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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

Kashmiri Lives Matter

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Inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter” after the murder of George Floyd, on 25 May 2020. Many other movements are gaining momentum against discrimination around the world. Kashmiri movement for their legitimate right of self-determination, also gained momentum. Kashmiris are struggling for their rights for 72 years, but India not only denying their legitimate right but using accessive force to suppress them.

Starting from Times Square, New York, on the 5th of August 2020,  to almost all capitals of Europe and other parts of the world, Kashmiri people staged protests, agitations, demonstrations, to express their anger and dissatisfaction with the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They were displaying banners with various slogans like Kashmir Lives Matters, Freedom for Kashmir, Condemned India atrocities, Respect for human lives, etc. Not only the Kashmiris, but local people also joined them in such protests. Mainstream Media, around the world, has covered their protests and published or broadcasted the Indian atrocities and brutalities in Kashmir. Seminars, Conferences, were held to address the Kashmir issue in many countries.

PM Narendra Modi, won the Elections based on anti-Muslim and Anti-Pakistan slogans and it was expected that his policies will be anti-Muslims and Anti-Pakistan. But PM Narendra Modi has not calculated well the consequences. Today, the Indian economy collapsed, society has been divided, law and order situation deteriorated, Government rit has weakened, insurgencies go momentum. Simply India as a country may not survive long and may disintegrate soon.  PM Modi is pushing India toward disaster. His Nazi thinking and extremist policies have ruined India already. India used to be known as a secular state, but today India is an extremist Hindu state, with no rights to minorities and low caste Hindus.

One year ago, on the same day, the 5th of August 2019, India revoked its own constitution Articles 370 and 35A and annexed Kashmir. The merger of Kashmir and Ladakh to Union territory ends the special autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, which is a disputed territory, recognized Internationally. The UNSC passed dozens of resolutions to resolve the Kashmir Issue. But India is not implementing the UNSC resolutions and became defaulter to the UN, which is a criminal act.  Kashmir is a disputed territory among China-Pakistan and India. The Unilateral actions taken by India angered the stakeholders and offended the international community.  It is a clear breach of international law and fair practices of the civilized world. It was Indian international commitment, the legal binding under Delhi agreement 1952, to implement the UNSC resolutions.

India is spoiling the peace of the whole region. It has initiated arms race in this region and procuring more and more lethal weapons. It should be known that the region is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. India, China, Pakistan, and Russia, al are nuclear countries. Any misadventure may cost the human lives of almost half of the world population.

Indian cross-border terrorism and aggressive acts are increasing and threatening the neighboring countries. India has disputes with all of the regional countries, like Nepal, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Almost nine hundred thousand troops of the Indian army, empowered with draconian laws,  have illegally occupied the territory and are keeping the 8 million people of Kashmir under siege while violating with impunity the International Humanitarian law and practices. Kashmir has become the largest jail. Indian troops are using lethal weapons, cluster bombs, pallet guns, and perpetrating Sexual offenses, destroying Muslim religious and private properties. Whereas the Kashmiri civilians are innocent and unarmed. They are protesting and agitating peacefully for their legitimate right of self-determination, sanctioned by UNSC in 1948. Although UNSC resolutions are legally binding on India, but, India is delaying and not implementing UNSC resolutions passed in 1948. 

Estimated killings so far are said to be 352, including 75 unarmed civilians, 196 freedom fighters, and also 81 from the occupational forces. 170000 persons have been arrested including old-aged, women, and under-aged children. The top political leadership has been arrested or house arrest. The activists and youth are arrested are shifted to detention camps. Children are separated from parents and messed in detention camps. It’s now a year since the curfew was clamped. There is a severe shortage of food, medicines, fuel, and electricity and the basic necessities of daily life. The phone and internet services are suspended. Travelling is restricted, especially media persons and foreigners.  Kashmir is totally cut-off from the rest of the world, and blacked-out, with no flow of information. Only state media is reporting the censored reports. Whatsoever is reported in the International media is only a fraction, as leaked information is always limited only. The actual situation on the ground is rather much more severe and dangerous. Kashmir is split into two Indian union territories as Kashmir and Ladakh.Against the wishes of the stakeholders. This is the worst type of tyranny being faced by the helpless people of Kashmir in the history of humankind.

For 72-years of Indian atrocities and brutalities, have forced Kashmiris to seek a merger with Pakistan. The more force India will use to suppress Kashmiris, the more hate will increase against India, and the more love for Pakistan will increase. The ultimate solution to Kashmir is the merger with Pakistan according to UNSC resolutions through holding a plebiscite. India is granting domicile to non-Kashmiris, especially Hindus from other parts of India, to change the demography of Kasmir. India wanted to change the Muslim majority of Kashmiris which stands 87% to the Hindu majority. India failed to control Kashmir for 72-years, and will never keep occupation forever. India has to leave Kashmir, the sooner, the better. The spirit of Kashmiris can not be suppressed by any means, they are determined to keep their struggle till victory. People of Kashmir are brave, bold, and committed. No one can suppress them.  Salute to the brave men and women from Kashmir, who are fighting with the huge Indian Army and yet not surrender. Their struggle will reach a logical end with Victory only.

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South Asia

Indian Imbalanced Balance

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A serious crisis is looming over journalism in India, which is increasingly vested in the hands of authority. On the one hand, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee asks for “discussion and dissension” for a vibrant democracy. “There should always be room for the argumentative Indian, and not the intolerant Indian. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public,” Mukherjee said while paying his regards to Ramnath Goenka – former press baron. On the other hand, Indian media has lost its credibility regionally as well as internationally owing to quality of Indian public discourse. According to criminal lawyer Rebecca Mammen, “The true test of a robust democracy is the independence of its media. Over the past few years our media has become the mouthpiece of the party in power. Coupled with the fact the corporate owners of media houses share close links with the government, the Indian media has tragically lost its voice.”

The mainstream media is vested in the hands of a selected few and refuses to question authorities.         The ‘Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, which was released on April 20, has ranked India at 142 among 180 countries reflecting poor credibility due to pressures by government. According to the Report, the Indian media is reeling under a Hindu nationalist government, which has time and again tried to gag journalists. Moreover, India’s influential TV news channels function largely as government mouthpieces.A European non-governmental group “EU disinfo lab” had uncovered a network of 265 ‘fake’ news outlets sponsored by an Indian network to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with content against to Pakistan.

The crisis in the Indian media will have deeper impacts on Indian democracy. With a feeble opposition, weak institutions, and an inadequate media, Indians have no checks and balances. For instance, maligning Pakistan High Commission, Colombo(PAHIC) during a recent Indo-China conflict was an Indiangovernment instructed media strategy to divert public opinion from their failures in North. In other words, media strategy inadvertently defines poor political will of India to stand up to China while feel strong enough to bully the smaller neighbourhood.

The sane voices in Indian media have continuously shrinking space.Having almost 400 news channels, Indian media has failed to highlight serious matters, such as beef ban, human rights violations in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IoJK), and numerous discriminations against Indian Dalits. “Over the last few years – especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the general election of 2014 – the Indian mainstream media has allowed itself to be undermined by the transcendent political power that he represents,” said Pamela Philipose, The Wire. “A new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media,” says Philipose.

In a similar manner, a political scientist Giles Vernier argues that “a new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media.One reason why we don’t see much criticism in the media is that the government, in the person of the Prime Minister, has the ability to completely dominate the media’s agenda, by saturating the public and media sphere with the message, image, and his voice.”

Journalists should be critical of government’s handling of its internal and external matters to keep it on the right track. TV channels will call speakers of their choice, who would heavily lean to one side of discussion and pretend that it is balanced.

In the current atmosphere, with enraptured legislative issues and social perspectives, with populist political leadership, with developing bigotry against minorities and dissenters, the media can and ought to be an encouraging sign for liberal, mainstream and law based thoughts, yet additionally to guarantee that outrageous perspectives does not get into the papers or on TV. Rather, the media in India has become some portion of the issue, either excitedly partaking in preparing of contempt against the helpless, or carrying on in an insincere path by permitting the most exceedingly terrible components a free run of significant reality on their foundation. Whole ages of columnists are growing up with the possibility that they are playing out an important help; they have scarcely any good examples to gaze upward to, since their own managers, who should know better, are either sold out, ideologically dedicated to fanaticism or are indecisive, without firm feelings or just fearful. In any case, Indian reporting is in a profound emergency, all for the sake of ‘balance.’

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This is Pakistan

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With an unprecedented progress in politico-socio-economic domains, Pakistan has a new face in the world. It has not only successfully corrected misplaced perceptions about it, but the internal and external circumstances around it have also changed, which has helped shaping Pakistan its renewed look according to changed regional and international environment. The successes at the security front has also led to the economic progress in Pakistan.

In result of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and anti-extremism operations, it lost tens of thousands of people, including soldiers and civilians. Pakistan’s strong resolve together with sustained military operations against terrorist elements, however, brough back peace and stability in the country. According to Security Report 2019 by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), “Pakistan witnessed a further decline in the number of terrorist incidents and consequent casualties… terrorist attacks this year decreased by around 13 percent as compared to 2018.” The report clearly depicted a gradual decrease in terrorist attacks and casualties since 2009. In this regard, Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) helped eliminating the menace of terrorism from the country. The improved security situation in the country resulted in the economic dividends in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan is also appreciated for its nuclear material safety. In its annual report, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) – a leading United States non-proliferation watchdogdivulged that “Pakistan’s improvements in the Security and Control Measures category are significant because strengthened laws and regulations result in durable boosts in Pakistan’s score as well as provide sustainable security benefits.” While appreciating Pakistan’s further improvement in nuclear materials’ safety, Laura Kennedy, a former United States diplomat, tweeted that “one welcome bit of news reported by #NTIindex is that #Pakistan ranked as most improved in security of those countries holding nuclear materials.”

Pakistan’s fight against Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) is used as a role model by developed countries of the world. The Government of Pakistan (GoP) revealed a PKR 1.13 trillion relief package to help to the powerless and securing industry and other organizations. The concept of ‘Smart Lockdown’ also reaped its dividends and Pakistan has come out from the dangers of this deadly virus.

On the socio-economic front, Pakistan is making progress as well. For instance, the current account deficit has reduced from US$ 20 billion to US$ 3 billion together with a significant decrease in trade and fiscal account deficits. The stalled construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam has also been approved, which will result in additional water supplies for better agricultural production. There has been increase in the rights activism i.e., Transgender Pride March, Aurat March, Climate March, and Student Solidarity March. Women sports stars of Pakistan won international medals and recognitions.For instance, 8-year-old Pakistani Taekwondo star Ayesha Ayaz won a bronze medal for Pakistan at the 7thFujairah Taekwondo Open Championship in United Arab Emirates (UAE); Hajra Khan won 3 Guinness World Records; Mahnoor Shahzad won the Annapurna International Badminton Tournament; Nida Dar became the first Pakistani woman to sign a deal with an international cricket league, Sydney Thunder; Shahida Abbasi from Hazara won one of the total two gold medals for Pakistan at the South Asian Games 2019; and Mallak Faisal Zafar won first position in the Basic Novice Girls II category at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck 2019. Test cricket also returned to Pakistan.

Culturally, Pakistan is projecting itself more prominently. Pakistani celebrities are mamking it to international fashion weeks – Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan walked the ramp for Milan Fashion Week 2019. Pakistani film Laal Kabootar won the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival for the Best Feature Film Award. ActressMahira Khan was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, strengthening the bond between the people of Pakistan and the international community. Moreover, Mehwish Hayat was appointed ambassador to UK based international humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal.

On the entrepreneurial front, 9 Pakistanis made it to Forbes’ coveted 30 under 30 Asia list: Ahmed Rauf Essa: Founder, Telemart; Karishma Ali, President, Chitral Womens Sports Club; Laila Kasuri, Water Analyst, Global Green Growth Institute; Hanaa Lakhani, Hasan Usmani,Gia Farooqi and MoneebMian, Cofounders, Roshni Rides, Zain Ashraf, Founder, Seed Out; and Zainab Bibi, Founder, Pakistan Society for Green Energy (PSGE).

Regionally, Pakistan’s foreign policy is paying its dividends. Pakistan’s relations among Iran, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka, Russia, United States and others has improved significantly. Overall, there is many encouraging events happening in and around Pakistan.

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