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New Geopolitical Great Game of Indo-Pacific: Challenges and Options for India

Dr. Bawa Singh

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During the Cold War geopolitics, the Indo-Pacific region had not been part of Indian foreign policy. Most of the countries from the Asia-Pacific region and India have been remained in the opposite groups and the historical and civilizational relations had become enervated.

Until the 1970s, Indian foreign policy makers considered this region as economically less developed and thus was not attractive for trading and economic partner. Moreover, the   India’s colonial links and its ruling elite’s western orientation thinking further drifted the region from its geopolitical and geostrategic calculus. Sikri (2009), has argued that India’s Fabian socialism policy made it more insular and protectionist.

In the post-Cold War, Indo-Pacific has figured prominently in Indian Foreign Policy due to several dynamics such as end of the Cold War, breakup of the Soviet Union, Chinese assertiveness in region and the Indian Ocean, regionalization trends, India’s own political, economic, security situations and Southeast Asia’s economic and geostrategic problems were some of the important factors responsible for the changed geopolitical landscape in both the regions. Look East policy was launched in the post-Cold War in order to reorient the region in Indian foreign policy. Though, this policy has been started paying the dividends, but still Indian foreign policy has been facing myriad challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indo-Pacific: A New Concept

The term of Indo-Pacific, was used by a strategic thinker Khurana (2007) for the first time, in one of his articles, “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”. According to him the meaning of this term, was a maritime space stretching from the littorals of East Africa and West Asia, across the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, to the littorals of East Asia. This concept was further strengthened and defined by the speech of Japanese Prime Minister in the Indian Parliament (August 2007), in which he commented that the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia”. Bajpaee (2014), has argued that the Indo-

Pacific as a geographical region has been a new geopolitical concept. These arguments on part of the above scholars and politicians was echoed by Scott, in his article “India and the Allure of the ‘Indo-Pacific’”, written for International Studies, 49 (3&4), has found setting in the geopolitical interests. The term Indo-Pacific been started using by the India’s apex political leadership2010 onwards. the strategic analysts, high-level government and military leadership of countries like Australia, Japan and the US, started using this term in their formal/ official documented articulation. In the recent past, the US officials have begun using the term “Indo-Asia Pacific” for maintaining its geographic inclusiveness in the new coinage of ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Geopolitical Great Game

On account of geostrategic, geo-economic and geopolitical salience of the Indo-Pacific, the region has been becoming a battle field for a new geopolitical great game among the regional and external powers. Moreover, some of the scholars (Hoge Jr 2014; Bishoy (2005), have argued that the transfer of power from West to East is gathering momentum on account of its geostrategic salience. Regional and external powers have been competing with one another to counter and to expand their own influences.For their geopolitical and geostrategic interests, the external and regional powers have been following special policy frameworks like the US’s Asia Pivot policy, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), Maritime Silk Road (MSR), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the Russia’s Asia Pivot and India’s Look East Policy (now Act East), policies respectively.

David Michel and Ricky Passarelli (2014) have highlighted that the Indo-Pacific region has been facing a number of maritime challenges and opportunities. Another expert of the region, Mohan (2013) has argued that the Indo-Pacific region has also been entrapped in increasing maritime and geopolitical competition between the two Asian giants China and India in the region. Singh and Pulipaka (2013) have explained how the metamorphosis of multilateral relations took place among India, the United States (US) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) in the Indo-Pacific region. Cronin (2012) has highlighted that Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) along with aggressive assertiveness throughout the region has been encountering with the vested geopolitical and geostrategic interests of the other countries such as the US, India, Japan, Australia and other regional powers such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea etc. Against this background, it can be safely presumed that the Indo-Pacific would remain a battlefield for the major and regional powers throughout the 21st century.

Indian Challenges

In the present scenario, India has been recognised as the potential power in economic and strategic terms. India has been endowed with energetic culture, multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy. Having geo-cultural and historical relations and extended neighbourhood, the Indo-Pacific region holds a very important place in Indian foreign policy on account of geostrategic and geopolitical dynamics. Peace and stability are the major concerns of India. In order to enhance economic and strategic engagements with the Southeast Asia, India has launched Look East policy in the 1991 which is rechristened under the new government of NDA-II under the stewardship of PM Modi. Bilateral engagements with Australia, Japan and Vietnam have been intensified to counter China’s assertiveness in the region.

Among the other major interests of India in the Indo-Pacific region are to check the Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean in order to endure the freedom of the navigation. That’s why South China Sea dispute has paved way for increased Indian role in the Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific. The South China Sea (SCS) is the lifeline of Indian economy as far as the flow of trade and energy are concerned. Whereas on the other hand, China has been making full use of its energy to block India’s passage to economically viable East Asia and the Pacific. Therefore, India’s top priority is to get SCS dispute solved amicably and peacefully. Rajendram(2014) has argued that   China and India are the largest trading partners in the region but both have been engaged in a sort of proxy war to strengthen their respective positions in the Asia-Pacific region.Apart from these challenges, India has been failed to exploit the soft power diplomacy and the ethnic Indian are losing contacts with India. Most importantly, India has been failed to get the membership of the regional organization like APEC.  

Options for India

Facing various possible challenges and paradoxes in the Indo-Pacific region, India has been making reorientation towards the region. India has been making efforts to be a partner of the regional players like the US, Japan and Australia to check the major challenge from China. Several policies, programmes and memorandum of understanding have put in place to enhance engagements in the region.Baru(2001) has noted that India has become a strong maritime and strategic partner of the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia to protect the freedom of the navigation. In order to protect its economic interests, India has also signed free trade agreement (FTAs) with several countries like ASEAN, Korea, and Japan. Scott     (2012) has argued that the US perceives India as a lynchpin for its Indo-Pacific policy to maintain the balancing mechanism among various strong economic players active in the region. The incumbent government of India has been making efforts to strengthen its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.The growing economic , security and maritime ties between India and Japan are moving in this direction. Similarly, India and Australia have been coming closer in terms of strategic relations. Australia has responded very positively to Indian endeavors. The US wanted to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region.

Conclusion

In the post-Cold War, the Indo-Pacific region has been given an important place in the Indian foreign policy. India has geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region. In the 21st century, the power shift has been moving from West to East. With the rise of China and emerging India, the Indo-Pacific region has become a battle field for great game. Several major powers have been competing with one another and to counter and expand their influence in the region. Due to China’s aggressiveness and assertiveness, the Indian interests are at stake. In order to protect its interests, some policy frameworks, FTAs, memorandum of understanding with the major powers and regional powers have been put in place. Though these measures have been paying dividends, but still India has been facing a number of the challenges in the region. It has been failed to exploit its soft power diplomacy, ethnic Indian have lost contacts with India, and membership of regional organization have not been extended. Against this background, India has to make sincere and consistent efforts to protect its interests in the region. India should enhance its strategic partnership with the notonly major powers but also with the regional powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea etc. India should make full use of its soft diplomacy and strengthen bounds with the ethnic Indian.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Pakistani elections spotlight the country’s contradictory policies

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A virulently anti-Shiite, Saudi-backed candidate for parliament in Pakistan’s July 25 election symbolizes the country’s effort to reconcile contradictory policy objectives in an all but impossible attempt to keep domestic forces and foreign allies happy.

Ramzan Mengal’s candidacy highlights Pakistan’s convoluted relationship to Islamic militants at a time that the country risks being blacklisted by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.

It also spotlights Pakistan’s tightrope act in balancing relations with Middle Eastern arch rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran while trying to ensure security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), at US$50 billion plus the crown jewel of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative and its single largest investment.

Finally, it puts on display risks involved in China’s backing of Pakistan’s selective support of militants as well as the Pakistani military’s strategy of trying to counter militancy by allowing some militants to enter the country’s mainstream politics.

An Islamic scholar, Mr. Mengal heads the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba, an earlier outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades.

Pakistan last month removed Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of Ahl-e-Sunnat from the Pakistani terrorism list, at the very moment that it was agreeing with the Financial Action Task Fore (FATF) on a plan to strengthen the country’s anti-money laundering and terrorism finance regime that would keep it off the groups blacklist.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi met with Mr. Ludhianvi in recent days.

Military support for the participation of militants in elections was “a combination of keeping control over important national matters like security, defense and foreign policy, but also giving these former militant groups that have served the state a route into the mainstream where their energies can be utilized,” a senior military official said.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mr. Mengal was uninhibited about his relationship with Pakistan’s security forces. “No restrictions at all. I have police security during the election campaign. When I take out a rally in my area, I telephone the police and am given guards for it.,” he said. Mr. Mengal said of the 100 ASWJ operatives arrested in the last two years only five or six remained behind bars.

A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites in Balochistan, Mr. Mengal led crowds in chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but is now more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights reported in May that 509 Hazaras had been killed since 2013.

Many of those killings are laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent group that split from Sipah/ASWJ but, according to a founding member of Sipah still has close ties to the mother organization. ASWJ denies that it is still linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Suicide bombers killed 129 people this month in an attack on a rally of the newly founded Balochistan Awami Party, widely seen as a military-backed group seeking to counter Baloch nationalists. The Islamic State as well as the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Mengal was the alleged conduit in the past two years for large amounts of Saudi money that poured into militant madrassas or religious seminaries that dot Balochistan, the Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The funds, despite the fact that it was not clear whether they were government or private monies, and if they were private whether the donations had been tacitly authorized, were widely seen as creating building blocks for a possible Saudi effort to destabilize Iran by fomenting ethnic unrest among the Baloch on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.

A potential Saudi effort, possibly backed by the United States, would complicate an already difficult security situation in Balochistan, home to the port of Gwadar, which is a key node in China’s massive investment in Pakistan and has witnessed attacks on Chinese targets.

It would risk putting Saudi and Chinese interests at odds and upset Pakistan’s applecart, built on efforts to pacify Balochistan while not allowing its longstanding, close ties to the kingdom to strain relations with its Iranian neighbour.

The Pakistani military’s strategy of easing militants into the country’s mainstream politics is also not without risks for China that in contrast to its South Asian ally has adopted an iron fist in dealing with dissent of its own, particularly in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang where China has implemented extreme measures to counter Uyghur nationalism and militant Islam.

If successful, it would create an alternative approach to counterterrorism. If not, it would reflect poorly on China’s selective shielding from United Nations designation as a global terrorist of a prominent Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.

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South Asia

Dilemma of Strengthening Democracy in Pakistan

Fateh Najeeb Bhatti

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No country can achieve political stability without the active coordination of different state institutions working within their own specified parameters. For a nation to keep moving smoothly on the road to prosperity and maintaining national cohesion, consensus among political forces and other stakeholders is mandatory. History of developed and successful democratic nations is evidence of such instances in which political stability came out as a result of collective national wisdom.

Talking about Pakistan’s political dilemma, a few things become very clear that certain impediments had always been there right from the emergence of Pakistan as an independent state. Due to the internal politics in the power corridors, Pakistan was unable to formulate its constitution till 1956. Soon after that, in 1958, as a consequence of a long spell of endless political differences of the politicians in power and related lack of efficiency in handling the government affairs, the very first Martial Law was imposed. As a result the country was ruled by the military General Ayub Khan, although in that period Pakistan was able to achieve high economic growth progress. Since then, Pakistan has faced four martial laws till date.

Apart from these military takeovers and running of the governments by the military leaders for almost thirty years at different times, the elected civilian governments have also ruled the country for about 40 years. It is a popular perception among the majority of masses that the politicians adopt malpractices like nepotism, aristocratic behavior, change of loyalties etc and do not run the government affairs efficiently, which motivates the military leaders to take over the affairs of the country. However, whatever the reason may be, there is no justification to not allow the democracy to strengthen its roots, as according to Pakistan’s founding fathers, Pakistan’s future lies only in the democracy.

Although not likeable, but perceivably different military leaders took over the governments based on certain grounds, propagated mainly due to the inability of the civilian leaders to govern the country efficiently and their attitude of encouraging corruption, thus, undermining Pakistan’s socioeconomic development and its foreign and defence policy objectives. For instance, in 1958, the politicians’ inability to govern the diverse two part country inevitably invited Ayub Khan to take over. Similarly, in 1969 when Ayub’s presidential democracy failed on some accounts he had to hand over the power to General Yahya Khan.

Again in 1977, when the opposition parties failed to admit the election results and Bhutto was unable to bring the opposing politicians to negotiation tables,  Zia-UL-Haq was motivated to take over, as some politicians, including late Air Marshall (R) Asghar Khan had advised General Zia to take over reins of the government. In 1999, when the then PM Nawaz Sharif sacked General Pervez while he was on the flight from Sri Lanka, back from his visit, in reaction, General Pervez Musharraf ordered a military takeover by alleging PM Nawaz Sharif that he had tried to hijack the PIA plane carrying General Pervez Mushrraf and many other passengers, by ordering that plane to land somewhere else instead of Karachi airport.

Although, elected civilian were governing the country since 2008, in view of various apprehensions the political atmosphere remained ripe with the news stories of the civil-military divide and possibilities of the military take over being there. This situation was there because on most of the national issues and defence and foreign matters both civilian and the military leadership did not seem to be on the same page. However, apprehensions about military’s alleged role in the politics are still there, despite the current Chief of the Army Staff’s negation stating that the military supports democracy in the country.

Broadly seeing through the efficiency of the civilian political leadership in strengthening democracy by cooperative politics and working on national issues with consensus, the civilian leaders are still not working as per the people’s aspirations. Many of our politicians are involved in corrupt practices. Those who declare themselves Mr. clean have not much reliable past. So far, they have not been able to prove through their efficiency that politicians can provide Pakistan with the best form of the government that can make Pakistan a welfare state providing equal opportunities to everybody. Although, it is not an excuse for military powers to intervene in politics. Hence the problem is that how this desired sustainable and durable system will come into Pakistan, because inefficiency and corrupt practices of the politicians still offer chances to the military leaders to take over the government in Pakistan.

It is also a historical fact that Pakistan, because of its ideological mythology and geographical proximity has always been a security state. It has yet to achieve the objective of a welfare state, which is a way to address the present internal and external issues of Pakistan.  Furthermore, the public perception of military institution is as a disciplined, honest and purely nationalistic institution, which majority of our politicians’ lack. The supremacy of civil institutions is alright, but to achieve it the political pundits in Pakistan has to prove themselves loyal, honest and men of words and actions. Also, both sides have to recognize each other’s constitutional role in true letter and spirit.

Neither military nor political leadership can handle the prevailing issues of Pakistan single handedly. The need of the hour is to cooperate with each other on domestic, defence and foreign policy issues. Since, the foreign policy of any country is the outcome of its internal strength, domestic peace, prosperity and national cohesion leads to a strong and effective foreign policy. This fact needs to be understood by all stakeholders. Hence every institution should remain in its own domain to strengthen government hands to serve the county in all areas, particularly in carrying out socioeconomic development of the country and running of strong foreign and defence policies. In this context, democracy will be only sustained and strengthened if all national institutions work in their own domains and mutually cooperate to maintain a good atmosphere for development of the country.

To avoid future military takeovers, sustain democracy and develop economically, we can also learn from our friendly country, Turkey. Turkey has also suffered such political upheavals in their history, but now they have managed to restrict the influence of each institution to its own sphere. Though, Pakistan’s scenario is somewhat different, but things are not as bad as  perceived by some people in Pakistan. As a student of international politics, my personal opinion about the future of Pakistan seems very bright if our politicians follow the guidelines of our founding fathers and military establishment concentrates on its own responsibilities and always gives a helping hand to the civilian governments.

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South Asia

The FATF meeting: Unjustified decision for Pakistan

Uzge A. Saleem

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The threat that loomed over Pakistan since February has finally made an impact and unfortunately it is a negative one. In simpler words, Pakistan has been placed on the FATF Grey list. Optimists say that it is a rude awakening and there is still time to get a hold of matters and prevent the state from falling into the blacklist whereas the pessimists are of the opinion that the decision to sideline Pakistan like this is biased and unjustified. So far the pessimists seem to be on the logical end of the debate.

The FATF is an organization that works to keep a check on Money Laundering activities and Terrorist Financing. Pakistan is not a direct member of the organization, but is associated through the Asia/Pacific group which deals with money laundering. This is why direct impositions cannot be made on Pakistan, but APG and other financial institutions like the World Bank can be pressured not to give loans to Pakistan.

If the case is to be evaluated right from the beginning, then it can be seen that it was interest driven from the very beginning. The decision was not made in the first meeting rather a second round was called in where some members were offered incentives to vote in favor of the decision and the others were conveniently not present. This is proof of the fact that the superpower has made a decision to sideline Pakistan until and unless the state bows down to all their demands and they have gained the support of many states by one way or another. The end result of this was that in June 2018 Pakistan was finally placed on the dreaded Greylist. The injustice is evident from the fact that according to the Money Laundering index formulated by the Basel Institute there are 45 states above Pakistan in terms of money laundering of which none has been mentioned or even discussed to be placed on the FATF greylist. It is clear that the move has an agenda behind it which might be to pressurize Pakistan into following the US orders otherwise there were 45 other states to consider before bringing Pakistan into discussions regarding strategic deficiencies.

As far as Counter Terrorist Financing is concerned, it is nothing more than a mere allegation which is being propagated by the hostile next door neighbour to discredit the state’s Nuclear Program. Pakistan is not sponsoring terrorism rather it is battling terrorism on its own soil. This is being done so not to satisfy the USA but for the state’s own national security. Something which is a personal concern and a threat to the nation cannot be sponsored by the state thus all these allegations are false.

As wrong and unjust as the decision might be the bottom line is that it has been made and it will have consequences for Pakistan until and unless the state manages to get off the list. The first and most damaging consequence would be the decrease in foreign direct investment. Generally, when a state is put under suspicion of money laundering and sponsoring terrorism, foreign investors become reluctant to invest in the state because of its unstable internal conditions. It is common in the business world to opt for investment in areas with minimum chances of risk. Pakistan, with the label of the FATF grey list automatically becomes less appealing to investors. This is likely to put a strain on the country’s financial situation. Furthermore, if Pakistan fails to satisfy the organization in the future, then the FATF is at full liberty to persuade the World Bank and IMF to stop providing loans to Pakistan as well. Considering the mega projects underway in Pakistan like CPEC, foreign investment is an important aspect and any decrease in that would have a negative impact on the state.

Though it should not have been done, but since it is done, Pakistan needs to increase its efforts to change its international image and also build a comprehensive and effective plan to eradicate all issues that put the state in a position to be blamed for such matters.

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