In February 2019, the world witnessed the two nuclear states Pakistan and India reaching on the brink of a nuclear war. There is a popular opinion about the dynamics of South Asia that it is the balance of power system in between Pakistan and India which determines the geopolitics of South Asia. After Israel-Palestine conflict it is the Kashmir conflict between Pakistan and India which is considered as the second nuclear flashpoint in the world order. Therefore, there is always a need for an in-depth debate on the future relationship between Pakistan and India and the role of external powers and their influence on Pakistan and Indian foreign policies.
Q1: In the context of current security arrangement of South Asia, how do you see the future of Pakistan and India relationship? Do you think the current balance of power system in between them a reliable model for South Asia’s peace or is it causing an arms race in between them?
There are traditionally tense relations between Pakistan and India. So, between countries there are quite serious political, historical and territorial differences. In particular, the issue of the territorial affiliation of the border province of Kashmir, where armed clashes between supporters and opponents of the official policy of Islamabad, still remains unresolved.
The situation on the border of the two states aggravated after an armed provocation committed on February 14, 2019 on the territory of India. The Indian leadership has accused the Separte Movement of the Army of Mohammed, which operates in disputed territories, of provocation. As a result, India attacked military sites located in Pakistan. Later, the so-called “air campaign” began between the countries, when both sides of the conflict attacked each other’s air targets. This was the main reason prompting Islamabad to close its airspace for planes flying from India or heading to this country. However, perhaps, after the parliamentary elections in India, relations between the countries may undergo some significant changes. Under such conditions it is highly doubtful that the parties can conclude a truce. In any case, as long as the main problem between the parties is the status of the border territories, a truce is difficult or even impossible. Based on this, each of the parties to the conflict is preparing for new armed clashes, which makes the process of the arms race almost irreversible.
Thus, the defense budget of India in 2019 for the first time exceeded three trillion rupees (more than 44 billion dollars), which is 7% higher than the financing of the country’s military spending in 2018. In turn, Pakistan is also forced to increase its military potential, which is quite natural. Both sides of the conflict have nuclear weapons in their arsenal. This creates grounds for the international community to pay very close attention to the Pakistan-India disputes, since there is a very high risk that nuclear weapons can be used to force a potential adversary to peace. However, the participation of international mediators, including Russia, allows you to constantly “keep abreast of” and, if possible, smooth out the most acute angles in the conflict between Pakistan and India.
Q2: Pakistan has long accused India of sponsoring terrorism against Pakistan from Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, while India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring freedom fight movements inside Indian occupied Kashmir. Is there a way through which both can initiate a conflict resolution scenario? In this context, how do you see the role of SAARC in resolving conflicts in South Asia?
The Pakistani-Indian conflict belongs to the category of protracted, when none of the parties to the conflict can achieve a qualitative and quantitative advantage over the opponents, in connection with which peace between the parties is unlikely. At least, until the international mediators, acting as arbitrators, take part in the process of reconciliation of all parties to the dispute, the conflict will continue for decades. Therefore, at the moment neither Pakistan nor India are insured against mutual accusations. Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly appeared on the international arena with peacemaking initiatives and offered its assistance in resolving existing territorial disputes. Moscow has very good relations with the government of Islamabad, and our country is interested in peace in South Asia. This goal is pursued by international organizations, but so far the parties to the conflict have not become the negotiating table, it is premature to talk about any significant changes.
Q3: In the context of Afghanistan crisis and its peace process, how do you see the future of Afghanistan and its impact on South Asia? With the presence of United States and Russia in the Afghan conflict management, do you see signs of hope that Afghan government and Taliban may form a coalition government to end the two decades long conflict?
The situation in Afghanistan develops in such a way that the further continuation of the conflict becomes an unaffordable luxury for each of the parties. And in order to try to solve this problem, both Moscow and Washington intend to conduct a constructive dialogue with the Taliban, as well as to seek their representation in local authorities.
The current status of the negotiation process indicates that Russia and the United States intend to recognize the Taliban as a partner in Afghanistan. And in the event that these negotiations have a positive result, the Taliban will somehow meet with the leadership of official Kabul in order to work out a joint program for resolving the crisis. However, today this process is a problem, since the legal mechanisms for the integration of the Taliban into the political field of Afghanistan have not yet been determined. Despite a number of ambitious statements by international leaders about the need to establish a constructive dialogue with the Taliban movement, the situation has not moved off the ground. In the context of a political resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan, it should be clearly established what the country’s government will look like after the Taliban have been recognized as part of it. Moreover, it is not clear how the political course of Kabul will change if the Taliban receive a majority of votes during the municipal elections. Meanwhile, neither Russia nor the United States is interested in seeing Afghanistan show sharp reversals in politics. Otherwise, there is a very high risk that a conflict in the country could break out with a new force.
Q4: The United States global war on terrorism has affected South Asia similarly as it has affected Middle-east. United States and Pakistan have long been allies in war on terrorism, but since 2016 we are seeing Pakistan is aligning its foreign policy with Russia while United States is aligning its foreign policy with India. Do you think Pakistan should consider US as an honest broker and what fruits Pakistan can gain by aligning its foreign policy with Russian-Chinese axis?
Modern politics of Washington is a very controversial phenomenon. On the one hand, US President Donald Trump is showing a desire to unleash a series of regional conflicts, including in the territory of South Asia. On the other hand, we are well aware that the White House administration is masterfully manipulating the international community in order to strengthen its position in the world, and regional conflicts are just one of the means of American domination. Now India is the most promising foreign policy area for the United States, since New Delhi is creating a springboard for the American confrontation with China, while Beijing is becoming increasingly oriented toward Islamabad. In this regard, it would be wrong to say that American initiatives can lead to peace in South Asia, since the interests of many countries with diametrically opposed positions on the world arena collide here. On the example of Iran, Iraq, Syria, we see what negative consequences this can lead to. It is highly likely that Pakistan is extremely at risk, continuing to cooperate with Washington, because the risk that Islamabad could become a second Syria or a second Iraq and be subjected to an unprecedented attack by the United States is very high. Russia intends to assume the role of an arbitrator who contributes to the normalization of relations and the resolution of existing differences. At the moment, there is a fairly trusting relationship between Islamabad and Moscow, which indicates the ability of countries to create a long-term strategic alliance.
Q5: Pakistan has always considers Iran and Saudi Arabia as equal partners. Pakistan did not become part of the Yemen War in 2015 in an attempt to avoid sectarian conflict inside Pakistan. Critical theorists say United States is behind the Shia and Sunni conflict in the greater Middle-east in order to enhance the security of Israel; do you endorse John Mearsheimer and Stephen Waltz’ thesis of “Israel Lobby and its influence on US foreign policy”? Do you believe this is why they always maintain a divide between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia? In this regard, how do you see the future of Pakistan’s balancing act in between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
Balancing between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Islamabad may be on the verge of the deepest crisis. The intensification of separatist sentiments in Pakistan’s Balochistan in the west of the country against the background of the construction of the Saudi gas pipeline indicates that Islamabad is in an extremely vulnerable position. Increasing pressure on Iran creates the risk of an escalation of civil conflict in Pakistan. In case of flirting with Riyadh, Pakistan, moreover, at risk of losing Chinese investment of $ 45 billion, which has already been utilized in the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. As compensation, Islamabad can only count on the $ 10 billion pledged by Saudi Arabia to build an oil refinery in the separatist-minded province of Baluchistan. In turn, local separatists are very negatively disposed towards Pakistan-Saudi rapprochement, and therefore threaten official Islamabad with an escalation of civil conflict and new terrorist attacks. Under these conditions, Pakistan, most likely, it is advisable to adhere to the policy of absolute neutrality, without giving preference to either Riyadh or Tehran. In the end, own security is more important.
Denis Korkodinov is one of the most influential political scientists in Russia, having extensive connections in the Russian government and the national private and diplomatic sector of this country. He also works as the Editor of the Investigation Service of the Interstate socio-political television and radio journal “World Community”, as well as a specialist in political PR and mass communications in the South Caucasus, the Middle East and Latin America. Human rights activist and recognized international expert in the field of geopolitics. Political analyzes of Denis Korkodinov are often published in Europe, Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Egypt and other countries in various languages of the world