In recent months, India’s dynamic new president Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have opened first tentative steps in the direction of resolving some 70 years of border tensions. Were the two great Eurasian nations to come into a political and, eventually, economic harmony, it could change the geopolitical map of wars and chaos in the world dramatically for the better. It would be the key to the emerging Eurasian heartland of the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where both countries are recent members. It would cause severe cardiac disorders in London, New York and in Riyadh.
It’s useful to study the actual historical methodology of the British Balance of Power strategy as that empire developed it following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. In essence it involved British domination of the world seas through her Royal Navy, controlling terms of global trade, while keeping Continental Europe subdued as a potential challenger by always maintaining alliances with the weaker of two opponent states or powers to back frictions or wars against the strongest, which meant at any one time siding with Prussia against France, at another with France against Germany and the like.
It was clear at the end of World War II that the United States of America, the newly emerged hegemon of that war, had no intention of helping her ally Britain to maintain the imperial Sterling Preference British trading zone in order to ultimately restore her empire and challenge America’s new-found hegemony. The USA decided first to dismember that empire, and to cherry pick for US corporations what remained. After the war, they created a European Coal and Steel Community to make war-ravaged Continental Europe into their economic vassal, all the time using the bogeyman of the Soviet Union to keep Europe docile. It was an American balance of power.
Truman, in August 1945, acting on advice of the Wall Street banks, shocked London when he abruptly ended the wartime Lend-Lease program through which a de facto bankrupt Britain was able to import vital goods such as food. Washington followed with negotiation of a loan whose conditions demanded that England make the Pound Sterling convertible.
The sun sets on the Empire
The combination of Washington financial demands on the postwar government of Labour’s Clement Attlee and the ruins of a devastated wartime economy in Britain made retention of the Empire, above all of India, fiscally impossible. When the British government in 1947 named the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, uncle of Prince Philip, to oversee the transition of Britain’s Indian Raj, which then also included Pakistan and Bangla Desh, to independence, Mountbatten did so in a way that laid the seeds for more than six decades of conflict. His plan, implemented in a hurried six-months, he based on what he called the ‘Two Nation Theory’–all areas with a Muslim majority population would become part of Pakistan, and those with a Hindu majority would join India. Religious strife was preprogrammed–divide and rule was the British game.
The tectonic plates that Mountbatten set clashing against each other were between India, an overwhelmingly Hindu land, and Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim land. Kashmir, a disputed territory administered today by India, Pakistan, and the People’s Republic of China, Mountbatten left for future determination as to whether it would become part of India or Pakistan. It was as if he decided to drop a loaded hand grenade along the border of the new nations.
Wedged in the valley of the Himalayas between the three great Asian nations, Kashmir was and is today the crisis flash-point that can and too often has detonated an out-of-control clash between India and Pakistan–both possessing nuclear weapons. In addition, Kashmir is geopolitically strategic not only for India and Pakistan, but also for China.
Today India stations 700,000 Indian Security Forces to keep a population of seven million Muslims in the Kashmir Valley under tight control. As many as 80,000 people have been killed in the Kashmir conflict over the past two decades and up to 8,000 innocent civilians remain missing in Kashmir.
China’s little-noticed claim on the Kashmir region impacts the security of China’s western Xinjiang province, bordering the disputed Kashmir region, and home to China’s Uygur Muslim minority. In 1962, following a short border war with India, China took full control of Aksai Chin in Kashmir, bordering China’s strategic Xinjiang province. After the 1962 China-India border war, China developed an “all weather friendship” with Pakistan, backing Pakistan in the wars against India in 1965 and 1971, and supporting Pakistan in its claims over Kashmir. The so-called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), as well as ISIS and other radical terrorist groups have been increasingly active in Xinjiang, the heart of China’s oil and gas production, and the pipeline cross-road to Kazakhstan and Russia.
The unresolved state of partitioned Kashmir is the geopolitical key to resolving the endless wars in Afghanistan, the conflict between Pakistan and India, and open the entire region to the significant economic development future in cooperating in China’s One Belt, One Road rail and port infrastructure project.
SCO membership opens new doors
In recent months, aided by a less-US-dependent government of Najendra Modi, India has taken subtle, fine steps to create a detente and ultimately end the India-Pakistan endless conflict over Kashmir. Since his re-election in 2013 a Pakistani regime under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistani Muslim League and a Punjabi of Kashmir origin, has moved Pakistan away from the one-sided US dependence under General Musharraf that followed the September 2001 US War on Terror and Washington’s disastrous Afghanistan war. Sharif, while maintaining friendly relations with Washington, no easy feat, has also sought improved ties with China, a long-standing Pakistan ally, and with Russia, the latter a strong Cold War ally of India.
Modi, the Hindu nationalist leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since becoming Indian Prime Minister in May 2014, has launched an impressive cleanout of India’s bloated state planning bureaucracy, has moved to make foreign investment more attractive. The result was that in 2015, India became the world’s leading foreign direct investment country, even surpassing China. Modi has made major steps to improve India’s transportation infrastructure, especially highways and rail networks, with railway reform the priority. India under Modi has launched joint venture construction of 1,000 new French and US diesel locomotives under his “Make in India” plan. At end of December 2015, his government signed an agreement with Japan to jointly build a high-speed bullet train system linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and a massive expansion of India’s highway network, creating modern transport links to remote areas for the first time. In addition, 101 rivers are being converted into national waterways for the transport of goods and passengers.
While his domestic economic agenda has to date been impressive, Modi clearly realizes that the future to robust Indian economic transformation is to link the world’s second most populous nation to the emerging Eurasian economic space dominated by China and Russia. In July, 2015 the Eurasian Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an increasingly strategic group created in 2001 in Shanghai to increase cooperation across the Eurasian land space among China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, voted to extend full membership status in 2016 to both Pakistan and India. It was the first expansion in the SCO’s 15-year history, and potentially its most significant, as it opens the entire Eurasian land area from China to India via Pakistan, and westard to Kazakhstan, Russia and other member states of the Eurasian Economic Union including in addition to Russia and Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.
The SCO states in 2015 officially endorsed participation in China’s vast One Belt, One Road rail and sea infrastructure Great Project. Modi clearly envisions linking his upgraded Indian railway network to China’s Silk Road project. Detente with Pakistan is the geographical key to that.
That Eurasian economic agenda was clearly a driving motive for a surprise visit by Modi to Pakistan’s capital, Lahore, to meet with Prime Minister Sharif on December 25, returning from unannounced talks in Kabul, Afghanistan and before that, with Putin in Russia, where both countries agreed major defense and nuclear energy projects. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, greeted the Modi-Sharif talks, stating it would strengthen the “bonds of friendship and usher in an era of peace and stability in the region. This is an evolutionary process and step in the right direction.” It was the first trip to Pakistan by an Indian prime minister since 2004.
Sharif in recent months has engaged Pakistan in a subtle but significant geopolitical shift. For decades, Saudi Arabia had considered Pakistan as a vassal state, economically backward and dependent on Saudi financial largesse. During the 1980’s, CIA Operation Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States CIA operation to train fanatical nominally Muslim terrorists, dubbed Mujahideen to run a guerilla war against the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistani secret intelligence, ISI of ultra-conservative General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator then, was selected by the Reagan-Bush administration to run their unholy war, or as Zbigniew Brzezinski called it, “Russia’s ‘Vietnam.'”
The Mujahideen of Afghanistan were recruited by a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, then working for the CIA’sOperation Cyclone and handled by Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence until days before September 11, 2001, a person close to the Bush family. Al-Faisal sent a rich young Saudi, Osama bin Laden, to Pakistan during the 1980’s to run the recruitment of fanatical Sunni terrorists in Operation Cyclone, thousands recruits from the ultra-strict Saudi Arabia Wahhabist Islam.
That intimate Saudi-Pakistani corrupt connection is clearly weakening under Sharif’s regime, despite top level meetings between the Pakistan military and the Saudi King last November. When Saudi Defense Minister and de facto present ruler, Prince Salman announced on December 14 the formation of a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Islam states that had agreed to fight ISIS in Syria, Pakistan’s foreign ministry announced they had not been formally asked and that they would not join the Saudis in deploying troops in Syria.
Potentially far more important is the development, however, of relations between Pakistan and India. Modi and Sharif met privately during the July 2015 Ufa, Russia Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, where both agreed on direct cooperation on anti-terrorism measures and Sharif invited Modi to the 2016 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit which Modi accepted.
Now, with clear desire on the part of both Sharif and Modi to defuse the Kashmir and other conflicts that have kept Pakistan and India in a state of constant tension since 1947, the prospect is more real than ever in recent decades to create detente and even economic cooperation.
With China and Russia both engaged in positive dialogue with both countries, and the immense economic prospects of China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure Great Projects, along with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s worst nightmare–the economic coalescence of the nations of Eurasia including India, China and Russia–is at hand. Iran, whose US-imposed sanctions are about to be lifted, would clearly join the Eurasian economic space. It is a Shanghai Cooperation Organization Observer whose membership reportedly awaits lifting of the sanctions. A view to the Eurasian map shows the vast and exciting new geopolitical space emerging.
In his now infamous 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski, architect of the 1979 CIA Muhajideen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, noted, “it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus of also challenging America.”
Brzezinski went on to elaborate the threat of that Eurasian emergence:
A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania (Australia) geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.
The challenge for the Eurasian SCO nations, including Pakistan and India now, will be to prevent “terror” and other disruptions from sabotaging the emerging detente between Pakistan and India. We can be sure that Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman is working overtime to find a way to derail the cooperation along with certain networks close to the neoconservative Obama warhawks.
The coming months will be a crucial time for the future of Eurasia and, by extension, for the future of peaceful global economoic and political development. Again, Russia and China are playing a constructive, mediating role and the West, especially Washington, and her allies are trying everything to hinder that.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.