On September 22 The New York Times published an opinion in the form of an interactive chart titled ‘The New World’. This article, authored by Frank Jacobs and Parag Khanna, presents what the future would entail for certain states. Basically, it argues the existing international borders are not static and presents about 11 different places where they are likely to change. The surprising element is not about what is on the list but what is absent. Moreover, the arguments utilized to present the case are lopsided.
Yes, Baluchistan and Pashtunistan are on the list. This is obviously not the first time someone has pointed this out, and, therefore, it should not come as a shock to anyone. Nearly all major western publications have been presenting a dire outlook for Pakistan for close to two decades now, well before the present regional turmoil had presented itself ominously.
Countering A Narrative
Countering a narrative, first of all, requires an examination of the premise being used to build an argument. These usually get validity by repeated assertions in the media, and after a certain point, most people start to accept them as a given fact, as perceptions transform to perspectives.
For example, the study in question presents the reason behind the changing borders as an inevitability of geopolitics. It simply ignores the havoc and tensions that have consumed the world in the aftermath of the 9/11. The globetrotting drones, worsening the worldwide recession, and the struggle for energy resources, all are contributing factors. These causes have resulted in the resurgence of tribalism and nationalism, which are threatening not just a few states but the whole concept of the nation-state.
Future Of GCC
One of the important projections articulates that Gulf Sates are likely to form a union in the future. It is true that Saudi Arabia is especially interested in such a prospect, and a number of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meetings have focused on this. However, none of these have produced any results. Considering the tribal orientation of the Gulf monarchs this is perhaps the last place on earth that may form a merger. Nonetheless, the element of fear can extract results that are otherwise unimaginable.
Moreover, the blowback from what is occurring in Syria, and the role of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and western powers in arming the rebels there can be extremely perilous for the Gulf countries and the region. Consider the support provided to Afghan jihadist and Salafist in the 80s that ultimately resulted in the creation of Al Qaeda. If anything, when the Arab Spring has run its course and the dust settles on the hoopla about Iran’s nuclear program, we may see some crude League of Nation style European mandates in the Arab world again. The Past is, after all, the best predictor of the future.
How the independence of Kurdistan is presented on the interactive map, is also intriguing. It appears to hurt the territorial borders of Iran and Iraq more but minimally Turkey, a NATO member. This is surprising given the insurgency presented by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), now supported by Syria, is increasingly becoming lethal for Turkey. Could this be because of Turkeys support for NATO in Syria? Irrespective of that, the situation of Turkey is beginning to resemble that of FATA, with its military routinely coming under attack and taking significant causalities.
Equally critical is what is missing from the forecast: for example, the issue of Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Argentina has now received the backing of Latin American countries for its claim of sovereignty over the remote islands of Malvinas, which was occupied by Britain in 1833. Argentina seized the island in a 74-day war in the 1980s. However, UK was able to retake the islands. The 8 member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) recently agreed to bar any ships flying the flag of Falkland Islands, from docking in their ports. Diplomatic wrangling escalated between Argentina and Britain when the UK ordered oil explorations in the waters near the islands in 2010.
Another glaring omission from the projection is the Maoist Insurgency in India, including the sectarian tension surrounding Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. Myanmar is quickly emerging as another hot spot where the shifts in the balance of power between the West, China and India are playing out. As a result, the Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh corridor, is likely to become active in the future.
In short, such one-sided interpretations that are routinely published, are based on a western worldview and interests, and mostly carry consequences for emerging competitors such as Russia and China. For example, China absorbing Siberia, as the forecast states, insinuates anxiety in the Sino-Russian ties. Similarly, the coming together of North and South Korea is perhaps more threatening to other pacific powers such as China and Japan. From the vantage point of South Asia, an interesting prospect to consider would have been the possible fusion of Pakistan and India.
No doubt, the western powers are proficient at envisioning the outlook and what it means for them. Their future planning is connected to risk their policies are creating for the world, deliberately or unintentionally, is a different matter altogether. Lack of alternative and indigenous narrative regarding what the world may look like gives further credence to the scenarios that are propagated. As Dr. Mohammad Iqbal put it philosophically:
“The past, no doubt, abides and operates in the present; but this operation of the past in the present is not the whole of consciousness. The element of purpose discloses a kind of forward look in consciousness. Purposes not only color our present states of consciousness but also reveal its future direction. In fact, they constitute the forward push of our life, and thus in a way anticipate and influence the states that are yet to be. To be determined by an end is to be determined by what ought to be.”
However, it is critical to visualize what that end is, as it may be different for different stakeholders. Not developing a genuine purpose or lack of clarity on the end state, only leads to confusion and lack of public buy-in.