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21st Century Great Power Scramble Rush to Indian Ocean

Ramla Khan

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The Indian Ocean Region (IOR),dubbed as the 21stcentury’s “pecuniary cauldron” has emerged to be the modern competitive zone for existing and emerging powers of the world. The global power patterns at present remain in the transformational stage. However, in the past the international community has seen spectrum of power shifting from bipolar to unipolar whereas at the present junction, the growing expectations are of a clash within materializing multipolarity. John Mearsheimer, renowned international relations scholar, deduces that in a multipolar world order there are greater likelihood for war, particularly when states in order to address “security dilemma” practice the offensive realpolitik approach.

Great power states are espying their futures in the high waters of the Indian Ocean that is third largest on the world map and is heavily packed with eccentric sea resources. India and China considering their geographical proximity remain the elitist contenders that are striving hard for the steering. The United States (US) remains a key player in the emerging scenario with the “Pivot towards Asia” gaining an exponential credibility under the Trump administration that looks towards the region under the broadly coined term “Indo-Pacific”. It also signifies the strategic interest of the Americans, underlying that US is not ready to compromise on both ends. The policy of bandwagon with potential allies allows the “sole superpower” in wake of its declining power and influence to remain “hand-dipped” and relevant in the waters of the Indian Ocean. The years after British departure, US strengthened its footsteps in IOR by inheriting the Diego Garcia island base. At present, it continues to back India to contain China’s “peaceful rise”. The activities are supported by the Fifth Fleet which continues to rest beside the major choke points. The fleet has substantial presence near the Red Sea located at the closure of Bad-el-Mandab Strait. The naval convoys have long provided US the operational easiness since the Second World War against its potential foes. The fleet has since then with an intermission in its presence has extended its diameter to the Indian Ocean in the post-Cold war period.

The region holds overriding significance for China, whose staunch presence provides it with the prospect to pursue its economic and political interests in the South China Sea. It relies on ‘The Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC)’for the essential energy consumption. The approximate of 80 percent of its oil requirement is fulfilled through these lanes from Middle East. In this ongoing setting, any blockade of Malacca and Hormuz Strait is almost exorbitant to the Chinese economy that is aiming to surpass the US economy in times to come. The oil-rich Middle East transports its petro-minerals via the Indian Ocean routes to the East and West. Any disruption in these communication lines can lead to economic collapses of major power relations, analogous to what was witnessed during the First and Second World War. Indian Ocean stores immense amount of resources in the form of islands, bays and straits in the waters and on the bordering regions whose control will remain reason for perpetual conflict. The Bay of Bengal holds in it range of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons. Andaman and Nicobar Islands located in the bay’s premises are militarized by India.It has stationed its special naval forces in the demesne and aims to increase the patrolling networks in the region. India and China are contradicting each other with the apophthegm‘enemy of your enemy is your friend’. Beijing coupled with Pakistan considering it as the classical rival to India whereas India openly sides with the US. With the ‘Look East Policy’, Delhi has gained new allies, most of whom are China’s adversaries in the troubled waters of the South China Sea that are prescribed to react to the ‘Strings of Pearls’.

Chinese enlargement in Gwadar via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Pakistan, has made its economic presence firm and permanent in the area. The country has rendered a foreign policy as sympathizer to the developing states but Indian analyst describe is as a curtain of its goodwill knitted by China under the aim to grow its military control all across Indian Ocean borders. The Indian Ocean allows China to achieve its long-term goals to sustain immense fiscal growth, providing it a stronger position to deter enemies and contenders alike. The Omni presence of Beijing has raised inquisitive period in the international arena about the new potentials of Xi’s administration. Will the Indian Ocean become another South China Sea and is an escalation likely, is an interesting question.US being not a direct participatory in region, has allowed India and China to exercise more openly in a region that is home to three nuclear powers.

Like always, there is uncertainty in what lies ahead in international relations. The ‘peaceful rise of China’, which can be labeled as the US equivalent to a ‘new world order’ seems to tackle the situation with diligence by providing a win-win situation to all parties. It also depends largely on the US and India, as to how far they are willing to push China, that could in the near future to influence the regional and international geopolitical setting. The economies of the People’s Republic of China and India are flourishing day by day whereas the US economy remains contracted with the domestic and international opposition to the President Trump’s economic vision. Yet, the economy of US remains at-least two fold greater than that of Beijing. However, the “Red Regan” is swiftly catching up and can fill the void in the decades to come. The puzzle considering the present geopolitical complexions remains uncertain as to which of the power would gain supremacy in the maritime space of the Indian Ocean. International law gives freedom of navigation in the international waters under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982. However, with the speculation of historical evidences, international law could never have an eminent effect on the realist power maximization intentions of states.

Ramla Khan has her Alma matter from International Relations Department at National Defence University Islamabad. Her writings have appeared on reputed national and international policy institutes, including Centre for Strategy and Contemporary Research (CSCR) Pakistan, Modern Diplomacy, StrafAsia United Kingdom and Andalas Institute of International Affairs, Indonesia. She writes on matters of global security and disinformation operations strategy with a special focus towards development in the South Asian region.

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South Asia

Abrogation of Article 370 and Pakistan’s Pathetic Response

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Pakistan, which is a party to Kashmir dispute could not make significant move after the Indian decision to scrap Article 370. The fragile economy, conventional military asymmetry and limited influence in international community restrict the options for Pakistan to take any strong stance against Indian illegal decision.

A month ago the government of BJP illegally dissolved the special status of Jammu and Kashmir through demolishing the Article 370. The article provides immunity to Jammu and Kashmir from Indian laws except foreign affairs, finance and communications. The decision is profoundly rejected by masses of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan. In the mean time the opposition parties in India also expressed strong dissatisfaction against decision and predicted severe repercussions for Indian state. The decision has also been challenged in the Indian Supreme Court and hearing has already been started. Yet, since the 5th August Kashmir is under siege, curfew has been imposed, communication network, medical and health facilities have been blocked. The international human rights organizations and defenders issued a genocide warning and warned India not to commit genocide.

In this critical situation which is developed by India, Pakistan took stance to stand by Kashmir. Pakistan highlighted the violent action which engulfed the rights and lives of Kashmiri people’s. Although Pakistan expressed strong resistance and proclaimed to use all the means to give Kashmiri’s their right, but there is a huge difference in words and deeds. On behest of Pakistan, China called UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue and Chinese ambassador strongly condemned the Indian action and urged both parties to resolve the dispute through peaceful means. Yet it is important to point out that permanent members of UNSC refused to issue a post meeting joint   statement.

Here it is wise to highlight that the international politics is dominated by the self-interests of dominant powers and weak states have no say in the system. Pakistan could not compete with Indian power in international relations. After scrapping the article, India immediately sought foreign support and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to different states. Modi visited France, Bahrain and UAE, while Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan only made phone calls to seek support against Indian action. This clearly disclosed the inefficiency of Pakistan to counter the Indian narrative.

Indian economic and investment potential is another factor behind cool response of international powers. India is trading partner of many countries and most prominent among them are USA, UK, UAE, China, European Union and Australia. The US has invested 9 million in India during the 2016 and UK has signed the commercial deals of 9.3 million recently. Australia is benefitted from Indian students and its education export is 2 billion dollars. EU a group of 27 independent states is another major investor and trade partner of India with 2.5 % international shares.

In contemporary international politics, diaspora is a backbone of any nation and same is true for India. It is observed that Indians are residing almost every influential state. More than 3.5 million Indians are working in UAE. During the 2015, Indian share was 16% in expats residing in the US, and Saudi Arabia host 1.9 million Indians. Kuwait having 1 million Indian workers and Oman 777,632 Indians. Europe also host the 1.2 million Indians.

The bilateral trade of India with US, China, EU, Japan, and Australia is impressive. In 2019, bilateral trade of India-China crossed the 100 billion, which expects to grow further. The US is second largest trading partner of India in goods, and the single largest export destination of Indian exporters. The bilateral trade has been grew at 7.59% annually from 68.4 billion in 2008 to 142.1 billion in 2018.

The 8.8 million Pakistanis are residing in western states, 4.7 million are living in EU and 1.2 in U.K. But Pakistan failed to activate its diaspora to promote national interests of the state. The Pakistani leadership never paid serious attention to engage diaspora, which resulted in poor representation of Pakistan in international community. On the other hand, Indian diaspora is much influential and have strong say in policies of US and EU. Their skills and education help them to climb the ladder of success and influence. So, it is high time for Pakistan to devise an effective strategy to lobby the national interests and engage diaspora. The diaspora is considered the defense line as they bridge the gap between their parent and host state. 

Pakistan’s economic structure is fragile with rising debt and prices of commodities. The country is dependent on international monitory institutions to repay its debt which crossed over 100 billion dollars. It is on 150thposition in poverty index among 189 countries according to UN Human Development Indicators. The value of rupee is decreased to lowest level and government is losing its credibility. Pakistan is spending its 20% budget on Army which is higher than education, health and social development allocation. The fragile economy, poor coordination in policy making and influence of military in foreign policy making has reduced the role of other state institutions. Although, current civilian government claims that civilian and military leadership is on same page, but the poor and ill-coordinated response exposed the fault lines. The top hierarchy of civilian and political leadership did not bother itself to convey Pakistani position on Kashmir, except making statements.

If Pakistan really want to influence the international community, then it needs to fix its poor economy, to improve its human and social system, engage diaspora, make effective and inclusive foreign and security policy. The economic, political and military power can guarantee the national interests of the country. So Pakistan work tirelessly on all the fronts to achieve the status of major power.

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Pakistan’s peace-loving gestures are considered its weakness, unfortunately

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Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and a responsible state. The leadership, civil and military. Both are visionary and rational very much. Pakistan was the hub of western tourists in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, due to its natural beauty, friendly and hospitable environment, and affordable living. Economic growth was one of the highest in this part of the world. But suffered a lot since the 1980s, due to the situation in Afghanistan. It was not our war, but unfortunately, we were pushed into this war. As a result, Pakistan offered 80,000 precious lives of Pakistani nationals, an economic loss of estimated up to 250 billion US dollars. In addition to it, extremism, terrorism, trafficking, smuggling, ethnicity, intolerance, gun, and drug culture, etc. were a gift. Due to the war-like situations during the last 4 decades, nations spared all resources, including human resources, financial resources etc on imposed war-front. As a result, industrial agriculture, infrastructure development, education, SW&T, R&D, Innovation, Commercialization, Health Sector, etc all walks of life suffered a lot and as result, today facing the worst economic crisis with over 100 billion foreign debt.

But, after having so many bitter lessons, the nation is even more mature and trained to survive under any circumstances. In fact, has emerged one of the most resilient nation. India staged the drama of “Pulwan” on 14 February this year, and without collecting evidence and investigation, just within hours, blamed Pakistan and threatened Pakistan. Pakistan offered to extend full cooperation in investigation and punish the responsible. But, India, according to pre-plan, attacked Pakistan on the 25th of February and dropped bombs in Balakot a city deep inside Pakistan. The leadership of Pakistan is very much sensible and rational and noticed that India is pushing Pakistan into full-scale war. The visionary leadership in Pakistan realized the consequences of war, especially when, both India and Pakistan, both are nuclear states, possessing enough piles of lethal weapons to destroy each other completely, and its impact on the region as well as global. Formulated a smart strategy to respond on the 27th of February, giving a message to India, that although Pakistan has capabilities and enjoys supremacy over India, it still sticks to “Love-For-Peace” and does not wish to opt for war, successfully averted to escalate to a full-fledged war. Even that, Pakistan released the captured pilot of Indian air force inside Pakistan territory, as a good-will gesture.

India revoked its own constitution on the 5th of August and imposed curfew in Kashmir. It is an act of war and violation of UN charter, Simla Agreement and all norms & practices of civilized world. Siege of Kashmir, complete black-out by suspending Internet, mobile phone services. Cutting all modes of communication, evacuating all foreigners and visitors from Kashmir. Keeping people under house arrest. Occupying forces are killing, arresting, detaining and raping on a mass scale and draconian laws imposed empowered the security forces to shot at a spot on suspicion only, with any judicial process. After 42 days of curfew, people are facing a severe shortage of food, fuel, electricity, medicines, and life is completely at a halt, stand-still status. It is the largest curfew in the known-history of human beings, as around 8 million people are under siege, and Kashmir has been turned into a big jail, people are treated as prisoners. India’s atrocities and brutalities have crossed all records of human rights violations.

UN, Human Rights Organizations, Mainstream Media, International organizations, NGOs, the whole International community have shown deep concerns on Indian atrocities. Protests, agitations, rallies, and demonstrations, all around the world as solidarity with the people of Kashmir have been witnessed. European Parliaments, UNSC, OIC, SCO, and all other international organizations are worried about the deteriorated situation of humanity in Kashmir.

Kashmir is a dispute between China, Pakistan, and India. India has illegally occupied a part of Kashmir known as Indian Occupied Kashmir. But people of Kashmir are spread all over three parts, i.e in Pakistan known as Azad or Free Kashmir and China. Kashmir is one nation and having blood relations in all three parts. They are charged at peak to enter into India Occupied Kashmir and help their brothers and sister in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They wanted to provide them food, medicines and basic necessities of life. The government of Pakistan is trying its best to stop them to march toward Indian Occupied Kashmir, as they are unarmed and simple villagers, they might have the high spirits to rescue the lives of their brothers and sisters in Indian Kashmir but might face firing by Indian Army. I am afraid, the public pressure is growing with passing each day and they might march toward Indian Occupied Kashmir, and Pakistani Security Forces may not be able to stop them, then they might come under the Indian forces firing range. It might complicate the situation. The government of Pakistan is committed to observing restrains and avert any war, with India, but if its civilians are killed, it may create an unexpected situation, difficult to predict the reaction.

On the other hand, Indian military deployment along the line of control and frequent violations of line of control, use of cluster bombs on civilian population inside Pakistan, and war-preparations are alarming. Indian Army Chief announced that The Indian Army is well prepared to Attack Pakistan and just waiting for a signal from its Government in Delhi.

Pakistan is trying its best to observe restrains and showing maximum tolerance and patience. But India considers Pakistan “Love-For-Peace” as its “weakness”, Unfortunate! Very Unfortunate!

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Webinar: Kashmir Outside the Crosshairs- Does Anyone Care about Kashmir?

MD Staff

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Join Modern Diplomacy and our Executive Vice Chairman, Prof. Matthew Crosston, for a Live Intelligence briefing / Webinar, on Sunday September 29 at 18:30 (IST) to learn:

* Why does the US continue to ignore Kashmir but give loads of attention to every country around it?

* Is it necessarily a positive if the US DOES start paying attention to it? 

* What would be GOOD attention and what be BAD? Which one is the US likely to give?

* Can Kashmir ever be left alone to develop independently and not be a pawn of regional neighbors?

These and other controversial but critically important questions will be covered in an exciting intelligence briefing that will still allow for a dynamic, open discussion exchange with one the world’s most recognized, accomplished and sought after Intelligence experts, Dr. Prof. Matthew Crosston, Executive Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy.

Reserve your seat here

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Director over all Intelligence programs and Professor of Strategic Intelligence and Global Security in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University. He is an acclaimed author and international speaker who consults with governments, media organizations, and academic institutions on a range of issues covering peace mediation, human rights conflicts, resource dilemmas, intelligence, change leadership, and education innovation. His works overall have been translated into Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Greek, and Uzbek. He has a BA from Colgate University, MA from the University of London, PhD from Brown University, and completed his Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto.

Modern Diplomacy and Center for International Strategic Analyses

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