Geopolitical Importance: A Different Perspective | Lt Col Khalid Masood Khan (Retd)

Encyclopedia Britannica defines Geopolitics as, “analysis of the geographic influences on power relationships in international relations.”

Traditionally, the geo-political importance of the region where Pakistan is located was established in the late eighteenth century by Alford Mackinder as part of the inner marginal crescent of the Heartland and by Nicholas. J. Spykman as Rim-land.“Heartland” was identified as Eastern Europe or Eurasia or the Caucasian Countries of Central Asia, with the inner marginal crescent or the Rim-land on its periphery, forming a buffer between the Heartland and the great naval powers of the north Atlantic. Mahan’s theory (Alfred Thayer Mahan), which emphasized the importance of sea routes to the Heartland also complemented these ideas. After the discovery of oil in the Middle East, the region’s importance was further enhanced due to the its proximity to the Gulf, the fact that the Heartland was landlocked with no access to warm waters, and also due to its location on the deep sea coasts of the Arabian Sea, the gateway to the Heartland.

The importance of these theories was recognised by all the great nations of the world and during the Second World War. The Allies, the Nazis as well as the Russians had all been working on the same theories. That is why history witnessed great conflicts in the Caucasian Region between the Russians and the Nazis and the latter with the Allies in the Middle East. During the cold war period, both USSR and USA worked on the same theories in the most ideal manner. The domination of the sea routes and the encircling countries on the Eastern Mediterranean, Suez, Red Sea and the Gulf remained the dry battlegrounds of both the super powers throughout the cold war period. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 with a view to reaching the warm waters by controlling the Rim-land or the inner crescent was also in line with Mahan’s theory. Thus the region of Pakistan, gateway to land locked Central Asia (Heartland), and its proximity to the oil producing regions of Gulf has traditionally been of immense geopolitical importance for the great nations.

Geographically, Pakistan is situated all along the Indus Valley astride the river Indus. It is bounded by the Karakorum and the Himalayas in the north, the HinduKush in the west, the Arabian Sea in the south and the Indian plains of Punjab and the Cholistan desert in the East. The River Indus, which originates from Nepal, enters Pakistan from the North and flows all along the length of Pakistan from north to south. It is a major river. The Koh e Suleman range, which is an extension of the Hindu Kush Mountains, runs almost all along the western bank of the Indus (north to south).The Indus drains the glaciers of the Himalayas and the southern Karakorum Mountains. It is later joined by the river Kabul in the plains around Attock. River Kabul is also joined by five more rivers before it falls into Indus. The five rivers of Punjab originating in the Himalayan Mountains also join with the Indus in Pakistan. In addition, numerous small monsoon rivers and nullahs from the Kohe Suleman range also drain into the Indus river, which finally falls into the Arabian Sea at the Indus Delta. Thus the entire Indus Valley is a gigantic drain for the great mountains of Hindukush, Himalaya, Karakorum and Koh-e-Suleman. History tells us that due to the erratic behavior of the Indus River, which was marked by periodic floods and harsh weather, the population astride this river migrated further East towards the banks of the river Ganges. The recurrence of these climatic conditions in this area has also been evident since the start of this century.

Historically, the region of South Asia had been subjected to numerous invasions from the North. All these invasions, which were very lethal in nature, starting with the Aryans, and on through to the nomads from the Gobi Desert, followed by Turks and Afghans, all aimed to capture the resources of this region. These invasions invariably led to persecution, plunder and destruction. Towards the end of eighteenth century, the British had great trepidation of a Russian invasion into this region from the North. They feared the Central Asian expansions of the Tsar’s threatened ‘the jewel in the crown’ of their Empire, India. Thus the Anglo-Afghan wars fought during “the Great Game” period had been preemptive actions to check the peril from the North. Subsequently, towards the end of WW II, the Soviet Army’s invasion of the Eastern Europe up till Berlin in hot pursuit of the withdrawing German forces also created great apprehension for the British Raj for a similar invasion in this region from the North.

While the British Raj was taking its last breath and the sub continent was being divided, Mr. Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the first Congress leaders to accept the partition of India as a solution to the rising Muslim separatist movement led by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

In December 1946, Patel worked hard for a separate dominion of Pakistan to be created out of Muslim-majority areas and on 3 June, 1947, when Lord Mountbatten finally gave out his proposed partition plan, Patel gave his approval and lobbied Nehru and other Congress leaders to accept the proposal. Knowing Mr. Gandhi’s deep anguish regarding proposals of partition, Patel engaged him in discussions in private meetings over the perceived practical non-workability of any Congress-League coalition, the rising violence and the threat of civil war. He knew that the region astride Indus River comprised of Muslim dominated areas which naturally provided a buffer between the North and India.

As for Mr. Jinnah, unfortunately, most of the Muslim dominated areas were located in the region in the shape of Frontier, West Punjab, State of Bahawalpur, Baluchistan and Sind while West Bengal had entirely different geopolitical dynamics. Thus despite knowing the geopolitical dynamics of this region, he had been left with little choice. Being cognizant of this fact, Quaid-e-Azam attached special importance to the Frontier province being the gateway to any impending threat from the North. Due to this, in order to avoid any political instability, he kept the demography and structure of the North Western area intact by maintaining the independent status of the tribal areas.

Knowing the geopolitical importance of this region, the geography of the area, and the hazards of the past invasions from the North, Mr. Patel and Mr. Nehru indirectly supported a separate land for the Muslims who mostly inhabited in the Indus Valley. They believed in history and while predicting the future by looking back at the history continued their discreet support for a separate Muslim state. What they wanted they achieved; a buffer state to absorb any threat from the North to secure India. Years after division of the sub continent, history again repeated itself in the shape of Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and yet another menace of Taliban, which Pakistan has to vehemently absorb as a buffer state by paying a heavy cost. In addition geographically, the climatic conditions are also taking their toll out of this region. In retrospect, their decision had been wise as in case the buffer state had not been created, today India would have been facing the consequences of the nuisance of Taliban terrorism directly on her shoulders.


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