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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 efficiency of German contribution in the Afghan peace process

Ajmal Sohail

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Germany is heavily involved in the afghan affairs since 9.11.2001; the country has brought in to being the modern Afghanistan thru launching the international Bonn conference “Bonn 1” in December 2001, the said conference toke place right after the collapse of the barbaric regime of Taliban in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it paved the way to engage several rival groups to establish an interim administration under the leadership of pro-American figure “Hammed Karzai”. Albeit the conference was a turning point in the Afghan modern history, but it encompassed numerous shortcomings because Taliban, Haqani Network and Hikmatyar band, who had been the main adversaries to the acting Government, were excluded from the process, which opened Pandora’s Box. Moreover, the national interests and apprehensions of the regional countries were not taken serious, which in turn caused destabilization and gloominess in Afghanistan.

Consequently, Pakistan and Iran who have been pursuing strategic depth in Afghanistan began to regroup, fund, train and outfit the Afghan government antagonists, which unfortunately incited a proxy war in the country. 

The second Bonn conference

Germany hosted the second Bonn conference in December the 5th 2011 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first Bonn conference, in order to renew the so-called mutual commitment to a table, democratic and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

In addition, the participants of the conference ought to shed lights on some issues such as governance, security, economic developments, regional cooperation, peace process and the way forward. The participants called for a political solution to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan, in order to ensure durable stability.

Additionally, it was discussed to promote capacity building in the country to uphold   a political process, to endorse negotiation and reconciliation. Unfortunately, the conference primarily focused on economic developments and continuation of democratization in the country, so that the peace process was sidelined and the root-cause of the instability and insecurity was not identified. Which ended up with further destabilization and blood-shed in addition, sparked fears and violence in Afghanistan.

Doha conference

In July the 7th 2019 Germany and Qatar hosted a conference in Doha Qatar, which was labeled intra-afghan dialogue. The hosting countries endeavored to bring about a framework in order to support the peace process in Afghanistan. In accordance with the joint statement, that the country is at a central crossroad to snatch the chance to accomplish peace, so the shortest concord linking the afghan adversary groups could be one of the essential factors of any process leading to such an objective.

It was also expect, that the conference would contribute to confidence-building amid chief rivals to hold up peace and constancy in Afghanistan. Although the conference did not have a tangible agenda, but at the end a resolution was released calling for reducing violence, avoiding to assail public institution and bringing civilian causalities to “zero”.  Despite the efforts of the conference hosting countries, the conference comprised inadequacies; the Afghan government, which ought to be the main party, was excluded from the direct-intra-afghan-dialogue.

Not only the ceasefire, which has been the only wish of the Afghans, was not sincerely addressed, but also no-part of the outlined resolution has been implemented. Regrettably convening of the conference did not put into practice the expectations of the Afghan people, so that the security situation fundamentally deteriorated.  

The third Bonn conference

Subsequent, to the walk out of the US president from the Afghan peace deal, Germany wants to jump in exerting its leverage to bring the Afghan rivalry bodies to the negotiation table. Germany is really concerned, if the US troops withdrawal will take place Kabul government would collapse and the positive developments have so far came about would be lost. Thus Markus Potzel Germany’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, since some times endeavors to hold meetings with the representatives of both Taliban and the Afghan government, in order to initiate another round of peace talks.  

 Consequently, If Germany genuinely put forth its efforts, it will help to avoid political vacuum in Kabul, let the democratization process to flourish, women rights to thrive and the economic prosperity to boom. Germany enjoys full-scale leverage in the entire region and beyond, because Germany stationed the second largest troops in Afghanistan, the country is one of the main initiator of the NATO Resolute Support Mission for Afghanistan and it is one of the top 10 contributors to the reconstruction process and humanitarian assistance in the country.

Germany has very good diplomatic relations with almost all of the surrounding countries of Afghanistan; it has influence on all of the gulf countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, which are supposed to be the major patrons of Taliban.

In addition, Germany leads the EU commission and it is the number one economy in Europe and number 4 economy in the world. If it will put in 2% of its GDP to the NATO annual budget, Germany would be the second leverage enjoyer within NATO following the United States of America. So Counter Narco-terrorism Alliance Germany (cnt-alliance) express the need for the initiation of the third Bonn conference, which should include all opponents to be brought to the negotiation table, in order to form a framework of lasting peace, continuation of the political process, stability, Good and lean governance, economic prosperity, revival of democratic norms and revamping of human and women rights as well as confidence building amongst regional countries.   

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Popularity-Graph of PM Imran Khan has not dropped down

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Although the economy of Pakistan has deteriorated, price hike, increase in utility bills, food prices and consumer prices of daily used items has grown up, the job market has deteriorated. According to a survey, mostly people are complaining about price-hike and the unavailability of jobs. Some people are complaining about the bad practice of nepotism and especially targeting “hired electable and technocrats”. It is a fact that the PTI government has failed to meet the expectations of its voters. PTI workers and supporters have been cornered and ignored.

What so ever the government is presenting economic parameters, to defend themselves. What so ever reasons or logic and explanation are provided by the Government to defend themselves? How much blame is put on previous governments, but the failure of the PTI government cannot be justified. The common man in Pakistan is a victim and suffering.

Yet, the popularity of Prime Minister Imran Khan has not deteriorated. According to a small scale survey, the public will vote for Imran Khan in the next general election. As per Survey, no one was willing to accept Maulana Fazl-u-Rehman, leader of JUI-F, as prime Minister of Pakistan. The popularity of PPP and PML-N has also deteriorated sharply.

Strange! It is really very strange, while people are complaining about the performance of PTI Government, but still, praise PM Imran Khan. Some people blame his team, while other analyses as the nature of issues inherited by the previous government are so complex that no one can manage quickly. It might take more time to reach any conclusion and favors that the PTI government should complete its term of 5 years and wait till 2023, for the general election.

Pakistan is a democratic country and the constitution of Pakistan protects the right of every citizen to protest, express his/her opinion, criticize the government and its policies, can organize any procession, demonstration or Dahrna – sit-in.  “Azadi March” is permissible in our system and legal, and the government has not offered any resistance in it. The government will not disturb them as long as they stay within the law and peaceful.

Such agitations are part of the Pakistani political system and has a long history. Whenever some of the political parties lose in the election, they blame the winner party or ruling party for rigging and asks them to resign and dissolve assemblies. Even the currently ruling party PTI has been protesting the Government in 2014 and so on. But history has witnessed, no Prime Minister one prime Minister resigned or assemblies dissolved in past as a result of opposition pressure. It is expected, that this time also the PM will not resign, and not dissolve the assemblies.

However, the opposition always gains millage and concessions through negotiations and deals. This time is also no exception and it is guessed that some way out will be explored soon.

But there is a lesson for PM, to pay more attention to the issues of the common man in Pakistan. He has to give due importance to PTI workers and supporters. He must respect the merit and create opportunities for qualified people.

There are 1.5 million fresh graduates every year entering the job market, but the creation of jobs is not in accordance with it. As a result, youth are desperate and unfortunately may involve in negative activities. It is worth mentioning that the biggest vote bank and political force for PM Imran Khan were “Youth”. Pakistan’s demography consists of 70% of youth under the age of 40.

It is suggested that PM may take serious notice of the ground situation. Realize the problems of the common man in Pakistan. May initiate major structural changes and deep reforms in all dimensions.

Pakistan possesses huge potential for growth if enabling environments are provided and right policies are implemented, there is no reason that Pakistan’s economy take-off rapidly.

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South Asia

Pakistan,a Victim of Vicious Circle: The Container Politics

Asad Ullah

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It’s pretty tough to comprehend Pakistan’s politics or the behavior of Pakistan’s political leaders. The example of Pakistan’s political system and politicians can be tacit with Robert Jervis’s astounding words. “When you pick up one piece of this planet, you find that one way or another, it’s attached to everything else-if you jiggle over here, something is going to wiggle over there… We need this sense of the continuing interconnectedness of the system as part of the common knowledge so that politicians feel it and believe it, and so that voters feel it and believe it, and so that kids feel it and believe it so that they’ll grow up with an ethic.”

Since 1947 Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle, and it’s hard to get rid of this wicked circle with the current political system. Immense tension with neighbor countries, internal political instability, high inflation rate, massive unemployment, poverty, discrimination, corruption, human rights violation, economic problem, low level of domestic and foreign direct investment, energy shortage, wrecked infrastructure, weak and self-centered political leader ruined the country. Now we are witnessing a massive number of lessening faiths on the institutions of almost all kinds. People don’t trust the government; they don’t believe any corporation and virtually no political leader — the reasons why people’s trust is declining in government. The govern leaders do not fulfill their promises, they always raise different slogans spreading fake news to convince the voters for votes, but things are not still the same after elections; all the obligations remain broken. Thus, people certainly don’t believe politicians.

After 71 years of a bumpy hard and tough journey, the people of Pakistan in 2018 elected a new prime minister with much new hope, to fight against corruption and other serious challenges. This hope was up to the greatest extent achieved when the supreme court of Pakistan took action against the corrupt leaders and imprisoned them. With such enormous weight, the oppositions are now vindicating a mean to get rid of the present administration; the adversaries have started a long march called Azadi-March, with the aim to takeover Khan’s (Imran Khan Niazi current Prime minister of Pakistan) government. The majority of the people are against the so-called Azadi-March, as they are aware of situations. To sidetrack Imran Khan’s consideration, these opposition leaders have started Azadi-March, where thousands of protestors are marching to the capital city Islamabad, calling on prime minister Khan over the weak and fragile economy and corruption.

Some religious groups organized the Azadi-March and political rivals, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) party prearranged the protests, almost all parties have used the march to show their complaints throughout what they call the Azadi March (or Freedom March).The main aim of the Azadi-March, calling Imran Khan to resign, they believe that the current government ruined to satisfy their promises, and the administration is amateurish, inexpert, and doesn’t distinguish how the state-run. While addressing the people, Fazal said all Pakistani, from Karachi to Islamabad, want that prime minister Imran Khan should resign, further stated that prime minister still has time to deferentially submit his resignation because the Pakistani will not give him also time to do so.

The purpose behind such Azadi-March isn’t only that they want to overthrow the prime minister, but they want him to stop disparaging the adversaries. The opponents, according to most of the local people, are corrupt and crooked, and they are responsible for the country’s weak institution and corruption. Since now, Khan is taking legal actions against the oppositions with the support of millions of Pakistani people, thus permit the opponents formed a coalition to stand against Khan. With the help of millions of people Khan isn’t against their Azadi-March, but it’s something everyone knows, the country is going through tough time, skirmishes with India and recently with Afghanistan, ongoing economic reforms, working to encourage tourists and foreign direct investment, and many other developmental projects, such actions or the so-called Azadi-March will ruin the hope of the current administration and people. The immediate adverse consequence of the Azadi-March is also on the recent Kashmir issue. Currently, the prime minister and his administration are working to find a solution for IOK,by voicing on a different medium, such domestic scuffle will not only hamper the objective but will instead encourage the neighbor states to take advantage of domestic unrest.

The time being Khan is dealing with massive problems, the oppositions should stand with Khan, instead of creating other domestic violence and discontent. The continues Azadi-March will do nothing more than internal turbulence and other dangerous predicaments that will hit the country with more severe difficulties. Democracy means the government of the people, by the people, for the people, which specify that the people of Pakistan elect the current government. Pakistan is a democratic country where people can choose any leader they trust. To make it more vibrant, Pakistan is not the legacy of some elites to govern all the time.

A country with more than 200 million people ought to decide their future; they should stand with Khan and support his campaign of fighting against corruption and corrupt people to bring peace, political stability, economic development, and employment opportunities. Fora very long time, we have experienced different government and their fake promises; they have tumble-down the state’s institutions, nepotism, favoritism, and cronyism, all were the hidden agendas of the previous government. Thus, it is clear that the present government is fighting against all the above problems.

Finally, let us begin anew — recalling the current Azadi-March, which is not a sign of being active or reliable, but rather a sign of weakness. Sincerity is always subject to proof, and when you don’t have a single proof, you are lucky enough to have needles in your chopsticks. Let us never negotiate with these political leaders who are involved in the march out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

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