There is a very deep India centric geopolitical manoeuvre underway in the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR). Quite perceptibly, India is being rapidly isolated and confronted. The geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic implications of this exercise will define the future of this region at large.

What is this isolation of India intended to achieve?

China’s ingress into Iran was always on the cards. India has since been unceremoniously ousted from Iran, its Chahbahar Port and other projects. The US and its sanctions on Iran have put paid to its strategic ambitions in the Persian Gulf-Hormuz Strait region and most ominously in the Arabian Sea, Pakistan’s Makran Coast and Gwadar. Its efforts to bypass Pakistan to reach Afghanistan and the CARs have been summarily smothered, too. India has lost its firmest base in the Greater Middle East Region (GMER). Its relations with Iran have been sacrificed at the altar of the embryonic US-Indo strategic partnership, drastically curtailing its sphere of influence and power projection potential. Ironically China, its nemesis, is replacing it.

Despite its massive investments in Afghanistan, India has failed to find even a minor peripheral role in the Afghan end game. Pakistan has promptly elbowed it out of the Afghan peace process and its formative aftermath. India will lose its safe havens from where it financed, sponsored and launched deadly terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. It has lost its potential land link to Afghanistan and the CARs, its secure base on Pakistan’s western frontiers and its capacity to pose it a two-front dilemma.

In South Asia too, India finds itself increasingly outflanked, segregated and defied. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and even Bangladesh are now more inclined towards China than India. Pakistan is also reinvigorating its relations with all South Asian states. Nepal has challenged India’s expansionist designs while a till-now-subservient Bangladesh is also breaking out of India’s stifling embrace. The BRI and its potential economic benefits have emboldened these countries. Isolated, India now also faces the formidable militaries of two nuclear powers in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir Region (IIOJ&KR); China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LOC). PM Modi’s short-sighted policies have hastened the two-front war scenario that his military has been dreading all along.

India is destabilised domestically, too. In its fixation on a Hindu Rashtra it has ruthlessly bludgeoned all minorities especially the Indian Muslims, into abject submission. The CAA, NRC, NPR have nullified the notion of a united, unified India. The construction of a Ram Temple in place of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya will fan further dissensions. The silver brick that PM Modi laid in its foundations may eventually become the silver bullet that will unravel and disintegrate the Indian Union. Indian Muslims must join the cause with the Khalistani Sikhs and other minorities.

India is facing an even bigger challenge in the IIOJ&KR. The resilient Kashmiri Muslims are defiant under a relentless military lockdown, a ghastly genocide and a communications blackout. The US-led West, which has mustered India against China, has ignored the plight of both the Indian and Kashmiri Muslims and so have the self-serving oil rich Muslim Arab countries. Cornered and without recourse to justice, the Indian and Kashmiri Muslims might well be constrained to take a leaf out of the current Afghan war and its imminent end state and act.

India has many options to respond to this evolving situation.

One, it can opt to maintain the status quo. That would be unsustainable. India will not be able to survive its domestic upheavals and the destabilised and simmering strategic environment in IIOJ&KR. The internal and external pressures will be unbearable. Two, it can get reintegrated in the region. By doing so it can gain enormous economic benefits from the East-West and North-South trade corridors and the oil and gas pipelines that are to crisscross Pakistan in the very near future. It can have land and trade links with Afghanistan, CARs, the GMER and Europe through Pakistan. It can thus partake of the economic bonanza that the SCAR will enjoy due to the CPEC-BRI. To that end it must seek a peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues with its neighbours, especially Pakistan. Three, it could actually set up a quadrilateral regional forum comprising China, Pakistan, itself and the Kashmiris and seek a solution without external interference/arbitration. It is doable. It will also spare it the certain ignominy of fighting Uncle Sam’s war in the Himalayas against the overwhelming and inevitable Chinese. Four, it could follow a two-pronged stream of negotiations to resolve its issues with China and Pakistan, separately albeit concomitantly. The Kashmiris will be integral to both sets of parleys on IIOJ&KR. Five, it could seek international mediation. This could either be in the form of the UN/UNSC and their numerous resolutions on the issue, a grouping like the P5+1 or even the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Six, it could go to war. In the current strategic environment with the Chinese and Pakistani militaries bearing down on IIOJ&KR and a militant Kashmiri uprising imminent, India’s options are rather limited. It cannot go in for a limited war against either Pakistan or China or employ the fanciful and utterly preposterous notion of a limited war under the nuclear overhang against them. Its Cold Start Doctrine is stillborn and absolutely useless in the Himalayas. It is already at a very disadvantageous strategic and operational position in Ladakh. It cannot possibly fight an all-out two front war on its own, (not counting the Indo-Pacific theatre of war) unless it wants to move into the nuclear dimension or precipitate another WW.

It is irretrievably stuck in a strategic cul de sac.

The key to unravelling India’s isolation and peace in the region is Kashmir. It is an international dispute and cannot be subsumed as the Babri Masjid was in Ayodhya. Kashmir is no Ayodhya. The seething strategic environment in the IIOJ&KR manifests the meaningful implications of India’s isolation. It must now decide between peace and economic windfalls or war and destruction.