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Central Asia: Renewed Focus on Kashmir

Posted by / 1st July 2012 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , , , / -

The geostrategic situation in central Asia is likely to change dramatically in the next few years, and especially after 2014. Two main events will trigger this: the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan– leaving a power vacuum in the region-, and the already growing economic dominance of China, as well as India. The consequent rivalry for resources and influence in the region between is likely to have large consequences.

In this environment, the Kashmir conflict will be a scenario where the intentions and political strategy of China for this new context might be revealed. The solution of the conflict in this region between India and Pakistan remains complex, with no real prospect of a long-lasting agreement. The relative calm in the region seems to have been the result of the situation in Afghanistan and US pressure to put the conflict on halt to not exacerbate the difficulties it is facing already. Now, with the US removing itself from the equation, Beijing will become a more prominent variable. It has welcomed positive developments between Islamabad and New Delhi, but it has been reluctant to show its cards. The fate of Kashmir is now in the hands of three, rather than two, regional and nuclearly-armed rivals. India seems to have more to gain from this than Pakistan.


Since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Kashmir has been the main battlefield for the projection of their rivalry. However, the Kashmir territorial dispute has been also a global concern, as it caused nuclear proliferation and cross-border terrorism.

China has not remained indifferent to the conflict either, even if its involvement has not been consistent. China´s Kashmir policy has rather flowed through different phases, each one determined by its own current interests in the region, its relations with Pakistan and India, and its general Asian strategy.

From neutrality in the 1950s, Beijing moved to a clear support of Pakistan during the 1960s and 70s, as a result of the take-over of Tibet and its own war with India in 1962. But since Deng Xiaping took over direction of China´s external policy in 1978, China returned to neutrality, as its relations with India improved. By early 1990s China´s position is that Kashmir conflict is a bilateral matter, and currently China clearly supports a peaceful solution to the conflict: Beijing is interested in a stable Asia and better relations with India.

The above stated different phases of the Beijing’s Kashmir policy are sketched by a network of complex interests and bilateral relations that will also influence China’s future position on the conflict. The most obvious of those interests is its own entanglement: India claims the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin of approximately 35,000 square kilometers as part of the territory in Ladaakh, Kashmir. This border area, even though it has no natural resources, has been strategic territory for China as it connects Tibet and Xinjiang. However, with the completion of numerous road and rail links to Lhasa from other parts of China, Aksai Chin has lost part of this significance for China.

Security and economic concerns are paramount to Beijing. Both elements are present in its relations with Pakistan and India, and the evolution of those is the key element that will define China´s approach to Kashmir´s conflict.


China´s cooperation with Pakistan has been strong over time. Pakistan is important for Beijing, both as a counter to India and also because of Chinese’s fight against separatist movements in its northwestern territories.

The conflict with Pakistan has distracted India from increasing its influence in the region, and has also been an obstacle in its relation with the US. In this sense China needs a strong Pakistan to contain India, to keep alive the situation of balance of power in South Asia. That is why China supported Pakistan renewed alliance with the US after 11/9. It was the only means to avoid Pakistan growing isolation in the international sphere, given its links with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Recently, however, fear of Islamic fundamentalism originating in Pakistan has also been a major concern for the Chinese. Terrorists helped radicalize Uighur separatists in Xinjiang in the 1990s and the Uighur still today find a safe haven in Pakistan´s tribal areas. The withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan will increase Beijing´s fears of terrorist destabilization of its western border; China needs a capable Islamabad of controlling this threat, and until now Pakistan has not proven a real ability or willingness to do so.

Economic interests are also part of the equation. China has invested in Pakistan infrastructures and transport routes –a significant example is the maintenance of the KKH road or the construction of the port complex at the naval base of Gwadar – as an important part of the Chinese strategy to reduce its dependence on oil supplies through the Malacca Straits and create alternative routes. In recent years the economic cooperation has continued growing, with increasing Chinese investment in different sectors, especially in energy and trade.

In the Boao Forum for Asia celebrated in April, China and Pakistan renewed their close relationship, thus formally showing the stability of their alliance. But even though Islamabad is still seen as a key piece in regional security, China has become increasingly weary of its reliability as a partner. It does not seem to be able to offer Beijing concrete results.


Chinese relation with India has been much more tortuous over time. Characterized by border disputes in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, the rivalry between the countries has resulted in several military confrontations in 1962, 1967 and 1987. However, in the last two decades they have relaunched their diplomatic ties.

The most powerful engine that promotes their improved relationship are the growing mutual economic interests. Trade and economic growth of both countries in south Asia has led towards cooperation in security issues as well: they share the necessity to confront the threat of organized crime, terrorism and domestic instability of countries in the region. They also share a common interest- both being rising powers- to limit United States influence in their own backyard, as well as in improving their representation in international institutions.

Even though it is true that India is an increasingly important strategic ally for the US, mainly as a possible counterweight against China in Asia, there are also concerns about their relationship. Obama’s protectionist economic policies, the US close relationship with Pakistan and its renewed emphasis on non-proliferation all put pressure on India. Just like China, India has begun to wonder if its neighboring rival could be a more useful partner than its natural friend. Some specific efforts at solidifying these mutual interests were already attempted in the past, such as the “Strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity” agreed by Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh in April 2005.

Of course, the Sino-Pakistani strategic nexus remains a concern worry for India. China is the main provider of military capabilities to Pakistan and that is a clear threat to India, as well as seen as a display of Beijing´s hostility. Similarly, the militarization of their disputed border areas, though stable, is a focus of tension between the countries. China´s growing presence in Myanmar and in other small countries in south Asia are interpreted as a struggle for dominance of the Indian Ocean. China wants multi-dimensional (including military) cooperation with most of the region for economic and strategic reasons. Some of the countries (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc.) are in the traditional sphere of influence of New Delhi, creating even greater tensions between the two most populous nations in the world


With the nuclear threat ever surrounding the Kashmir conflict and its three regional rivals, the direction that China chooses in the next years is no trivial matter. Its natural ally, Pakistan, is increasingly seen as untrustworthy and unable to support China in it ambitions. Whereas in theory its position is strong, practice has created serious doubts on whether it really has anything tangible to offer.

Its natural rival, India, is still very much a source of strategic concern and practical headaches, but is also respected in Beijing. The fact that they have so many areas of contention paradoxically also means that they have a lot to offer each other. Mutual cooperation might allow dealing at the detriment of Pakistan and the United States. Diplomatic support in the Kashmir conflict is a bargaining chip that China might very well be willing to offer India in exchange for more important issues on the People’s Republic’s agenda.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The EU, the Mediterranean, and the Need for Coherent Policies

Posted by / 17th December 2011 / Categories: Analysis / Tags: , , / -

On the verge of the New Year, it seems appropriate to start this article by going back to the very beginning of 2011. On January 4th, Mohammed Bouazizi died after burning himself in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by the police. This outraged response was the catalyst of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab spring. Since then, four regimes (if one includes Yemen) have fallen, and civil uprisings and protests followed throughout the north of Africa and the Middle East.

This democratic revolution has caught Europe off guard; the reactions have been uneven (such as the initial French offer of support to Ben Ali) and different among member countries (e.g. the disagreement about the position to take with regards to the NATO intervention in Libya). Beyond the political statements of the member states individually, and of the EU as a whole, it is also interesting to call into question the role of already existing European policies towards the region (mainly the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, European Neighborhood Policy and Union for the Mediterranean). These policies have an institutional framework that makes them more stable, while at the same time more rigid than political reactions and declarations. Could they offer a way to advance a common relationship between EU countries and the Mediterranean region as a whole?

In this article, a brief overview is given of the evolution of European policies towards the Mediterranean region. This is done from the perspective of support for democracy, and to see how the EU institutions reacted to the Arab spring. This allows an analysis of which role these political and institutional frameworks could play to help European countries build a strong relationship with the new democracies.


Weak support of the path to democracy

In 1995, the Barcelona Declaration was signed, founding the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The EMP was created as a new framework of relations between the EU and its neighbours on the Mediterranean, with a multilateral perspective. The EMP included a chapter of political dialogue that aimed to foster democracy, human rights and the rule of law. However, it failed to encourage political change: ten years after the EMP started, real elections were just a pipe dream in most of the partner countries.

2004 was the next significant turning point regarding Mediterranean relations. After the events of 11th September 2001, the scope of the EU strategy to its southern border evolved, giving priority to the stability and security issues, thus removing the political reform from the agenda. So, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was born, drifting from a multilateral perspective to a bilateral one.

Finally, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was announced in 2008 by Mr. Sarkozy in a bid to give a new impulse to the EMP. Although UfM is a continuation of the EMP, its stated purpose is to bring a new focus: the UfM is a common initiative of the countries on both sides of the Mediterranean with shared management (through for example a co-presidency, one from an EU country, and the other from the Mediterranean partner states). This novelty was a response to the lack of implication of the southern countries, but at the same time is a barrier to the process of political reform. It is not likely that regimes that are being questioned will support civil society in its initiatives to gain influence and promote change. A clear example is to be found in the Anna Lindh Foundation, a network for intercultural relations. After entering into the UfM umbrella, the Foundation’s Board of Governors asked the executive boards to cut a number of initiatives which were considered too “political”.


Who wants to play?

Political leaders seemed satisfied with this complex institutional building they had raised, until everything changed so dramatically earlier this year. From that moment on, a stream of reactions of all types and origins started. The role of the EU was irregular: sometimes the Commission and the High representative succeeded in presenting a united front on behalf of the European countries, while other times the EU was left aside as a result of a lack of consensus among member states. A few examples:

In March of this year a Joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative Ms. Ashton was published, the “Partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean”. Later on came the review of the ENP (“A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”, May 2011). Both documents addressed the situation in Arab countries and the need to rethink the European policies in the region. Although they might be seen as only a rhetorical exercise, they also represent an effort to quickly respond to the events and critically point to policy changes that are required (e.g. emphasizing the reinsertion of the conditionality or “more for more” criterion), and introduce a package of measures in support of the region.

Additionally, both the appointment of Bernardino León as the EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean region, as well as the swift invitation to the free Libya to participate in the ENP and the UfM, are attempts of the EU to be consistent within the context and to present a coordinated response.

If we analyze the military reactions regarding Libya, the scene doesn’t look quite the same, unfortunately. The central military initiatives were taken by specific member states (mainly the UK and France), and within the NATO framework. This excluded the potential role of any EU defense structures or capabilities. The absence of political willingness to reach any consensus within the EU is a meaningful fact, and it is not an isolated example; the latest initiative by President Sarkozy –the Deauville Partnership- was launched within the G8 meeting, a forum in which France still pretends to maintain and influential international role.


Looking ahead

The relationship between the EU and Arab countries has always been difficult and full of problems. This has many reasons, but two especially important ones are the lack of credibility of Europe as a political actor (immersed in permanent contradiction and in the struggle between 27 diverging agendas) and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not subject of this article but an constantly underlying factor.

In the EU it is hard to achieve a consensus between member states or, most of all, to have a sole representative voice. Yet such centralization is exactly what is needed to be relevant and coherent. National interest is nowadays a leitmotiv in every Prime Minister’s office. No one wants to play a minor role. Ironically, however, a minor role for Europe is exactly where that path leads to.

The only way to advance the common relationship that the EU so desires in the Mediterranean is through the common policies. Only in this way can it play an active role and recover influence in the current regional environment In the long term, the construction of this new relationship between the EU and Arab countries requires an ability to adapt to the circumstances, and to transmit a deeper support of democratic movements. These cannot be simply headline-driven policies, but require a coherent and strong commitment. This in itself is nothing new, and that begs the question whether everyone really wants a common relationship.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail