India Must Turn to the Pakistani Way—Unite Enemies

Updated: Aug 3

Guest Opinion

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The Middle Kingdom's unprecedented rise has begun the process of a major shift in the "balance of power," which is holding the peace together by a thread. China seeks to enhance its position as the hegemonic power in Asia, it is in the vital interest of the neighbouring nations to form a coalition based on hard power to balance it out. The article argues for India to take the initiative in putting together the most potent of such alliances, constituting an axis between Raisina Hill, the White House, and the Kremlin. To further this argument, an analogy is drawn between a similar role played by our western neighbour in facilitating the unimaginable reproach between the Cold War rivals, China and the US.

In 1971, when Henry Kissinger pulled off a diplomatic coup by starting the process of US-China peace talks, Pakistan was a big part of making this "grand adventure" possible. The common link between the two great powers is being cornered by an increasing but resource-poor India. The Pakistanis sought to change the balance of power in Asia by bringing the US and China under the same sky. It was a high-risk gamble but promised equally enriching rewards, the US-China-Pakistan triangle would checkmate the India–Soviet alliance decisively. Hemmed from all of their major frontiers (USSR by China in the south, NATO in the West, and India bogged from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh), the two Eurasian powers would be rendered incapable of meaningfully supporting each other or altering the geopolitical order in their favour. Furthermore, the unhindered supply of US capital would ensure economic prosperity for the poverty-stricken nations of Pakistan and China.

As history is of record, Pakistan did succeed in ensuring the creation of the great nexus. However, what it failed to pre-empt was the shrewdness with which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Indian establishment moved to neutralise the potency of the same, at least in South Asia, by dismembering Pakistan itself, effectively freeing up the resources to maintain a capable defence on the northern border. Although hindered by its genocidal tendencies and inability to fruitfully utilise the movement by allowing itself to be side-lined in the triangle, the Pakistani strategy of making its friends mutual allies did work; it ensured the collapse of the bigger enemy, the USSR.

Contemporary Opportunity

Today, India finds itself in a similar but qualitatively more difficult position (courtesy of the Ukraine crisis and the significant domestic hostilities the US harbours towards Russia). According to John Mearsheimer, it makes perfect sense for the US to align with Russia in its pursuit of containing Chinese expansionism, and for the Russians to be interested in the same plans to establish hegemony over the Asian continent directly conflict with the Russian sphere of influence over the Stans of Central Asia (the only geostrategic landmass where the Russians can claim substantial dominance outside their borders) as well as territorial integrity in the Serbian region that borders Manchuria.

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Situations and circumstances, we must concede, are not in favour of this strategy. Unlike in the late 60s, there seems to be no major clash between the bear and the dragon. Instead, the Ukraine conflict has created a gulf between Washington and Moscow which seems unbridgeable shortly. This show, however, cannot be a reason for pre-declared defeat and despair, the crises on the Slavic planes provide an opportunity for New Delhi to assist in establishing a modus Vivendi in Europe. A solution to long-term peace on the European continent will allow the Russians and Americans to redirect their resources to the Indo-Pacific region. Russia that trades with the West and is not facing any existential crises in Europe is far more likely to take aggressive measures to maintain its "own" influence in Central Asia, causing tensions to emerge in the "unlimited" relationship.

Thus, the Indian role is to help the West, and especially us, understand:

1. The incorporation of Sweden and Finland into NATO will complete the process, thus rendering the inclusion of Ukraine in the western system of liability.

2. Russia, like any other great power, must be given some breathing space. The uni-polar movement ended in 2017 with the advent of Trump. The US is no longer capable of festering regime change in Russia without impairing its large statistical interest in containing China.

3. Keeping Russia out of the global market would exacerbate its reliance on China and would also have the long-term impact of reducing people’s trust in the American dollar—a key to US hegemony.

4. Similarly, the Russians must be made to realise that a hegemonic China in Asia means, like any other great power, China would want to neutralise the Russian capability to create mischief in Asia. It cannot tolerate a power capable of effectively jeopardising its pole position in the region it seeks to dominate.

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Furthermore, as China, unlike the US, borders both India and Russia and poses a more direct and potent threat to their spheres of influence in South and Central Asia, respectively, it is in their mutual interest to check its rise by tying the U.S. in the region. The presence of the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific is the only factor capable of curtailing Chinese hegemony and, thereby, mellowing its behaviour vis-à-vis its neighbours. As a result, the Russians must also consider a long-term partnership with the United States. A China that is tied up in a prolonged competition in the nearby seas will have fewer resources to cement influence at the expense of Russia. They need not turn against China, but they can surely aid in creating a hostile strategic environment against Beijing by not voicing outright support, for example, by not sending co-ordinated bombers near Japan during the next Quad summit.

While the arguments made might seem common-sensical to some, it’s also a reality that neither the current domestic environment in the U.S. permits an immediate ‘ceasefire’ with the Russians, nor does the Russian President’s invasion of Ukraine permit him to resolve the dispute by, well, surrendering to the West.

Certainly, we in India face very grave challenges in mediating the end of this crisis. The solution to it, however, is not that complex. Russia, prior to the invasion, already controlled Crimea. It was spurred to attack Ukraine to ensure that the border state would not become a NATO partner. It now controls large parts of Eastern Ukraine, as well as the Sea of Azov. The only solution to the global economic crisis as well as the strategic dilemma is that India pushes for the cessation of violence and a temporary border in Ukraine, which would, as time passes, become a hard border.

The Russians must be convinced that their geo-strategic goal of protecting the mainland can be met by controlling the Donbas and Sea of Azov, and that outright ‘neutralisation’ of Ukraine is unnecessary and even undesirable. There is little sense in denying the Ukrainians, their coastline in the Black Sea or keeping the region economically weak. So, while the NATO membership of Ukraine can be permanently kept on hold, its right to become a part of the European economic bloc cannot be denied. This would go a long way to remedying the loss of territory that wounded Ukraine might feel after the cessation of violence, and provide them with a sense of security. The Indians must convince the Russians that a European Ukraine could be a gateway, rather than a threat, to the European market. The domestic situation in the U.S. is far more complicated. While the Trumpian right-wing has cosied up to Putin, the liberal elites are as hawkish as ever. They see Russia as an oddity in Europe that they need to fix by turning it into a democracy.

India will find it hard to convince these power brokers. But diplomacy is a long-term process, and change is possible. It was the U.S. which readily aligned with the USSR to check Nazi Germany, much to Churchill’s disdain of Stalin. Similarly, the Sino phobia in the 70s was at its peak when Sino-US rapprochement took place. What is necessary for us is to persuade the elites; the public perception is already turning. As they see the wastage of US wealth in Ukraine (see Rand Paul), coupled with high inflation, the public will turn in favour of peace. India’s job would be to cease that movement in the coming years.


Many will argue that great powers ally not on recommendations from allies or underlings but on the basis of their own calculus. The author does not seek to deny the validity of such an assertion. However, they do, at times, require allies who can create an atmosphere where such calculations can take place by dismantling old and antiquated assumptions. India today is in the prime position to be such an alliance builder due to its ever-growing influential Diaspora in the US, which has been and can be a powerful lobby.

In doing so, the Mandarins in Delhi must not commit the same mistake as the Pakistanis of being side-lined by the Great Powers. It is extremely vital for the Indian Elephant to be seen as the only potential competitor to the Dragon. Any confluence between the US and Russia will likely lead to a reduction of US support towards India, as Washington may find its job in Asia much easier. Similarly, a Russo-Western understanding will decrease Russian dependence not only on Beijing but also on New Delhi. Consequently, the need for rapid economic growth to create an alternate market that can tie these economies firmly with India will only grow as time passes. Such is India’s position as it attempts to rise as an independent pole in the multi-polar world order, envious for many but at the same time inherently precarious, and short on time.


By Aditya Kaushik

A law student of the National Law University Jodhpur.

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