Change in an international context


The global balance of power is undergoing tremendous flux and is causing the existing transnational security alliances to revisit their raison d’etre and threat perceptions. At the same time, the imbalance of power between the existing and emerging powers, such as the so-called BRIC nations, is producing stress in international relations. These tensions are manifesting most directly in places where vacuum exists and international actors are competing to tilt the power balance in their favour, such as in Afghanistan.

As change speeds up in the global arena, the status quo has become untenable. Appropriate local and regional responses are urgently needed to deal with change in the global context.

When grappling with complex and uncertain realities, the past can be an essential resource. Equally crucial is to examine how great leaders and nations have dealt, historically, with the intricate challenges of their times, to get a sense of what was crucial to them, to search for clues and lessons that can solve present dilemmas and help define the future direction.

As an example and historical parallel, consider the struggle for independence that eventually led to the birth of Pakistan and India in 1947. A case can be made that the independence of the subcontinent was as much a result of the local and regional politics, as it was a consequence of the tussles of European powers.

There was a difference in how leaders such as Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru interpreted what the change in global environment at the time meant for the subcontinent. Jinnah opposed the Khilafat Movement and considered it a religious exaggeration while Gandhi supported the movement. In Jinnah’s assessment, emphasis appears to have been on what was possible. Convinced that the time for empires had passed, he embraced the nation-state trend in the world polity and discarded the Pan-Islamism. Similarly, Jinnah opposed the ‘Quit India’ Movement. Most of the strategic posturing of Jinnah and Gandhi, and Muslims and Hindus, was in relation to the WWII and what its aftermath meant for their respective causes and interests.

On the other hand, the following quote depicts the British thinking about the region and particularly its worries concerning Afghanistan. George Curzon put it this way in1889. “Whatever be Russia’s designs upon India, whether they be serious and inimical or imaginary and fantastic, I hold that the first duty of English statesman is to render any hostile intention futile, to see that our own position is secure, and our frontier impregnable, and so to guard what is without doubt the noblest trophy of British genius, and the most splendid appendage of the Imperial Crown.”

Pakistan has once again arrived at a similar fork. Jinnah, likely chose the path he did, based on examining the historical and global context. Undertaking a similar examination process within today’s global context is now imperative. It is vital to first understand the threats, patterns and trends that are shaping the emerging world and will directly and indirectly influence the local and regional change.

One of these trends is the weakening of the state structures of the countries of South and Central Asia, Middle East and Northern Africa. The war against terror and the terrorist both have operated across borders and have exerted tremendous pressure on the nation-state system. The unpopular, corrupt and often undemocratic governments of these regions are increasingly caught in the middle of this struggle between extremists and coalition forces.

Another pattern diminishing the nation-state classification in these regions is the growing disconnect between the people and their governments. Some of these fissures have been amplified by WikiLeaks, exposing the duplicitous roles of these governments.

In the immediate future, the change caused by the Arab Spring is obviously impacting the autocratic rulers of these countries. The shift in US policy to end its support for the forces of the status quo is undoubtedly producing a ripple effect.

As the old guard recuperates from the early blows in Tunisia and Egypt, they are likely to either start reforming slowly, or resist and ultimately join hands with the radical forces. Additionally, they may try to redirect the focus away from themselves and towards the Western camp, using growing anti-Americanism and religious extremism as fuel.

The US would like to prevent jihadi extremists being useful to any adversarial emerging regional or global power, just as they were in the past useful to the US against the Soviets. In the post-Osama environment, the US is urgently making a distinction between groups that can be reconciled within the Islamic world and those that would have to be dealt with force. The Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqanis and LeT in the South Asian context, and Iran and Syrian-supported Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East, fall in the latter category.

It’s not clear yet how the present-day leaders of the region may adapt to such transformations in the global geopolitical situation. However, if history were to offer any lessons, the tussles of Arab, Persian and Turk civilisations would once again play a prominent role.

Interestingly, in the European theatre where the states had already matured in to a more interdependent union, nationalism is resurging as economic woes escalate. This pattern will likely complicate the premise that trade between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would lead to regional stability. If anything, India like Germany may become increasingly apprehensive towards such dependence, as it has already demonstrated by opting out of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

In the future columns, we would continue to discern, synthesise and interpret the implications of the change in the regional and global geopolitical situation.

The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact ( and and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. The Afghanistan misadventure has not only changed the world; it has distorted its civil and human face. Taliban’s ability to carry out this multi-target and multi-location but finely coordinated operation in the Afghan capital lays bare the depth of the U.S.-NATO failure in the country. Nearly a decade into the U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan no section of the country is secure; not even the heart of the capital. Apparently only six Taliban fighters kept Afghan and NATO forces engaged for over twenty hours in the Wazir Akhbar Khan district. Do these attacks suggest that fate of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is not going to be any different from that of the USSR? Shrewd Taliban strategists are employing the same tactics which were used to economically bleed the Soviet Union. Michael F. Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer, rightly depicted bin Laden as a rational actor who is fighting to weaken the United States by weakening its economy, rather than merely combating and killing Americans. Read more at:

Comments are closed.