Geopolitics in the present century has acquired a new shape and meaning. The term popularized as `Geopolitik’ in the 1940s informed and shaped the policies of that era immensely. Hitler capitalized on the term and found its way to ethnic absolutism. What started with Otto Von Bismarck’s quest for Germany’s reunification later became a sought after path devised and framed by Karl Haushofer to expand Germany’s influence during the Second World War. The events of the twentieth century, caused geopolitics to be ignored by the academia and states alike. It was not until 1980s, that the subject was broached and made part of the International Relations curriculum, Today, geopolitics exhibit a different understanding from the one popularized by Germany in the inter-war period. Unipolarity became the key idea of international order after Soviet Union’s disintegration. It resulted in US becoming the hegemon and saw the rise of other non-Western powers. Geopolitics thus saw a changed tone and character in the twenty-first century. The geopolitics of the twenty-first century does not necessarily believe in the traditional meaning of the term. The multi-polarity of the world has changed the way it is practiced and implemented. Due to the rise of the non-Western powers in the international community, US is trying to balance its influence particularly in the Indo-Pacific. From Obama to Trump’s presidency, the region has been deemed as most important for American strategy. The schisms between US and China are much pronounced than ever after the COVID-19. Indo-Pacific being the new theatre of confrontation between US and China is highly important. The rise of the non-Western powers (China, India and Russia’s military potency) all hail from Asia. The other reason being the amount of economic activity conducted and the geostrategic importance of the region. It is home to the most important Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) including the Straits of Malacca and Straits of Hormuz. These SLOCs are also part of China’s grand maritime strategy. The Belt-Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the New Silk Road aims to connect East Asia with Europe through a connection of rail networks, roads and a maritime silk route, of which, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a major extension. In this backdrop, what remains important is the nature of impact the US-Chinese confrontation would have on South Asia and in particular, Pakistan. South Asia continues to be the most dangerous region in the vast expanse of the Indo-Pacific. This is primarily, because it is home to two nuclear powers in the world-Pakistan and India who share historical animosity and recently since the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status at the hands of Modi’s government, are embroiled in an extremely precarious situation. In the Sino-American rivalry, Pakistan and India have a lot more at stake. Pakistan being part of China’s Belt-Road Initiative, for the first time in its own history, has paid attention to this part of its neighbourhood. The development of Gwadar port, with Chinese assistance manifests the importance of Pakistan’s own geostrategic location. Gwadar’s proximity to the Strait of Hormuz not only make Pakistan part of the new great game but also put Pakistan in a dangerous chase with India. As India, through this wants to expand its quest of ‘regional hegemony’ its gambit in Chabahar and efforts to expand its navy point to a dangerous new arms struggle in the Indian Ocean. With India having achieved its nuclear triad through INS Arihant completing the first deterrent patrol, Pakistan needs to shift its focus from other segments of international competition to the Indian Ocean. Indian Ocean tends to be the most important arena of regional and international competition. Although, Pakistan is part of China’s BRI, it needs to have a policy of its own. It would be pertinent to mention that, India with its economic rise and influential capability in the international community, does not solely rely on its alliance with the US. It regionally has been expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean. To counter China’s rise and support its own regional aspirations, India has asked Indonesia to access its Sabang port and Oman’s Duqm port to facilitate its naval operations. Pakistan is focusing its efforts on Gwadar port, rightly termed as the ‘buckle of the belt and road initiative’. Gwadar is linchpin of CPEC and an important project to carry BRI, Pakistan, nonetheless, needs to formulate a policy that would focus on the Western Indian Ocean. Considering, this Pakistan which is not part of major India led regional initiatives such as BIMSETC and SAGAR can reorient its lens to the Western Indian Ocean, specifically to the African nations. Geopolitics, in the twenty-first century, have transformed and become complex with addition of economic and military dimensions. A post Covid-19 world looks to a changing international order. Pakistan, due to its economy needs, should work on to increase its trade and foster ties with the littoral states of the Indian Ocean region more specifically with African countries This help Pakistan to shift the focus from the traditional areas of foreign policy to new avenues.
The writer is a Research Fellow at Maritime Centre of Excellence, Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore .