Pakistan, India and the Bi-Polar World Order

Daniel Crump

Image © Omer Wazir


Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ essay may not have correctly predicted everything it was supposed to, but one realisation certainly holds true to this day: Realist manoeuvrings and proxy inter-state wars have always been an inevitable feature of a Bi-Polar world. With the fall of the USSR, and the US’s securing of uncontested, top dog status, inter-state warfare has fallen to its lowest level since World War II, making this the most peaceful period of modern history.  The explanation being that in a world with two competing super powers, fragile alliances are held together by mutual enemies.

Although not yet a Bi-Polar world by most people’s evaluations, the rising influence of China will undoubtedly lead to nations asking serious questions of themselves and who they choose to associate with. This week, while the US ambassador to Pakistan stepped down for what Washington insisted was for personal reasons alone, The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan met with President Zardari to discuss matters of mutual cooperation and bilateral trade.

In recent years, Ambassador Munter may well have held the least coveted role in international relations. Following the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore and the US led mission to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, Munter has had to deal with the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 when the US strayed across the border from Afghanistan. His resignation may appear, after all this, to be the icing on a rather stale and crumbling diplomatic cake.

A Difficult Friendship

The most worrying aspect of these recent events is the fact that they do not come as much of a surprise to anyone. The US and Pakistan have quite a history of sharing mutual enemies and their relationship has, therefore, always been one of convenience and insincerity. Whether it was Nixon and Kissinger using Pakistan’s friendship with China to make Sino-US inroads, or Pakistani support of anti Soviet groups in Afghanistan, the US has always been able to find some beneficial reason to keep Pakistan within arm’s length.

The most recent chapter of this tale has certainly been the trickiest yet. Shortly after 9/11, President Musharraf ended his alliance with the Afghan Taliban while officially entering the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Since 2001, Pakistan has handed over 5000 members of Al Qaeda to American authorities and received nearly $10 Billion in aid for its troubles. Despite this closeness, Pakistan has constantly been accused of ‘looking both ways’ when it comes to terrorism. Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence Agency (ISI) has been accused of training and sponsoring groups that the Americans claim to be fighting across the border in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency that was instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in the mid 90’s with a view to setting up a favourable regime in a neighbouring country. With the US planning to withdraw a substantial number of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, all bets are off as to what condition Pakistani – US relations will be in if the Taliban were ever to re emerge in Afghan political life.

China may be far from another USSR in terms of economic ambition and political philosophy, but one very unfortunate consequence of their rise to power may be a return to the days of short lived alliances based on mutual enemies. Courting Pakistan may prove to be a way for China to counter US influence in the sub continent, particularly given the improving relationship between the US and Pakistan’s long term rival India.

The New Mr. Popular

On April 19th, India launched its new Agni 5 Missile in the Bay of Bengal. Possessing missiles with the ability to reach key Chinese cities, and a new missile defence shield installed this week, President Singh has praised the ‘credibility of his country’s security and preparedness’. In contrast to the standard reaction of the Western powers to missile testing, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed almost no concern, instead citing India’s ‘Solid non-proliferation record’. Similarly, the Chinese have not openly condemned India’s actions and insists that the two nations remain ‘partners’. The most binding of India’s bargaining tools currently is the state of its economy. India and China have increasingly managed to let economic integration and trade overcome border disputes in the South China Sea, starting a process that must be continued if the sub continent has any chance of seeing long lasting peace.

This ought to come as a warning to Pakistan. Trade will continue to be more effective at maintaining relationships than simply possessing the same enemies. Economic growth and an expanding middle class are Pakistan’s best chance of securing credible status. A lack of commitment from its democratically elected politicians to end the influence of the army and the ISI will only seek to damage its chances of gaining its fair share of economic prosperity in the sub continent.

As for the US and China, learning the lessons from the days of the Cold War should hopefully remind them that the likelihood of a rise in inter-state warfare in the Sub Continent, or indeed anywhere, is only likely to increase if tensions between themselves become too strained. As we drift ever closer to a Bi-Polar world order, why not let economic stagnation become the mutual enemy that all nations share?

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