Europe and Asia are geographically one land mass, British geographer Sir Halford J. Mackinder maintained as far back as 1904that whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland would control the world. Soon after, Nicolas Spyman countered with the thesis that whoever controlled Eurasia’s rim would control the heartland and the world. China’s Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI’s) enterprise of six economic corridors shifts the global developmental initiatives from the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the Eurasian mainland.
Straddling 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. BRI’s programme will invest tens of billions of US dollars to augment and upgrade rail, roads, bridges and energy projects. Taking advantage of former Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) plans, now taken up by an expanded Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) including six former Soviet territories, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is BRI’s flagship project. With power pivoting towards the Eurasian heartland, the rise of China as the world’s largest economy brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, making China the world’s second military power. Given its former territories Russia is still the dominant power in Central Asia and a critical player in the Middle East. It has simultaneously risen Phoenix-like from the ashes, by itself more than a military match for NATO.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (CSO) characterises the reality of the ‘new world order’ in the Eurasian image. With enormous distances greatly reduced by road and rail connections, saving time and money, the difference between people, economies and cultures east and west of the Ural Mountains is not more than between Eastern and Western European people and cultures.
Most economists agree that impacting nearly every aspect of modern life globalization is an unstoppable force beneficial to the world economy. Pakistan is struggling with the impact of globalization mainly because of our foreign policy. From 1947 Pakistan has been vulnerable being squeezed in between a hostile India opposing partition and an equally hostile Afghanistan refusing to recognize the newly independent state. While the situation seven decades later is not much different; the Pakistan Armed Forces have developed over the past decade into a potent force, their tremendous sacrifices in sweat and blood giving us the option for an independent stance. The Cold War scenario found Pakistan aligned with the US seeking support for its very existence. Though unavoidable in the circumstances, membership in SEATO and CENTO severely limited Pakistan’s foreign policy options. Nevertheless, US-Pak relations became strained within a decade, during the 1965 war with India, the US was neutral. In 1971, it gave only lip-service while Pakistan was dismembered. With Pakistan again becoming “cornerstone of US foreign policy” as its only springboard in the Afghan war in the 80s and then in the 21st century (till even today), the US turned it into its “foreign policy gravestone” by imposing sanctions on Pakistan soon after its services were neither needed (1989) or diminished (after 2008).
Situated as a bridge at the crossroads of the Asian mainland between the different regions and powers, Pakistan’s special responsibility is to keep the region stable; our foreign policy commitment must mirror this. With over 1.8 billion people, South Asia has the world’s largest working-age population with a majority work force in the agriculture sector. The work share of the services sector has increased significantly in the past few years. Sharing borders in Central and South Asia with its four neighbours i.e. China, Afghanistan, India and Iran and the oil-rich Gulf, this geopolitically important region’s natural resources and human capital makes the potential for growth enormous. A national security policy must structure the new geopolitical realities to rethink and create consensus (by public and institutional debate) about our fundamental national interests. The region’s volatility forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of another. Maintaining our neutral position we must keep balance between our next-door neighbour Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia as also between our old ally US and our new relations with Russia. As a concept Eurasianism encourages prevalence of regional relations over distanced ones, the SCO platform holds a promise for stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises for both Pakistan and India.
The Eurasian concept of accumulating economic power is a global-scale strategy that acknowledges the objectivity of globalization and the weakening importance of nation-states. This different scenario entails no unipolar world or united global government but offers several global zones that are not nation-states but a coalition reorganized into continental federations or “democratic empires” with a large degree of inner self-government. An alternative or multipolar version of globalization, the Eurasian Idea accepts globalization as the currently major fundamental world process deciding the main vector of modern history.
The Soviet Union’s disintegration and US’ “clash of civilizations” strategy which resulted in the 9/11 tragedy triggered a new wave of global polarization and warfare that has kept the world disturbed. Having defeated the Pakistani Taliban and eliminating their strongholds in Tribal Areas and Karachi, fencing of Pak-Afghan border, de-radicalization programmes for militants and eliminating financing of terrorism, etc. We must promote the peace process in Afghanistan to ward off threats such as Islamic extremism embodied by Islamic State (IS).
CENTO becoming redundant after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the situation has now reversed. Though Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries are not as vulnerable militarily that they were 50 years ago, even flexing their muscles in Yemen, they still require a military shield. Can the US with its Israeli and Indian partners provide this? Two of the three major non-Arab Muslim countries making up CENTO, Iran and Turkey, have sanctions imposed by the US, once CENTO’s major sponsor. Incidentally, all three (including Pakistan) have powerful Armed Forces which are intact despite the turmoil in the region.
Military-military (mil-mil) equations with Japan and India, respectively, define the US strategy to contain China in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. One does not see Japan engaging in any war on the land mass of Asia, after its 1962 experience would India ever try taking on China? More importantly would the US public support any adventure committing American troops in a land war in Asia? Particularly given a CENTO “in reverse” and the ominous presence of land-based Chinese and Russian forces? While denying the Pacific and Indian Ocean sea lanes to Russia and China, the US Fifth and Sixths Fleets may as well go on a permanent pleasure cruise. What BRI’s exploiting the land mass means for Eurasia about sums up the new economic and political reality now obtaining in Eurasia.
(The writer is a defence and security analyst)