Rajeev Sharma

Indian Decade contributor Rajeev Sharma answers readers’ questions on Pakistan, terrorism and the future of Sino-India ties.

Parminder Singh (Facebook):
We all know the U.S needs Pakistan and vice-versa. But considering recent developments: what do you think is the future of U.S-Pakistan relations?

There’s no doubt that U.S.-Pakistan relations are at their lowest ebb since 9/11. However, symbiotic relationships like this one aren’t severed so quickly. Both sides are indulging in posturing – call it strategic posturing. Pakistan isn’t only hurt and angry over the NATO “friendly fire” strikes, but is also venting its angst. Islamabad has played to the gallery in venting for two primary reasons. One is to address its domestic constituency and assure the Mullahs in particular, and the awaam (the people) in general, that it is taking – and, in fact, has taken – concrete action in retaliation to the NATO/American provocation. Two, to give a signal to its all-weather ally China to step in – something that hasn’t happened yet, and is unlikely to happen soon as Beijing, in the midst of major leadership changes at the level of the party and government, isn’t yet ready or willing to fill the shoes of global leader. These are, to my mind, the decisions of the Pakistani military establishment with the stamp of approval of the civilian government. Eventually, the U.S. and Pakistan will kiss and make up, though only for the time being. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is one rollercoaster ride that is likely to continue for some time.

Sondre Us (Facebook):
What do you think will be the most important strategic and economic consequences of climate change in South Asia in the next two decades?

The strategic consequences of climate change in South Asia are mind boggling. Glaciers are set to melt quickly and copiously over the next two decades. This will change, if not obliterate, the existing land boundaries among the nations in a region that houses three nuclear weapon powers: China, India and Pakistan. This will inevitably trigger climate change-induced border wars. Economically, the consequences are going to take a heavy toll on governments and governance in the region, which has an unduly high percentage of glacial mass in the world. As coastal cities and towns face the threat of submergence, heavy migration of populations will be triggered, upsetting the rural-urban equation in the countries of the region. Bangladesh will be most severely affected, but China, India and Pakistan aren’t going to be affected in a lesser manner.

David Steven (Facebook):
Pakistan is a proven state sponsor of terrorism. Why isn’t it declared a terrorist state by the U.S. or other nations?

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One, Pakistan is no ordinary power. It’s the only Islamic nation with a proven nuclear weapon capability. Two, Pakistan is in an important gateway for the West to reach out to Afghanistan, considering that the contiguous Central Asian states are under Russian influence. The Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN) is an alternative that’s at the mercy of Moscow and there already are indications that Russia is going to extract its pound of flesh and use the NDN as leverage in its dealings with the West. Three, from the Western point of view, it’s better to negotiate with a misbehaving ally in the war against terror – an arduous task, no doubt – than kill it for misbehaving. Moreover, you can’t change geography, however big a superpower you may be. If you have to reach out to Afghanistan, the only route goes via Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan has to be tolerated, not snuffed out.

Manu Sharma (Facebook):
Does India’s current tenure as a non-permanent U.N. Security Council member give a boost to its aspirations for a permanent seat in the future?

Yes and no. Yes, because obviously it is an internship for an eventual job which India will have to perform well to the satisfaction of the Western powers. This is easier said than done as India will have to counterbalance the West with such known villains of the West as Iran, which no government in New Delhi will find doable.  No, because the job is simply not there in the foreseeable future. In many ways, India and other UNSC aspirants have already missed the bus by decades. All P-5 nations are firmly entrenched and have a vested interest in ensuring that the status quo continues. If the status quo has to be changed, it will require a complete change, perhaps apocalyptic changes, in global geopolitics.

Johnson Morris (LinkedIn):
What are your thoughts on the current state of India-China relations?

Diplomatic rhetoric apart, India and China are convinced that each one constitutes the single biggest strategic threat, perhaps an existential one, to the other. The two powers have for quite some time been engaged in a strategic game of encircling each other. To this end, each one is making forays into the other’s backyard and strategic space and trying to cultivate satellites. China started this game, but for the past few years India, too, has started paying back in kind. The scores may not be level as of now, but the Chinese must be well aware that India isn’t far behind, and it’s definitely not the 1962 situation when the Chinese decimated the Indians in the only war the two countries have fought till now.

Having said this, the Sino-Indian bilateral engagement process is bound to traverse a tortuous path in the coming years. Both sides know that it’s an uneasy relationship, but both being nuclear weapon powers is a huge deterrent for a full-scale conflict. A repeat of 1962 can, therefore, be completely ruled out. We live in an era of strategic containment, and this is what both China and India are striving to accomplish vis-a-vis the other. It’s a long haul. The most important thing to watch would be how the giant Asia powers fare in their respective nation building in the next decade or so.