[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he countries of South Asia are using the United States and EU’s deterrence model of building walls and fences along the border, to deter cross-border terrorism, migration and human trafficking. However, this deterrence strategy will ultimately fail, just like it did in the United States and EU.
On 5th May 2017, Afghan security forces fired across the border at Chaman on Pakistani census workers and troops escorting them, killing nine and leaving thirty-three wounded. In the crossfire, Pakistani officials reported that six were killed on the Afghanistan’s side. This has led to the series of crossfires between both the armies across the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan Border), and in the recent incident of yesterday, Pakistan army claimed to kill fifty Afghan soldiers and over a hundred injured as a retortion to 5th May cross-border attack on Chaman. Two days earlier than the Chaman incident, India claimed that they have found two beheaded dead bodies of their soldiers near the Line of Control (LoC) who were brutally mutilated by Pakistan’s special forces. While both these countries have inculpated their western neighbor for the cross-border infiltration and terrorism, India faced an additional concern of cross-border migration and human trafficking of Bengalis and Rohingyas refugees from the India-Bangladesh border. This is precisely the reason that Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared at the end of the month of March that India plans to seal international borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh by 2018. Singh believes that it will help India to tackle the rising issue of terrorism and refugee crisis in the country. Just two days after this, Pakistan also announced that it is going to build a fence across the Durand line (Afghanistan Border) in order to stem the flow of violence across the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both of these announcements have come at a time, when the debate on the border restrictions has already been in the limelight, mainly because of the United Stated president Donald Trump’s pledge to build a “giant wall” on the country’s border with Mexico and the usage of these restrictions as a tool to prevent the movement of refugees from Syria into Europe.
Why is this new trend of border walls emerging in South Asia? How different or similar is the border walls in this region from that of massive walls being built on the borders of the United States, Israel, and European countries? How these controversial border security projects are justified in their respective countries and what consequences these physical barriers have on the lives of those living in these newly securitized spaces?
In order to find answers to these questions, it is first important to understand the Professor of the University of Quebec, Montreal, Elisabeth Vallet’s categorization of the border walls of the 21st century. She believes that in recent years “three distinct types of walls have appeared, 1) anti-migration walls (most common), 2) anti-trafficking walls and 3) anti-terrorism walls.
With the increase in the cross-border infiltration, migration and human trafficking in South Asia, the demand for the building of fences have been increased as well, and the frustrated politicians have to spend exorbitant pecuniary awards to limit the cross-border activities in the region. Currently, there are three borders that are being fenced by their respective governments to attenuate the cross-border activities in the region.
1) India-Bangladesh Border
On the eastern side, India is planning to construct the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier, a 3,406-kilometer (2,116 mi) fence of barbed wire and concrete just under 3 meters high, to prevent the cross-border immigration and human trafficking from Bangladesh. India shares a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) -long international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world, including 262 km in Assam, 856 km in Tripura, 180 km in Mizoram, 443 km in Meghalaya, and 2,217 km in West Bengal. The Bangladeshi divisions of Dhaka, Khulans, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet and Chittagong are situated along the border. A number of pillars mark the border between the two states. Small demarcated portions of the border are fenced on both sides. The Land Boundary Agreement to simplify the border was ratified by both India and Bangladesh on 7 May 2015.
In the Modi era, India is lubricating the bilateral relations with Bangladesh by building pipelines to wheel diesel under a 15-year supply agreement with Bangladesh. Furthermore, the rail and road linkages being made available for transport of people and goods across the India-Bangladesh border is another boost in the relations. Apart from all this, the civil nuclear cooperation and military aid to Bangladesh are all meant to foster strong bilateral relations. However, the radicalisation of Bangladesh Muslims and their inclusion into the ranks of jihadis organized are a cause of constant concern to India for multiple reasons. India is already facing the consequences of Pakistan’s descent into jihadi extremism and now if Bangladesh were to collapse, India would have to contend with a similar rogue neighbor in the east. The smoke signals are ominous, among them Sheikh Hasina’s failure to ensure the safety and security of Bangladesh’s dwindling Hindu minority. West Bengal is flooded by Bangladeshi malcontents who now freely cross the border to take refuge here, and then return to indulge in jihadi violence both here and there. A recent Government of India statement pegged the number of Bangladeshis living illegally in India at more than two crores. Nobody knows the exact figure, nor is there any estimate how many of them are radicalized. Therefore, India has started building a fence to act as a permanent schism between the two masses of Bangladesh and India as to prevent the penetration of Bangladeshis into the country. Also, the border has been used by the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state to enter into India. Despite the hurdles, police checks and fences, it is said that the Rohingya refugees are imbued to endure the long and treacherous journey to the Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Assam.
- Pakistan-Afghanistan Border
Pakistan’s decision to build a fence along the Durand line has been influenced by the cross-border terrorism and free movement of terrorists in and out of the Pakistan. The two countries share a 1,500-mile internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British ruled the Subcontinent.
The border has long been a contentious issue. Ever since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghan and Western officials have said that the Afghan insurgency’s leadership maintains havens in Pakistan, particularly in the city of Quetta. The free movement across the border has helped the militants avoid defeat in a 15-year war led by the United States. At the same time, Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of harboring its own terrorists, wanted Afghan Taliban leaders and their Haqqani network allies in the hilly areas of FATA and Waziristan.
Contrarily, Pakistani authorities have long accused Afgahniatsn of turning a blind eye to Islamic militants operating along the porous frontier and waging deadly attacks inside their territory are based across the border in Afghanistan. In the month of February, Pakistan closed the border for more than a month after a suicide bombing at a shrine in Pakistan’s Sindh Province on February 16, which killed more than eighty people, saying the terrorists behind the attack had sanctuaries in the country.
This has also engendered Pakistan to build the fence on the western border, which is vehemently criticized by the Afghan authorities who do not accept the division of land based on the Durand Line. Najib Danish, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said officials had not yet seen any signs of construction along the frontier but would move to prevent any such project. The Afghan government has never recognized this section of the border, drawn up during British colonial rule. It runs through the Pashtun heartland, diluting the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Qamar Bajwa believes that a better managed, secure and peaceful border is in the mutual interest of both the countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
3) India-Pakistan Border
Drafted and created based upon the Radcliffe line in 1947, the border demarcates the Indian states and the four provinces of Pakistan. The border runs from the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan’s Kashmir, in the north, to Wagah, which partitioned the Indian Punjab state and Punjab Province of Pakistan, in the east. The Zero Point separates the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to Sindh province of Pakistan, in the south. The LoC which separates the Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan’s Kashmir is one of the most controversial and contentious boundaries of the world. The line has witnessed numerous conflicts, crossfires, and wars between the two arch rivals. The most recent of these is the India-Pakistan skirmishes along LoC post Uri-attack of 2016. India alleged Pakistan for supporting and backing the group of heavily armed terrorists to attack the rear administrative base of the Indian army at Uri, in Indian-administered Kashmir. Moreover, India has also blamed that the ten men who attacked the iconic Taj and Oberoi Hotels, the Central Railway Station, and a Jewish Centre in Mumbai in 2008 were associated with the terrorist organization based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, led by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. And the list of one country’s railing of cross-border infiltrations and other country’s rants of being innocent is interminable. In order to avoid these diurnal rumblings along the LoC, India has decided to fence its border along the LoC. India believes that this will restrict the cross-border terrorism and militant infiltration into India.
But the border expert Dr. Reece Jones, professor of Geography department at the University of Hawaii and author of the book: “Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the United States, India, and Israel” argues that these border fences have failed to deter terrorism and to protect the population from external threats. He further added that while this deterrence strategy had made journeys to the United States and the European Union more difficult, the number of people attempting the journey did not diminish. “Instead, it has meant that there have been a staggering number of deaths at the borders”. According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 10,000 people have died trying to cross a border since the start of 2015. Jones argues “These deaths are not accidental, but are directly related to the use of deterrence strategy and the construction of walls on the borders,”.
While the border walls and fences build in the South Asia and the rest of the world are effective as symbols that demonstrate that politicians are doing something to address the perceived threats brought by unauthorized movement. These perceived threats can be economic in the form of smugglers or workers taking revenue and jobs from citizens. They can be cultural in the sense that migrants bring different traditions, languages, and ways of life that might not match with the local culture, but they are said to be an expensive flawed solution the problem of infiltration, migration and human trafficking.
Critics argue that such walls will also harm the environment, as these do not encompass the shifting nature of rivers and deserts, therefore these are an impractical solution that encourages an ultranationalist siege mentality.
Dr. Vallet believes that if the exorbitant amont of money spent on these projects are instead invested in peace missions or towards responding to the climate change that triggers food insecurity and migration it would have the potential to change “the course of history.”
Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions
Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.
There are a lot of ambiguities surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program which are there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.
There have been news in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified as Pakistan’s growing arsenal and other similar reasons which have always been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.
However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.
Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.
Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat. The program is not for the state to pick and choose enemies and start non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its nuclear era.
Behind Indo-Pacific Vision
Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia. Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).
The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.
An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:
While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert
It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”
While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).
Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).
Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:
US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.
Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous. Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.
In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’
Chimeras and Realities of the Indo-Pacific Partnership
The new American initiative for the creation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership (IPP) has grabbed the spotlight in many political discussions of late. Although the idea to set up such a forum was proposed at the end of 2017 and to this day has been no more than a general slogan, now the Trump administration seems set to stake on it. Why?
As a reminder I would like to point out that on May 30 the US Secretary of Defense announced the renaming of the Pacific Command into the Indo-Pacific Command (although the Command’s responsibility zone a priori included the Indian Ocean waters).
A few days later, at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) conference in Singapore, the idea of IPP was spelled out by the American side, with an emphasis on the aspects of regional security. When commenting on the change of the name of the American command, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that for India the unification of the Indian and Pacific oceans into a single geographic array looked “natural”.
The practical implementation of the IPP strategy will most likely be carried out both through the strengthening of US bilateral relations with countries of the region and through the creation of multilateral cooperation formats. The most important of these cooperation initiatives is the so-called. “Quadro”, which is designed to bring together the four “democracies” of the Indo-Pacific region – the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
It is believed that the United States, Australia, Japan and India, united in the Quadro, will consider the two oceans a single strategic space. Since 2016, the United States, India and Japan have been conducting joint naval exercises “Malabar”. Washington is clearly giving New Delhi ever more attention, counting on India as one of the future regional security poles, along with Japan, Australia and its other allies.
The feasibility evaluation of IPP was proposed in the concept of “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”, FOIP). And the recent report of the US National Security Strategy states that “in the Indo-Pacific region, there is a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of the world order.”
Apparently, this is about China. Therefore, the idea of IPP, which is motivated by the value and geostrategic approach, did not cause immediate enthusiasm from the American allies in the region.
Assessing the US initiative to establish IPP, Japanese experts, for example, say that Japan has no objections in principle to such an initiative as long as it is “transparent and inclusive”. To this, they add that this initiative can play a role in the development of interregional relations involving East Asia, South Asia, Africa and Eurasia; the main thing is that it should not be directed against China, since Japan is interested in China’s sustained development and Japan-China relations.
In response, South Korea argues that it is too early to suggest a full approval for the IPP as this initiative has been put forward in the form of a general slogan. Seoul has yet to understand what it is and needs more time to examine it in more detail. If it turns out that the initiative aims to deter China, participation in it of the Republic of Korea will be a “difficult choice” to make.
According to experts of the US Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Indo-Pacific region may account for half of the global economy within decades, but this requires investments of almost $ 26 trillion. Now it is obvious that from the point of view of trade and economic cooperation, the IPP is set to replace the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which Donald Trump chose to reject, and offer an alternative. US Secretary of Commerce William Ross explains in this respect that TPP agreements require too much effort to conclude and too complicated: “With such major geopolitical phenomena as the TPP, it is impossible to carry out a controlled experiment.”
Verbally, Washington welcomes China’s contribution to regional development, emphasizing that IPP will not be aimed at containing China or opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the emphasis is put on the need to adhere to “international standards of transparency, the rule of law and sustainable financing”.
However, in practice, the main reason underlying IPP is the attempt to conduct a “controlled” geostrategic and geoeconomic experiment, by constructing a partnership framework artificially, in the American interests, without taking into account the interests of potential partners who are not interested in political or economic deterrence of China
Supporters of conventional geopolitical approaches say that the creation of IPP means the advance of the US into Eurasia still further from the east to the west by strengthening ties with predominantly “naval” powers in the eastern and southern peripheries of the Eurasian continent (from South Korea to countries of the Arabian Peninsula) and with island states of the Pacific (from Japan to New Zealand). The main purpose of the IPP is the political and military-strategic deterrence of China, the creation of a rigid “framework” that would prevent Beijing from assuming a dominant position in the region.
Whatever the case, American attempts to artificially “patch together” the IPP “from the material at hand” indicate the need for the Russian diplomacy to boost efforts to cement the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership by developing security mechanisms and fostering cooperation in the land areas of the Eurasian “heartland”.
In the first place, such mechanisms involve the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), measures towards linking the Eurasian integration and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the consistent implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP).
India’s participation in these organizations and initiatives is a matter of special concern, while the three-party consultative arrangement Russia-India-China needs further strengthening as well.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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