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Tactical Talk: South Asian Policy – Covid19 – Pakistan & Russia relations | Zain Khan & Leonid Savin

Tactical Talk: Season 6 – Episode 6 | South Asian Policy - #Covid19 - Pakistan & Russia relations | Zain Khan & Russian Geopolitical Analyst Leonid Savin

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(Tactical Talk) With a total population of around 1.89 billion, South Asia is the most populous region in the world. It enjoys a unique strategic location being situated on the confluence of West, Central and South East Asia. The region offers an enormous economic potential, with overall regional economic growth estimated at 7.1 per cent in 2018 by the World Bank. Similarly, it stands second only to the East Asia and Pacific region in terms of global economic growth. Despite this, the region is plagued with various inter-state and intra-state conflicts such as territorial disputes, terrorism, insurgency, secessionism etc. These conflicts have inhibited regional political, economic and security cooperation. Due to immense significance of its unique geostrategic location and geo-economic potential and effects on territorial disputes, South Asia has witnessed great powers’ contest since the Cold War era, which resulted in the formation of alliances and coalitions to serve their common objectives. Even in the post-Cold War era, the entire region remains important due to the US-led Afghan war, traditional security threats, emerging non-traditional security challenges, increased risks of being a nuclear flashpoint and rising middle-class that can translate into the largest consumer market of the world.

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The role of major powers – the US, Russia and China – therefore remains very critical in shaping the regional dynamics of South Asia. In October 2001, the US intervened in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime, and later announced its ‘Pivot to Asia Pacific’ policy. These two developments were meant to curb terrorism in the region, and contain China and Russia. Moreover, the US strengthened its bilateral relations with India to promote her as a counterpoise to China. The US maintains that this strategy may check the emerging economic and security alliances such as Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

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However, this strategy has been criticized by other South Asian countries as it will alter the balance of power in the region. On the other hand, Russia seems to be re-asserting itself in the wake of Indo-US strategic alliance and post-NATO drawdown vacuum in Afghanistan, which compelled Moscow to play its role in minimizing the consequences of the Afghan war on the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Russia is also diversifying its relationship with other South Asian countries, including Pakistan. Russian interests in South Asia are mainly to expand its arms markets, fight against terrorism and disrupt the domino effects of separatism and radicalism in Central Asia. China has deep economic interests in South Asia. Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the country has visualized two major economic corridors in South Asia, i.e., China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM). The progress of CPEC seems satisfactory as majority of early harvest projects have been completed. However, the future of BCIM hangs in balance due to India’s rejection of BRI in general and BCIM in particular. China wants to achieve a delicate balance of relations with India. It neither wants to maintain a hostile relationship nor see India as a stronger power that can challenge her rise. Therefore, despite some border issues, Beijing is pursuing robust economic bilateral cooperation with India. In Afghanistan, China is investing in the mineral exploration sector as well as helping the Afghan government in the reconstruction of infrastructure and security sphere. Pakistan-China relations on the other hand, are rooted in mutual trust. Both countries have deep cooperation in diplomatic, economic, and security areas and coordinate their stances at various global forums, particularly at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

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