President Trump has already acknowledged in his letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan last month that the Afghan “war had cost both the US and Pakistan”. And on Thursday, he said, “We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan.” Though in the same breath, Trump did talk of Pakistan’s ‘help’ to the Afghan Taliban but the complaint sounded more like a rhetorical outburst than real.
It is in the backdrop of the latest change in the attitude of the US that we should look at the deepening and widening Indo-American honeymoon and stop viewing it with the Cold War lens. Indeed, the growing alliance between the US and India is being seen the world over as a grouping of ‘good guys’ being put together to contain the emergence of vast regions under the Chinese influence or what the Western media would like the world to believe the rise of a grouping of ‘bad guys’.
In this so-called new tussle between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ for carving out areas of influence, many of those wearing the Cold War lens see the signs of a grand global conflict on the lines similar to that seen during the Cold War days between the so-called ‘free-world’.
However, as opposed to the Cold War which was essentially an ideological tussle between two great powers influenced entirely by geopolitics, the competition that is emerging between the present ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ is not at all ideological and is entirely influenced by geo-economics and not geopolitics. And when geo-economics is the dominant subject or the primary issue between states, the two bilaterally or group-wise tend not to harm or undermine the markets in the rival grouping but bend backwards to help sustain them because that ensures continued and escalating incomes from trading which in turn ensures the prosperity of trading partners.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has emerged as the signature foreign policy initiative of the Xi Jinping administration. China’s motives seem clearly economic. Most important, Beijing has welcomed India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. So far the US has either fruitlessly attempted to undermine the initiative or avoided engaging with it altogether.
But one cannot completely rule out the possibility that Washington one day soon would be backing, in its own economic interests, the many aspects of the BRI that advance US interests. Of course, the US does not have to choose between securing its global position and supporting economic growth in Asia: selectively backing the BRI would surely help achieve both goals.
The passive-aggressive approach of the US to the BRI is clearly misguided. In Washington, saner politicians would soon start seeing that this approach allows China to shape Eurasia’s economic and political future without the US input; it denies American investors opportunities to profit from major infrastructure projects; and, insofar as it seeks to weaken the initiative, it could stifle a source of much-needed growth for Asia’s developing economies and Europe’s stagnating ones.
As the failed US attempt to prevent its allies from joining the AIIB shows, resisting China’s regional economic initiatives puts Washington in an uncomfortable position with some of its closest partners, many of which see the BRI as a useful tool for pulling the global economy out of the doldrums.
The two countries perhaps would find soon hopefully a bilateral forum in which to discuss a joint economic development agenda and come up with a role for the US that plays to its strengths. So, most likely rather than turning into a Cold War type of confrontation between the two groups of nations, one led by the US and the other by China, the BRI would perhaps lead to global cooperation with all nations notwithstanding their respective bilateral or multilateral conflicts joining hands for the greater good of all and hopefully for inclusive global prosperity.