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Power Politics and Political Instability in South Asia

07 Oct 2021
By Dr Seema Khan
Satellite image of the Gwadar Peninsula. Source: NASA

In Realpolitik, states ambitiously plan for and pursue their national interests, which often comes into conflict with other states’ interests, bringing instability to regions where these power games are played. This is well illustrated in South Asia, particularly in Balochistan.

Currently, the Quad and its significance for global peace and harmony are the topic of great discussion. The geostrategic mapping of goals within this quadrilateral partnership — America, Australia, Japan, and India — are aligned. In South Asia, on the other hand, there is another quadrilateral relationship which is clearly divided into two alliances — America and India, China and Pakistan — hence making it two versus two. The conflicting and competing interests of the two alliances have created a volatile situation in the region.  

Analysing geopolitics in South Asia with a different perspective brings forth different realities, wherein China containment policies have surrounded the region, turning it into a conflict zone. The power tussle between the US, the existing super power, and China, a strong contender for sharing the domination, is being played out through India, another regional emerging power. The globe appears to be transitioning from a unipolar to a multipolar world order, with contestants unwilling to share power and at odds on number of issues 

With its massive outreach through the gigantic infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has acquired a strong economic and strategic position. It has emerged as a significant regional as well as global force. India, on the other hand, has yet to achieve that economic stature. Nonetheless, its strategic outreach, which has been bolstered by strong American assistance, cannot be overlooked. However, when two giants with conflicting and competing interests are positioned in a region, the diverging agendas invariably result in violence and political instability in states bordering the two. 

US policymakers see the BRI as Chinese expansionism, enabling China to counter the US extended outposts and create pressure points from the East, South, and West.  Every rise hath a fall, and American supremacy is no exception. However, power transitions are invariably accompanied by violence and wars. American strife to maintain its hegemony on global affairs with its military might has led to numerous conflicts and a significant loss of lives, which is evident when looking at Afghanistan, the Middle East, and previously in Vietnam. Selective geopolitical considerations and corporate and commercial interests have compelled the US to devise a China containment policy, making the region more vulnerable and prone to violence. China, on the other hand, has adopted a multipronged strategy to acquire a leading role in global affairs based on shared economies. The BRI is a manifestation of Beijing’s geostrategic goals vis-à-vis the United States and regional emerging power — including from India 

Some would argue that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has created an opportunity for China to expand. This is not the case: in pursuance of its goal and to maintain its influence over the region, the US has partnered with key regional player India to prevent China from spreading its influence. The US has extended its strategic, military, and financial support to India in order to retain its position in the region, which has unnecessarily strained relations among regional actors. Similarly, Beijing is redefining its geopolitical strategies connecting its maritime and road links with Pakistan through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Gwadar Port in Balochistan, the CPEC’s flagship project, provides China with access to the Strait of Hormuz — the closest route to Central Asian Republics (CARs), the Middle East, and Africa. CPEC is the model economic corridor of the six corridors in the BRI, and its success has both economic and strategic dimensions for the two partners. However, politically unstable Balochistan will be a weak link in CPEC and the BRI.  

The lynchpin of the CPEC is the Gwadar port, which is located in south of Balochistan. Due to its strategic location, Gwadar Port offers control of the Strait of Hormuz – the busiest trade route as well as an entry to the Middle East and CARs, which boast huge hydrocarbon reserves. Both partners in the CPEC, China and Pakistan, are hopeful that the project will be beneficial for the entire region. However, pundits of the region consider CPEC strategic Chinese move to dominate the region and acquire a powerful position. In a bid to minimise China’s rise, regional and global players are adopting China containment policies

Turmoil in Balochistan, particularly in Gwadar, serves the interests of the other two countries in the quadrilateral relationship. The failure of CPEC would help India more than the US because it hampers China’s rise while also allowing India to settle its score with Pakistan. Therefore, it is India, with complete support of the US creating political, diplomatic, military, and economic obstacles for Pakistan in Balochistan, that can hinder China’s expansion.  

Dr Seema Khan has worked extensively with the government of Pakistan since 1999 and completed different tiers of academic education from three leading Australian Universities—Monash, The University of Melbourne, and Deakin. Seema holds a PhD from Deakin University in International Relations, and core areas of interests are power politics and strategic studies. 

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.