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LAHORE: "We live in a fragile world and this world needs less friction and more cooperation", said Humayun Akhtar Khan, Chair and CEO of the Institute for Policy Reforms at an online seminar held the other day. The topic of the seminar was "Future of South Asia: stalemate, cooperation, or war". The distinguished panel of speakers included Tariq Aziz, former National Security Adviser, Dr Anatol Lieven of Georgetown University, Dr Daniel Markey of Johns Hopkins University, Dr Guo Xuetang, Professor Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, and columnist and writer Aakar Patel from India. Their presentations dazzled the 100 or so audience that had tuned into the online event.

Humayun Khan hoped that individual countries in South Asia will not take hardened positions in the US China rivalry. Tariq Aziz said that a Pakistan-India bilateral agreement was almost signed by 2007, when Pakistan's judicial crisis set it back.

He said all countries of the region and the major world powers wanted peace in South Asia. "One way to resolve differences could be a regional approach backed by world powers. But India is averse to anything other than bilateral negotiations," he added.

Anatol Lieven said that he does not see Pakistan-India under the BJP government. "In fact, India has taken things in the opposite direction. US-China rivalry will intensify, affecting South Asia. He said that China-India recent conflict can be managed. China has a real commitment to Pakistan. China will come to its aid if India initiates action to damage Pakistan. But China will not support Pakistan's action in Kashmir," he mentioned.

Daniel Markey said that we are now in the post-9/11 world and into the era of China-US rivalry.

US has invested heavily in counterterrorism capacity and the threat from Al Qaeda and ISIS is diminished. Also, US will reduce its presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan must re-calibrate its relations with US based on these new realities. US-China competition is playing out in South Asia in "potentially dangerous ways". So, whereas US and China were previously unified in managing Pakistan India crisis, their rivalry has made this harder.

He did not see a total breakdown in relations with China. The two economies are deeply entangled in the global economy and a complete decoupling could mean disaster for the world economy. US will balance economic considerations against its strategic aims.

Guo Xuetang said that China wants political and economic stability and peace in South Asia. Yet, it must protect its interests when provoked. China wants to act as a regional "stabilizer". China benefits from South Asian integration. It wants South Asia to be part of BRI. He said that India has also provoked Pakistan. Being the weaker of two countries, Pakistan must balance its response to manage such provocation. US-China rivalry has intensified since the pandemic. Chinese economy recovered quickly while the US economy would likely be in recession for years. According to Dr Guo, realizing that Chinese economy may outdo the West, US heightened and broadened its rivalry. Along with its action in the South China Sea, it is clear that US is competing with China in all dimensions, diplomatic, military, and economic.

Aakar Patel said that the Congress government had a policy of engaging neighbours, which PM Modi has revoked. Thus, India stands alienated. CAA law has also deteriorated relations with Bangladesh. Indian human right violations in Kashmir have hurt its standing in the EU and with US Congress.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020