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07 November 2017


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The Twisted Genius

Brigadier Ali,

Thanks for this informative and eye opening essay. I'm now even more convinced that we Americans are fools for staying there.


Thank you, general Ali, for your thoughtful and objective summation. An uneducated guess is that the key to the long term outcome is One Belt One Road. If China can appear to be succeeding in the project and can avoid major military conflicts, it will be offering the region peace, prosperity, and a measure of unity, albeit centered on Beijing, while the other powers offer the prospect of something larger coming from outside to feed at the region’s troughs. Of course, Xi Jenping has to thread the needle.


Rare to have such informed straight talk about that area... many thanks. Using India as a proxy (or a spoiler) seems to me a self-defeating program.


and trust me. These games are only fun when you look at them from afar.

It looks like US has given a blank check to India to impose the Indian soft and hard power to the India's perceived "sphere of influence". And the Indians has been busy doing it.

But these neighbors (and the populations) are quite unhappy having to bow down to what can be described as a regional power.

Also China's policy is simple. Easy credit and soft loans through government control banks and companies. India's is lagging behind its private sector and the bureaucratic red tape.

Peter AU

Thanks FB Ali.
Modi hugs. Several time I have run image searches. With most leaders, Modi lays his head on their chest, like a lover, and the tarrget looks ill at ease and embarrassed. Putin, perhaps because they are they same height, not so, simply returned the hug the same. Putin and Modi look very much at ease with each other in videos. Mutual respect.
In looking up several Hinduvta websites some time back, they hate communism with a passion, idolise the US as a beacon of freedom, and believe they are destined to rule the world. Modi may be more pragmatic as to ruling the world and the US. I get the impression he would fit into the multipolar world.

Taliban and Russia. I do not know enough about taliban and their motives, how pragmatic they are and so forth, but from what I have seen of current Russian leadership and their ability to work with many cultures, perhaps the possibility that the taliban will be removed from Russia's terrorist list?


Thanks for posting this really interesting analysis of the developing competition in Central Asia.

My question is: what could India actually offer to the "'Stans" or to Iran that China cannot? Do the Indians have a better offer?
I mean, China promises to integrate most of central Asia into a comprhensive project with the Belt and Road Initiative, with (apparently) very little political strings attached (the Chinese usually do not ask for democracy or political reforma as far as I know).
Can India offer a comparable deal, especially to countries like Iran that seems to be bent on embracing a multipolar world?


I concur with TTG an excellent essay!

The world has not been a more dangerous state since the Cuban Missile crisis. All this occurring as we have arguably an administration inn the US which is the worst and least qualified in decades to deal with the problems it faces. Trumps hostility to intellectualism means you have policy made by intellectual pygmies. Symbolic of It’s ineptness at diplomacy is that an Ambassador to South Korea has still to be appointed

Does anyone really think that Trump would have done a better job than Kennedy in dealing with Cuban Missile Crisis?

We are indeed heading into very dangerous waters.


A very good description of the current state of affairs in Asia. I agree that the US should get out while they can and let the local powers decide how they want to deal with all the actors. Owning the oceans will be more important that having to maintain a road, which I suspect will be more arduous than the builders are considering. Cutting off roads is rather easy.

It is good to have such an inside view of what is an important part of the world. Please keep it up.


John B
This is FB Ali's piece. pl

Account Deleted

An excellent summary. It is fascinating to get an informed overview of the chessboard, thanks Brigadier Ali.

"Indian access to Central Asia.. ..through Iran is critical to US plans". This would seem at odds with US Iran policy, to say the least. Allowing Pakistan to fall into China's orbit (ref. CPEC) appears to be a huge strategic error on the part of the US. Afghanistan my be key to the 'stans, but with the CPEC China would seem to be able to extend it's mighty economic influence on through Iran and further westward, with or without Afghanistan 'on side'. I read just yesterday that this process is already beginning in Syria in fact.

Crass "you are either with us or against us" US policy is forcing nations who would not otherwise be natural allies together; Pakistan and Iran spring to mind, in the context of this piece. At best, it seems to me, the US may be able to slow China's inevitable domination of Eurasia. At worst (and on current trends) it will greatly accelerate the process by the gross geopolitical ineptitude of this administration, or more accurately; "the only one who matters".

The US comes to the Game with conflicting and confused strategy & threats for non-compliance with it's will. China offers economic incentives and partnership in a well thought out, joined up strategy. At least the British were good players of the Great Game, the US seems barely able to grasp how the pawns move.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

My understanding was that India has dragged her feet in doing anything at Chabahr.

Iran and India cannot have strategic understanding and cooperation, that possibility was destroyed back in 2006 by a Congress government. So I do not think Pakistan needs to be too concerned about what India is doing in Afghanistan - she would be doing nothing of substance.

In regards to Central Asia, we need to be prepared for state decay and failure as the structures created by USSR (another version of the White-Man's Burden) decay or atrophy. That game is not worth the candle.

In Afghanistan, then US and Russia and Iran are on the same side, supporting the Seljuk remnant against the non-Seljuk. For that unfortunate land, perhaps that would be the most positive thing that could be done - a new country that is no longer dominated by the pernicious and harmful effect of the Pashtun Culture.


Great contribution, not least since we lost track of Obama's Pivot Asia due to our US/ME focus.

Thus thanks, Brigadier Ali, for opening up our horizon.

The closest I ever got to the peculiar Pakistan-Afghanistan-India triangle was via the peculiar biography of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik:


To not delve into the larger "disputed territories" context between the mentioned power players. I find it a bit hard to wrap my head around. As non-historian, and non-expert on Asia.

Babak Makkinejad

I agree, India has nothing to offer.

700 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day and they think they can balance China?

They are themselves contained South of Himalayas. And in Australia, one of the 4 presumed members of their "alliance" against China, Indians are despised quite openly.

Babak Makkinejad

Iran and Pakistan are not natural allies since the Seljuk Boundary divides them. Iran and Turkey are natural allies.


The Great Game was a game of empires, pure and simple. There are more complex dimensions to the current situation, some of which were alluded to in the essay. Modi is still adhering to India's long standing policy of avoiding binding alliances. Modi is still hoping that Chinese investments into his "Build India" program will happen. He does not wish to create a conflict with China. He still maintains ties to Russia. The US is not in a position to invest heavily in India, outside of joint production agreements on military hardware with US companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Modi is more hopeful for Japanese and South Korean investments. The US has told India to butt out of the Arabian Sea region, trying to get the Indian navy to focus on the South China Sea. In a speech at CSIS before his India visit, Tillerson invoked Shinzo Abe's "diamond" security alliance of four Asia-Pacific democracies: the US, Japan, India and Australia. India is not likely to bite.

Iran may be getting paranoid about Chabahar due to the American courtship of India, but I hear from India friends in the military establishment as well as from Americans that India is not about to abandon the Iran ties, given what Col. Ali noted about the importance of the Chabahar route to Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Is there a prospect of India being drawn into the CPEC? This is another piece of the regional picture that I have heard recently from some people in India in the Modi circles. That would be a very smart play for China and Pakistan, given that the CPEC passes through the turbulent Baluchistan region.

Interested in thoughts on these added complexities and nuances.


India's is lagging behind its private sector and the bureaucratic red tape.

From my as always limited grasp of world matters, there may not be enough bureaucratic red tape concerning the seemingly high percentange of outsourced production of antibiotics for the "Western market" both for the benefit of people living close to the respective plants and long term for the average citizens in the West too. You feel I got into the trap of silly ideologues in this context?

But now that i babbled, straight from the top of my head, what in your opinon are the worst "bureaucratic red tapes" in India?

blue peacock

FB Ali,

The consensus, at least in macro analytical circles, mirrors your opinion of China and the role that OBOR will play in creating the new Chinese orbit. Most political and geo-strategic analysis also stress the ascendancy of China as the next global hegemon.

I am a contrarian on China. In my analysis, China will be a source of great global instability prospectively. Politically, Xi continues to consolidate his authoritarian power by eliminating his rivals in purges and shadow trials. This removes any chance for a more inclusive political environment in China. While this may seem to provide political stability under the cult of Xi, IMO, it breeds instability as those factions in the CCP cut out from the benefits of patronage wait for signs of weakness. Couple this with the greatest expansion of credit in history which has exploded Chinese banking system assets as well as Shadow Banking assets. That last time an emerging great Asian power did this was Japan in the 1980s. Many don't realize that the Japanese banks were the largest by assets in that period. We have seen what happened there when the credit cycle reversed. Chinese expansion of credit over the last 2 decades has been on steroids relative to Japan in the 80s. Chinese banking assets are gargantuan even relative to western banking assets. US banks are so much better capitalized today. While the financial reality of much of their banking and shadow banking is opaque there is sufficient information for intrepid analysts to note that NPLs are much higher than reported and leverage in shadow banking is much higher than claimed. Additionally, much of Chinese external financing in emerging markets for infrastructure development and consequent political influence is in default. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria are all renegotiating debt service with China. Venezuela is a good example of how this is being handled. They are prioritizing payments of their USD debt service while being delinquent on their Chinese debt. The fact that capital controls are steadily increasing in China shows that the propensity for capital flight is higher than many analysts believe. There's no way that the Chinese Yuan can supplant the US Dollar as a global trading currency, in circumstances where the probability that capital gets stranded is rising. There is a lot of chatter on internet websites on the "petroyuan" supplanting the "petrodollar" and how that will crash US financial hegemony. This is not the opinion of those who understand how trade finance, forex markets and oil markets actually work. Oil and other primary commodities as well as the major currencies of which the Yuan is not, are fungible.

While it is popular analysis today that China & OBOR represent the Chinese ascendancy as global hegemon, my contrarian analysis says not so fast and it certainly is not a done deal in the intermediate term. But even more important, IMO, both financial and political instability is rising in China beneath the facade of strength.

blue peacock


While I certainly have no expertise on military matters and the politics in South Asia and the Middle East, it is my "ordinary citizen" opinion that the US should withdraw completely from those regions. Those regions offer nothing of value to the US.

I would say let the Chinese and Russians meddle there and let the Saudis & Israelis and the Iranians and all the tribes and sects play their ancient games.

While this policy may dent the egos of many in DC who must feel "indispensable" it would free the US from its costly and unrewarding involvement in a region that provides no value to it and only costs. Yes, the oilies will be screaming but the oil, the oil! Oil intensity of the US economy has been declining for sometime and there's plenty of oil & gas available in the world.


Mr. Ali, thank you for a true expert analysis of this new on going geostrategic grate game in south and Central Asia which IMO is now related and includes the entire northern hemisphere. With regard to Iran’ relation with India and Pakistan, three recent related items worth mentioning. One is, Iran is holding off contracting India with much needed Farzad gas field even wiehen India agreed to go ahead on Chahbhar port. Two Pakistan’ military CoS just visited Tehran in high level talks and third Iran’ SL Ayatollah Khamenie has once agin backed Kashmiris revolt against India competing it to Yemen and Bahrain. My hope is, China could be able to pull away Pakistan from Saudi’ influence and finance. And unfortunately Like Babak I think India is digging for trouble siding with Israel against his own large Muslim population.

Account Deleted


You and I find it hard. Yet despite this we try to further our understanding, as we consider this a worthwhile pursuit. Others do not.


re Chinese unstability

Dunno if you are familiar with Chinese history and culture but AFAIK Chinese politics had been ruthless for over 3000 years and with very few exceptions Chinese dynasties were quite stable despite the internal strife and cutthroat competition of elites.
I think the current Communist China has more to do the Imperial Bureaucracy of yore than with Marxism and therefore may exhibit much more resilience to contrary events than you expect.
Contrary to the US they will not overplay the "Global Hegemon" card and will be content to reign inside their borders notwithstanding any predatory practices they deem necessary.

blue peacock

China's political authoritarianism under Xi may turn out to be resilient. But, maybe not. Analysis is a balance of probabilities.

To paraphrase Warren Buffet - only when the tide recedes does one know who is swimming naked.

Only when the Chinese credit expansion recedes will we know how stable their financial and political structures really are. Will Chinese credit quintuple in the next decade?


Great piece. Minor correction. Modi was Chief Minister (Provincial, State.) of the State of Gujarat.

Bombay, was renamed to Mumbai in 1995. Mumbia is the Capital city of the State of Maharashtra.

Modi's crimes were in Gujarat against Muslims.

blue peacock
"...they will not overplay the "Global Hegemon" card and will be content to reign inside their borders.."

How do you know that? That is a statement of certitude.

Pacifica Advocate

>>>My question is: what could India actually offer to the "'Stans" or to Iran that China cannot?

Historically--going back 3000 years or so--India has been a consistent victim of the "'Stans", which are called "Aryans" in India, and yes, thos're the same "Aryans" (though with a different pronunciation--"Are-yans", vs "Arians") that the Nazis appropriated for their own pseudoscientific ends.

Nevertheless, the largely vegetarian and agriculturally-based Tamils, which *apparently* once developed--likely in cooperation with other, foreign groups--a vast civilization at Mohenjo-Daro, have been repeatedly invaded and subjugated by waves of Turkic, Persian, Greek, and Mongolic (among other) tribes.

So effectively, over the last two millenia there are three areas above what we today call "India" that have been in what cynical "Political Science" types would call "play."

A) Tibet. China locked that one down in the 1950s. This was a relatively independent area that exerted vast influence over Nepal, parts of Afghanistan, the current province of Xinjiang, and Mongolia.

B) Bactria/Afghanistan+: This area has always been the most volatile region, and the most susceptible to revolutionary change.

C) Central Asia: This area has, for most of the last two millenia, been mostly patrolled either by Persia/Iran, or--when powerful tribes have arisen--by the most dominant/desperate steppe tribes of the moment. Sometimes, certain tribes have been forced (like the Huns) to move out of their native habitats of power by either China, or other tribes; at other times, certain tribes have simply become so powerful that they have been able to conquer (like the Mongols, or Timurlane) vast swaths of territory.

My point is this: it is not so much what "India can offer."

It is very much more what India fears.

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