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South Asia

China-Bangladesh Cooperation under BRI to Mitigate Seaborne Security Threats in the Bay of Bengal

Noor Mohammad Sarker

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The ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative (BRI), commenced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, has been the most significant and far-reaching project that China has ever put forward. Bangladesh is an important strategic partner with China in this two-dimensional mega-project, comprising of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Twenty-first Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The maritime area of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal falls under the sea route of MSR, whereas both China and Bangladesh share common interest of ensuring the free flow of international trade.

However, Bangladesh’s maritime area in the Bay of Bengal has been in the verge of a number of sea-borne security threats, including maritime terrorism, piracy, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and environmental disasters. As for example, in recent times, the use of maritime domain by the transnational terrorist groups has received a wider attention of the policymakers and security experts in the coastal countries. For the last two decades, a series of terrorist attacks on or by the sea, including the attack on French Oil Tanker in October 2012 and terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, clearly indicate the security exposure of the coastal countries against transnational terrorism. Particularly, the Mumbai attacks had a grave security implication for Bangladesh. The nature of the attack, in which terrorists used small fishing boat to cross the maritime route and landed by sea to launch the attack on the city, introduced a new dimension of sea-borne security threat.

The Bay of Bengal is also one of the hotspots of maritime piracy in the world. The coastal livelihood of Bangladesh is highly dependent on fishing, which merely includes trawlers and other small fishing boats. Fishing in the coastal area contributes about 2.73 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), e.g. about 4.9 percent of total export earning and about 12 percent of total employment, of the country. Though, the matter of concern is that, Bangladeshi fishermen often become easy targets of the local or regional pirates operating in the bay. An estimation of the Cox’s Bazar District Fishing Trawler Owners Association (DFTOA) of Bangladesh projects that, in between 2010 to 2015, at least 411 Bangladeshi fishermen have been killed and more than 1,000 of them have been wounded by the pirates in the Bay of Bengal.

Apart from these, Bangladesh’s maritime area is located in between the two largest illicit opium producing areas of the world, i.e. “Golden Triangle” (Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos) and “Golden Crescent” (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran). Almost half of the world’s illicit drugs, produced in these areas, are trafficked through the Bay of Bengal and its littoral countries to different parts of the world. In addition, transnational criminal networks use the bay as a maritime route of human trafficking, mostly Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, to Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. According to a report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 31,000 people, together with Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, have been trafficked through the Bay of Bengal in the first half of 2015. Regional militant and terrorist organizations in South Asia and Southeast Asia are believed to be benefitting from this channel of human trafficking.

Besides, climate-induced security threats in the coastal areas have been the major concerns for Bangladesh with the largest part of her surface lying less than 10 meter above sea level. Geosciences Australia reported in 2007 that, Bay of Bengal is the most dangerous area for large tsunamis and Bangladesh falls in the second position after Indonesia about the highest number of population threatened by tsunamis. In 2009, another study of Climate Change Cell, working under the Department of Environment, Bangladesh, predicted that, a 45 cm rise of sea level would inundate 10-15% of the country’s land by the year 2050, generating over 35 million climate refugees from the coastal districts.

Given this context, a bilateral cooperation between Bangladesh and China to mitigate these common sea-borne security threats in the Bay of Bengal could serve the interest of both the countries. China has been actively fighting these types of non-traditional security threats in the Indian Ocean for the last two decades. Since the beginning of 2000s, China’s maritime strategy has incorporated the idea of “far seas protection,” which includes the construction of its independent blue water naval strength in the greater Indian Ocean. This strategy was initially formulated to secure the Chinese interests abroad, including “security of overseas energy and resources, strategic sea lanes, overseas Chinese investment, and overseas Chinese citizens and legal entities.” Following these, China’s naval vessels have been navigating in the Indian Ocean since December 2008 and conducting regular anti-piracy operations and exercises. Chinese nuclear submarines have also joined these activities from 2013.

BRI has in fact put more emphasis of China’s fight against sea-borne security threats in the Indian Ocean. For being a part of the Maritime Silk Road, the security of the Bay of Bengal also remains one of the primary focuses of China’s naval policy. For example, in February 2017, two Chinese destroyers, Haikou and Changsha, conducted anti-piracy drills in the eastern quadrant of the Indian Ocean. In April of the same year, a successful joint operation was conducted by Chinese and Indian naval forces in order to rescue a merchant ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

China, with its modern technological support, is also collaborating with Southeast Asian countries for the past several years in this regard. These engagements have been providing China with pragmatic experience as well as expertise on the nature of security threats in the Bay of Bengal and their possible prevention strategies. These policies aside, cooperation with other coastal countries in disaster management has long been a part of China’s naval diplomacy. As a Bay of Bengal littoral state, therefore, Bangladesh has the opportunity to engage in similar kind of cooperative framework with China under BRI.

Noor Mohammad Sarker is a PhD Candidate at the School of Political Science and Public Administration in Shandong University, Qingdao, Shandong, China.

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South Asia

The Potential of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Stabilizing Afghanistan

Shaza Arif

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Afghanistan today remains afflicted with instability and looming threat of terrorism. Kidnapping, killings, bomb blasts and other such notorious activities continue to vandalize the lives of millions of Afghans. Moreover, it also poses a perilous threat to regional security and has the potential to jeopardize the ongoing economic projects, the most pertinent of which is the Chinese initiated Belt Road Initiative (BRI). After a protracted stay of 17 years in Afghanistan, the U.S forces have ultimately decided to withdraw its troops and bring an end to the Afghan War. However, the withdrawal of the United States will change the security dynamics of Afghanistan. The regional players are well aware of this fact and have galvanized their efforts to avert the possibility of chaos in the region after the United States extricates.

BRI is a colossal initiative and is the manifestation of China’s ambitions to entangle the region into an economic interconnectedness. This magnanimous project will evolve a number of opportunities for other regional states including Afghanistan. A stabilized Afghanistan is a dire requirement of BRI; partly because the integration of Afghanistan into the initiative will be very fruitful and partly because turbulent conditions in Afghanistan can pose obstructions in the functioning of various projects particularly, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Furthermore, countries like China and Russia are extremely apprehensive of the spillover effect of terrorism to other states.  Hence, chalking out a secure environment is crucial.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the largest and most populous regional organization which commenced in 2001 for the fostering of friendly relations between the members, expediting regional connectivity and eradicating terrorism. In 2005 SCO-Afghan Contact Group was established to put forward recommendations and proposals for the cooperation between SCO and Afghanistan on security matters along with various aspects of mutual concerns such as enhanced trade activities. Even though the activities of the forum remained stalled till 2009; However 2017 onwards the SCO-Afghan Contact Group held three annual meetings. Moreover, in 2012 SCO accorded the observer status to Afghanistan.

In the 2017 meeting of the SCO-Afghan Contact Group in Astana Kazakhstan, the organization readjusted the Group activities in the light of the expansion of the organization by adding new members: India and Pakistan. All foreign ministers endorsed the building of a stable Afghanistan and exchanged opinions to combat the prevailing threat of terrorism and carve out a secure environment. Similarly, all the parties generated a consensus on the dire requirement to bolster the SCO-Afghanistan cooperation in the future. In addition China offered to host the 2018 Contact Group meeting which was accepted by all of the parties to materialize the initiatives proposed in the meeting through further discussions, proposals and frameworks.

In the 2018 meeting in Beijing, all the members again reasserted their support to intensify the cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO. Secretary-General Rashid Alimov also attended the meeting, and  made the opening remarks by stating,  “The leaders of the SCO member states are unanimous in their firm commitment to Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity, as well as their invariable support for the Afghan Government and people as they strive to restore their country and strengthen democratic institutions”.

Again in 2019, the meeting held for the third time. The participants discussed the current status of the security condition in Afghanistan, Afghan reconciliation process along with a roadmap draft for future actions. Furthermore, parties agreed on fostering further cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO members on terrorism and the prospects of regional connectivity.

SCO has emerged as the largest and most populous regional organization. The BRI initiative will indeed be the manifestation of regional interconnectedness. It opposes unilateralism and trade protectionism. Moreover, the SCOs principles of non-interference and consensus are also quite captivating for Afghanistan. Likewise the geostrategic location of Afghanistan is very pertinent for the BRI initiative. China has become either the first or second largest trading partner of most of the SCO members. Hence Afghanistan can benefit a lot from this initiative provided the security conditions are tamed.

The Chinese attitude towards Afghanistan has been very amiable. In June 2018, during a meeting between President Ghani and President Xi Jinping, Xi called for the amplifying of high-level interaction, bolstering local-level cooperation along the anti-terrorism and trade cooperation. Moreover, he also praised the endeavors of the Afghan government towards peace and stability in view of the announced cease-fire with the Taliban. The President also highlighted that an “Afghan led and Afghan owned” reconciliation process will serve as the sole driver for paving sustainable peace in Afghanistan. An engaging aspect is that China being a dominant regional player has the capacity to pacify the tensions between the Afghan and Pakistan government, this will be a mighty achievement and will serve the interest of regional security. Similarly another area where Afghanistan needs assistance is the governance. Augmenting the weak institutions of Afghanistan is mandatory for the efficient functioning of the state. SCO members can play a part in fortifying the institutions through a proper framework.

Most important is the urgent need to curb the ISIS from protruding its network in Afghanistan. This is a very pressing task and requires a synergized action by all the regions through efficient intelligences sharing and the training of Afghanistan’s forces in a manner that they can tackle this potential threat on their own.

Taliban are an indispensable part of Afghanistan. Years after fighting, all the parties have realized that there is no military solution to the Afghan issue. China and Russia are active actors in the Afghan Peace Process and are even in talks with the Taliban. Hence, they can play an instrumental role to steer them to the talking table with the Afghan government.

The China-led organization serves as a potential driver of stability in Afghanistan in the long run due to the economic interconnectedness which will curtail the onerous economic crisis which Afghanistan is tackling at the moment and at the same time aid Afghanistan for security measures. The SCO members, observers and dialogue partners can collectively push towards stabilizing Afghanistan. Moreover, the expansion of SCO is quite likely in the future with the prospects of roping in Afghanistan as a full member are also on the table. Afghanistan can attain a lot from SCO and vice versa. Changing geopolitical landscape, geostrategic location of Afghanistan coupled with the ongoing economic initiatives has opened a pathway on which Afghanistan can tread towards stability.

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South Asia

The need of China- Pakistan ties

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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At times the significance of neighboring countries can’t be denied or ignored. History is the biggest beholder that any country who fancied cordial terms with its neighbors has enjoyed the taste of development and otherwise. In the contemporary world, the links get to establish on the plank of how strong are you economically. Gone are the days when the relationships would foster for the reason of being the nuclear might. At the present era, the countries offer you even hand in case you are economically well instituted and dominate the world market. China the world’s biggest emerging economy is fantasized by the majority of the countries. The countries perceive China as an ideal country to foster good terms.

In this respect, Pakistan is fortunate enough to have the best terms with China. The amicable terms of Pakistan and China are an eyesore for many countries particularly the U.S. and India. The saga of Pak-Sino ties began in 1951 when Pakistan recognized nationalist turned communist China. From those very moments, the relationship between both states experienced the unending boom. The friendship between China and Pakistan has now strengthened much more than ever. The rationale behind that intimate bond is now transactional and strategic needs of both the states.

China an economic giant shares 523kms border with Pakistan and situated in the northeast side of the latter. During recent times its significance for Pakistan has grown multiple times. China is vital for Pakistan strategically and transactionally. The BRI (Belt Road Initiative) that envisages China’s connectivity with the world incorporates CPEC is fate changer for Pakistan. The thriving consummation of CPEC would ensure Pakistan’s economic triumph. Pakistan shares a history of a troubled relationship with India. As per the designs of India, it wants Pakistan diplomatically isolated from each front. When it comes to Afghanistan, the North Alliance there doesn’t enjoy good terms with Pakistan. It doesn’t possess virtuous viewpoints about Pakistan. It has ever blamed Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan. In the west, Pakistan has another neighbor Iran, with which the relationship rosary is somewhat fragile. The U.S. sanctions bearer country (Iran) has mixed contemplations about Pakistan. The story of Pakistan’s ties with Russia doesn’t portray the perfect portrait. Across the continent, there is a global power the U.S. that has a longing desire to dictate Pakistan. It has commanded Pakistan whether it is the cold war or the global war against terror. The U.S. outpoured the money in Pakistan whenever it desired and froze the aid according to its desire. Thus, Pakistan is not at good terms with the U.S.

Amidst all the scenario, Pakistan is in dire need to maintain good terms with the one that could mitigate its sufferings. In this respect, China holds the best prospect. Besides, China always came forward to assist Pakistan on international organizations like the U.N. and the S.C.O (Shanghai Corporation Organization). Along with it China being the dominant member of N.S.G (Nuclear supplier group) has always endorsed Pakistan’s membership bid. On the other side, China negates India’s desire to become a member of the N.S.G. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is among the national interest of Pakistan, and China always stood by Pakistan in this matter. The matter is not confined here, China being an industrial and the technological giant outpours its products in Pakistan. The transfer of technology and products from China to Pakistan has helped the latter up to a greater extent.

Indeed China has been kind to Pakistan, but the question is; why China showers its magnanimity over Pakistan.

The answer has multiple dimensions. Aforementioned, China is dominating the global economy. It is emerging as the world’s biggest economy by upsetting the U.S. This upkeep of China is an eyesore for the U.S. Globally, China shares irksome ties with the U.S.  Last year the U.S. entered into the trade war with China. When it comes to the region, Asia, China finds India as its competitor that seeks regional dominance. Additionally, the consummation of the BRI has now become considerably important for China. China is well aware of these challenges and astute enough to read the trends of the time. It deems Pakistan as a considerate opportunity in this respect.

Pakistan and India are rival countries and vie for the dominance in the South-Asia. Also, India seeks Pakistan’s isolation on the diplomatic front. Whether it is LOC skirmish, water dispute, and the Kashmir issue; India and Pakistan ever remain at loggerheads over any of these issues. Such stalemate is an ideal context for China because the U.S. has opted India as its strategic ally in South-Asia. China, Pakistan, and India all the three countries share borders with each other. Regrettably, these three countries have reservations over territory and have fought wars as well. The nexus of Pakistan and China is undoubtedly capable of countering the Indian interests. However, this nexus is more in favor of China than Pakistan. Engaged in other affairs like trade war, operating the BRI, seeking an alliance with other states; China doesn’t want to involve more in countering India. China sees Pakistan as the best option for this purpose because this serves the interests of China and Pakistan as well.

When it comes to technological advancement, China has hit the mark in the world. Industries, power sector, automation houses, such departments require energy to run. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are renowned for being rich in energy resources, and the unique location of Pakistan joins it with the CARs. The CPEC is initiated for this purpose of providing the shortest route for transiting fuel to China from energy-rich countries, and Pakistan is playing its role as the energy-conduit state. Pakistan through the CPEC is conserving China’s transit cost and time as well.

China and the U.S. share a fraught history of bonds and remain at loggerheads; Pakistan in recent times has also experienced cold shoulder from the U.S. The cold war rival of the U.S., Russia is yet another camp that is not at good terms with the former. The neighbor of Pakistan, Iran that is reeling from the vicious cycle of the economic downturn is also the victim of the U.S. rage. Last year the U.S. torpedoed the JCPOA unilaterally, and during the same year, Donald Trump heralded the sanctions on Iran. Iran also initiated a project with India to counter the CPEC on its Chabahar port. China by the cooperation of Pakistan can incorporate Iran in the CPEC, and the alliance of China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia can counter the dominance of the U.S.

The recent visit of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to Pakistan is a good omen for both countries. The Chinese reservations that reared head following the terrorist attack in Gawadar would diminish by the visit of vice president. Wang Qishan also held meetings with PM Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, CM Usman Buzdar and Governor Punjab Chaudry Ghulam Sarwar.

It is also in the national interest of Pakistan that it should seek an alliance with other countries and the foreign policy agenda of Pakistan has also the same appeal. PM Imran Khan with his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi must have to strengthen the bond further since the cordial bonds with China would ensure Pakistan’s prosperity.

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Tussle Between Hindu Nationalists And Reformists

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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On the evening of January 30, 1948, as he walked to his regular interfaith prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu nationalist who opposed Gandhi’s inclusiveness towards those of other faiths, particularly Muslims. 

Manifested in its worst form in the assassination of a revered figure, this conflict between liberal and nationalist Hindus continues to this day.  The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is the current target of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s scorn.

In India’s recent general election, the BJP and Narendra Modi the prime minister were returned to power with an increased majority in the lower house of India’s parliament.  Their usual poor showing in West Bengal, even though improved in this election, has led to comments designed to arouse public ire — like the state has been turned into a mini-Pakistan.  It is worth noting that Gandhi’s killer was a former member of the RSS, leaving it to form an armed group.  Also the RSS is considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, and Mr. Modi continues to be a member. 

Not long ago Gauri Lankesh was murdered outside her home for expressing liberal views.  This time in the Kolkata disturbances against Banerjee, it was a bust of a secular reformist liberal that was decapitated:  the venerated Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) was a lawyer, philosopher and reformist who contributed to rationalizing the Bengali alphabet and prose, and fought for Hindu widows’ right to remarry.

But the difference between Hindu nationalists and liberals is of earlier origin.  In the 19th century, social reformers like Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade were opposed by others like B. G. Tilak.  If Ranade supported the Age of Consent Bill raising the age when girls could be married from 10 to 12, then Tilak thought it to be an interference by foreigners in Indian customs and traditions.  Tilak had also formed cow protection societies raising communal tensions in his Bombay base — sound familiar to the present situation where meat eaters and leather tanners are often targeted?  Ranade sought to keep religion private and foresaw the potential conflict

The practice of celebrating the birthday of the god Ganesh was old and the ‘puja’ or worship usually performed in the home.  Tilak now encouraged a public ‘puja’, encouraging people to bring the Ganesh idols out of their homes and celebrate openly.  The festival of loud music and idols in procession continues to this day and is now spread out over ten days.

The consequences had been predicted by Tilak’s reformist adversaries, notably Justice Ranade and G. G. Agarkar, the latter a friend 0f Tilak who had become a critic.  In September 1893, Bombay suffered its first communal riot leaving nearly 100 dead and 500 injured.  Minor clashes had already occurred over the incessantly loud music and general disruption of daily activity.

The religious flavor so imparted to the independence movement gave pause to Muslims; the glue binding secular society was being dissolved.  Feeling marginalized, they soon formed the Muslim League to protect their rights, and not long thereafter began to demand a separate homeland … Pakistan. 

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