Shifting Alliances

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Sep 2018 12:40:01

Russia has reached out to the Taliban, which has accepted an invitation for peace talks in Moscow on September 4 to end the 17-year old war. Three decades ago, the Taliban were shooting down Russian helicopters with American-made Stinger missiles.

By CONN  HALLINAN

“BOXING the compass” is an old nautical term for locating the points on a magnetic compass in order to set a course. With the erratic winds blowing out of Washington these days, countries all over Asia and the Middle East are boxing the compass and re-evaluating traditional foes and old alliances.


India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the past half-century, and both have nuclear weapons on a hair trigger. But the two countries are now part of a security and trade organisation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with China, Russia, and most of the countries of Central Asia. Following the recent elections in Pakistan, Islamabad’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has called for an “uninterrupted continued dialogue” with New Delhi to resolve conflicts and establish “peace and stability” in Afghanistan.


Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is a critic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and particularly opposed to the use of U.S. drones to kill insurgents in Pakistan.


Russia has reached out to the Taliban, which has accepted an invitation for peace talks in Moscow on September 4 to end the 17-year old war. Three decades ago, the Taliban were shooting down Russian helicopters with American-made Stinger missiles. Turkey and Russia have agreed to increase trade and to seek a political solution to end the war in Syria. Turkey also pledged to ignore Washington’s sanctions on Russia and Iran. Less than three years ago, Turkish warplanes downed a Russian bomber, Ankara was denouncing Iran, and Turkey was arming and supporting Islamic extremists trying to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad.


After years of tension in the South China Sea between China and a host of Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, on August 2 Beijing announced a “breakthrough” in talks between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). After years of bluster—including ship-to-ship face-offs—China and ASEAN held joint computer naval games August 2-3. China has also proposed cooperative oil and gas exploration with
ASEAN members.


Starting with the administration of George W Bush, the US has tried to lure India into an alliance with Japan and Australia—the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “quad”—to challenge China in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. The Americans turned a blind eye to India’s violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dropped the ban on selling arms to New Delhi. The Pentagon even re-named its Pacific Command, “Indo-Pacific Command” to reflect India’s concerns in the Indian Ocean. The US is currently training Indian fighter pilots, and this summer held joint naval maneuvers with Japan and the U.S.—Malabar 18— in the strategic Malacca Straits.


But following an April Wuhan Summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi’s enthusiasm for the Quad appears to have cooled. New Delhi vetoed Australia joining the Malabar
war games.


At June’s Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore, Modi said “India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” and pointedly avoided any criticism of China’s behavior in the South China Sea. Given that Indian and Chinese troops have engaged in shoving matches and fistfights with one another in the Doklam border region, Modi’s silence on the Chinese military was surprising.


China and India have recently established a military “hot line,” and Beijing has cut tariffs on Indian products. During the SCO meetings, Modi and Xi met and discussed cooperation on bringing an end to the war in Afghanistan. India, Pakistan, and Russia fear that extremism in Afghanistan will spill over their borders, and the three have joined in an effort to shore up the Taliban as a bulwark against the growth of the Islamic State. There is also a push to build the long-delayed Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline that will eventually terminate in energy-starved India. India signed the SCO’s “Qingdao Declaration,” which warned that “economic globalisation is confronted with the expansion of unilateral protectionist policies,” a statement aimed directly at the Trump administration.


The Modi Government also made it clear that New Delhi will not join U.S. sanctions against Iran and will continue to buy gas and oil from Teheran. India’s Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, also said that India would ignore U.S. threats to sanction any country doing business with Russia’s arms industry. (IPA)