India welcomed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in person to New Delhi who came here for the 2+2 ministerial dialogue. The importance of a face-to-face meeting in this season of virtual meetings and summits cannot be lost sight of. The US wants to bolster India’s resistance and others in this SAARC region, to an imperialist Red China. President-for-life Xi Jinping’s leadership of China eerily resembles the attitudes that animated belligerent regimes from centuries past. That this kind of behaviour has always consolidated the opposition, leading to its downfall and destruction is lost on the Chinese leadership. Like the tragic happenings occasioned by the two world wars, and the almost constant territorial warfare in the age of monarchs before them, the aggressive power is intoxicated by the notion that it can prevail. That it can stamp its domination upon the world. That it will fail in the attempt is preordained, but some leaders refuse to learn from history.
The 2+2 is the third such annual meeting, but this one is in the context of over 60,000 PLA troops with masses of military equipment on the LaC at Eastern Ladakh and other points of the long Tibetan border area.
China has used the PLA to be consistently aggressive, and its state-controlled media to be absurdly propagandist against India. It has wilfully blocked progress on several rounds of military and diplomatic dialogue. It has made provocative statements saying China does not recognise Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory.
America, on its part, has asserted that the regions are very much part of India. America has criticised the Chinese belligerence at Eastern Ladakh. The narrative however may be about to shift gears. A stiffening of stance, with overt India-US military cooperation is on the cards now.
The US presidential elections may be just days away, but the Trump administration is not behaving like the traditional lame duck. It is busy transforming West Asia, as Oman and Saudi Arabia move to recognise Israel with full diplomatic relations and normalised ties.
This is in addition to the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, who are already on board. Apart from Ayatollah-run Shiite Iran, opposed to the US at present, the entire Gulf region is expected to follow suit.
Egypt has long normalised relations with Israel from the days of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. But there are others in the Middle East- Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, a cooperative Jordan, and conceivably, in due course, even Syria, that could become allies of Israel instead of uncomfortable and occasionally hostile neighbours.
The Palestinian Authority has been losing diplomatic traction for years and may have to settle its future on Israeli terms. America signalled its intent by agreeing to the movement of the Israeli capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, moving its embassy subsequently, more or less at the beginning of Donald Trump’s first term in 2016. Trump spent a night in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv to illustrate this.
So Turkey, under a revanchist Erdogan, with its allies Malaysia and Pakistan, may not have history on its side. It is futile for Erdogan to claim Jerusalem for the Palestinian Authority.
Most of Sunni Arabia, long put upon to finance the bottomless pit of Palestinian penury, is not willing to finance its obduracy any more. There is no economic viability for the Palestinian Authority without coming to sensible terms with Israel. The most likely outcome is a merger with safeguards and assurances, though it may take considerable and detailed talks.
But if this is what happens, the politics of West Asia will have changed dramatically. A new, less bloody and jihadist age could well dawn. This, even as the income from oil and gas, that has dominated the balance sheets for half a century, cannot pay for more than a third of expenses going forward.
West Asia will necessarily turn to opportunities in India as a large, growing economy, in need of much development investment, sitting on its doorstep.
In our region, South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific, maritime matters are now of paramount importance. Chinese attempts to dominate the oceans, with its increasingly large blue water navy are alarming. This is in addition to its ill-advised attempt to grab the South and East China Seas.
China dreams of dominating the Gulf region via its base at Gwadar and its alliances with both Pakistan and Iran. It has set up naval bases in all except name at Sri Lanka, the Maldives, on the Red Sea at Djibouti. It is looking for toe-holds in Myanmar, The Seychelles, and ever as far away as Venezuela.
But all this will come to nought with or without armed conflicts with China. The rest of the world is reordering itself to resist. Our own dialogue with the US, France, Britain and other NATO and US allies is moving steadily towards military partnerships. The four-member QUAD on the seas already conjoins India, Japan, the US and Australia. The Andaman Islands, at the mouth of the Malacca Straits, through which 80% of Chinese shipping passes now, could well be the QUAD’s base.
In Pakistan, a new push-back against the Pakistan Army and the ISI has begun in no uncertain terms. This is spearheaded by a eleven party coalition, The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), is led by PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman from Balochistan, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his political heir, daughter Maryam Nawaz with their base in Lahore Punjab, Bilawal Bhutto the heir apparent of the Sindh based PPP, and others. They are collectively determined to oust prime minister Imran Khan, seen to be an Army puppet.
The Army and ISI are in turn seen to have messed up the Pakistani economy and polity. There is resentment with the increasing Chinese presence and the massive corruption within the Army and the ISI, while the people starve.
With well-attended rallies coming thick and fast in various parts of Pakistan, the Army and ISI can, of course, crack down and impose martial law. This has been the option exercised several times before, most recently by former dictator Parvez Musharraf.
Since armed clashes have already occurred between the Karachi Police and the Army, resulting in casualties on both sides, things may be getting out of hand. There are long festering insurgencies in Gilgit Baltistan, Balochistan, Pakhtoonistan, and now, new ones brewing even in Sindh and Punjab.
Otherwise, The Pakistan Army and the ISI, seen as much too involved in every aspect of governance, will be forced to share power with this new formation. But this will mean loss of face and control for the generals.
China cannot be happy about this development, given the scale of its financial investment into the CPEC, and its cosy relationship with the biddable Pakistan Army generals. But can the Army hold the country together if it cracks down?
General Javed Bajwa, who gave himself a three-year extension using Imran Khan’s rubber stamp, has his detractors within the Pakistan Army. There could well be a counter coup.
For India, with the dragon breathing hard in Ladakh, this instability in Pakistan may disrupt Chinese plans of a two-pronged attack on India. On the other hand, if the Pakistan Army does attack India, either directly to distract the country from its internal issues, or indirectly, via any major terrorist attack, India may be justified in conquering PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
This won’t be possible, of course, without taking on China at Ladakh at the same time. And this is where a newly re-elected Donald Trump will be of crucial importance to keep China under severe pressure.
Certainly, the world order is changing dramatically, and propelling India into a higher trajectory as a consequence. We have much to look forward to at the end of our trials and tribulations of the present.