Baluchistan amidst Geo-Economic and Military Interests of Foreign Powers – Part 1

By Sitwat Waqar Bokhari

( The author is a programme consultant and research fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies)

There is an old theory which says that as long as China operates from the South China Sea, it can never become a super power. Another theory postulates that the almost landlocked Russia has, for centuries, coveted access to warm waters and thus this was the motive behind USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The recent trilateral Moscow talks held in late December 2016 and their second round in mid-February 2017 touted as Russia’s newfound concerns to resolve the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, both with the exclusion of US representation, are believed by political analysts to be a rebirth of the same strategy of Russia.

For Russia to reach the warm waters, the landlocked territory of Afghanistan provides two alternatives; the southern coastal parts of Iran or Pakistan. For China, the direct route is via Pakistan. Combining these two theories, in Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Nasser Khan Janjua’s words, shows world powers’ cognizance of the strategic dependence of China, Russia, Central Asia and the West Asia on Pakistan.

Due to this notion Pakistan’s National Security Advisor – a retired three-star rank army general who commanded the XII Corps in Quetta – believes the future century belongs to Baluchistan. He was speaking at a two-day national conference on ‘Dialogue on Baluchistan: the way forward’ last week at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.

Accounting for 44% of the landmass of Pakistan holding untapped mineral resources worth trillions along with copious livestock, solar, windmill and coal power energy, Baluchistan is the natural gateway of connectivity for the Middle East, Central Asia, China and Russia with the provision of a deep-sea port at Gwadar. It is also the shortest route to the Indian Ocean for the landlocked region of Central Asia, China and Russia.

To this end, China has already begun its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, under the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a series of projects that stand to connect the Asian giant to Central Asia and Europe in the long run. CPEC will connect China’s largest province, Xinjiang, with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Baluchistan.

While Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan have all expressed their desire in joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which has been warmly welcomed by the governments of China and Pakistan, a continuous Indian campaign to isolate Pakistan coupled with US containment of China and Russia within their own strategic backyard is also in the works.

Such is exhibited through the growing Indo-US partnership and the US pivot to Asia. According to political commentators, coupled with preventing a resurgent Russia and curtailing a rising China, the US strategy seeking to maintain its impartial hegemonic supremacy also includes engaging the ideological Muslim world in civil chaos and disorder so as not to pose any unified threat against the prolonged US eminence.

However, why would the US wish to contain China and Russia? What would it gain from containing the two regional hegemons in their own strategic backyard? Measuring by the concept of the Comprehensive National Power 1980-2100 (which is the sum total of the powers or strengths of a country in terms of its economy, military affairs, science and technology, education and resources, and its influence[1]), the United States is expected to remain a superpower till 2020, at which point it will be superseded by China which will remain the world hegemon until 2070, replaced by Russia until the 2100 century and followed by Canada.

Interestingly, according to the same graph, India will only rise to global power up to 60% until 2040 after which it will start declining. By 2025, it will overtake China to become the world’s most populous nation but within that fast-growing population, its illiteracy continues to be rife as 47% of its children remain malnourished. The country also suffers from many of the usual ailments of low-income countries, such as creaky infrastructure, caste-based inequalities, sluggish courts and bureaucracy, etc. According to a California based Russian analyst, Anatoly Karlin, it is India’s low level of human capital that is the primary cause for it falling behind China.

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The United States has a  debt of 19 trillion of which 3 trillion is owed to China. Nearly half of the total U.S. trade deficit is with China. According to recent U.S. Commerce Department data, the US trade deficit in goods with China is $347, which is five times bigger than its second-largest trade gap with Japan, which totals at $68.94, followed by Germany at 64.9.

This was revealed by Commerce Department ahead of a meeting between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 03, 2017. According to The Balance, the United States has maintained the world’s largest trade deficit since 1975. In 2016, its deficit in goods and services was $502 billion while its trade deficit in goods, without services, was $750 billion. On the other hand, China in 2016 had a trade surplus of $532 billion.

Hence, if the United States is so enormously indebted to China and is not any more economically mighty than China, as seen in the stark contrast between their trade deficit/surplus records, what miracle can the US use to maintain its super power vis-à-vis China? A pragmatic option, according to Nasser Khan Janjua, appears for the US to be to hug an economy in the region which has the potential to compete with Chinese markets and aim at gradually eroding China’s trans-continental economic prospects.

Such a country in the region is India which is already projecting China as its future nemesis. This overlaps with the interests of the US, aiding the latter to use India as a strategic counter-weight to China. India has a huge and cheap human resource pool that the United States can invest in to multiply its ability and growth rate. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has also been egging on the US administration to come to India for economic and defense exchanges. Taking away China’s markets using economic maneuvers through India is a classic indirect design played by the US, according to Janjua, where it is not directly countering China but using another country to play its proxy.

The increased US support for India has been fairly noticeable in recent years. The two signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in August last year which increased the military cooperation between the two countries. Effectively, the logistics agreement provides for the US armed forces to operate out of Indian bases and for India to also use US bases across the globe.

As stated by Charles Tiefer in the Forbes Magazine, “Having LEMOA makes it much simpler for American naval and air forces to fight there. The US does not have actual bases in India. But, it has the next best thing — a simple way to use India’s bases.” Earlier in June 2015 the two countries signed the US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which charted a course for the U.S.-India relationship for the next decade. The United States also helped India in joining the Missile Technology Control Regime following Modi’s visit to Washington in early June 2016 and has been reportedly willing to provide India with licenses to top US defense technology as well.

To be Continued….

[1] More abstractly, it refers to the combination of all the powers possessed by a country for the survival and development of a sovereign state, including material and ideational ethos, and international influence as well.

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