinese access to the Middle East if Malacca is blocked by the Indian Navy in the case of war. Balochistan remains strategically of immense importance in the whole great power rivalries. It is also vital for any future Indian geo-strategic success in our region.
Partition has weakened India geographically in the region, and it is now being encircled by an aggressive China. China has territorial disputes with India, and it will never hesitate to start a limited conflict at the right time. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the US-China rivalry, and the world will confront China sooner than expected. China and the West are preparing for that next conflict, but India is still idling.
India needs to confront Pakistan indirectly with a long-term policy, stop China from encircling India and make long term reliable allies in the neighbourhood. All these three goals can be achieved by supporting the freedom movements in the neighbourhood e.g. Balochistan, Tibet and POK which would cement India’s stature in the world. The freedom in Balochistan is the legitimate right of the people of Balochistan and must be supported at all cost. The wrong of the past must be undone, which in turn will pave the way for India to reclaim its illegally occupied territory (PoK). Such a solution will resolve geographic dilemmas on the western border. India will get direct land access to Afghanistan and central Asian countries along with independent Balochistan which in turn will also bring the expansionist regime of China to an end.
As of today, China has lured India’s neighbours, but India can turn the tables in its favour if it understands the geostrategic value of supporting the freedom struggles of Tibet and Balochistan.
Jamal Baloch is Free Balochistan Movement’s head of the Foreign Affairs Department and a member of Chatham House. He can be reached at @JNBaloch.