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South Asia

Outfoxing Signal From SCO for India: Russia Turned Strategic to Strange Partner

Dr. Bawa Singh

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Since its inception, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been as a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization. Initially, it has five members -China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, known the ‘Shanghai Pact.’ Having strategic interests in the Eurasian region; it becomes imperative for India to institutionalize its engagements with the Eurasian region.

Russia has been encouraging and endorsing India’s full-time membership of the SCO, realizing it is an important potential strategic partner. Realist thinker like Hans Morgenthau had already been put the nations on alert that there is no permanent friends/foes in the arena of international relations. For the given strong strategic partnership between India and Russia, the recent picture of bilateral ties has not been moving in the same direction. In this backdrop, the analysis will be made to know the dynamics, why Russia has been giving the strategic signal for India to be at choppy sea in the SCO?

Genesis of SCO

Out of the ongoing regionalization trends since the 1970s, the SCO, a Eurasian geopolitical organization, originally established as ‘Shanghai Five’ on 26 April 1996, out of the ‘Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai.’ After the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, it was rechristened as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Initially, it was aimed at ensuring the liberal democracy to grow in the Central Asian countries. However, it has been argued by a political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, that the SCO has been failed to enthuse the member countries to do the same. During their meeting in Saint Petersburg (Russia), the members signed the SCO Charter in June 2002, in which they determined its purposes, principles, and structures. The SCO has covered wide-ranging of areas of cooperation such as security, trade, investment, connectivity, energy, and culture. Despite its slothful performance, the strategic salience of the SCO cannot be undervalued for the given of membership of two nuclear powers and possessing of the 60% of the land mass of Eurasia and quarter population of the world.

Geopolitical Expansion of the SCO

It has been accepted that the Indo-Pacific geopolitics in the 21st century, going to be determined by the two Asian giants –China and India. Having its geopolitical and geostrategic interests in the Eurasian region, India has been seeking to get into the SCO, which has been lingering on due to the obduracy of China. In the backdrop of regional geopolitical dynamics, India has been encouraged by Russia to join SCO as a full-time member because the latter has considered that the former could be a vital strategic partner to counter China in the Eurasian region. India applied for the membership in September 2014. The SCO approved it in July 2015. To join as a full member, India has signed a memorandum of obligations on 24 June 2016 at Tashkent. Now, it is expected that India will be a full member of the organization by 2017. However, to counter India in the SCO, China has pressed Russia for the entry of Pakistan in the same. Along with India, Pakistan is also joining the SCO in 2017.

SAARCIZATION of the SCO?

Now, India and Pakistan are going to be the member of the SCO in 2017. What will be the geopolitical meaning of this for the SCO? To decode the meaning of hostile relation of India and Pakistan for SCO, it is worth to mention here the performance of the SAARC in this context.

The performance of SAARC in terms of trade and foreign direct investment has been remained at the lost ebb comparable to the other regional organizations such as ASEAN and the EU etc. The SAARC Summit of 2016, has been canceled due to the ongoing tension on the Line of Control (LoC) between both the countries. No substantial cooperation have been achieved in counter terror, energy, connectivity, refugees problems etc. Despite the counter-terror strategy of SAARC in place, numerous terrorist attacks have been taking place in both the countries. Seeing the performance of SAARC during the last 30 years, it is very easily to argue that the SAARC has been failed due to the given hostile relations of India and Pakistan. When these two countries join the SCO, how it will perform, will remain interesting to see the same. It seems that the side effects of the hostility between both the countries will drastically impact the performance of the SCO. Moreover, India will have a pariah status in the SCO, given the changing geopolitical equations. Russia, China and Pakistan has been emerging a new strategic triumvirate.

Russia’s Strategic Signal for India

India and Russia have remained active strategic partners throughout the Cold War. Russia has helped India in various sectors such as military, science and technology, industrialization, and nuclear technology. Russia has remained the largest exporter of weapons to India. With the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the USSR, the geopolitical equations have changed. Russia has come more close to Pakistan despite the given hostile background of relation during the former’s intervention in Afghanistan (1979-89) and now signed defense agreement in 2014.

Russia is one of the dominating players in the Eurasian region. India has interests in the Eurasian region such as political, economic, and security. For the given historical background of bilateral between Russia and India, it is anticipated that the former will remain helpful in protecting the Indian’s interest. But seeing some moves of Russia, it seems that now, Russia has been drifting away from India.

The terrorism, separatism, and extremism have remained the pressing security threats for the SCO member countries and to fight against these threats, is remained the top priority of the SCO since its inception. In this context, Afghanistan case will be taken into account. Afghanistan is a dialogue partner of the SCO, moreover being strategically located, it has been sharing borders with Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and Iran. Due to the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan, there is a possibility of shifting of terrorism to Russia and China via the Central Asia. It has created panic for these two countries. Against this background, Moscow is going to host a meeting with China and Pakistan on Afghanistan. India is an acceded member of the SCO, and moreover, it has strategic interests in Afghanistan. Therefore, India also should be a partner of this meeting. However, India has not been made a partner of the same.

The second case was also far-reaching impacts for India. Soon after Uri terrorist attack, India has urged Russia not to take part in the joint military exercise ‘Friendship’ with Pakistan. Ignoring the Indian request, Russia has participated in the same exercise. In the ‘Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process’ (3-4 December 2016), Russia has openly sided with Pakistan on the terrorism issue. Rather, it advised India not to use such fora for the bilateral problems. Russian ambassador to Pakistan, Alexey Y. Dedov does not only supported the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rather expressed Russia’s interest to join it. Since it is passing through the disputed territory, hence it means, it is weakening the claim of India regarding disputed area. India has been outfoxed/outmaneuvered in the strategic and energy projects from the Central Asian countries by Russia and China. Tanchum (2013), has argued that central Asia is critical for India’s security, trade and energy needs, but it has been outfoxed from the region, and it raises a serious question about India’s ability to be a partner of the regional arrangement. At last, it is concluded that Russia has turned from strategic partner to a strange partner of India. Therefore, Russia is not only a challenge in the Eurasian region and SCO rather it is going to hurt the Indian interests in the South Asia as well. In the changing geopolitical equations, the protection of Indian interests in the Eurasian region would depend on India’s astute diplomacy as well as balance between the major powers.

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

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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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.

Image courtesy of Google

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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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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