Geopolitics, Taliban, and food security are resetting power equations in Asia, writes KC Singh
On a short trip to meet the grandchildren in Dubai, escaping New York on Christmas, one notices the total disconnect between the festive atmosphere here and the looming Omicron and the geopolitical dangers around the world. The success of this 21st century Beirut is based on creating an oasis of high quality life and entertainment, disconnected from reality.
Even at the turn of the century, despite 9/11, Dubai used the US military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to do what Thailand did during the US-Vietnam War. It has become a haven of peace for rest and recreation. He relaxed the investment rules for expats to invest money in real estate. The Dubai Expo, delayed for a year because of the Covid-19, is now in full swing; and a beachside branch of a famous Mykonos restaurant, Namos, would put the original to shame.
But reality cannot be banished, only ignored. A motorist from Peshawar inquired about Navjot Sidhu, a former cricketer and current congressman from Pradesh to Punjab. He is, he said, a friend of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Sidhu can be criticized in India for claiming that Imran is like an older brother, especially after the recent bombing in a court in Ludhiana, but popular mythology can shape public perceptions.
The reality is that Pakistan is struggling to manage new militant organizations at home and gain legitimacy for the Taliban government in Afghanistan. In addition, the relentless humanitarian crisis in that country receives little attention from the international community. At the recent Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) special meeting, only Saudis graciously opened their purses. The likely exit of refugees from Afghanistan that would result could increase instability in the region. Pakistan may be beginning to realize that its success in convincing the Taliban, its close ally, to seize power in Kabul may be a poisonous chalice. Pakistan allowing Indian food aid to go overland into Afghanistan may be recognition that a future with India excluded from that country is impractical. But this is far from restoring the normality of Indo-Pakistani relations.
The reasons are not difficult to decipher. One is the BJP’s pre-election attempt to community-bias the votes in Uttar Pradesh and even Punjab. The other is the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) demarcation exercise, which reserves more seats for the Jammu region. Maybe the BJP wants to restore the state only after rebalancing electoral arithmetic in J&K. But that can only be after the results of the national elections in March. Meanwhile, more terrorist acts in Punjab and J&K may poison the regional atmosphere.
As if that weren’t complicated enough, the Chinese did not halt their advance against India along the Real Line of Control (LAC), notably by installing small groups of people along their lines of. claim, often in the space claimed by India. But China faces a slowing economy and perhaps more serious danger from Omicron, as Chinese vaccines are of questionable use against it. This is likely to make the Chinese regime more precarious and therefore more assertive on national security issues. Meanwhile, there is some interesting data on China’s emerging food grains as the Indian government ends its standoff with Indian farmers in grain-producing states. China spent $ 98.1 billion importing food last year. According to Nikkei Asia, over the past five years, Chinese imports of soybeans, corn and wheat have doubled with purchases from the United States, Brazil, etc. Some of these purchases were made through private companies. The reason is that the prices of food globally have increased. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) food price index is 30% higher than the previous year. Apparently, China’s hoarding is a major reason for this. Chinese production of wheat and other food crops peaked in 2015.
Thus, food security could once again become a major problem after decades of high agricultural productivity following the green revolution of the 1960s. India will have to rethink its agricultural strategy. The hastily passed farm laws and their equally swift repeal have shown that reform requires patience and consensus building. This does not mean that reform is not achievable. It also shows how domestic politics and diplomacy in Asia are intertwined with the rise of India and China. Historically, two rising powers with opposing perceptions and unresolved differences have tended to go to war with each other rather than develop peacefully. When pandemics, food scarcity and climate change are thrown into the pack, it becomes even more complex and dangerous.
India has just changed emissary in Beijing. As great a Sinologist as the next nominee may be, diplomats can simply iron out the conflict between two nations. They cannot change national imperatives, especially if, as in India, national electoral cycles push a government towards hyper-nationalism. Also if, as in China, the internal pact of constant economic growth in exchange for political rights and freedoms is endangered. 4
The world, in particular Asia, is thus going through a period of redistribution of power. These phases reset the overall power equations. Wisdom and restraint are the prerequisites for this to happen peacefully, despite frequent conflicts of interest. For every Pathan Taxi Driver, you need one in India and China with a similar empathy for the citizens of a neighboring country. Hopefully 2022 will spread such humanism
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Posted on: Saturday December 25, 2021 8:31 am IST