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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.

Kagusthan Ariaratnam is multi-skilled security, defense, intelligence, and counterterrorism analyst with over 25 years of experience. He currently works as a research analyst at Project O Five. Kagusthan can be reached by email at Kagusthan[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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South Asia

Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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