Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, January 2017
West's Containment of Regionalism in Asia and the Middle East
Attacks on the Russian envoy in Turkey and attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan depict attempt at containing regionalism through kinetic force.
If Turkey changes its stance towards the war in Syria and joins Russia and Iran to support Bashar ul Assad in the war, just so to end the war sooner by supporting the side that is most likely to win, it will be impossible for the US and its allies to dislodge the regime in Syria. Similarly, if Turkey weaves an economic regime of greater trade ties with Russia, Turkey will have no more need for supporting NATO in future.
The recent anti Russian activism on the streets of Turkey had very thin attendance. Considering how politicized the Turks have become as a polity post failed July coup, the level of attendance at a rally denouncing Russian role in Allepo shows the absence of wide spread anti Russian sentiment in Turkey. Oddly, it is the Russian envoy who is attacked in Turkey and killed a day before Russia, Turkey and Iran were to hold tripartite talks about Syria. Similarly odd, there have been consistent attempts at attacking and killing the Chinese workers in Pakistan post the forging of greater Pak-China trade ties.
Pakistan and Turkey are commercially important countries. Pakistan connects Central Asia to international markets through the Arabian sea while Turkey connects Asia to Europe through its commercial hubs called Bosporus and Dardanelles.
Both Turkey and Pakistan are in the process of forging a new direction in their foreign and trade policy. Both are in the process of formulating unprecedented regional trade ties . China and Russia are the pivot of these ties. The latter are growing as increasingly global and are unquestioned regional hegemons.
The problem for both Turkey and Pakistan is that Russia and China are perceived in the West as foes.
The Soviet era ideological frameworks are absent from West’s rivalry with Russia and China. Hence, global bloc formation, cemented by the soft power of multinational economies of scale, is no longer used as the multifaceted binding material to sustain such rivalry. The Eurasian/Asian and western rivalry is happening at the time of declining power of the west and rising power of the Eurasian and Asian states. West can no longer feed its rivalry with multidimensional soft power tools. Its activity on the containment front is thus dangerously confined to kinetic activity, be it overt or covert.
The west is specifically focused on kinetic activity in Asia and North Africa due to its regional formation called the war on terror. It has become increasingly difficult for the Muslim political elite to explain their collaboration with the west in what seems to be a renewable war on terror. The war is wrecking the economies of developing countries and destroying their internal equilibrium.
The rise of the new hegemons is a neighborly and continental affair for both Pakistan and Turkey. Hence both the Sharif government and the Erdogan government, (the latter especially post failed July coup) have started to promote regionalism in trade ties by forging better relations inside Eurasia, which would inevitably lead to greater political and military ties between Russia and Turkey and Pakistan, China Russia and Turkey.
The west perceives regionalism in trade as a threat to its economic and political interest. All significant commercial sea ports lie in Asia and Africa. Significant commodities are abundant on the two continents as well. However, where previously the trading regimes were built and controlled by the west, now the same are being built and controlled by Russia and China. The west thus must come up with containment strategies to frustrate, delay, or altogether destroy regionalism that is beginning to relegate the west, especially the US, to the periphery of international economic relations in the 21st century. Unfortunately for the masses in the west, their leaders are using traditional military ways to deal with new, unprecedented threats. They are using war on terror as its renewable resource in pursuit of containment of regionalism.
The Chinese in Pakistan are building power projects and economic corridors. They do not move about with guns, but with hard hats. Yet, there have been several terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan ever since 2002. The most recent was in Sindh where a remote control bomb targeted Chinese engineers just days ago. Pakistan has raised a special force of several thousand military personnel just to safeguard the CPEC, china Pakistan economic corridor.
Turkey has traditionally sought a place for itself in Europe. Pakistan too preferred ties with the west after becoming a sovereign state in 1947. Come twenty first century, those ties have significantly decreased and if Islamabad continues to forge regional ties at the current rate, its ties with the west will obviously end as an exercise in self-contradiction (unless of course, the west changes its belligerent posture towards Russia and China from confrontation to cooperation).
For now, Pakistan’s natural linkage to central Asia has been temporarily broken by the US occupation of Afghanistan. Greater ties with China is Pakistan’s way of getting round that blockage. China is Pakistan’s economic hope, and yet there have been relentless terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan who are building trade corridors.
These attacks tell us that the west’s renewable war on terror is being used as a source of containment of regionalism in Asian and African economies.
In containment of post war communism, the west utilized a mixture of hard and soft power. In containment of current regionalism in Asia and Africa, west’s soft power is starkly absent.
The absence of this ‘healthy’ mix is what is increasingly defining the 21st century as the century of the West and the “Rest,” to borrow a phrase from American academic Zachary Karabel.***
Zeenia Satti is a senior political analyst with expertise in the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia. She has taught Middle Eastern Affairs at Harvard University USA. She currently heads PPLDM, a disaster risk reduction organization in Pakistan.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org***
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