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The China factor in South Asia

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On October 25, 2018 Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena suspended Parliament (till November 16, 2018) and sacked his Prime Minsiter, Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with Mahindra Rajapaksa (who served as President of Sri Lanka for a decade, from 2005 till 2015). Sirisena had wrested power from Rajapaksa in 2015. Wickremesinghe decided to battle it out, saying that Sirisena’s decision was illegal since none of the conditions under which a Prime Minister can be removed, under provisions 46(2) and 48 of parliament were applicable to the current situation. Rajapaksa announced that the President will reconvene Parliament on November 5, 2018.

Rajapaksa’s revival in recent months

First, Rajapaksa who had been written off totally set up a new political outfit SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna), which performed well in the local elections of February 2018.

More recently, Sirisena who was initially considered Pro-China accused Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research And Analysis Wing) of meddling in Sri Lanka’s affairs and plotting his assassination. He is  supposed to have denied this in a conversation with Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

As President, Rajapaksa had a close relationship with China (there were allegations of a Chinese company even providing financial assistance for his campaign) and New Delhi was relieved to see his back.

The strategically important, Hambantota Port Project was awarded to the Chinese during Rajapaksa’s presidency. China provided assistance to the tune of, 190 Million USD, Sri Lanka had to lease out the project for a period of 99 years, to Beijing in 2017, since debts to Beijing are mounting (total Sri Lankan debts to China are estimated at 13 Billion USD). The Hambantota Project is now presented as a symbol of what has been referred to on more than one occasion as China’s debt trap diplomacy. It would be pertinent to point out, that the project had first been offered to New Delhi in 2010, but it declined stating that the project was not economically sustainable.

It would be pertinent to point out here, that after his removal Rajapaksa, has made some statements in favor of close ties with both Beijing and New Delhi. Indian PM, Narendra Modi has met him on both his visits to Sri Lanka. In September 2018, Rajapaksa was himself in New Delhi

New Delhi and the China factor in South Asia

While there is no clarity, as to how long will this new arrangement last in Sri Lanka. There are some broader issues which need to be dealt with.

The first question, which arises is should New Delhi view China’s involvement with suspicion or work jointly.

While there is absolutely no doubt, that in recent years, India too has tried to come up with its own responses to the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in South Asia. This includes promoting greater connectivity within South Asian countries through the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) framework on the one hand, while also exploring synergies with Japan, in order to check Beijing’s growing clout. This includes not just cooperation under the umbrella of Japan’s PQI (Partnership for Quality Infrastructure) initiative, but also in areas like infrastructure and energy (two key instances being the metro project in Dhaka, where India’s Larsen and Toubro, and Japanese companies are working jointly for developing Line 6, as well as an LNG terminal in Sri Lanka where Petronet and Japanese companies are making a joint investment to the tune of 300 Million USD.

During Wuhan Summit one of the important issues discussed was that India and China will work together in Afghanistan (only recently both countries set up a joint training program for Afghan Diplomats). Pakistan has been trying to obstruct any big ticket cooperation between both countries, and that is cited as one of the main reasons that Beijing is shying away from any big ticket investments into a joint project in Afghanistan.

If Japan and China can work together in connectivity projects (Japan has even expressed its willingness to join the BRI), as was discussed during Abe’s recent China visit, New Delhi and Beijing too can explore certain instances, where they work together. It would be pertinent to point out, that the Global Times made an interesting argument in favor of New Delhi and Beijing working in tandem for Sri Lanka’s infrastructural development. While this may appear to be a pipedream currently in the long run it can not be ruled out given the changing geo-political equations.

Apart from this, there are clear lessons for New Delhi, that it should not put all eggs in one basket, and realize, that certain leaders will have good relations with China. It has been rightly argued by many strategic analysts, that India needed to stop looking at domestic politics from a lense of ‘Pro-India and Pro-China, as this is too simplistic.

While India was apprehensive about the election of KP Oli as Nepalese Prime Minister (given his Pro-China slant), he has been speaking about close ties with both Beijing and New Delhi. During his visit to China in June 2018, Oli spoke about the possibility of Nepal emerging as a bridge between China and India

In conclusion, New Delhi has to watch out for it’s own interests in South Asia, and should certainly ensure that no country has a stranglehold,  but paranoia will be of no use. India needs to come up with viable alternatives to the BRI, while also being open to cooperation,  as and when feasible. Apart from this, New Delhi needs to realize that countries in the neighborhood will give precedence to their own interests and even if they do maintain close economic linkages with China, it is not always targeted at India.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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South Asia

Fall of Dhaka: Lessons Pakistan should Never Forget

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In 1971, nearly five decades ago Pakistan lost its eastern part after civil war; loss of that part is one of the biggest tragedies in the history of this country. Pakistan not only loss its geography but also its face that how political, economic and ethnic grievances, if not solved timely could divide a nation which was founded on the base of ideology. It brings us to the point that ideologies do play important role in bringing people together to form a nation but they cannot act as binding factor if political, lingual and cultural liberties are not respected by the all segments of the nation.

Fall of Dhaka  endorsed the proverb that “you cannot always create a situation but can always exploit one”, when India took a benefit of the worsening situation in eastern border and not only send its forces but also provide finances and arms to the gorillas. Resultantly, the internal conflict took the situation of civil war in Eastern Pakistan and full fledge war between Indian and Pakistan.

In 1971, other external powers from whom intervention was expected to stop the war never intervened to stop the war as result Pakistan had to rely on itself. This act of external powers like US and China reveals that there are no permanent friends and enemies in international system but only permanent interests. So, to protect one’s own interests and sovereignty only reliable allay is one’s self. This lesson learned by Pakistan in 1971 war was duly endorsed by the India’s 1974 nuclear test, which brought Pakistan closer to the decision of nuclearization for its security vis-à-vis India.

Most important lessons from 1971 for Pakistan lies with the internal situation of country actors like only played their part in exploiting the situation but not in creating the situation. Today Pakistan has secured itself against Indian aggression and has also learned that if internal situation ever goes South it will be exploited by India. Moreover, Pakistan knows that Indian intelligence agencies are playing their part in supporting the banned military outfits in Pakistan; its example is arrest of Kulboshen Yadev, serving officer of Indian Navy from Baluchistan. Who later on excepted that RAW is supporting and funding Balcuh Liberation Army. But the question here arises why parties like BLA come into being? Its first answer could be that because there are always anti-state element within the state. But, another reason could be the grievances which are not addressed by the governments and resultantly armed movements are started to solve these grievances.

However, need of the hour is that elected governments should work more towards the political rights of the neglected parts of country which are continuously demanding these rights. At the moment, different segments in society are demanding the separate provinces for themselves because their issues are not streamlined in larger provinces. One such example is demand of Seraiki province by the people of South Punjab, which should be readily accepted. Not only the demand of Seraiki Province but of other provinces as well. Moreover, we should have learned from the fall of Dhaka and have taken the measures to included Gilgit-Baltistan into national streamline as this is the demand of the people of that area. So, that their issues and voice could reach into the parliament through their elected representatives.

Another alarming factor is the rise of ethnicity in the country. One cannot deny the role of ethnicity in bringing the 1971 upon Pakistan.  now, after 48 years of 1971 Pakistan is still divided into ethnic conflicts and different ethnic minorities are targeted inn different part of the country. The positive aspects are that ethnicity is not supported by any government but its mere existence in state is alarming and should be controlled.

These issues which Pakistan is facing should be addressed properly and resolved as we have learned from 1971 that they have the potential to become national security threats and can even lead to the disintegration of the country. It is also the responsibility of governments to cater political and economic rights of its citizens as it promotes national integration and put county on the path of prosperity.

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Pakistan Can Play Important Role in Afghan Peace Process

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No sufficient food, No education, No health Care, Severe shortage of electricity, Shortage of fuel, are witnessed in Afghanistan. It seems the sufferings of Afghans are going to end. The world has realized that it is enough and now think in restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The common man has suffered for more than 4 decades, which started with USSR invasion of Afghanistan and then internal power struggle among various factions of Afghanistan and finally after 9-11 incident US, NATO and allied forces entered into Afghanistan. NATO allies have been fighting in Afghanistan for 17 long years, but are still without control anywhere in the country. Even now, the US Army cannot move freely and fearlessly outside of Bagram Airbase. Taliban forces still control major parts of the country.

Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located withinSouth-Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan,Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. With its population of 35 million approximately, having a GDP (nominal) of 22 billion US dollars in total, andper capita income of 600 Dollars only. Rich with minerals and natural resources,and well-known for its fruits and nuts, still suffering and laying among the least developed country of the world, ranked 177. Four decades of war hasdamaged the whole country and whole nation is victim of war imposed on them.

Its geopolitical location is vital for the wholeregion, as it connects Central Asia, Iran, China, and Russia, with Pakistanleading towards Warm Waters – Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean. All of the countries are suffering due to instability in Afghanistan and desires a long lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. 

In fact, Afghanistan was never totally ruled by foreign powers, although in the country’s history many misadventures happened.The people of Afghanistan always defeated invaders. It has been invaded by Alexander the Great, Mauryas, Muslim Arabs, Mongols, British, Soviets and since2001, by the United States with NATO-allied countries. But it has proved itselfunconquerable. Afghans are brave people and believe in freedom only.

All of regional countries, including central AsianStates, Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan were trying to bring Peace and Stability in Afghanistan. Several initiatives for peace in Afghanistan were taken in past, but none was successful as they were not involved or owned by locals –Taliban and were opposed by US and its allies. The US-backed elected Governments in Afghanistan, do not enjoy popularity among masses and may notrepresent the voice of common Afghan national.

Pakistan, being neighbors with a long common border, understands Afghanistan well. We share rivers, mountains and a common culture, language and ethnicity and language. That is why we understand Afghanistan much better than anybody else. The role which Pakistan can play, no other nation can. There is no other country to substitute Pakistan in this regard. US was trying involve India in Afghan Issues, but due to the reason it does not have any land linkage, neither any cultural or ethnic commonalities with Afghan,cannot understand their society or issues and helpless in resolving their issues. The world may acknowledge Pakistan sacrifices and positive role in thisregion. Pakistan sincerely wishes for peace and stability in Afghanistan, andas we have suffered losses of around 75,000 lives and $250 billion due to unrest in Afghanistan. We will be the first nation to support peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan was very close ally with the US-led Westalliance, for almost seven decades. We were partners during the Cold Waragainst “Communism Threat” and a frontline state against the USSR invasion ofAfghanistan, a strong supporter and close ally during the war on terror.Pakistan was strongest ally with West out-side NATO. Pakistan can play a vitalrole in a sustainable solution to the Afghan conflict. Complete withdrawal andan Afghan-led solution is the only permanent way out. Pakistan can facilitate an honorable and safe passage for US withdrawal.

Prime Minister, Imran Khan, a longtime critic of theAfghan war, is in the driving seat in Pakistan. In his maiden speech after winning the election on July 26, he expressed his wish to resolve Afghan issues. Hisstance, though very unpopular a few years ago, is extremely popular now,domestically as well as internationally, especially coincides with the currently emerged Americans approach. The US government knows that Pakistanunder Khan’s leadership can woo the Taliban into accepting some kind oflong-term ceasefire.

Pakistan wants to help with the Afghan process; peace in Afghanistan would be the best thing that could happen to Pakistan in adecades, but certainly not at Pakistan’s expense. US has asked Pakistan tobring the Taliban back to the table. How can Pakistan do this when the US had previously intentionally derailed the quadrilateral peace process? Recently killing of Senator Sami-ul-Haq, who enjoys immense good-will among Taliban, wasa conspiracy to sabotage “Peace Process”.

The US has to wake up to the realities in Pakistan. It cannot expect on one hand to cancel Pakistan’s Coalition Support Fund reimbursements and on the other hand signing multibillion-dollar projects withIndia and still expect Pakistan to commit wholeheartedly to American interestsin Afghanistan. Criticizing Pakistan on “religious freedom” issues, while ignoring Israel and India, who are engaged in genocide and worst atrocities against muslin and other minorities in their countries. On one hand the USobjects to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and resists Pakistan’s economic takeoff. But on the other hand it breaks its own rules when it allows India tobuy defense equipment from both Russia (S-400) and the US and initiates an armsrace in the region. Arming India could destabilize the whole region and constitute a direct threat to its smaller neighbors. Putting sanction on “IranTrade” but giving exception to India unjustifiably. The Americans need torestore trust practically, through their actions, verbal statement may not besufficient.

The Taliban have been very clear in their demands from the very beginning, and that is a complete withdrawal of the US and its allied forces from Afghanistan. However, this might not be acceptable to the US so easily at this stage. But there are people in US who thinks that after spending trillion of dollars, and still no achievement on ground, is blunder. Tax payerare asking the government for accountability of heavy expenditures and wastage of their tax collected money. We hope, in the wider interest of humanity, US may show flexibility. It will be good for Afghanistan, the region and over-all for whole world.

Pakistan was close ally with US for 7 decades and willing to work closely with US and want to play its inevitable role in Peace and Stability of Afghanistan and Region. But we need a long term, friendship and cooperation with US, based on UN charter on the same lines how China-Pakistan friendship is booming and ever-green. We may not be “hired Gun”and “sub-contractor” for a miner part of any misadventure, which can be disposed-off after its utilization. Our role should be acknowledged and positive and sustainable and long term. We were good friends and wanted to begood friends forever. Our interests are emerging toward convergence and we must understand the emerging geopolitics. Let’s think tanks , intellectuals and bureaucracy (Civil and Military) in both countries work hard to bring the two nation on same page and work together in complete harmony for better tomorrow. Keep on struggling to achieve our common goals and realize our common dreams.

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Pakistan’s Increasing Tilt towards China

M Waqas Jan

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In a recent interview with the Washington Post; Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked what kind of relationship he wanted from the US. He responded by pointing out Pakistan’s long and storied relationship with China as an example of a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. He explained how Pakistan’s relationship with China, unlike the US was not one-dimensional and built more on trade, respect and mutual cooperation. In doing so he in effect presented the underlying reasons why China is often termed as Pakistan’s ‘All-Weather’ friend.

In fact, the very notion of China being an ‘All-Weather’ friend is borne in contrast out of the US’s more fair-weather and sporadic approach to Pakistan. This approach has been evident in Pakistan’s long-standing complaints of how after helping the US repel the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces as the US unilaterally withdrew from the region, leaving behind a devastating humanitarian and political crisis. The last two decades’ war on terror for which Pakistan once again allied with the US is also following a similar blue-print, which the Prime Minister made clear was an example of history repeating itself. In defining his country’s most recent reservations against the US, he made it clear that Pakistan would no longer serve as a hired gun for the US, and desired a more equitable relationship based on mutual respect.

Considering how Pak-US relations have deteriorated over the last few years, the Prime Minister’s remarks come as little surprise to observers who have witnessed this uneasy partnership throughout its peaks and troughs. Yet, what’s striking is the fact that this is perhaps the first time that a Pakistani head of state has directly presented its relations with China as the ideal blue-print for which to measure the long and troubled history of Pak-US relations.

In contrast, the official narrative ascribed to the Pak-China bilateral framework, has stood out amongst diplomatic and policy-making circles due to the broad poetic license that has more recently been attributed to it. The oft-quoted phrase of how Pak-China Friendship is ‘higher than mountains, deeper than the ocean, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey’, has been repeatedly used by officials representing the highest levels of government, from both countries to emphasize the far-reaching significance of their bilateral relations.

This includes their significance both within a more localized context, as well as a broader more regional context as evident in the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor which promises an end to Pakistan’s development woes focuses instead on fostering peace and stability through economic growth and development. This is as opposed to the more security and strategically driven approach of the US, which has seen the region become increasingly violent and militarized. It is based on this difference that CPEC has been widely hailed as a viable solution to the relative instability and insecurity that has for years characterized the South Asian region.

However, over the past few months, Pak-China relations have themselves undergone an uncharacteristic period of friction and uncertainty. Interestingly, one of the major reasons behind this friction has been none other than the newly elected Prime Minister himself. As part of his anti-corruption campaign rhetoric leading up to the elections, he had promised greater over-sight and transparency with regard to Chinese investments under CPEC. This came at a time where growing trade and economic tensions between the US and China, had led to greater scrutiny and broad reservations against China’s rising influence the world over. Calls to re-evaluate China’s investments were echoed across countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kenya; with allusions to unsustainable loans and China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ doing the rounds amidst key influencers and policy-makers across the globe. Pakistan’s rising debt too was linked to CPEC projects by none other than the US secretary of State, who had ruled out the possibility of US loans being used to bail out Chinese bond-holders in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has since gone to great lengths to dispel such sentiments, as was evident in his official visit to Beijing last month. In all his statements, he has been careful in acknowledging the benefits of China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, and has lauded China’s tremendous achievements in eradicating poverty; something that he wants to emulate as part of his own government’s policies. His recent statements in the above-mentioned interview too, are based in part on these same reasons.

Taken together, the PM’s statements thus present a clear and very public declaration that the Pakistani government is quite willingly choosing to side with China in the ongoing US-China economic rivalry. Unlike before where Pakistan had to carefully balance its strategic relationships between China and the US, China’s grand overtures and the US’s more inward focus on ‘America First’ have accelerated Pakistan’s gradual tilt towards China. With the US-China rivalry currently seeming far from any sort of resolution, Pakistan’s need to pick a side in favor of the other represents a clear indication of which side the government believes its long-terms interests lie with.

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