Relations between India and Pakistan have been complex due to a number of historical and political events. Relations between the two states have been defined by the violent partition of British India in 1947, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear arsenals in ready mode, the numerous military conflicts fought between the two nations and regular cross fires at the LOC (essentially to terrorize the besieged Kashmiris on either side). Consequently, even though the two South Asian nations share linguistic, cultural, geographic, and economic links, their relationship has been plagued by hostility and suspicion.
Jammu Kashmir continues to be under joint occupation of India, Pakistan and China. Now India controls about two-thirds of the Jammu Kashmir state while some western and northwestern regions are under Pakistani occupation. China controls the uninhabited Aksai Chin region in the state’s frigid northeast that it “acquired” from Pakistan.
Dealing with each other has been one of the most formidable challenges that has confronted Pakistan and India over so many years, worsened during the last 35 years. The current BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Narendra Modi employs a more muscular strategy in its relations with Pakistan. While in opposition, the same Bharatiya Janata Party always opposed any relationship with it neighbor Pakistan and insisted that terror and talks cannot go together. The participation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014 allowed for some cautious optimism, but nothing positive emerged form that meeting. Foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for August 2014 were called off at the last moment because of a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi. Sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks as Indian foreign minister visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012. The restarting of a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” was announced by India’s top diplomat Sushma Swaraj, the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012.
Ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May last year, after his Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a landslide electoral victory, he has been courting India’s neighbors. He had invited the heads of SAARC countries to his swearing-in and followed this up with visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. BJP has not been really accommodative of the genuine concerns causing deadlocks in bilateral talks. Analysts said India softened its position after a string of state elections that struck a gloomy picture for the ruling party when it was in the interest of Modi’s Hindutva BJP to strike a hawkish, populist line against Pakistan.
Reports suggest that Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may meet in Nepal this week on the sidelines of a Saarc ministerial-level meeting. Diplomatic sources reported that India and Pakistan were exploring the possibility of a meeting between Swaraj and Aziz and also between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in the Nepalese tourist city of Pokhara. Modi is slated to visit Islamabad in November 2016 for the SAARC regional summit.
The two South Asian prime ministers are scheduled to travel to the USA to attend a nuclear security summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama. In the first top-level diplomatic exchange between the two neighbors and archrivals in the last seven months, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar reached Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Jaishankar’s two-day visit – part of a broader trip to all member countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – is significant as it could mean that the two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought four wars since August 1947, when the British freed and divided the Indian subcontinent, could resume bilateral talks for the first time since India broke off a dialogue in response to Pakistani diplomats meeting with separatist leaders from Kashmir in New Delhi.
Jammu Kashmir , the only Muslim-majority in the northernmost state of India after annexing it in 1947 has been at the center of the dispute between the two neighbors throughout their independent history. Pakistan also shares a part of Kashmir now known as Azad Kashmir. While India considers the entire Jammu Kashmir state an inalienable part of its union, and Pakistan wants a UN-proctored plebiscite, as specified by UN, to decide the region’s fate, there is significant and growing support among Kashmiris for independence.
Summit exchanges and other high level meetings have done enough to stabilize bilateral ties mainly because of the Kashmir issue. Both South Asian nuclear states do not want to get rid of their dangerous WMD. Indian Foreign minister Swaraj met with Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, and his top foreign affairs adviser, and also agreed to start a dialogue process that would include Kashmir and other border disputes.
Pakistan said it was taking steps to bring about the early conclusion of the stalled trial of those involved in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Earlier in the day Swaraj told representatives of 31 countries gathered for the Heart of Asia conference on the future of Afghanistan that it was time for India and Pakistan to display “the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation…The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them.” The change in tack had been presaged by a closed-door meeting in Bangkok between the two countries’ national security advisers, which itself followed an informal conversation between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Paris climate change conference the week before.
Relations between Pakistan and India improved dramatically when the two sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks after years of disagreeing terms of any discussions of their numerous disputes. High-ranking officials from the nuclear-armed neighbours have held precious few meetings since the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India in May 2014 given his government’s insistence that talks focus on battling terrorism and not the contested region of Kashmir, a key Pakistan concern. The diplomatic breakthrough by two countries that regularly exchange fire across their contested borders was announced at the end of a regional summit in Islamabad where officials also hinted at a possible revival of talks between the Afghan government and “Taliban groups”.
Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup last week said that no schedule of bilateral meetings in Nepal have been drawn up with Pakistan or any other country. Aziz and Swaraj will be in Pokhara for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 16 and 17 March. A senior Pakistani official said Islamabad was ready to resume the dialogue at any time, and was also open to a meeting between Aziz and Swaraj in Nepal. the Pakistani official said there is no proposal as of now for the meeting in Nepal but Pakistan will respond positively if India approaches us for this purpose.
The meetings, if held, will provide an opportunity to the two sides to discuss the much-delayed talks between the foreign secretaries, who were to meet in Islamabad in January. The key foreign secretary-level talks are meant to draw up a roadmap for a series of meetings between the two countries on a range of issues, including Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, water, and trade and commerce.
The efforts to resume the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue hit a deadlock after the terror attack on Pathankot airbase that India has said was carried out by militants from Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group. Sources said Aziz and Swaraj, if they meet, will discuss the possibility of an interaction between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi later this month in Washington. During the meeting, the foreign secretaries realized that peaceful dialogue is the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues. However, an immediate resumption of dialogue between the two countries is not yet a certainty.
India has officially maintained that Jaishankar was travelling as part of Delhi’s plans to stay in touch with Saarc neighbors but had, however, made resumption of talks with Pakistan a non-negotiable condition for aligning with the BJP in Kashmir. Earlier, Jaishankar’s trip to Islamabad follows only days after a new government, in which the BJP is a junior coalition partner, was installed in Jammu and Kashmir in Indian side. This is the first time that the Hindutva BJP is sharing power in the Muslim-majority state, and in the elections conducted in December, Modi’s BJP had its best ever electoral result in the state. “I want to say on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister, that we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan and militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state,” Sayeed reportedly said. “People from across the border made the atmosphere conducive. They also have assets — Hurriyat, militants… if they had done something (during the election) such a participation of people would not have been possible. This gives us hope.”
India has put in place an elected government in the troubled state of JK. The BJP’s coalition partner is the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), which was led by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. Sayeed, who had in the past been said to be close to Kashmiri separatists, caused a controversy soon after being sworn in as the state’s new chief minister after he expressed gratitude to local separatist outfits and armed militant groups for allowing peaceful elections in the state. The BJP-led federal government in New Delhi distanced itself from Sayeed’s comments, and instead, credited “the Election Commission, our armed forces and the people,” for peaceful elections in the state.
Decrying a Pakistani official’s reported remark about use of nuclear weapons against India, US has urged the two countries to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their long standing issues. “Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about a Pakistani official’s reported threat to use tactical weapons against India. “And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. “And we understand that there are issues longstanding,” he said. “But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.” Asked to comment on a new report by two US think tanks that Pakistan may have about 350 nuclear weapons in a decade or so to catch up with the status of India in the field, Kirby said he did not have a specific update regarding any talks with Pakistan on the nuclear issue. “Obviously, we continue to urge all nuclear-capable states, including Pakistan, to exercise restraint regarding furthering their nuclear capabilities,” he said.
Recently, USA and Pakistan urged India to give up its rigid attitude to Kashmir and help solve the issue in a amicable manner without nay wars. US spokesman, however, praised India’s constructive role in Afghanistan and said the USA would like other countries including China to play a similar role there. “We want Afghanistan to be a good neighbour in the region” Kirby said. “And India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same.” “I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous with better future,” Kirby said.
In a busy day of diplomacy, the Heart of Asia summit saw officials from leading countries hint at fresh talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government which were abandoned after just one round this summer. Antony J Blinken, US deputy secretary of state, said the Afghan and Pakistani leaders renewed their commitment to an “Afghan owned and Afghan led” process during meetings with senior diplomats from the US and China, in a sign of the powerful international pressures for a peaceful end to the war. Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to both Kabul and New Delhi, said there was now a “ray of hope” for improved relations with India. However bitter experience meant “you should never be overly enthusiastic because you never know where the next stumbling block will come”, he said. There are doubts over how quickly the talks can begin given the violent splits that developed within the Taliban after it was revealed in last July that the insurgency’s spiritual leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. News of Omar’s death triggered a sharp increase in attacks in Afghanistan as the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Mansoor attempted to assert his authority over a movement divided over both his leadership and the wisdom of negotiating with the Kabul government. The surge in violence, which many in Afghanistan believe is caused by clandestine Pakistani support for the rebels, heaped pressure on Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, to abandon his policy of making concessions to Islamabad to gain Pakistan’s backing for peace talks.
India and Pakistan occupy not only Kashmir valley but even the dangerous Siachen Glacier where avalanches take place regularly, killing soldiers. Recently, after an avalanche claimed the lives of Indian soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, calls for demilitarization are rising. The demilitarization of Siachen is definitely doable diplomatically. Moreover, there is a critical mass of opinion in both India and Pakistan that neither can sacrifice so many lives on the inhospitable glacier. If the initiative is not seized by both sides now, the vagaries of nature will continue to exact a toll on forces deployed in Siachen, even if peace holds.
Regional peace in South Asia, now depending on India and Pakistan, unless established, is not an option but a necessity.
Siachen Glacier only symbolizes the nature of mutual hatred between the nuke neighbors. Pakistan as well as India has a duty and responsibility as regional leaders.
Resumption of the Indo-Pak ‘talks” or ‘dialogue’ in Nepal or elsewhere would be meaningless unless the leaders realize the need for resolution of Kashmir issue.
Whether Pakistan’s membership in the IAEA Board of Governors is a major diplomatic achievement?
Pakistan has once again been elected a member of the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) for the next two years on September 20, 2018. The Board of Governors of the IAEA is one of its policy making organs. The BoG not only examines the financial statements, it also makes recommendations for the IAEA budget. It finalizes the membership applications, accepts safeguard agreements and contributes in the safety standard publications. The approval of Director General of the IAEA with the approval of General Conference is also the responsibility of the Board. Pakistan has been chosen 19 times to the Board in the past and has played an important role in the formulation of the agency’s policies and programmes. It also has the honor of chairing the Board thrice in 1962, 1986 and 2010.
A prominent Pakistani nuclear expert Dr. Naeem Salikin his book “Nuclear Pakistan Seeking Security and Stability” writes that Pakistan’s cooperation with the agency has been reciprocal. In other words it not only benefitted from the agency but also Pakistan’s nuclear expertise and its human resources proved to be invaluable contribution to the agency. Pakistani scientists and engineers have contributed to the IAEA work in numerous fields including in the area of nuclear safety and security. It also hosted nuclear safety and security workshops with the cooperation of IAEA on the regional level. Pakistan has been beneficiary of the IAEA assistance and its nuclear establishment is fully committed to increasing this cooperation in various fields ranging from nuclear power development to that of agriculture, medicine and livestock. Pakistan’s Country Program Framework (CPF) 2014-2019 provides assistance in the wide range of areas as nuclear safety and security, nuclear power development, industrial application, human health under the technical cooperation program of the IAEA.
Since the inception of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons it has faced allegations and hostilities which have not been faced by any other nuclear state in the world. Although, the formation of the NSG in 1974 was the result of Indian violation of peaceful use of nuclear material for military purposes but the irony is that now the founders of NSG are advocating India for the membership of NSG. China is the only state which understands that India is not the only country but Pakistan is also capable of producing highly enriched uranium and plutonium for civil and military purposes and it can easily assist developing states in advancing their nuclear infrastructures and technology. All nuclear power plants of Pakistan are under the IAEA safeguards while the US is extending exceptional treatment to India by letting it keep its eight reactors out of IAEA safeguards that are producing fissile material in large quantities, and intentionally ignoring this.
In this regard, Pakistan advocates a non-discriminatory approach towards the non-NPT nuclear weapons states for their entry into the NSG. Nevertheless, it is the prime time for Pakistan to fight its case through the IAEA as it is going to formulate policies of IAEA for future. It should also try to introduce the policies which treat all nuclear states equally because discriminatory behaviors and policies undermine the credibility of the non-proliferation regimes.
In a nutshell, Pakistan has been facing enormous amount of propaganda regarding its nuclear safety and security and the amount of literature projecting Pakistan’s perspective is inadequate and small. Therefore, it’s imperative that Pakistan projects its perspective concerning its nuclear safety and security. Pakistan has been in full compliance with the agency regime for over fifty years now. Pakistan’s cooperative and positive behavior towards the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and non-proliferation regimes requires equal treatment. Keeping in view the stringent nuclear safety and security record of Pakistan and its advanced nuclear fuel cycle capability, it should be considered eligible to be provided the nuclear fuel cycle services under the IAEA safeguards. Pakistan can make its membership in BOG a major diplomatic achievement by advocating its perspective with full determination.
Can India Balance Between Beijing and Washington?
On October 10, 2018, a Senior Chinese Diplomat in India underscored the need for New Delhi and Beijing to work jointly, in order to counter the policy of trade protectionism, being promoted by US President, Donald Trump.
It would be pertinent to point out, that US had imposed tariffs estimated at 200 Billion USD in September 2018, Beijing imposed tariffs on 60 Billion USD of US imports as a retaliatory measure, and US threatened to impose further tariffs. Interestingly, US trade deficit vis-à-vis China reached 34.1 Billion USD for the month of September (in August 2018, it was 31 Billion USD). Critics of Trump point to this increasing trade deficit vis-à-vis China as a reiteration of the fact, that Trump’s economic policies are not working.
Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India said that tariffs will be detrimental for both India and China and given the fact that both are engines of economic growth it is important for both to work together.
The Chinese diplomat’s statement came at an interesting time. US President, Donald Trump on October 2, also referred to India as ‘tariff king’. Even though the India-US strategic relationship has witnessed a significant upswing, yet the US President has repeatedly referred to India imposing high tariffs on US exports to India (specifically Harley Davidson motorcyles).
It also came days after, after India signed a deal with Russia (October 5, 2018) for the purchase of 5 S-400 Air Defence system, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chinese envoy’s statement also came days before India attended the China dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Significantly, India and China also began a joint training programme for Afghan Diplomats on October 15, 2018 (which would last till October 26, 2018).
Trilateral cooperation between India, China and Afghanistan was one of the main thrust areas of the Wuhan Summit, between Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and Indian PM, Narendra Modi, and this is one of the key initiatives in this direction.
There are a number of factors, which have resulted in New Delhi and Beijing seeking to reset their relationship. The first is difference between New Delhi and Washington on economic ties between the former and Iran and Russia. Washington has given mixed signals with regard to granting India exemptions from Countering America Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
US ambiguity on providing waivers to India
While sections of the US establishment, especially Jim Mattis, Defence Secretary and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo have been fervently backing a waiver to India, there are those who oppose any sort of waiver even to India. NSA John Bolton has been warning US allies like India, that there will be no exemption or waiver from US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector. On October 4th, Bolton while briefing the press said:
“This is not the Obama administration … is my message to them (the importers),
Trump himself has not been clear on providing India a waiver, when asked about this issue, he said India would know soon about the US decision (Trump has the authority to provide a Presidential waiver to India from the deal with Russia). A State Department Spokesperson also stated, that the US was carefully watching S-400 agreement with Russia, as well as India’s decision to import oil from Iran, and such steps were ‘not helpful’. With the US President being excessively transactionalist, it is tough to predict his final decision, and with growing differences between him and Mattis, one of the ardent advocates of waivers for India, it remains to be seen as to which camp will prevail.
US protectionism and New Delhi’s discomfort
Differences between Washington and New Delhi don’t end on the latter’s economic ties with Tehran and Moscow. India has on numerous occasions stated, that while strengthening strategic ties with the US, it was concerned about the Trump administration’s economic policies. This was clearly evident from the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the SCO Meet (October 12, 2018) held at Dushanbe, Tajikistan where she pitched for an open global trading order. Said Swaraj:
“We have all benefited from globalization. We must further develop our trade and investment cooperation. We support an open, stable international trade regime based on centrality of the World Trade Organization,”
Even if one to look beyond Trump’s unpredictability, there is scope for synergies between New Delhi and Beijing in terms of economic sphere and some crucial connectivity projects.
For long, trade has been skewed in favour of China, and this is a growing concern for India. Trade deficit between India and China has risen from 51.1 Billion USD in 2016-2017 to 62.9 Billion in 2017-2018 (a rise of over 20 percent).
The imposition of US tariffs has opened up opportunities for China importing certain commodities from India. This includes commodities like soybeans and rapeseed meal. In a seminar held at the Indian embassy in Beijing in September 2018, this issue was discussed and one on one meetings between potential importers (China) and sellers (India) was held. India urged China to remove the ban which had imposed on the import of rape meal seeds in 2011.
Connectivity and Afghanistan
Another area where there is immense scope for cooperation between India and China is big ticket connectivity projects. During his India visit, Uzbekistan President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev invited India to participate in a rail project connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has welcomed this proposal, saying that this would strengthen cooperation between China and India in Afghanistan. India-China cooperation on this project is very much in sync with the China-India Plus Model proposed by China at the BRICS Summit in July 2018.
India and China can also work jointly for capacity building in Afghanistan. New Delhi has already been involved in providing assistance to Afghanistan in institution building and disaster management, and if Beijing and New Delhi join hands this could make for a fruitful partnership. The India-China joint training program for Afghan diplomats is a significant move in this direction. India and China can also look at joint scholarships to Afghan students where they can spend part of their time in China and the remaining time in India.
Both India and New Delhi for any meaningful cooperation in Afghanistan can not be risk averse, and will have to shed their hesitation. Beijing for instance has opted for a very limited ‘capacity building’ , where it will work with India in Afghanistan. While Kabul had expected that both sides will invest in a significant infrastructure project, Beijing with an eye on its ally Islamabad’s sensitivities opted for a low profile project.
New Delhi should not be too predictable in it’s dealings with Washington DC, and has to do a fine balancing act between Beijing and Washington DC. While on certain strategic issues are synergies between India and the US, on crucial economic and geo-political issues, there are serious differences, and India’s ties with Beijing are crucial in this context. New Delhi and Beijing should seek to expand economic ties, and the latter should give more market access to Indian goods. Apart from this, both countries should work closely on connectivity projects. If both sides build trust, the sky is the limit but it will require pragmatism from both sides. Beijing should not allow the Pakistani deep state to dictate it’s links with India (especially in the context of cooperation in Afghanistan). New Delhi on its part, should not make any one issue a sticking point in its complex but very important relationship with Beijing.
The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region
Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.
The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.
According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:
[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]
Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.
While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security. Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.
In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:
(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)
India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.
A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.
This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.
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