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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

India’s Constitutional Revocation and Prevalent Security Environment of Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, President Trump had offered to mediate the outstanding Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. This move was greatly appreciated by Pakistan with President Trump publicly stating that Prime Minster Modi had requested him to mediate between the two countries over Kashmir during the sidelines of 2019 G20 Summit held in Osaka in June this year. With President Trump’s offer to mediate at such a crucial time, the issue has once again achieved global significance. Moreover, President Trump’s mediation offers, and India’s recent move constitutionally revoke the special status offered to Kashmir would likely have serious implications within the prevalent security environment throughout the region. 

India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter. Taking a step forward, on August 5, 2019 the government of India revoked the special status of the Kashmir region that has been previously granted under Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution through a presidential order. Referred to as the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill that was later approved by parliament despite the opposition’s criticism. Under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution the Kashmir region had been awarded special constitutional rights and a ‘so-called’ autonomous status of decision making. Following the abrogation of Article 370, the Kashmir region would be divided into two ‘Union Territories’ i.e. Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh governed by the Indian central government.

The timing of this constitutional abrogation might have been influenced by President Trump’s offer of mediation between India and Pakistan that was reiterated by the US President despite India’s rejection. This abrogation was also part of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto as promised by Prime Minister Modi during the 2019 general election. By fulfilling this electoral promise, Mr. Modi is trying to assert that Kashmir is entirely an internal matter for India and that it would not allow any third country to interfere in the Kashmir issue irrespective of its relations with India.

Based on this notion India is inclined to project this political and constitutional change as its internal matter. By revoking the special status of this disputed region, India also intends to change the demography of Kashmir as much of the current population is Muslim. India has been involved in various tactics to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) which includes a steady stream of Hindu migrants relocating and settling in masse from other parts of India in this predominantly Muslim region.

This trend is also evident in the region’s population numbers. In 1947 for instance, the Muslim population of IOK was about 79 per cent. As of 2018 this figure has been reduced to 68 per cent. In this regard the abrogation of Article 35(A) would likely intensify this trend as in the future, non-residents of Kashmir would be able to purchase property in Kashmir and would become permanent residents with a right to vote. 

The security environment of Kashmir has been at stake in recent years due to India’s desire to oppress the freedom movement militarily. During Prime Minister Modi’s first term from 2014-2019 the Kashmiri freedom struggle has seen greater military suppression, especially since 2016 when a prominent freedom fighter Burhan Wani had been brutally assassinated. However, it seems that India has still not succeeded in achieving its desired objectives. After a landslide victory in the 2019 elections and with Mr. Modi once again in office as Prime Minster, the military suppression of the freedom movement in Kashmir has further intensified. Recently, India has deployed an additional 38,000 paramilitary troops in the region to join more than half a million troops and paramilitary forces already present. Along with this increased military presence in Kashmir, India has also been involved in continued aggression across the Line of Control (LoC) as evident by its use of prohibited ‘cluster bombs’ against the civilian population. These could have seriously provoked Pakistan to respond in an offensive way and might have resulted in another February 2019 episode.

At the present, Indian aggression along the LoC poses a major threat to peace in the region. India might believe that it could carry out a limited attack or ‘surgical strike’ against Pakistan which would stay below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold as evident from the February 2019 military engagement and the recent attacks along the LoC. India has repeatedly attempted to dominate the escalation ladder as was shown in the recent escalation instance the recent escalation following the Pulwama attack. Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned about the possibility of a ‘false-flag operation’ in Kashmir carried out by India for which Pakistan might be blamed. Based on such blame India could launch a limited attack or a low intensity conflict across the LoC. Consequently, Pakistan would be left with no choice but to respond in kind to any such aggression by India.

India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status and its military offensive in Kashmir could trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan within a year. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve a very dangerous precedent which would likely pose as a serious detriment towards the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. This change in the constitutional status of Kashmir would greatly limit the prospects for third-party mediation in the future especially for the United Nations, whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future. Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by India’s aggressive behavior which ultimately would have long lasting implications for strategic stability throughout the South Asian region.

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China- Pakistan: Centaur of Friendship

Sabah Aslam

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China has been always quotes as an all-weather ally to Pakistan. This mark is not been achieved in a day. Pakistan and China have always been close companions to each other whether its diplomatic or economic fronts. The “deeper than oceans” bond was initiated in 1951 when Pakistan was on the list of first countries who had recognized People’s Republic of China after it officially ended its ties with Taiwan, officially known as Republic of China. Ever since the two countries have actually proven themselves to be iron brothers. Whether it is socio-economic sphere or any issue of national, regional or global importance, the two have stood by each other through thick and thin.

This bond was further strengthened after Beijing launched its Belt and Road Initiative with China Pakistan Economic Corridor as its flagship project. CPEC had been no less than a soothing drug to the maltreated economy of Pakistan. China provided Pakistan with the much needed co-operation specifically in the areas of power generation and infrastructural development. Whereas Pakistan provided China with an alternative route for its trade across the globe that was shorter and beneficial from all aspects.

However, this resolve to cooperate is not limited to bilateral level. China has always supported Pakistan on issues of regional and global importance. This was even acknowledged by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on BRF this year too. He said, “I want to thank China and its leadership for their unwavering support for Pakistan.”

During the recent scenario where India unilaterally scraped article 370 and had illegitimately taken Kashmir under Delhi’s control directly, it was China who rendered its full support to Pakistan’s stance. According to a report of China Daily, China strongly opposes the Indian act of inclusion of Kashmir. China has also urged India to act in accordance with the bilateral ties with Pakistan and with China on the issues of administrative jurisdiction. 

Nevertheless China had also assisted Pakistan in internationalizing the issue of Kashmir, rebuking India that it is not an “internal matter”. China had backed Pakistan’s request for holding a UN Security Council’s meeting to resolve the matter.  The South China Morning Post, called Kashmir “a flashpoint in ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors”.

Considering the volatile situation, UN Security Council met behind closed doors on Friday, August 16, 2019 with Kashmir Issue as the only agenda point. The meeting was called specifically for Kashmir for the first time after 1965. Chinese Ambassador, Zhang Jun later spoke to media and once again urged the two-parties to refrain from taking any unilateral action that can aggravate the situation and take measures to solve the issue in lines with the UN resolutions.

In 2018, Donald Trump had tweeted threateningly where he accused Pakistan of “nothing but lies and deceit” and fooling US leaders. Trump also announced that he would not provide any further aid to Pakistan. China once again came out to stand for its strategic partner. China urged the global community that the world should acknowledge Pakistan’s “outstanding contribution” as it has made huge efforts and sacrifices to fight terrorism.

Previously, China had defended Pakistan despite the rage, which the decision had received. In March this year, India had requested UNSC to brand Masood Azhar, the leader of an organization already banned by Pakistan, as a global terrorist. The move was vetoed by China, China’s Foreign Minister said that they need more time and decided to put a technical hold. 

China had also stood by Pakistan when back in 2015 it supported Pakistan’s engagement with Nuclear Suppliers Group and expressed hopes for Pakistan’s attainment of membership. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying had replied to a reporter regarding Pakistan’s aspirations for NSG saying China wished to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan.

Despite the fact that in international relations there are not permanent friends but the bond which Beijing and Islamabad shares has turned the caps. This bond without any doubt is based primarily on mutual benefit and respect but there is more to it too. China supports Pakistan and had supported Pakistan even in times of despair. It took decades long cultural, diplomatic and economic understanding to carve this centaur of friendship between both nations. Islamabad needs to enhance its diplomatic understanding with Beijing as recent diplomatic bustle over Kashmir clearly showed the allies.

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Kashmir Once Again Playing out as Diplomatic Theatre at the United Nations

M Waqas Jan

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Friday’s closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on Jammu and Kashmir marked the first time in over 50 years since the issue was discussed at the world’s foremost diplomatic forum. This issue which has long remained at the center of India Pakistan tensions recently received fresh impetus following India’s unilateral decision to withdraw the special status awarded to the region. This was followed by a widespread clampdown in the form of an indefinite curfew as well as a media and communications blackout that is currently in its second week.

Consequently, the above mentioned UNSC meeting on Kashmir forms a key component of Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive following India’s actions. As such, it represents a highly interesting case of diplomatic theatre where the anticipation of possibly resolving or bringing about at least some semblance of positivity to a long-festering conflict has generated considerable interest the world over. This includes interest from both the international media as well as several observers and diplomats as a possible precedent for a consensus driven approach to conflict resolution in general.

However, the lack of any meaningful outcome or even a joint statement directly arising out of this meeting has led to an almost perverse battle of sorts over optics and narrative between key stakeholders, which aims to leverage the UN’s significance as a platform for international consensus. Especially with a view towards placating an international audience’s expectations of what is just or right, the absence of a joint statement following this meeting has led to a vacuum that has resulted in even greater discord regarding this issue. Thus, instead of a collective decision or stance taken on the issue by the UNSCC, what was instead witnessed was China and Pakistan presenting their cases for international mediation at one end, and India insisting on the issue remaining an internal matter at the other.  This for instance was clear in the press statements given by each of these countries’ representatives following the end of the UNSC meeting.

Against a backdrop of the UN Security Council and speaking in a microphone carrying the white on blue letters of the ‘UN’, Chinese ambassador Zhang Jun was the first to state that all the UNSC members were gravely concerned at the human rights situation in Kashmir and that there was general agreement that all parties concerned should refrain from taking any unilateral action that might aggravate the situation further. He went on to state that as per China’s stance on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, the status of Kashmir was still undecided and that it should be resolved via peaceful means in accordance with the UN charter, the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions as well as the bilateral resolutions pertaining to it.

Pakistan’s representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi whose remarks closely followed the Chinese Ambassador thanked China for lending assistance in her country’s request for calling the UNSC meeting. She pointed out that the fact that the meeting was held was itself a major diplomatic victory and that the voice of the Kashmiri people, despite all attempts to silence it was heard at the world’s highest diplomatic forum. She stated that this meeting was the first step taken as part of a protracted and drawn out struggle for justice for the Kashmiri people which Pakistan remained fully and vociferously committed to.

Considering how both the Chinese and Pakistani ambassadors while speaking in quick succession nearly echoed each other’s policy stances on this issue, it was as if they might as well have written each other’s statements themselves. Many observers in the media had later pointed out that the statement given by the Chinese ambassador was in fact a version of a potential joint statement that was to be ideally given by the president of the UNSC. However, since other P5 members had raised reservations regarding its wording and assumptions of the UN’s role in mediating the conflict, it was presented instead by Ambassador Jung as China’s position on the matter, to which Ambassador Lodhi had voiced her approval. 

Both their stances however stood poles apart from the statement given by India’s permanent representative to the UN, Mr. Syed Akbaruddin. Given after a brief interlude to the previous two statements, Mr. Akbaruddin explained how following China and Pakistan’s statements he was self-admittedly compelled to present his own country’s stance on the matter. The gist of it was that India’s move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status was wholly an internal matter. That it remained committed to resolving its issues with other countries bilaterally and that it was saddened by Pakistan’s approach of using violent jihad and terrorism as a precursor to any potential negotiations. In a characteristic show of one-upmanship that has remained a hallmark of India and Pakistan’s interactions at the UN, Mr. Akbaruddin also made a flamboyant point of taking questions from Pakistani journalists with whom he at one point even came forward and shook hands with as a gesture of his country’s willingness to engage with Pakistan. All while repeating India’s decade old stance that Pakistan stop terror in order to initiate talks.

Yet, considering the stage, setting and timing of the situation at hand, what the audience of journalists was in the end left with was a shrewd and knowing diplomat presenting a clear denial of the spirit of the UN. While employing his best smoke and mirrors it was evident that the press conference was being used by Mr. Akbaruddin as an opportunity to distract, disguise and deflect international opinion from the issue at hand. In essence, it presented another example of one of the many slick PR driven spectacles that are passed on for diplomacy at the UN these days. Yet, considering the lack of unity from the UNSC, and China and Pakistan having already attempted to leverage the stage and setting, can one really blame him?

For an organization that once embodied upholding the ideals of peace, justice and equality as its very raison d’être, it is extremely disappointing to see the UN’s own inaction and passivity reducing it to being nothing more than mere spectacle. Especially during a time where the world is increasingly plagued by strife and discord, seeing Kashmir being reduced to just another metaphor for such issues speaks volumes of the lack of direction and principles guiding global leadership in our world today.

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