An overarching phenomenon predating the recent Israel-Palestine and Russia-Ukraine conflicts is the resurgence of great power competition in the global arena. This echoes the Cold War dynamics but today’s landscape is marked by a triad of formidable contenders – the U.S., China, and Russia, rendering the current power struggle more intricate and multi-faceted.

This great power competition is mainly triggered by U.S. anxieties regarding the rise of China and renewed Russian desire to find a greater role in global politics.

The official documents of the U.S.  – Defence and Security Strategies of 2022 – consider China as a strategic challenger and Russia an acute threat. The U.S. strategy, which started as a pivot to Asia-Pacific has evolved into a direct and unequivocal competition with China. Washington perceives China’s formidable military (third largest in the world) and economic capabilities (second largest in the world) as posing the most significant and far-reaching challenge to U.S. national security and its world hegemony, particularly in terms of reshaping the broader Western-constructed international system.

Hence, in its efforts to counterbalance China’s strengths, the U.S. is actively shaping the strategic landscape around Beijing to safeguard the Western-established international order. To achieve this aim, the U.S. is employing a strategic approach characterized by “invest, align, and compete.”

This strategy encapsulates bolstering American competitiveness concerning China and coordinating its endeavors with that of its global allies to effectively compete with Beijing. Integral to this strategy is the formation of new alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) comprising the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan, and the establishment of trilateral security partnership AUKUS (Australia-UK-U.S.), in which, among many things, UK and U.S. will provide and help Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs). These alliances represent pivotal components of the overarching strategy to contain China’s growing influence.

Meanwhile, Beijing and Moscow have forged a pragmatic partnership based on mutual interests. This partnership is centered on thwarting U.S. encroachment into their strategic areas of influence and advocating for a multi-polar global order where China and Russia are on equal footing with the U.S. Their aspiration for a multi-polar world order is also evident in their official declarations. Moreover, China and Russia have maintained close dialogue and coordination within various international forums such as the UN, SCO, BRICS, and G20, collaborating to promote a multi-polar world.

The ongoing power struggle among these nations carries significant implications for various regions worldwide, including South Asia as well, which is home to two nuclear-armed States, India and Pakistan.

The South Asian region, already grappling with a myriad of traditional and non-traditional security challenges, notably the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan, now finds itself further entrenched in a security quagmire because of intensifying great power competition.

The primary destabilizing factor in South Asia stems from the U.S. strategy aimed at positioning India as a net security provider. This entails bolstering India’s diplomatic, economic, and military capabilities to cultivate it as a counter-weight to China. For Pakistan, this presents a critical security challenge, as any enhancement in India’s military arsenal creates a security dilemma for Islamabad. The concern emanates from the assessment that these advanced weapons could potentially be utilized against Pakistan in future crises.

The U.S. has been extending waivers to India, deliberately overlooking any actions by New Delhi that may destabilize the region or even run contrary to Washington’s interests, all in a bid to avoid upsetting India. New Delhi has now become a major defense partner of Washington and enjoying Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status as well. These designations have granted India access to a wide array of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Moreover, the Indo-U.S. security cooperation has yielded four foundational agreements: Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). These agreements will bolster India’s military situational awareness, preparedness, and capability to plan precision strikes, thereby creating a security dilemma for Pakistan.

India has also been granted a waiver from the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which imposes sanctions on countries procuring Russian military equipment. Consequently, India has acquired three S-400 air defense systems from Russia without facing any repercussions. Furthermore, despite U.S. pressure on countries to refrain from engaging in economic dealings with Russia due to the Ukraine conflict, India has continued to purchase Russian oil at favorable rates.

India has procured 36 Rafale aircraft from France and has approved the acquisition of 26 new French marine Rafale jets and three Scorpion-class submarines.

There is also an academic debate on providing India with an AUKUS-type agreement, known as INFRUS (India-France-U.S.). With this kind of support from the U.S. and European countries, India’s military buildup is well underway, paving the path for its envisioned role as a net security provider in the region.

All these favors and waivers extended to India complement its aspirations of transforming into a Hindutva State and asserting regional hegemony. Under the current BJP-led Indian Government, steps have been taken to reshape India into Bharat, a nation where other religious identities especially Muslims find little space.

The recent inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya built at the site of the Babri Masjid, and the operationalization of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which removes barriers to acquiring Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis, excluding Muslims, from the neighboring countries serves as a poignant example of this agenda. Strikingly, there has been a notable absence of outcry from Western-led international human rights and religious freedom organizations regarding these developments.

Moreover, India perceives that the primary hurdle to its pursuit of regional hegemony is Pakistan – which steadfastly defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Consequently, New Delhi has adopted aggressive military strategies such as the Land Warfare Doctrine and so-called surgical strikes, while enhancing its conventional and nuclear military capabilities e.g. the recent testing of Agni-V ballistic missile with MIRV capability in the absence of any BMD capabilities in the region, to quell Pakistan’s resilience.

However, these efforts have thus far failed to achieve their intended outcomes. Nevertheless, such military ventures carry significant risks of escalation, as evidenced by the 2019 Kashmir crisis. Following India’s airstrike in Balakot (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in response to a so-called terrorist attack on an Indian military convoy in Pulwama, Pakistan retaliated with strikes of its own, resulting in the downing of two Indian fighter planes and the capture of one pilot.

The crisis could have spiraled to a nuclear level had Pakistan not demonstrated restraint and responsibility by voluntarily giving back the pilot. Furthermore, India is contemplating the annexation of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan, a move indicative of an irresponsible and extremist State.

The cumulative impact of measures aimed at positioning India as a counterweight to China and as a by-product, advancement of India’s regional hegemony is exacerbating instability in the South Asian region.

These developments compel Pakistan to undertake countermeasures to safeguard its security interests. Pakistan, as a responsible State, has shouldered the responsibility of maintaining regional balance for years. However, this responsible conduct must not be misconstrued as a weakness to be exploited by its adversaries.

The West, particularly the U.S., must recognize that their bet on India may not yield the desired results. India appears to be leveraging their support to serve its own interests. Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, in his book titled “The Indian Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World,” underscores that the escalating rivalry between Washington and Beijing poses numerous strategic challenges for India. However, he contends that New Delhi cannot simply align itself with one side or the other. Instead, India must cultivate the mindset to not only respond to this competition but also to leverage it – a stance that could define the new India. Moreover, India’s annual bilateral trade with China amounts to $135 billion, highlighting its significant economic ties with Beijing. Therefore, India is unlikely to jeopardize its economic interests by aligning too closely with one side in the geopolitical competition between the U.S. and China.

This evident stance underscores that India harbors no intention of becoming a mere proxy for the U.S. in fulfilling its goals and ambitions. India understands its pivotal position as the U.S.’s primary option, given its economic and military prowess, to counterbalance China. Consequently, India is leveraging this position to advance its interests.

Hence, it is imperative for regional and global peace that the U.S. recognizes the flaws in its strategy before it reaches a critical point. Instead, the U.S. should strive to foster a conducive environment in various regions that fosters inclusivity and emphasizes dispute resolution rather than nurturing conflicts. For South Asia, the path forward entails India acknowledging that its aspirations for economic prowess necessitate a focus on confidence-building measures and collaborative endeavors. Such endeavors should address shared challenges including dispute resolution, poverty alleviation, socio-economic development, and climate change. By prioritizing cooperation and mutual understanding, South Asia can pave the way for sustainable peace and prosperity in the region.

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