Amidst the tense international political environment, the first six-nation Speakers’ Conferencein Islamabad was a welcome move. The moot discussed the challenges of inter-regional connectivity and terrorism. Representatives from Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan attended this crucial conference which called for establishing a joint mechanism to cope with the challenges of terrorism besides promoting inter-regional connectivity.
It is interesting to note that the US emerged as the champion of the anti-terror war in the aftermath of 9/11, coercing countries into joining this prolonged battle. Washington and its Western allies allocated immense resources to deal with extremism but the issue has largely remained unresolved. Critics say that, instead of reducing extremism, the US and its Western allies ended up fomenting more religious bigotry by following unwise political policies for short-term interests. Perhaps it was because of such policies of the West that the US and its Western allies were not part of the six-nation conference.
From day one, opponents of American hegemony were sceptical of Washington’s claims regarding the ‘war on terror’. They were worried that the US wanted to seek world domination in the name of this war. On the pretext of the elimination of Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan was reduced to ashes. Then Iraq was destroyed using the excuse of lethal weapons of mass destruction; in the process, the US ended up creating Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi besides. Then these jihadis managed to stir a full-blown civil war in Syria where the West and its Middle-Eastern allies were accused of bankrolling groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and even Isis. In Libya, jihadists toppled the government of secular dictator Colonel Qaddafi – allegedly with the help of the Western world. In Yemen, the West claimed to be fighting Al-Qaeda but in reality was seen siding with the forces that were fighting the Al-Qaeda – the Houthis.
As if this wasn’t enough, the world, regional countries in particular, were flabbergasted over the miraculous emergence of Isis in Afghanistan under the watchful eye of the US which is fighting the longest war of its history on foreign soil. It was not only opponents of the US in the region that expressed their surprise over the footprints of Daesh but ex-Afghan president Hamid Karzai, once the blue-eyed boy of the West, has also been vocal over the presence of these extremists on Afghan soil. Some Afghan politicians have also directly accused the US of bringing Daesh into the war-torn country to prolong its stay in the country.
The countries of the region seem to be realising that Washington plans to prolong its stay in a bid to keep an eye on Iran, China, Pakistan and Russia. It is perhaps this realisation that prompted these countries to play a more active role in stabilising Afghanistan. Isis does not pose a danger to Afghanistan but its tentacles could also engulf Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia and parts of Central Asia if it is not eliminated before it becomes stronger. The conference identified terrorism as a most pressing problem, underscoring the central role of the UN in the field of counterterrorism. This clearly indicates that the participants of the moot do not want to hand the US and its Western allies the blanket freedom to use terrorism as an excuse to further strategic interests. They had rather see the UN play a more active role, which means that once the matter is before the world body other states can also come up with their own ideas regarding the issue of terrorism.
The declaration of the six-nation conference also talked about regional connectivity. It reaffirmed support for the effective and timely implementation of all regional connectivity initiatives including infrastructure development, institutional linkages and people-to-people connectivity. Acknowledging that connectivity is a key priority area of cooperation, together with other agreed priority areas, the conference also recognised that enhancing intra-regional connectivity would benefit all participating countries through enhanced trade, investment, infrastructure, tourism, people-to-people linkages and cultural exchanges. These points clearly strengthen the position of China and Russia that want to challenge US hegemony through regional connectivity.
It is interesting to note that New Delhi did not express a keen interest in such connectivity, possibly because India is trying to hobnob with the US and its Western allies. Before harbouring a grudge against Pakistan and China, the biggest democracy should question itself whether it was these two Asian countries that plundered India or the British Raj that impoverished it, reducing its share of world economy from 23 percent, when the British arrived, to below four percent, when they left. Was it China or Pakistan that is responsible for the 20-29 million Indians who perished in the famines during the colonial times? The point is: if New Delhi can hobnob with its oppressors, why is it reluctant to extend a hand of friendship towards Islamabad and Beijing.
The states in the region have rightly realised that their salvation lies in regional connectivity. New Delhi is making the same mistake that Pakistan did during the cold war. Islamabad threw its support behind the Western world during that period but today the same Anglo-American world order is seemingly working against its interests. The states in the region are all furious over American policy and are unanimous in their opposition to American hegemony and its regime change formula. Almost every country in South Asia and beyond supports the Chinese policy of connectivity except India. The six-nation conference declaration also reflects their resolve to seek connectivity. Now, the Indian ruling elite need to decide whether they want to be part of this connectivity and contribute towards the prosperity of the region or become an ‘Ulster amidst the hostile Arab states’ and turn into a source of discord and conflict.
Pakistan, India, China, Iran and Afghanistan all have been victims of Western imperialist machinations. It is time these states shunned their differences. Russia seems to be close to both New Delhi and Islamabad and also enjoys good ties with Beijing. So, it can play an effective role in bringing Pakistan and India closer and can, at the same time, act as a bridge between China and India. Daesh is a common enemy of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, Central Asia and even India. This common enemy can provide them an opportunity to come together and address the problem of extremism.
India has a gargantuan appetite for energy and the shortest route to it goes through Pakistan. The Central Asian States can offer unlimited opportunities to solve the energy woes of the biggest democracy but for that stability in Afghanistan is crucial. It is time New Delhi and Islamabad evolved a consensus over the issue of Afghan insurgency. This is not possible unless New Delhi stops looking towards the West and starts supporting the idea of regional connectivity.
By: Abdul Sattar