Is the Former President of Pakistan an unrestricted free agent?
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is rekindling their long-standing strategic alliances with India and Iran. “Colours of a New Lebanon” recreates scenes from old Beirut, complete with familiar cafe bars and the white plaster walls of the old government offices. In fact, it is very much like the book and film “ila Ah Fi,” or, “A Book of Air.” A similar project was recently launched in Pakistan, depicting scenes from Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. But this time the images have been 3D animated, and come with 3D sound effects.
India and Iran are rekindled their long-standing strategic alliances that were neglected under PM Singh’s previous government. On September 27th, PM Singh hosted his counterpart, Mr. Ahmadinejad of Iran at the historic Boat Club in New Delhi. The two leaders discussed bilateral issues ranging from India’s nuclear proliferation concerns to Iran’s human rights record. At the end of the day, both sides conveyed that they would continue to pursue their objectives through diplomatic means, and would hold each other accountable for their words and deeds. There was no mention of the recent ballistic missile tests Iran fired, or its support for proxy terrorist organizations such as “Hezbollah in Syria” (which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Nations). This doesn’t mean that the relationship with Russia will never be good, but these are not promising signs.
Currently the question is whether PM Singh’s government will be able to maintain a restrained dialogue with its neighbors when he hosts talks with China, India, Pakistan, and Russia during his first official visit to India after being re-elected for a second term as PM. China and India have been India’s most reliable partners in trade, technology, arms sales, and military cooperation over the years, but both have recently been at odds over disputed territories in India-occupied Kashmir and China-occupied Tibet. India has had difficult relations with Pakistan, but Singh’s visit could be highly successful if it can successfully manage to find common ground with the nuclear-armed nation. In fact, it could be a very good test of how China views India’s nuclear status, since the Chinese are also locked in fierce competition with India for infinite control of the disputed territories. If China sees India as a potential rival, it will be very unhappy about the nuclear tests that it has conducted, and it will take measures to reduce its trade deficit with India.
At the same time, India must be wary about the increasingly assertive stance of Russia against its smaller neighbors. The recently proposed visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to India may signal a further toughening of the border in Kashmir and along the Karakoram highway. The likelihood of this happening is bad news for India, since Kashmir is the largest state within India and forms a major trade and political partner with Pakistan. For the moment, however, India should focus more on trying to improve its ties with Ufa, which is working hard to counter Indian interests in the region.
A visit by President Obama to Ufa would be highly symbolic, as it would reinforce the positive relationship between Russia and the People’s Republic of China, which have recently offered nuclear weapons technology to Iran. India needs to develop closer economic and trade relations with Ufa, but it needs to tread carefully because of the many problems that Moscow has caused in its former relations with Delhi. For example, the recent decision by Ufa to restrict goods that come from Indian suppliers into its territory is a clear indication that the Russian leader is determined to bring further economic pressure to bear on India. However, the strong economic ties between Ufa and China, combined with the growing bilateral trade and investment ties between the two countries, means that India should welcome the investment and trade opportunities that come with its increasingly-close relations with Ufa.
Of course, the future of Ufa is far from clear. However, there is no doubt that the strong economic and political partnership between Ufa and China, combined with the increasingly close political rapport between the two countries, means that Russia will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its isolation over Kashmir. Whether that will damage the goodwill between the two nations remains to be seen, but the potential exists for Ufa to become an increasingly important player in its neighborhood, especially in light of the increasingly deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan. In the end, only China and Russia seem capable of preventing a Kashmiri national from choosing independence, which can hardly be viewed as a good or neutral situation.