Top Geopolitical Trends To Watch In 2012



This GIPSEE (Global Intelligence, Political, Security, and Economic Estimate) geopolitical forecast  is based on observations, analyses, and interviews conducted over the past three years, using the vantage point of Pakistan and South Asia. We have also used media sources from different regions to comprehend how various countries are contemplating with the complex political, security, and economic realities that they are confronted with. The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive, and a more detailed version will be released at a later date.


1. US-Pakistan Relations and the Civilian-Military Dimension

a. The nature of US-Pakistan relations will transition from being of a covert nature to more overt, and this will increase the role of State Department in dealing with Pakistan. This is because clandestine strategies have become publicly untenable in Pakistan, especially when the US appears to be not tending to Pakistan’s strategic concerns in Afghanistan.

b. For the first time in the history of US-Pakistan relations, the military to military ties are not going well, and this will increase US dependence on Pakistan’s politicians. With Imran Khan’s public popularity surging, the US will attempt to make inroads with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and attempt to influence its position as it relates to Taliban and the war against extremists. Alternatively, it may also try to back Nawaz Sharif as well. However, this could complicate the emerging political scenario and the nature of civilian-military relations as he is not trusted by the military.

2. Pakistan-India Relations

a. The broader premise that economic cooperation can eventually ease security concerns and lead to conflict resolution appears to be longer holding true. The security and nationalistic concerns are domineering over the benefits that economic cooperation may offer as is being seen in Asia Pacific and Europe. This trend will likely complicate the Pakistan-India détente and Afghanistan-Pakistan-India trade relations.

3. Afghan Reconciliation

a. Although there is rampant talk about a political solution and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, what appears to be actually occurring on the ground is a military escalation. NATO’s relations have deteriorated with both Iran and Pakistan. Obviously, there can be no political solution to Afghanistan minus these two countries. This could also mean that the future US strategy is more about Pakistan and Iran and less about Afghanistan.
b. An even more important determinant of the future of Afghanistan will be the flux in the balance of power in the Middle East, between the Turks, Arabs and the Persians. Historically, whichever Islamic power dominates in the Middle East, it also exerts influence in the rest of Islamic world. Presently, the sway of Sunni Wahabi monarchs is on the decline while the Sunni Turks and the Shiite Iran are resurgent. In this tussle, the Turks and the Gulf monarchs both enjoy Western backing while the Iranians do not. On the other hand, both the Turks and the Iranians are not threatened by Arab Spring-style uprisings, like the Arabs.

c. Moreover, the conflict in Libya and Syria demonstrates the growing influence of emerging powers represented by the organization known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on matters of international significance. China and Russia both recently vetoed the resolution related to the Syrian situation and had also opposed military intervention in Libya. Russia has particularly questioned the reasoning behind US bases in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and wants a future Afghanistan to be an independent one.
4. Evolution in Threat Perceptions Since 9/11

a. More than any other factor, how Israel thinks about its national security, will determine the future direction of the Middle East. As the Arab Spring unfolds, Israel is seriously concerned about Islamists gaining influence, for example, in places like Egypt. Israel’s goal will be to prevent any cooperation to develop between Islamists from different countries, or an alliance to be formed between states that can threaten Israel. For example Iran, Pakistan and Turkey were begin to edge closer to one another through developing trade relations. However, the Israel and Western emphasis on Iran’s nuclear program and Turkeys stand against Syria has complicated Iran-Turkey relations, and this will also harm the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

b. Furthermore, 9/11 has assisted in altering how the threats to security were traditionally perceived in the Middle East and South Asia. In the Arab world, the risk has shifted away from Israel and towards Iran, the extremists, and its disgruntled populace. While in the case of Pakistan, it has moved away from India and towards the Taliban and Kashmiri Jihadist.

5. The Rise of Emerging Powers – BRICS

a. As a general rule, the emerging powers usually like to wait and see how events unfold but the established powers often do not have the liberty of time. This means that NATO and the US are likely to take on a more aggressive and confrontational stance towards Russia and China.

b. In the AfPak region, this posture could hasten Pakistan’s drift away from NATO and into the arms of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is considered by many to be the security arm of BRICS. However, this position does put the onus on China i.e., if it wants to confront, or allow the US to carry on unimpeded.

6. War On Terror and US-Islamic World Relations

a. As US-Islamic world relations continue to deteriorate in the Middle East and South Asia, it is focusing more on the Muslim countries of the Asia Pacific, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This also helps the US with its goal of countering China. However, this US position and the US building an axis with Japan, Australia, South Korea and India in the Pacific will complicate Pakistan’s relations with the Muslim countries of the region, including those with Australia and Japan.

b. The war against extremists has overtime merged with the goal of containing adversaries. Use of Afghanistan for sending spying drones over Iran is a case in point. As the US credibility plunges in the Islamic world, opportunities are created for Russia and China. Therefore, NATO will like to prevent the religious hardliners to ever become a tool in the hands of its adversaries. In the post-Osama environment, the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan does not imply any reversal of policy, instead, a change in tactics towards a smaller and smarter footprint.

c. The inter-institutional tussles between the US defense and intelligence organizations and the State Department over the control of US foreign policy are likely to continue. The mixed messages that emanate from Washington, as a result, will be a source of confusion for its allies, on the real intent and policy of the US. This could also complicate the job of the US President as Congress pushes for cuts in defense spending.

7. The Arab Spring

a. While different reasons have been presented about what triggered the Arab Spring, PoliTact interpreted it to be due to the extreme divide between the autocratic rulers and the public sentiment. There were obviously economic underpinnings to these revolts but the social and political reasons played a dominant role and were facilitated by the social media. The political reasons especially had to do with the humiliation the Sunni Arabs have suffered at the hands of Israelis that peaked after the Gaza Crisis and Peace Flotilla incident. While the rulers of Gulf countries now share the Western and Israeli threat from Iran and extremists, in the long run, it is only the public legitimacy that can prevent an uprising.

b. Another hotly debated topic has to do with the future direction of the Arab Spring. While Islamists appear to be gaining, Turkey has proposed a secular model for the countries emerging from the uprisings. However, the Iranian’s think that the Islamic system is better. This debate will continue to shape the change that was triggered by the Arab Spring. With Turkey recently siding more with NATO in matters related to Syria and Libya, this could cause inter-institutional tensions to resurge there once more. Just as they have arisen in Egypt after Mubarak, and are beginning to emerge in Pakistan as well.

8. European Divides

a. For the first time since the end of Cold War, a fundamental shift is taking place in Europe. These changes not only include the decline of European Union, but also the rise of Germany and the resurgence of Russia. Moreover, the Germans and the Russians are also moving closer to each other. This makes the French, British, and other European countries uneasy and causes them to look towards the US to counter balance. However, due to the economic weakness of the US, these Europeans are also for the first time seeking Chinese assistance.

b. These European tensions are already playing out in other regions of the world, especially in South Asia, Middle East, and North Africa. In the chaos that has resulted from the Arab spring, the European powers appear to be establishing their zones of influence. And as they do, the nation-states structures are weakening. While the UK and France have been more active in Libya and Syria, in AfPak, we could see the Germans, like the Russians, becoming more active. The Germans are, for example, actively involved in facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process and in talks with the Taliban.

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