The whole world is looking at Pakistan as a crucial factor of peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but also the larger region from China’s Western border to Central Asia and Southwest Asia to including Iran and the GCC countries. The region itself is bracing for the change beyond 2014. We must brace ourselves for the role that we are required to play in the whole process for genuine peace and stability in a region that has for decades remained engulfed in conflict and instability.

No doubt, Asia’s geo-political landscape had gone through a sea change after the Second World War. The collapse of the former Soviet Union not only left a truncated and weakened Russia but also reshaped Asia’s political map with the emergence of new independent states in Central Asia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. Even after the Cold War, whether we admit or not, Asia’s major regions continued to be a global hot spot and are still the arena of an undeclared East-West rivalry. Yes, the Cold War is over but the cold warriors are still out there in the drivers’ seat.

The weird unipolarity has been unleashing its own security challenges and problems for the entire world community. The power-led and oil & gas-driven Great Game is already on with serious ramifications for global peace and security and concomitant tensions and instability in major parts of Asia. What aggravates this bleak scenario is the growing inability of the international community to respond to these challenges with unity of purpose. There is no global consensus on major peace and security issues or on how to address them.

Worse even, the international system is no longer governed by the rule of law or universally acknowledged norms. The post-9/11 world also witnessed unprecedented erosion in the role, authority and credibility of the UN. Today, the UN is no longer the sole meaningful arbiter on issues of global relevance and importance. It is the sole super power that now enjoys the monopoly of power and dominance of the globe. It is creating its own standards of peace and democracy. Its current security doctrine is based on “regime change” wherever or whenever it so considers necessary for its own good.

The global power configuration surely needs balance through new multipolarity in which China, EU and perhaps a resurgent Russia are already possible contenders. But there is still a long way to go. In today’s chaotic world, the US concept of “Long War” and the Chinese concept of “Rising Peacefully” seem to blend together the forces of conflict and peace. President Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ of its readiness to play an appropriate global role commensurate with its historic past and glorious future is perhaps a signal that it is time the world reverted to multipolarity. China is already using its phenomenal economic, political and military influence to balance the security order in Northeast Asia.

Now, with impending 2014 transition in our region, it is only natural that China also prepares itself for a new balancing role in the strategically important regions across its Western borders. In recent years, there has been a conspicuous development of closeness between China and Russia in reaction to the growing US strategic outreach in their backyard. Their common geo-strategic and economic goals in Central Asia and mutual concerns over America’s ‘Asian Pivot’ seem to reinforce their interest in creating new pillars in global balance. If history is any lesson, things never remain static. They keep changing as the world and its dynamics do by the inevitable process of change that is always inherent in the rise and fall of power.

And historically, the rise and fall of power mostly followed long wars. The twelve year-long war in Afghanistan is coming to an end. The process of change, it seems, has begun.  But what kind of change do we expect at the end of this long war? Again, if history is any lesson, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the World War I and World War II, it was the victors in each war that installed a peace to preserve the gains they had made. But at the end of the Afghan war, we still have no idea who is going to be the victor? An ominous uncertainty still looms large on the horizon, leaving us with no reason to be euphoric about the post-2014 scenario.

At least till now, other than the scheduled 2014 military withdrawal, Washington doesn’t seem to have any dialogue strategy, much less a peace plan to end the Afghan war that in the first instance was a wrong war to start. It forced Taliban out of power but never defeated them. Twelve years later, it is looking for a ‘strategic stalemate’ in which it can withdraw but not entirely. It will leave behind a certain size of military presence as a training-cum-counterterrorism mission. But those familiar with Afghan history know what it means for any foreign presence on its soil, no matter under what arrangement or nomenclature.

Therefore, in drawing scenarios of the Afghan endgame beyond 2014, one must be realistic enough not to draw over-optimistic conclusions. If anything, the region is fast approaching a period of “potential upheaval.” With America’s bulging Asian Pivot, the security order in East Asia is already in transition, whereas the security order in our part of the globe, though still dominated by the US, is now being gradually balanced by the rapid rise of China globally as well as regionally. Besides their common stand on Syria, both China and Russia are now beginning to react on America’s assertive Asian agenda, especially its ongoing Central Asia-focused Great Game.  

Last year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Beijing clearly flagged a mood swing by calling for the intensification of the SCO efforts to strengthen regional security and to jointly counter the global challenges. China is also not oblivious of the growing network of strategic counter-pressure points being created around it. These include deployment of foreign troops in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan and establishment of military alliances with China’s immediate neighbours, in particular, India which is being bolstered as a nuclear and military counterweight against China. But at the same time, the SCO members, without exception, also look at the “forces of extremism, terrorism and separatism” emanating from Afghanistan as a conduit of destabilization in their own territories.

It is a complex scenario. The power game with hidden stakes is already on. As the winds of change blow across this region, both China and Pakistan will have to explore new avenues of reinforcing their strategic relationship. With impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan, China and Pakistan need to evolve a common regional approach through focused strategic dialogue on post-2014 regional scenario. Given their geo-political location and unparalleled mutuality of strategic interests, they represent the only natural partnership that can genuinely contribute to the regional peace and security of this region after the much awaited 2014 crossbar. 

The writer is a former foreign secretary.