Jostling for power by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Diplomacy is considered akin to a game of chess. Each move by one player pushes all others to recalculate their position sometimes at the cost of giving up a piece. The three main players on the diplomatic chess board are Russia, China and United States of America (USA). Main thrust of Obama administration’s foreign policy has been pull back and realign. Pull back from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and realign the strategic focus from Middle East to Asia Pacific. President Putin has been busy containing the expansion of NATO to her near abroad and regaining influence in the former Soviet republics. President Xi Jinping has been busy reestablishing the historic influence of China in South East Asia by requiring her neighbors to comply with Special Air Defense Zones (SADZ) in South China seas. The objective of all these powers is to create a new balance of power in this three axis world but there is still some unfinished business to achieve it.

First and foremost is the Israel-Palestine conflict. I have written in my foreign policy oped pieces that since America has shifted her focus towards Pacific Asia she now prefers that a peace agreement should be signed. Middle East peace deal is the legacy President Obama wants to leave behind before he completes his second and final term in office. Israel feels the pressure is growing as European Union recently informed its research institutions not to work with Israeli institutions based in the occupied territories or face sanctions. During the funeral ceremonies of Nelson Mandela many world leaders expressed views to get rid of last bastion of apartheid with a particular reference to Israel. Secretary Kerry has been engaged in a shuttle diplomacy in last few weeks of 2013 and it seems that after the holiday season this will be one of the top agenda on his list. Israel needs to understand that there is civic movement in development that will amass millions of Palestinian refugees on her border seeking entry into their homeland. That will be one of the biggest humanitarian events supported by global popular sentiment. It is in the interest of Israel to take the deal brokered by America and run with it. It is their last chance for survival as inaction will lead to natural disappearance of Israel and her nuclear weapons will become useless as they can’t bomb their own cities.

Historically Turkey has been engaged in a power tussle with her Western European neighbors but her staunchest rival has been Russia in the East. Turkey’s inclusion in NATO was probably in this historical perspective. The strategic situation of the region is changing in the aftermath of dissolution of USSR, Arab Spring and American realignment to Asia Pacific. Turkey was expecting armed intervention from NATO, especially USA, to overthrow the autocratic Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Western inaction in case of Syria sent a signal to Turkey. This was despite the fact that they acted in consort when similar request was made by France and Italy in case of Libya. West also ignored Turkey’s appeal to prevent overthrow of Egyptian President Morsi and withhold support for the military regime. Apart from that, major powers in EU, Germany and France, have been reluctant to start negotiations on membership chapters to allow Turkish entry. These events pushed PM Erdogan to extend hand of cooperation towards Russia as well as sign an agreement with a Chinese company for missile technology ignoring protests from NATO. It is not yet clear whether the force of history will prevail over current events but there is a likelihood that Turkey will look East in the foreseeable future. The recent domestic pressure on Erdogan government is probably to prevent this to happen.

Iran and USA are slowly but surely improving their relations. It is a deliberate effort by them to keep the pace slow so that it does not unravel the already precarious situation in Central Asia and Middle East. Rulers in UAE are already resigned to the fact that Iran will be a major power in their backyard so instead of resisting the inevitable they have initiated bilateral discussions. Iran will keep the nuclear card for the sake of domestic audiences but will probably not cross the line to develop nuclear weapons.

India has traditionally been a close ally of Russia and has substantial lobby for it. Resurgence of President Putin might be tempting to many Indian politicians who are not completely sure about US commitment in the region. In their calculations alliance of Germany and France might be diluting the American interests in EU. This provides an opportunity for India to develop a block with the help of Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Germany and France. American departure from Afghanistan will also put burden on Indian shoulders to keep the region stable. In this perspective she might be more interested in becoming a cheer leader for the non-aligned countries and balancer of multi-polar interests in South Asia. Indians may prefer to remain at equal distance from USA, China and Russia rather than become proxy power for one of them.

Brazil is seeking to become a dominant player in South America and detests American interference in her backyard. She relies heavily on commodity exports which is a position similar to Russia while China is one of the main consumers for both of them. This brings these three players together with mutually reliant interest. Russia and China may support Brazil to reduce American influence in South America.

The biggest puzzle in all this emerging power balance is Afghanistan? For sometime I believed that USA wants to stay in Afghanistan with a force of between 8000 to 12000 comprising mostly of strategic and intelligence units. But now I am beginning to change my position. I think America wants to stay in Afghanistan but not at all costs rather she has her own redline that they will not cross. That red line is consent of four major powers in the region India, Iran, China and Russia to support American presence there. For USA military is not the only source of maintaining influence. President Karzai’s insistence on not signing BSA was a puzzle for many foreign policy analysts including myself. But now it makes sense as the picture is emerging based on domestic and international developments. President Karzai’s refusal was important for him to get attention from other powers in the region as well as appeal to Taliban. In last few weeks Karzai has visited India and Iran as well as host Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Speaker of Russian Duma (parliament). The Duma Speaker in a press statement revealed that Russia would prefer that NATO should seek a fresh mandate from UNSC for engagement beyond 2014 and that they do not prefer foreign military bases. Russia may express interest in maintaining influence in Northern Afghanistan. On the other hand India has expressed her inability to provide weapons and assume security responsibility in Afghanistan. Russia and China may both agree that USA should assume security responsibility in South. Iran might be interested to take security responsibility for the Western Afghanistan and develop trade route from Chabahar port to Central Asia in collaboration with India, Afghanistan and USA.

What are the options for Pakistan? The best option for Pakistan is to focus inward rather than outward to stabilize the country by containing terrorism, building political stability and growing her economy. Pakistan should improve relations with all neighbors including India, Iran and Afghanistan. Maintain good relations with both Russia and USA without going out of the way to support one at the cost of the other. Pakistan’s preference for Turkey at the cost of Middle East is not a right policy instead she should act as a bridge to reduce differences between them. Our foreign policy should not be a zero sum and this should be made clear to all our friends.

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