Saturday, October 1st, 2022 01:40:03

Predicting 2017

Updated: January 26, 2017 2:29 pm

This time last year, Indians were discussing and basking in the new bonhomie that had been created with Prime Minister Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to greet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday that falls on 25 December. The newfound spirit of friendship, however, was rudely shattered by the terrorist attack on Pathankot airfield. Relations have not attained any semblance of normalcy since then, with continued sponsored violence in J&K, extended curfew in the area, more terrorist attacks, which were finally subdued by a strong counter-attack by India. If anyone has thoughts of Pakistan having learnt a lesson, one is mistaken. Pakistan is like the proverbial ‘dog’s tail’ that can never be straightened. The new Army Chief of Pakistan, Gen Qamar Bajwa, has yet to show his true colours in dealing with the civil government in Pakistan, or even to show his hand in either curbing or encouraging the attacks across the LOC/IB, through the ISI. While India may have turned the screws on Pakistan, it would do well to continue with keeping that country under pressure through some deft diplomacy, not waiting and watching, but shaping events.

August 2017 will mark the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence, because of which nationalist fervour will be running high in both countries, as the day comes closer. This surge in nationalism on both sides of the border, and the perennial cross-border militant attacks into Kashmir will have both governments on high alert.

The fundamental in the dynamics of the region is how much power Pakistan’s military, and particularly the army, has in the country’s politics, having ruled for nearly half of the country’s history and suffered the ignominy of a massive surrender to the Indian Army. It is too early to say how the country’s recently appointed army chief, will alter the civil-military balance of power. Nevertheless, the threat from India, real or perceived, will continue to push the army to maintain the status quo to justify its existence to the population.

China’s economic slowdown and its ongoing evolution compound this entity. At the same time that the world is trying to cope with reduced Chinese demand after decades of record growth, China is also slowly but surely moving its own economy up the value chain to produce and assemble many of the inputs it once imported, with the intent of increasing consumption within itself. China is going through difficult times, what with its down turn in the economy, its lowered standing in the world polity, especially in its neighbourhood with the adverse verdict on the South China Sea. The threat of a global economic meltdown and impending changes that the world awaits with abated breath with the accession of Donald Trump to the presidency of USA, are not likely to make it any better for any nation, more so China.

While Trump has announced sweeping changes in his run–up to his election victory, and subsequently, it is to be seen how many of those ‘policy’ statements can he really enforce. Revising trade relationships the way he intends to, for example, may have been feasible a couple decades ago. However, that is no longer tenable in the current and evolving global order where technological advancements in manufacturing are proceeding apace and where economies, large and small, are tightly interlocked in global supply chains. It will have to be very selective while imposing trade barriers, for the risk of a rising trade row with China will reverberate far-and-wide.


For decades, the USA has stuck to the ‘one-China’ policy, under which it recognised the government in Beijing as the only legal representative of China. Yet at the same time, USA kept its lines of communication open with Taiwan, including trade deals and arms sales. This dual approach was shattered by a 10-minute phone call by Trump within a few days of his election, to the President of Taiwan. The phone call broke a 40-year diplomatic precedent, something no US president, or president-elect has done since it withdrew its recognition of Taiwan in the 1970s; however, the passing of such a message is not as simple as it appears to be.

Diplomacy often requires subtlety and the use of careful phrasing, examining each word and punctuation point in every sentence. At times, though, this caution seems to become an end unto itself. What can be read between the lines is that the President-elect was neither ill informed, nor naive; on the other hand, it shows that he is willing to play one China against the other, to draw fresh contours in the Sino-US relations. USA would like to subdue China in its own backyard, where it has been aggressively pushing claims in the South China Sea; it would also want China to exercise ‘control’ over the nuclear programme of North Korea. By doing what he did while still president-elect, Trump has made his point, creating enough uncertainty in Chinese leaders’ minds, and hence, affecting its standing in the SE Asian region.

India raised its profile significantly in the global arena in 2016, but China appears determined to block its rise. While India has successfully played, at times, the game of containing China, through its upsurge in relations with Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, Mongolia, and more recently, Indonesia, China too, has been active in curbing Indian initiatives. On Friday, 30 December 2016, which was the last day prior to the expiry of the technical hold against the India-sponsored resolution to declare Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as a terrorist, China blocked the move through a veto in the UNSC. This move by China is being seen by the world as a significant show of support for its long-time ally, Pakistan, and a move to thwart Indian initiatives in international bodies. China was also the main challenger in 2016 to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), even though India had the support of almost all nations. It is expected that China will, once again, try to stall India’s entry into the NSG, when the issue comes up under new criteria that the Chairman NSG has proposed and which is likely to facilitate India’s entry.

China is once again trying to increase its presence in India’s neighbourhood. It is, in partnership with Pakistan, building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and will soon have unrestricted access to the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean through the port of Gwadar. It has, reportedly gained concessions in the port of Hambantota, in Sri Lanka, where it had gained entry during the regime of President Rajapaksa. Similarly, a Chinese company has been leased an island in the Maldives, to develop an airport and a tourist centre, just South of Male. China has been wooing Nepal and Bangladesh too with liberal economic and military assistance. These developments would have adverse strategic implications for India, not just in 2017, but also for some years to come.

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Other Issues

Apart from the issues with neighbours that could, or rather would have an impact on India, there are some other global issues too, which merit deliberation.

The Islamic State, what is also known as Daesh, is losing territory and, hence, its hold in the ‘Caliphate’, through concerted attacks on Mosul and Alleppo. Losing these two key cities, would push it into the desert between Syria and Iraq, and sandwiched between Russia-backed Syrian troops on the one side and US-backed Iraqi troops on the other. However, the Islamist terror group would not be decimated; rather it would carry out ‘lone-wolf attacks in all nations that are trying to kill it. This is already visible, as was in the deadly nightclub attack in Turkey. The Shia-Sunni-Arab divide will remain and continue to be the fountainhead of terror attacks, which will continue even if the Islamic State is annihilated, for then Al-Qaeda would step in to the vacuum thus created. While India would be relieved at the end of the Islamic State, the likes of Talban, JeM, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), would continue to keep its security and intelligence agencies working overtime.

Oil as the main energy source for the world would continue to keep the economists busy. OPEC and non-OPEC nations have agreed to curtail production, in an effort to boost the prices and shore up their economies. If no nation cheats, OPEC and Russia are to cut their production by 1.8 million barrels per day. Oil prices, already hovering around $ 60 per barrel, would possibly rise to $ 70 or even $ 80 per barrel; gas prices would follow, allowing the Middle-Eastern nations, and countries like Venezuela and Russia to breathe easy. Even if all the major oil-producing countries follow the restrictions in production, USA, under Trump, could play spoilsport. He has announced plans to increase shale oil production and export all of it, along with US coal. If that happens, the OPEC/non-OPEC agreement would fall, in every likelihood, with Iran leading the way. India too would be greatly relieved if Trump follows on his declared intentions, and keeps the oil prices at or below $ 60 per barrel.

Nationalist fervour has been building up in other nations too, and not just in India and Pakistan. France, Holland, and Germany are to go to the polls this year. The last year, 2016, saw the EU go through some rough times, thanks to Germany’s ‘open-door’ policy for immigrants from Syria and other Muslim nations. The policy of welcoming the immigrants has boomeranged on EU, with many nations now having closed their borders.

The recent terror attacks in France and Germany are proof that some lone-wolf terrorists, under the influence of Islamic State ideology, who are now adopting novel methods to attack the populace, have infiltrated the ranks of the immigrants. This has given rise to the far-right politicians, who are clamouring not only for curbs on the immigrants, but even some economic and travel policies to be repealed. If the right wing does well, it may well be the doomsday for EU. If the EU is saved, and, hypothetically, if Brexit is reversed, it may possibly be a boon for India, much to its relief, but immigration policies could become harsher, no matter what.

Come 20 January, an environment of political uncertainty is likely to erupt with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of USA. What with his utterances and tweets of the recent past on his attitude towards Israel, his oil policy, his equation with Putin, his relationship with the traditional allies of USA, President-elect Trump is likely to reorient USA’s foreign policy. Donald Trump’s presidency may offer some opportunities for India, though, he may be found a little unprepared in dealing with Pakistan and China. A thaw in Russia-US relations could blunt the emerging Russia-China-Pakistan axis, a move that will be beneficial to India.

Concluding Thoughts

The Yale historian, Paul Kennedy, used the word “fissiparous” in his 1988 book, ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’. The root of “fissiparous” is fission, or coming apart — the opposite of fusion, or fusing together. Thus, fissiparous tendencies are those tendencies, which pull things, like the European Union, apart. The world has seen many such occurrences in 2016. Their momentum is an indicator to what 2017 will look like.

Grexit was expected, but it turned into a Brexit! The immigration crisis, which began as a trickle, has turned in to a flood, thus heightening the fear of Islam. This in turn has strengthened the right wing in many nations. The year 2017 is going to see further suggestions of a “clash of civilizations,” the phrase made famous by Samuel Huntington’s book with the same name.

The world has increasingly destabilized and it is extremely difficult to state, as clearly as possible, as what has happened and why, and what is likely to happen. Predicting future in a confusing security environment, with the present fusions and fissions, is all the more problematic. The continuities and discontinuities, always, do not have a happy-ending.

The reason is obvious, the future is yet to happen, but happen, it will!


By Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja

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