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India and the Indo-Pacific: Challenges and near-future agenda

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The coming into use of the term “Indo-Pacific Region” suggests the growing economic and strategic role of India on the changing geopolitical landscape. Such a concept places India at the center of this landscape, while India’s peripheral presence in the Asia-Pacific region is now a thing of the past.

The ultimate goal of India’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) is to create a mobile system of geopolitical balances amid the growing influence of China and the resulting interest in the region from the United States and other Western countries.

Initially, New Delhi gave priority to the coastal zones of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian and South China Seas, with a view to create a chain of friendly states that would stretch from the Gulf of Aden to the eastern tip of the South China Sea.

In this regard, not surprisingly, India has moved to a strategic partnership with the states that are located at the extreme poles of this chain – Oman and the Philippines. India has established an effective military and defense cooperation with Oman. Indian Navy officers provide instruction for representatives of the Royal Navy of Oman, the Indian Air Force uses Oman airfields to refuel, and the armed forces of both countries regularly engage in joint military drills.

New Delhi has been practicing the same cooperation format with the Philippines. Ships of the Indian Navy and the Coast Guards frequently call at the Philippines’ ports, both parties are cooperating in military logistics and fighting against terrorism. Manila and New Delhi have signed over forty agreements on cooperation in various sections of the economy.

Established in 1995, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) became a manifestation of India’s desire to create a political and economic partnership of  the coastal states.

Members of IORA are states that stretch from Iran along the east coast of Africa to South Africa, Madagascar and the nearby island states and states of South and Southeast Asia, from Bangladesh through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia to the South-West Pacific (Australia, New Zealand ).

Although India favors freedom of navigation and trade in the Indian Ocean, it is also interested in restricting the political influence of countries located outside the region that do not share the common political and economic interests of regional players. It means China. IORA is a flexible instrument for the consolidation of the region where “outsiders” can enter as interlocutors and partners in dialogue.

Along with the coastal zones of the Indian Ocean, Indian diplomacy is paying more attention to the island states in the Pacific Ocean. For New Delh, relations with these states are part of the “expanded neighborhood” policy. The development of relations with both coastal and island states makes it possible to reveal the practical use of the geopolitical essence of the concept of the Indo-Pacific region.

Even though India does not have a permanent military presence in the South Pacific, it is interested in it for geopolitical reasons. For this, the Indian Navy will have to expand their activity zone by using the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as  “springboards” in the east. In this case, military diplomacy cooperation will have to expand too. So far, India has permanent diplomatic missions in Papua New Guinea and Fiji, but without military attaches.

Strategic thinking requires of the Indian leadership to promote partnership with the following countries and international collective structures:
– USA, Australia, Japan (within the framework of the four-party Quad dialogue) and New Zealand;
– Chile as a flank state of the South Pacific adjacent to French Polynesia through the Chilean Sea (a political and legal concept denoting the Pacific waters belonging to Chile);
– France, proceeding from Paris’ consent to provide the Indians with the possibility of using French military bases in the Pacific;
– An advance group of Melanesian states (MSG) composed of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Indonesia (associate member). The strengthening of the group’s negotiating positions will expand India’s diplomatic presence in Melanesia;
– Forum of Cooperation of India with the Pacific Island Countries (FIPIC);
– Iran, as a Shiite state, due to the growing influence of Beijing in Sunni Pakistan (China invests in the Pakistani port of Gwadar,  India – in the Iranian port of Chabahar);

– Fiji, considering a substantial number of representatives of the local Indian diaspora, the dynamic development of Fijian-Chinese relations, Fiji’s active foreign policy and the coincidence of India’s political course “Look East, Act East” with Fiji’s “Look North”;

What plays into India’s hands is that five of the fourteen island states of the South Pacific are in free association with western powers – Cook Islands and Niue are in association with New Zealand, while Marshall Islands, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia – with the United States. The more so since Wellington and Washington support the strengthening of India’s role in this part of the world.

In the foreseeable future, the Indian leadership faces the challenge of increasing financial assistance to Pacific island nations and reaching agreements on joint economic projects. At the moment, the assistance provided by India is insignificant, while the volume China’s aid has surpassed the assistance provided by New Zealand, is almost equal to the financial injections from the United States and is second only to Australia.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Secularism in India: Disparity in theory and practice

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Authors: Areeja Syed and Kinza Shaheen*

Secularism is adopted by most of the contemporary states. The three intrinsic principles of secularism are  freedom of belief, that every person living in that particular state has his own belief system and he can believe and worship any God, second is the institutional separation and third is the ‘no discrimination’ on the basis of religion. The largest democracy of the world, India claims to be a secular state. There were various reasons to declare a state as a secular, in which one was domestic reasons and other was global. If we talk about the internal reason, we know that most of the people in India follow the religion of Hinduism, but apart from Hinduism there are many religions such as the Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism etc. The state of India declares itself as a secular to get the support of the heterogeneous population. As far as the global reason is concerned, India proclaims itself as a secular state to portray a positive image in the world.

Secular means equality, so in western states it depicts a positive image that these particular states have equality for every individual. For that reason, India following the notion of the western states declared itself as a secular state. However, the record of India in religious bigotry is quite disappointing. Minorities are not enjoying equal rights as enjoyed by the Hindus in India. It is adopting the policies of ‘Hindutva’ which shows the dominance of Hindus in every walk of life. On one hand it portrays a secular image to the world and on the other hand minorities like Muslims are beaten and even killed to eat the beef.  Beef is one of the favourite hilal meals of Muslims. Moreover, most of the Muslims have businesses that are directly and indirectly related to the livestock. They slaughter the cows and make a living. Ironically, Muslims are being beaten by the Hindus either on the slaughter of cow and eating of beef.  A lot of beef shops had been burned by the radical Hindus. They generate limitations on the Muslims to slaughter cows. How India could claims to be a secular state if a minority individual could not practice his own religion. The Indian media also added fuel to the fire by just giving biased and one sided stories in favour of extremist Hindus.

The ruling government of BJP is also silent over that biasness for the cause that there is Hindu majority in India and if they do anything to protect the rights of minorities, it will make Hindu fanatics discontented and they will lose their vote banks, they think rational too in terms of political gains. Francis Schaeffer says that just showcasing secularism is a more dangerous than the clear-cut discrimination. There are exceptionally stumpy numbers of political representations of Muslims in the politics.

Question arises that being the 2nd highest population of India, why much Muslims are not representing the Indian government? Kashmir is one of the major examples of human rights violation. Each day Muslims have been targeted by the radical Hindus. Indian military is killing the Kashmiri youth on daily basis. Most of the time, Kashmiris have to live under the curfew. However, curfew is the element of a dictator and an authoritative regime. The democratic and secular states view curfew as a violation of human rights. Since 1947, India remained unsuccessful to establish it writ over the Jammu & Kashmir. And so, India is adopting barbaric tactics to get hold of Jammu &Kashmir. Indian forces are making use of Pallet guns against the civilians. Incidents of braid chopping and rape of Muslim girls by the extremist Hindus and Indian forces are rising up. But the world has closed its eyes over the human rights violation in Jammu & Kashmir because India is emerging as an economic giant in the international forum. The International community is quiet interested in India due to its growing economy, its geopolitical location and a number of other elements. That is why; states are silent over the atrocities of India in Jammu & Kashmir.

The human rights violation in Kashmir gives an incentive to the freedom fighters to take up weapons to defend their rights. One can analyze this from two dissimilar perceptions. One is the discriminative behaviour of the state with that individual (who became freedom fighter later) which compel him to be a freedom fighter and fight for himself and his family, and second refers to the historical background of that individual, from how much sufferings he sees in his childhood on him n his family, that psychologically disturbed him and he had that thinking from his childhood that he will take the revenge when he grew up. In both of situations, India is solely accountable and responsible for creating Freedom Fighters in the Region.

Dissatisfied with the curfew and killing India is taking the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under the legal pretext to maintain its image as a democratic and secular state. On August 5, the President of India Ram Nath Kovind issued a presidential order to make applicable the provision of the constitution in the Jammu & Kashmir. The presidential order was approved by the parliament in a resolution. On August 6, 2019 the president nullify the article 370 of the Indian constitution that provides special status to the Jammu& Kashmir territory. With the nullification of the article 370, non-Kashmiris will be allowed to purchase land in the disputed territory which is likely to change the demographic of the Jammu Kashmir. India is targeting the minorities through such kinds of tactics to serve the interests of the Hindus.  Democracy and Secularism gives equal rights to the citizens without creating discrimination on the basis of religion, colour and creed. If India continued the policies of persecution against the minorities than it will create further security problems for it. More and more people will take up weapons against the state when they see that state is backing the atrocities.  It will lead India at the brink of collapse. If India treat everyone equally then it will also diminish the anger of freedom fighter and there will be no reason for unequally treated people to struggle against government. Hence Indian government need to look into this state of affairs in a quiet serious method or else in the Indian government will be responsible for the disputes and which will deteriorate their international image too.

*Kinza Shaheenhas done M.phil in International Relations from Comsats University Islamabad.

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Chandrayaan-2 was really a failure, but for whom?

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Before leaving Pakistan I had written an article “India’s Space Diplomacy in 2017: Where Pakistan Is Standing?” published in Weekly Technology Times. In that article I highlighted the fundamental shift in how nations manage their international relations beyond the classic diplomacy and the attitude of Indian government/ISRO for technological capabilities in outer space as an effective tool of foreign policy. Additionally, I also compared the SUPARCO (subcontinent’s oldest space agency) with ISRO in term of satellite launching and producing technology and how the focus of SUPARCO became countering India, rather than explore and investigation, research and development. That attempt was not only to draw attention towards the use of space dexterity to expand diplomatic influence to achieve Pakistan Space Vision 2040, but also soft power projection. Surprisingly, I received mixed comments from fellows and readers in the context of “patriotism”.

The core motive to pen-down this article is to highlight the quote of Prof. Dr. Abdus Salam “Scientific thought and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind”. Let’s have a look on Chandrayaan-2 – Chandrayaan-2 was an Indian lunar mission that was supposed to go where no country has ever gone before (the Moon’s South Polar Region). According to ISRO official credentials, “this mission will help us gain a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, comprehensive mineralogical analyses, and host of other experiments on the lunar surface. While there, we will also explore discoveries made by Chandrayaan-1, such as the presence of water molecules on the Moon and new rock types with unique chemical composition. Through this mission, we aim to: (1) expand India’s foot print in space; (2) inspire a future generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers; (3) surpass international aspirations”.

Launched on 22 July 2019 from Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island on an ISRO Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark III. The lander-orbiter pair went into an initial elliptical, earth parking orbit, followed by a translunar injection on 14th August. The pair entered lunar polar orbit on 20th August. Subsequently, the lander and orbiter separated on the 2nd September. The orbiter evolved into a circular polar orbit and the Vikram lander maneuvered into orbit with a plan to land on the surface in the high latitude areas near the South Pole. On 7th September contact was lost during the descent at an altitude of approximately 2 KM. The ISRO officials said that the spacecraft stopped communicating with Earth when it was within 1.3 miles of the lunar surface. Though contact with the Vikram lander was lost, the orbiter going around the moon and will carry out experiments over the next year.

On the eve of 7th September, several scientist, technologist and general public were eagerly waiting for the Vikram lander to land on the Moon’s South Polar Region. Even though, the communication between the orbiter and lander was lost, ISRO, Indian scientists and engineers received appreciation and support for their efforts around the globe. Gauhar Raza, an Indian scientist, Urdu poet and social activist said, “The objective of the Chandrayaan-2 will be solved by Chandrayaan-3. A lot of lessons has been learnt this time and we will definitely master the technology of the lander in the coming future”.

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Future of Afghan Peace

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Unfortunate! Very Unfortunate! Afghan Peace Process suffered a set-back. Trump-Administration has announced a halt to a peace deal and canceled all engagements with the Taliban. Although the draft of the peace-agreement was finalized and was almost going to be signed very soon. The peace talks were initiated by the Trump-Administration and wanted to reach the deal before launching his campaign for Presidential Elections to be held next year. President Trump’s eagerness for the peace deal was very much obvious as it will have an impact on his elections.

As a peace deal, the Afghan Taliban will provide protection to the Stroop’s withdrawal and facilitate a safe and honorable exit. In return, the Taliban will get American political and diplomatic support to form a Government. The whole world was happy with the expected deal, as it will ensure a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Some of the nations were keeping eyes on the reconstruction of war-torn Afghan as a big business opportunity and others were happy as stable Afghanistan may facilitate trade routes among the neighboring countries and generate new avenues of economic activities. The whole region was dreaming about prosperity and peace.

Roots of cancelation of the peace process go back to many aspects. First of all, it was President Trump’s personal initiative, aimed to gain scores for Elections, however, military leadership was not on board completely. There were many different voices on this issue within the US-Administration. Even, Special representative ZalmayKhalilzad and Secretary of state Pompeo were not on the same page.

On the domestic front inside Afghanistan, there were also some issues such as the current Government of Ashraf Ghani and previous Hamid Karzai were not sincere for peace talks with the Taliban, as they see no future for themselves in the Taliban Led future government in Afghanistan. Northern Alliance was also not accepting Taliban supremacy and was resisting Peace Talks.

There were also few international players too against the peace in Afghanistan. Israel and India were exploiting instability in Afghan in their favor and were afraid, once there is a peace and stability in Afghanistan, they may not be able to exploit Afghan Territory against any mischievous purpose.

I believe cancelation of the peace process is a temporary phase only, it is just reaction or over-reaction to the bombing which killed American soldier recently. Once, the US-Administration will think rationally, they might compare, the trillion-dollar spent in Afghanistan and sacrificed precious lives in 18 years long war in Afghanistan, versus the net gains on the ground, will change their minds. I think a small price for peace, which saves huge money and big disasters, is worth consideration. I hope, a new comprehensive initiative may be launched soon, which should incorporate all factors offering resistance to Afghan peace. The way forward is only reconciliation and peace. War was not a solution and will be not a solution in the future.

Afghanistan was not conquered by the British, when the British Empire was at peak of its powers and has colonialized almost half of the world “Sun never sets in British Empire”. Former USSR, could not sustain its occupation in the 1980s and finally have to withdraw its troops. The US after fighting 18 years, using all lethal weapons, latest technologies, best-trained troops and all possible resources from its allies too. Spending trillion dollars, sacrificing precious lives and still could not gain any obvious victory on the ground. It was the Taliban, who controls major part of Afghanistan. The actual pillar of the power in Afghanistan was the Taliban. The puppet government of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were having no say inside Afghanistan and were irrelevant.

There is an international consensus for peace in Afghanistan, the regional powers were extending full support to Peace in Afghanistan, It is the right time to achieve Peace in Afghanistan, If missed this opportunity, may harm Afghanistan, and the region as well as other stakeholders too.

I believe, it is time to think wisely and move smartly, the way forward is negotiation, diplomacy and political solution only. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in every body’s interest. Reaction or over-reaction may serve the objectives for enemies of Peace and enemies of Afghanistan only.

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