After nearly five centuries of dominance over the rest of the globe, Europe began to fallback during the first half of the 20th century, because of the two World Wars. The devastation of 1914-19 gave heart and power to national liberation movements across Asia,while the weaknesses within their countries caused by the bloodshed and economic cost of 1939-45 enabled Egypt, India-Pakistan,Indonesia and other countries to become independent brief years after the end of that conflict. By the 1960s, most of Africa was free, with even South Africa following in the 1980s. Today,apart from specks on the map such as Diego Garcia (forcibly taken away from Mauritius), almost all of Asia is ( legally,at least) independent, with the exception of Iraq and Afghanistan,where foreign countries guide much of state policy,and where foreign troops are based in large numbers.
After reviewing the effects of the carnage,European statespersons resolved to prevent war by making borders irrelevant. Today, most of Europe has fused into a single visa-free zone, and people from different locations freely visit and work wherever they wish to. As a consequence,the psychological differences between the different countries in Europe are beginning to narrow, thus making war between them improbable. These days, even the French have infused themselves with an overlay of culture and attitudes from neighbours,including from Britain and Italy. In 1985,when this columnist and his wife went on a honeymoon visit to Paris, the natives refused to speak in English, until we retorted back in our own language,Malayalam. On being bombarded with what they thought was gobbledygook, the reluctant French finally began to reply back in the international link language. These days,however, it is almost a mark of distinction in France to be able to speak English well,especially with a Texan twang!
If France and Britain could become allies in the 20th century despite the many wars that they fought with each other, if even Germany and France could become friends as early as the 1960s, surely the countries of Asia can replicate such a situation. After all,whether in India or in China or in Pakistan ( the three big countries that are being discussed now), there are millions who ape the hairstyles and fashions of Europe. These belong to the elite, the very group that has refused to imitate one of the most positive parts of Europe, that continent’s newfound amity. Just as took place in Europe,in Asia too borders need to be made irrelevant, so that war gets taken off the table. By fighting each other,by obstructing each other,all that India,Pakistan and China are “achieving” is to ensure that outsiders continue to have the upper hand in all three. Either we become friends of each other,or we each remain the substantive servant of other powers.
Sadly,in none of the three has such wisdom dawned.Instead, all three continue their rhetoric against each other, oblivious to the long-term harm this does to each. India,China and Pakistan are in a class by themselves, with no paralell in modern Europe, not even that long-sparring pair,Greece and Turkey,who have after all never actually gone to war with each other. If India,China and Pakistan take out their calculators and compute the costs and benefits of each war that they have fought with each other,they will see that the cost has been borne by them while the benefit has flowed to outside powers. Had India and Pakistan become military allies,for example, the two together could have helped ensure security for their friends in the Middle East, thus permitting local governments to dispense with the troop presence from North America, Australia and Europe. A presence that by its huge logistical cost,its unbrarable level of civilian casualties and its cultural differences has created a distance within the Arab world between ruled and rulers who permit such an occupation of their terrritory to take place.This is the case even in Kuwait, a country that still has grateful memories of the US troops that liberated them in 1990.
Contingents from India and Pakistan could train local citizens in military and counter-terror tactics, without creating a cultural divide.After all,Arabs were welcome visitors on the shores of “Al-Hind” for a millenium. Today,millions from both countries live and work in the Middle East. As for security of sea lanes,this too could be assured by both powers,who have the logistical capability to ensure that these be kept open for commerce, another essentiality for the Middle East. Were China too to join the two subcontinental giants in a trilateral alliance,the reach of such a troika would stretch across the whole of Asia. Once the three come together,other powers are sure to join in,such as Russia, a fact that would make the grouping even stronger.
Small wonder that some countries would like to see perpetual war between India and Pakistan and perpetual tension between China and India. Unfortunately,the statespersons in the three countries have thus far not emulated the wisdom of their counterparts in Europe,by working out a matrix of conciliation and cooperation rather than incessant confrontation. Friends in Pakistan will say that settlement of Kashmir is a pre-condition for “establishing trust between India and Pakistan”. The view of this columnist is that the dispute will never get settled unless there is trust between the two countries. Once this gets established - through a vigorous partnership in multiple fields - a practicable solution to the dispute can be found with despatch. The lack of progress over sixty years is because the “cart” of a solution has been put before the “horse” of trust.
The same dynamic operates between China and India. Both sides need to talk frankly about their apprehensions, rather than avoid discussing them. Once India and Pakistan become friends and hopefully allies,India’s primary grouse with China, which is that country’s nuclear and missile assistance to Pakistan,will get eliminated. The root of China’s mistrust of India to be the Tibetan Government-in-exile at Dharamshala,in North India, an entity which has a Prime Minister and Ministers, none of whom accepts that China has a role in Tibet. The “Government of Free Tibet” wants the authorities in Beijing to amalgamate vast territories in Qinghai and Gansu provinces into a Tibet that would be free of Han settlers and be ruled by its own Kashag or Council. Short of a 1930’s -style collapse of the PRC,such an objective seems unachievable. Once China and India get closer, suspicion that Delhi is seeking the separation of Tibet from China will lessen and hopefully disappear, for such is emphatically not the case.
India,Pakistan and China are the big losers of the present uneasy dynamic between the three (excluding the close China-Pakistan partnership). Some other powers are the gainers,exactly as in the case with the Tibetans,where the geopolitical costs of hosting the Tibetan exile community are being borne by India,while the benefit flows to other countries (who are delighted to watch India and China snarl at each other,the way they are doing these days) The danger in the current situation is that it is not in equilibrium. Fresh terror attacks in India,even if not the responsibility of the Pakistan military, can create a dynamic that leads to incidents that can expand in scope .A similar situation exists on the Sino-Indian border,where a single hotheaded response can remove hopes of a Sino-Indian partnership for a generation. Once again,there is need tro bring out the slide rules and the abacus, to accept that the costs of tension between India,Pakistan and China can be massive,while the gains from such a state of affairs accrues to outside powers. Conversely,the gains to India,Pakistan and China of cooperation can be immense. Statespersons in each of the three countries should stop being donkeys led by outsiders,and instead work to forge the 21st Century India-Pakistan-China alliance that Asia needs for its stability and salience.