Andrew Small is a Transatlantic Fellow with the Asia programme at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Educated at Balliol College, University of Oxford, his research focuses on US-China relations, EU-China ties, Chinese policy in South and South- West Asia, and China’s role in “problem” and fragile states. His articles and papers have been published in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, Foreign Policy and The Washington Quarterly. He has also authored a book called China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics. In a candid conversation with Riyaz Wani, he talked about the future of Afghanistan, Indo- Pak ties and Taliban.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Where do you see the larger Geo-politics in the sub-continent heading ten years down the line? More so, with the rise of China and, at a lesser level, of India coupled with the US’s exit from Afghanistan.
A : Ten years is quite a long period, but there are several trends that we can expect to persist in the future. First is the drive to deepen regional economic connectivity. Although China’s current efforts are the most ambitious in scale — notably the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) set of Silk Road schemes launched under Xi Jinping — there are other countries pursuing major infrastructure investments of their own, including India and Japan. Iran’s emergence from sanctions will allow it to be more closely involved in these new energy and transportation corridors too. While some aspects of this agenda may progress more slowly or not at all, like the Indo-Pak economic linkage, the impetus behind the efforts for a better economically integrated region is strong. Ideally, this will also act as a force of restraint for actors that were disproportionately focused on security goals.
Second is the drawdown in the presence of non-regional security actors, including the US, and its NATO allies, and a greater emphasis on local powers. Washington is vacating the geopolitical space in the Eurasian heartland, catalysing efforts by regional actors to step in to expand their own influence and take on responsibility for some of its looming challenges. Regional bodies like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are still weak though — much of this will play out bilaterally and through clusters of actors rather than through institutions.
Third is the intensification of both competitive and cooperative forces in the region. The need to address major new threats such as the IS is growing and there is a push for closer economic and trade ties, but geopolitical shadowboxing will expand alongside it. Among other things, China will be a more significant maritime actor in the Indian Ocean, while India will have greater capacity to play a role in the Asia Pacific.
There are talks of a new Geo-political realignment splitting the region into two blocs with Pakistan, China and possibly Russia on one side and US and India on the other. What is your view?
A : All the five countries have strong reasons to resist an alignment that splits the region into blocs. India doesn’t want to be in an exclusive bloc. It has important bilateral and global interests with regard to China and continued equities with Russia. Pakistan wants to continue to benefit from its relationship with the US. China would not want its relationship with Pakistan to cast a shadow on its ties with the US. In fact, Beijing is cooperating well with Washington on important aspects of policy in this region. Russia is still keeping its options open and has no interest in giving up its long-standing ties with India for the sake of Pakistan or China. The US is seeking to ensure that its competition with China in the Asia Pacific does not spill into other regions where the two sides are working together. Not all of these considerations will be true indefinitely but enough to make it unlikely that there will be hard blocs.