A new cold war?

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Global power matrix in flux

Even though all countries at various international forums have reaffirmed the resolve to cooperate for peace in the South Asian region and have expressed concern for the stability of Afghanistan, most of them involved in the process have started preparing for a seemingly imminent cold war between the US and China. The US is currently the only superpower in a unipolar world but the emergence of China as a new power centre has put it into confrontation with the country in multifarious ways.
During his trip to Australia, on November 17, 2011, President Barrack Obama, while sending an unmistakable message to Beijing said, “The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also made statements relevant in this context during his Asia visit. He revealed during his visit to Singapore that the US will shift a majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020 as part of a new US military strategy in Asia. Panetta’s Asia visit came at a time of renewed tension between China and Philippines, the latter being a major US ally.
With regards to strengthening its position in the Pacific, America has also cultivated security relations with New Zealand. It is also working with several Gulf countries to solidify its entrenchment in the region. American strategic thinkers take China’s military modernisation as a great threat to its military bases in the continent.
Russia and China had opposed the US-led NATO attack on Libya, while they have asked the US to resolve the question of Iran’s nuclear programme peacefully. But America and Israel are still acting upon a war-like diplomacy against Tehran. The US and China also have disagreement about many international issues. A notable one which has led them to being at loggerheads is the Taiwan issue.
Given that the US is now butting heads with two big powers – China and Russia – right in our backyard, doesn’t this shifting scenario necessitate some adjustment in our foreign policy? Already Pak-US relations are in considerable flux. Tensions already existed when the May 2nd operation took place which only worsened the situation. Things came to a head with the November 26 Salala incident. In response, Pakistan blocked the NATO supplies and closed the Shamsi airbase. Following these incidents, since Islamabad has decided to reassess its engagement with the US, it would do well to take the emergent scenario into consideration.
It seems that Pakistan is doing that to some extent. It has rejected American duress with regards to the IP gas pipeline project with Iran. Moreover, besides China, Pakistan has also cultivated its relationship with the Russian Federation. Moscow and Islamabad agreed to enhance bilateral relations in diverse fields.
In 2010, the then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin publicly endorsed Pakistan bid to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari participated in the 12th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization recently held in Beijing. While addressing the summit, hinting at US overtures in the region, Chinese President Hu Jintao said that the international situation had become complex, thus, leading to many uncertainties in the regional situation. He stressed that only if the SCO member states remain united can they effectively cope with the emerging challenges.
It cannot be denied that the US has key interests in this region and many of its recent liaisons with countries in the region can be explained in the context of its new designs. The US has made many foreign policy adjustments and they point towards the fact that the US is trying to buttress a few of its allies in the region to counteract growing Chinese and Russian influence.
Moreover, the US also needs to establish these relations to pursue its pressurisation campaigns against Iran and Pakistan and put its plans with regards to them into action. Its pacts with Afghanistan and India are a case in point. It has repeatedly pressed India not to cooperate with Iran while it has propped up India as a force and an ally in the region to tick off Pakistan’s establishment. Leon Panetta’s trip to the region thus makes sense in this context.
During his recent visit to New Delhi, Panetta revived the blame game and upped the ante on Pakistan by remarking that drone attacks would continue on terrorists’ safe havens within Pakistan. While there, Panetta also encouraged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan in training the Afghan forces.
India which has already invested billion of dollars in Afghanistan has signed wide-ranging strategic agreements with both the US and Afghanistan.
This nexus is clearly aimed at neutralising Pakistan and offsetting the influence of the emerging power of China and Russia.
Rapidly developing geo-political differences among global powers in Asia show that the next cold war is likely to be waged between the Russia-China alliance and the US-led block and many of their battles will directly or indirectly involve Pakistan.
Thus, it is imperative that Pakistan rethink its role in the region and reevaluate its relations not just with the superpower but with its neighbours and regional and international powers. It needs to abandon outdated foreign policy paradigms and wake up to the new ground realities.

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