The two Asian giants China and India have been locking horns in the Indian Ocean (IO) for creating their supremacy through their maritime strategies. Geostrategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan once said, “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia.
Brewster (2014), quoted a well-known Indian maritime strategist K.M. Panikkar, who described the Indian Ocean, as a “truly Indian.” But on the other hand, Captain Zhao Yi, working with Institute of Strategy, is of the strong opinion that IO cannot be an Indian backyard. When these two statements juxtaposed, clearly makes the Indian Ocean a place where two Asian giants, China, and India wanted to have supremacy by outmaneuvering each other.
Unfathomable Maritime Strategy: String of Pearls to OBOR
Holmes & Yoshihara (2005) noted that the current maritime strategy of China has been influenced by Mahan. Martinson (2016), has argued that the Chinese maritime strategy has not been influenced by Sir Julian Corbett and A.T. Mahan, rather it is a civilian concept. Although prima facie, it is civilian in nature but practically it could be for both purposes civilian and strategic, hence it is unfathomable.
The String of Pearls was a Chinese geostrategic maneuver, primarily focusing on the network of commercial facilities and building strong strategic infrastructure. Recently upgraded military facility in the Hainan Island, an upgraded airstrip on Woody Island, container shipping facility in Chittagong (Bangladesh), a deep water port in Sittwe (Myanmar) and a navy base in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka are some of the important pearls. Pehrson (2006), has argued that it is not only a naval strategy which is restricted to constructing ports and airfield but it is more than that i.e., regional strategy comprehensively covering diplomatic ties, and force modernization.
One Belt and One Road (OBOR), a strategic initiative under the incumbent Chinese President Xi Jinping, launched in 2013 with two main projects. The first one comprised of the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the second one is Maritime Silk Road. The idea behind both projects is to develop better connectivity and infrastructure for trade and promote the bilateral development of key investment projects between China and the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.
According to Zhang Gaoli, the Vice Premier of China, the main objectives of this project are: enhancing policy coordination across the Asian continent; trade liberalization; financial integration; and connectivity including people to people links. It means a very comprehensive strategy, however, China is hesitant to call it a strategy and now it is being called as OBOR Initiative. As far as South Asia is concerned, under the OBOR Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor have already been translated into reality. These projects (China’s maritime and overland Silk Road) have created the unfathomable Chinese maritime supremacy over India in the Indian Ocean.
Indian Maritime Strategy
In the 21st century, India has been emerging as a potential economic power and on account of that, it has maritime interests in the India Ocean. These include sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, safety and security of Indian citizens living across the countries, safety and security of sea lanes of communications, shipping, trade, energy supply, are some of the important maritime interests which are needed to protect against the maritime threats. Since IO has also been becoming a battlefield for the great game among the external and regional powers, thus, peace, stability and security in India’s maritime zones, maritime neighbourhood and other areas of maritime interest become paramount importance in Indian strategic calculus (Indian Maritime Doctrine 2009:65).
In October 26, 2015, the Indian Navy had released its latest maritime strategy, titled “Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy,” along with a “net maritime security provider.” which is revised and updated version of the previous strategy, ‘Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy (2007).’It has been argued that the previous maritime strategy had not taken into account the changing geopolitical environment and its strategic implications for India’s maritime interests. The updated maritime strategy 2015, would bridge up this gap by complementing the evolving security dynamics in the Indian Ocean.
India has also launched the ‘Mausam’ and ‘Sagarmala,’ projects. The project ‘Mausam’ is under the Ministry of Culture, focuses on extending the India’s cultural links with maritime neighbours as well as to explore maritime routes that link India to different parts of the Indian Ocean littorals. On the other hand, the project ‘Sagarmala’, aims at the provision and efficient operation of port infrastructure. Though this project is about the infrastructure creation in Indian ports, but for the given of geopolitical contested nature of Indian Ocean, this project could be expanded into a regional undertaking.
Strategic Slipup: India Missing Sea Opportunities
India is being considered as a major sea power. In order to seek Indian maritime cooperation, the littoral states have been extending opportunities to India to create the maritime infrastructure such as ports and signet posts, maritime strategic cooperation etc. to ensure their sovereignty, unity and integrity. But Indian maritime strategy seems to be very half-hearted and lethargic. The Hambantota project was offered to India in which India did not show any interest and ultimately it was taken over by China. In 2011, Vietnam has offered the Nha Trang port as a military base near the South China Sea, but this opportunity has also been missed. It has also been argued that India has been going very slow in taking up Agalega Islands as a naval and air bases which were leased by Mauritius. India has remained cold shouldered to Mozambique’s proposal to make a naval base on its northern coast. India’s reticence in owning up the opportunities and defense of the distant neighbours shows India is still not in a position to be a great potential power. Maritime regional cooperation is also going at snail’s speed. During the visit to Japan. PM Modi agreed to heighten the bilateral relationship to a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership,’ but despite two years passing on, no substantial progress in this respect has been made. An agreement on joint weapons development, finalization of the sale of the US-2 amphibious maritime surveillance aircraft are going very slow despite getting full assurance for the transfer of the technology. The other handicaps of the maritime strategy included delaying in Indian Navy’s procurements, half of its submarines with advanced lifespans, critical shortage of anti-submarine helicopters.
What India Should Do?
At the last, it can be concluded that though India is making a lot of efforts to catch up with competitor China’s uncontrollable sea supremacy, but it maritime strategy has been facing serious challenges. India has not been moving with the time to put its promise into reality. Despite a lot of opportunities have been offered to develop and use the ports but half-heartedly approach have been disappointing the neighbours and littoral states. Moreover, Indian Navy which could become a major anchor and lynchpin in the maritime strategy, being handicapped by its procurement process, old age and shortage of weapons etc. Thus, it is highly recommended that in order to compete with Chinese maritime policy and keep the Indian Ocean as the Indian Ocean, India has to extend deep maritime cooperation with its neighbours, littoral states, extra and regional powers and has to exploit the maritime cooperation opportunities offered by the other countries. Moreover, the important part is Indian Navy, which must be strengthened by adding requisite manpower, officials, and indigenization of weapon inventory to sail in the same boat with China.
Pakistan is striving enthusiastically to quell the COVID-19
International cooperation has become necessary for the nations across the globe, to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic -an invisible enemy. For that, states are taking diverse measures ranges from domestic to international level, to win the war against the said disease. No doubt, big motives demand courage. Since observing the first coronavirus case in the country, Pakistan has been taking serious measures to deal with the COVID-19. Pakistan’s response to the COVID-19 has been acknowledged as ‘World’s Best’ by the country head of World Health Organization Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala. She stated ‘At a time when other countries were reporting cases, Pakistan was keeping the virus at bay, which is something quite praiseworthy’
In Pakistan, prime minister Imran Khan and his team are working enthusiastically to curb the menace of Corona pandemic. Recently, PM Imran Khan declared a state of emergency within the country and announced a multi-billion package to relief for the country’s labour and unprivileged class. This big relief package was announced amid severe economic crises; at the time when the country is in great debt and looks for international aids and assistance to overcome the economic deficit. Surely, these measures would help the country to deal with the pandemic. For any government deal with any challenge is a big issue but stimulated and target-oriented efforts are to be needed to deal with its aftermaths. Let’s hope for the best.
According to the latest to report, 1291 cases have been reported in the country in which 21 people has been recovered, while 9 cases could not survive. Although the reported cases in four-digits are presenting a huge volume, it is due to the continuous efforts of Pakistan’s administration and paramedical staff, that the death is limited to the single-digit only. Most of the cases identified with the pandemic moved from abroad. The least number of pandemic transformations cases within the country is also representing the nation’s seriousness to the precautionary measures. With all these facts, Pakistan is to be ranked with the countries which are rationally managing this microscopic virus.
Like the developed countries, the higher educational institutions within Pakistan, and their student councils are also working with great zeal and zest to help with poor families and daily wager class of the country. Each day these volunteer teams are distributing life commodities, food, COVID’s precautionary essentials in the deprived areas of the county and spreading awareness the people through counselling sessions. Along with it, the bourgeoisie of the country, is also taking part in ration distribution drives throughout the country. Student societies based in Pakistan are also introducing online short certified courses on public health and civic educations to grace the youth with the basic health principle and precautionary measures and methods.
During this hard time, the role of doctors cannot be neglected. With the limited recourse, they are tirelessly working, to help the nations with the ongoing pandemic. Besides the tough duties and long-hour duties, the doctors are also offering their assistance in various community groups. Today (on Friday), a Salute Day was observed in Pakistan, to pay tribute to the exemplary efforts of the Doctors and Paramedic staff. People across the country shared their kind wish and prayers with them through social media.
Pandemics are always beyond the territorial boundaries. It never discriminates on the basis of religious, colour and socio-economy& technological developments of the states. It always spread due to un-identification, unawareness and incautiousness the precautionary measures.To deal with such challenges across the country and in the wake of the increasing number of positive cases, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the establishment of task force named ‘Corona Relief Tigers’. This workforce would also assist the government in mapping out the corona cases across Pakistan.
It would be hard for any country if it is to be look downed. Primarily, economies are infected by doing so. Even the developed countries like the state like the United States, China, Germany and Japan would face severe economic crises if it does implement there for a long period. It is too early to predict what the situation of Pakistan would be after two weeks. To tackle with such economic challenges, the government has started to request the overseas Pakistani to donate in Pakistan, by stating “Right now, the Pakistani people are most in need of donations from abroad. I want overseas Pakistanis to deposit their money here so pressure from our foreign exchange reserves is relieved. This will be the fund that will pull the country out from these difficult time”.Along with the government, civil institutions and the citizens, Pakistan’s army is also actively taking part to contain the novel coronavirus.
SAARC against COVID-19: Is everybody in?
On 15th March, under the initiative led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, distinguished dignitaries of SAARC nations came together through a video conference and joined their hands to chalk out a common strategy to fight against the deadly COVID-19 in the region. They raised their concerns about the disease and shared possible preventive measures among themselves. This initiative received a huge appreciation both from member states and other parts of the world. Notably, SAARC leaders did not meet on a regional platform since after attending the 18th SAARC Summit. In 2016, the 19th SAARC Summit was scheduled to be held in Islamabad was later got canceled.
In the video conference, the Indian Prime Minister expressed his faith in regional cooperation. He proposed the establishment of an emergency COVID-19 Fund that can be utilized by any member states for meeting up their cost of immediate actions. India has made an initial offer of USD 10 million for this fund. Simultaneously, all SAARC members have made a significant contribution to this fund including Afghanistan (USD 1 million), Bangladesh (USD 1.5 million), Bhutan (USD 100,000), Maldives (USD 200,000), Nepal (USD 831,393.45), and Sri Lanka (USD 5 million). Pakistan is the only SAARC member that has yet not made any contribution to the fund (data is collected on 25th March 2020 from the website of SAARC Disaster Management Centre.
During the video conference, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza made a remark on Kashmir that was howsoever unrelated to the mandate of the video conference. Article II of the SAARC Charter specifically mentions that “Cooperation within the framework of the Association shall be based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.” Pakistan is an essential part of the SAARC region. It is a home for around 12% of the South Asian population. As of 25th March, it has the highest number of people affected by a coronavirus, that is, 887 in the region. This makes it more important for Pakistan to actively engage with the joint measures for the welfare and prosperity of the region.
There is a difference between politics and pandemic. Both of them should not be mixed at this juncture. Our development has been halted. Our movement has been restricted. Recently, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also called for an immediate global ceasefire. We are not living a similar life, as we were a few months ago. This is a crucial time when countries should keep aside their differences and come together facilitating each other in the common fight against such global concern.
SAARC is aptly being utilized in these challenging times when the COVID-19 virus has already infected 1647 people and causing the death of 20 people from the region. The initiative aimed to discuss measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region. SAARC is founded upon historical and cultural ties among its member states and advocates for a co-operation for the development of the region. Preambular paragraph of SAARC Charter specifically recognizes the commonalities within the region and provides for cooperation to:
“Aware of the common problems, interests, and aspirations of the peoples of South Asia and the need for joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political and economic systems and cultural traditions;”
It further provides, “Convinced that regional cooperation among the countries of South Asia is mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for promoting the welfare and improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region; Recognising that increased cooperation, contacts and exchanges among the countries of the region will contribute to the promotion of friendship and understanding among their peoples;”
Similarly, Article I of the SAARC Charter provides the objectives of this Association that includes: “to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems; to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields”. Indeed, SAARC can bring all members together and collectively overcome this pandemic. Also, the effective co-operation among its members can play a significant role in the success of this initiative.
On 26th March, SAARC Health professionals shall meet again to share their experiences and build up joint actions for the prevention and cure of the disease. It will be pertinent to observe the role of SAARC members in their collective fight against COVID-19. What advancements will be brought to its status after the eradication of this disease? How SAARC members will proceed jointly before the international community? These are a few questions that can be answered over time. Meanwhile, this initiative has provided a good opportunity for the region to strengthen its loose ties while fighting against COVID-19. The SAARC initiative on COVID-19 is making good progress. Member parties are significantly willing to cooperate. If everything goes well, SAARC could re-emerge as a significant voice in the global east.
SAARC Video Conference: Reclaiming the Humanness
The opportunity provided by crisis in the backdrop of worldwide emergency due to lethal Corona pandemic (Covid 19) has re-set the button to once again appreciate the values of human connectivity and to co-exist on March 15, 2020 in South Asia as well. A call by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in a bid to foster collective thinking amongst the SAARC countries after a hiatus of four years, was a welcome step responded enthusiastically by all the member states. Reclaiming the space essential for a multilateral or even a bilateral dialogue, particularly between Pakistan and India, scuttled by the protracted and historically generated acrimony, this nature’s intervention has a lesson to learn from, as humans. It is a lesson needed much more than ever, against merciless encroachment allowed to the politics of might through arms race, nuclear supremacy and economic concentration. Already, the arrogance of nationhood has significantly destroyed the peace of the stressed habitat belonging to the South Asian region occupied by 3% of the world’s landmass and 21% of world’s population. The SAARC countries have even agreed to set up COVID-19 fund with India contributing an initial corpus of $10 million. All the leaders shared country situations and experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as measures taken by them to control the spread of the virus. They also recognized the need to analyze and address the long-term economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region and continue with the consultation process through meetings at the ministerial and experts’ level; identifying the Nodal Experts to take further action on the proposals discussed during the Conference; and formulating a comprehensive regional strategy against COVID-19 through the SAARC process and other appropriate steps.
South Asia has managed to resist the COVID-19 assault so far, given the vast region it covers but the unpredictability continues to loom. How long will this sense of cooperation and coordination prevail and help the nations of the region transition the defunct SAARC? It is direly essential to improve the immunity required to counter unprecedented challenges? How sustainable will these measures be in the absence of building confidence ruined so brutally over the years?
The Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Dr.Zafar Mirza, in his address to the video conference of South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC),very pertinently pinpointed the member states; India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhuttan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and urged them to gear up its resources as a region to fight against the deadly virus collectively. However, while highlighting the core human issue, realizing the freedom of Kashmiris living in Indian Occupied Kashmir forcefully quarantined for more than 200 days is could be the first step of not only towards the humanness, but also would encourage the importance of unanimity. India itself was the first one to have taken the Kashmir issue to the world’s international forum, UN, way back in 1958 while respecting the collective solution of the outstanding issues. The issue has taken an ugly curve due to India’s non-compliance with the UN decision of holding plebiscite. Instead Kashmiris are suffering from worst denial of human rights by using the brutal mechanism of state terrorism. They are being constitutionally ripped off their demand for self-determination. More so, the exponential rise in communal progrom seen in the recent past has further exasperated the fear of non-secular behavior. The contradiction in the primary role itself along with the fancied or may be masquerated in a perpetual hypocritical policy already fractures the collective mechanism proposed by India itself. India needs to do more to initiate a human gesture.
Already, founded in 1985, the cooperative outcomes denied by the pain of non-socialisation of the member states particularly after the Uri attack, mainly initiated by India during the 19th SAARC Summit, which was to be held in Islamabad in November 2016; undermined the vitality of regional integration. In March 2018, during his visit to Kathmandu, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi once again sought the help of Nepal, the chair of SAARC, to revive the organisation by convening the pending Summit in Islamabad. Pakistan has also solicited the support of Sri Lanka. Aimed at achieving peace, freedom, social justice, and economic prosperity by promoting a shared understanding, good neighbourly relations, and meaningful cooperation, improving the quality of life in the member countries by fostering self-reliance, promoting mutual assistance, and strengthening the relations has been a baseline objective. However, the mismatch between SAARC’s ambitions and achievements has been unfortunately profound. Unlike the other regional forums like European Union (EU), The South East Asian Association of ASEAN etc,no tangible economic or political benefits have been realised by SAARC so far. It is mostly termed as a case of ‘retarded regionalism’. Regrettably, the regional behavior of India has also not been very encouraging, since no initiatives have been portrayed by India to transcend the parochial politics with Pakistan as a co-member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) unlike the other smaller states of the organization. In fact, the behavior had been on the contrary with continuing strategic offense. The resonance of surgical strikes, the pronounced offensive nuclear doctrines, the politics of diplomatic and economic isolation desired for Pakistan, all add more weight to the disrespect of peaceful co-existence rather than the cooperative and coordinated step. The re-buttoning of SAARC is a welcome opportunity and holds silver line, yet the journey holds massive ifs and buts for its structure to sway the temporariness in the call. The mechanism of this Regional Association has to be strengthened with more permanent sincerity.
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