The world is gradually but surely transitioning to an increasingly multipolar mode. The spheres of influence of global powers are evolving rather meaningfully.

The US is a power in retreat, as evidenced by its withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan. That will leave it without a footprint in mainland Asia from Syria to South Korea. Russia has moved decisively into Syria and Iran while China has made ingresses into Pakistan and Iran. Russia is also making important inroads with Turkey (NATO member), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a US ally) and Pakistan (an erstwhile US ally) while China has also engaged Saudi Arabia and will eventually incorporate Afghanistan into its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Belt-Road Initiative (CPEC-BRI). Thus, the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) sans Israel and the GCC and South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) are increasingly coming under Chinese and Russian spheres of influence. US’ status as the undisputed global economic superpower is under threat by a rampaging China as well, as it positions itself to dominate the world economy through its epic BRI.

All global powers, however, have abiding national interests in engaging India. The US, desperate for some foothold on mainland Asia, has mustered India as a strategic partner and ostensibly as its sole plenipotentiary in mainland Asia. Japan and Australia (Quad Alliance members) are too far out in the Pacific Ocean Region to directly influence events in mainland Asia or the Eurasian Heartland. Following its oft-employed strategy of “offshore balancing” the US would like to pitch India against China to contain, manage and circumscribe the latter’s rise and expanding sphere of influence. Russia has massive, longstanding and continuing investments in defence and nuclear power plant deals with India while Indo-China trade is hovering around the 100 billion USD mark. India will be hard-pressed to pick and choose and will probably do neither. It will endeavour to milk all three cows simultaneously.

Like the US, India too is in a state of limbo, unsure and uncertain of its future roles at the regional and global levels. It can either hitch itself to the US and have greatness thrust upon itself, continue on its policy of contrived and assumed non-alignment or be realistic and join up with the Sino-Russian surge in Asia and become part of a competing pole to the US-led West’s. If and whenever it happens, it will be a monumental decision with colossal strategic connotations. India will want to pursue an apparently independent trajectory, regardless of the international (read the US) pressures or inducements offered. If India does not muster up to its diktat against China, it will leave the US woefully confined to the fringes of Asia - the GCC, Israel and the Far East - an unacceptable position for the US to be in.

Within SCAR, Kashmir acquires enormous geopolitical and geostrategic relevance because of its disputed status and the clashing claims of India and Pakistan over it. Global powers are now becoming aware of the explosive nature of the unresolved Kashmir imbroglio and its potential impact on their geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic interests in the region. Kashmir, where the strategic interests of three nuclear powers clash, will thus define the extent, pace and manner of such change in the Indo-Pak subcontinental, South Asian and most importantly in the US-India-China contexts.

India’s status as the “investment destination” of the world will be in the crosshairs too. India has hastened this change by its attempted annexation and by altering the status of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K) and by infringing upon Chinese sovereignty in Ladakh. The geopolitical implications thereof will be colossal.

India’s own megalomaniac ambitions outstrip its current and projected capabilities by many a village mile and more. India’s freedom of action is hampered by the umpteen freedom and separatist movements within the Indian Union; in IOJ&K, Khalistan-Punjab (Referendum 2020), the North Eastern Seven Sister States (Manipur announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence in London, Nagaland is up in arms) and the Red Corridor (eleven states) along the eastern fringes of the Indian peninsula. At the regional level, Kashmir and other disputes with Pakistan keep it pegged and circumscribed to the subcontinent. With eighty to ninety per cent of its overall military might deployed or poised against Pakistan it just cannot measure up to China (on US behest?) and project power in the Himalayas, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean Regions meaningfully. It needs to free itself up of Pakistan’s indirect stranglehold on it, to grow beyond Kashmir and the subcontinent!

India’s attempted annexation and change of status of IOJ&K to Union Territories have redefined the geopolitical imperatives of the region. In its delusional paranoia, it has even issued maps showing Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJ&K) as part of its Jammu-Kashmir Union Territory and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and China’s Aksai Chin as a part of Ladakh Union Territory. Ground realities, however, are entirely different. AJ&K and GB are under Pakistan’s effective control. How do they intend to translate this theoretical absurdity into reality? Do they have the capacity to “wage war to conquer and annex” these territories to India? Or will the US overlook their imprudence in IOJ&K as a quid pro quo to a role against China? This act would be laughable but for their pathetic and schizophrenic (mis)perceptions of their own capabilities and capacities. Kashmir, as a whole, is disputed territory and subject to a plebiscite under the relevant UN/UNSC Resolutions. And that is where the matter rests; in the real world!

The UN/UNSC and the world will not accept India’s unilateral and unfounded claims to such internationally recognised disputed territories. Neither will Pakistan and China forego their claims nor accept this blatant albeit theoretical debauchery. This does not alter the geopolitical and geostrategic ground realities in any way. The UN/UNSC Resolutions on Kashmir remain intact. Internationally, it will be spurned with the contempt it deserves.

The leading world powers will now be cognisant of the importance to resolve the Kashmir conundrum as per the UN/UNSC resolutions, post haste. Otherwise, PM Modi’s paranoid and delusional handling of this sensitive nuclear flashpoint might ignite a conventional-nuclear war and bring unmitigated disaster for the whole world!

The author is a retired Brigadier from the Pakistan Army. Email: im.k846@gmail.com Twitter:

@K846IM