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Geopolitics, the black swan in Saudi-Indian relations

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next week, the elephant in the room is likely to be what weighs more: the issues the two men agree on or the ones that divide them.

As a matter of principle, Prince Mohammed and Mr. Modi are likely to take their strategic partnership to a new level as a result of changing energy markets, a decline in American power, the rise of China and the transnational threat of political violence.

Discussions with the crown prince and his delegation of Saudi businessmen on energy and investment will prove to be the easy part. Saudi Arabia is investing US$44 million in a refinery in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and supplies 20 percent of India’s crude oil. India, moreover, expects the Saudis to invest in ports and roads while Saudi Arabia is interested in Indian agriculture that would export products to the kingdom.

At first glance, security issues should be a no-brainer. The two countries hold joint military exercises, share intelligence and cooperate on counterterrorism. They are also working to counter money laundering and funding of political violence. Things get complicated, however, when geopolitics kicks in. Prince Mohammed arrives in Delhi on the back of a visit to Pakistan, where he is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on a framework for $10 billion of investments, primarily in oil refining, petrochemicals, renewable energy and mining.

The memo follows significant Saudi aid to help Pakistan evade a financial crisis that included a $3-billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank to support the country’s balance of payments and another $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports.

The tricky part are the investments in the memorandum that include a plan by the Saudi national oil company Aramco to build a refinery at the Chinese-backed port of Gwadar, close to Pakistan’s border with Iran and the Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are closely monitoring Chabahar’s progress.

A potential Saudi investment in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan’s Reko Diq copper and gold mine would strengthen the kingdom’s hold in the strategic province that both Prince Mohammed and US president Donald J Trump’s hardline national security adviser John Bolton see as a potential launching pad for efforts to destabilise Iran. Taken together, the refinery, an oil reserve in Gwadar and the mine would also help Saudi Arabia in efforts to prevent Chabahar from emerging as a powerful Arabian Sea hub.

Saudi funds are flowing into ultra-conservative anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian Sunni madrassas in Balochistan. It remains unclear whether the money originates with the Saudi government, Saudi nationals of Baloch descent or the two million-strong Pakistani diaspora in the kingdom.

The money helps put in place building blocks for possible covert action should the kingdom or the US — or both — decide to act on proposals to support irredentist action.

Such covert action could jeopardise Indian hopes to use Chabahar to bypass Pakistan, enhance its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia and create an antidote to Gwadar, a crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Pakistani analysts expect around $5 billion in Afghan trade to flow through Chabahar after India in December started handling the port operations. It could also further strain ties with Pakistan that accuses India of fomenting nationalist unrest in Balochistan.

The funds take on added significance in the face of Saudi concerns about Chabahar and India’s support for the port. The money continues to flow even though the crown prince has significantly cut back on the kingdom’s global funding of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim groups to bolster his assertion that the kingdom is embracing a more moderate, albeit as yet undefined, form of Islam.
The money started coming in at about the time the Riyadh-based International Institute for Iranian Studies published a study that said Chabahar posed a “direct threat to the Arab Gulf states” that called for “immediate countermeasures”.

Written by Mohammed Hassan Husseinbor, a Washington-based Iranian Baloch lawyer and activist, the study warned that Chabahar would allow Iran to step up oil exports to India at the expense of Saudi Arabia, raise foreign investment in the Islamic Republic, increase government revenues and allow Tehran some muscle-flexing in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Noting the expanse of Iran’s Sistan and Balouchestan province, Mr. Husseinbor said “it would be a formidable challenge, if not impossible, for the Iranian government to protect such long distances and secure Chabahar in the face of widespread Baluch opposition, particularly if this opposition is supported by Iran’s regional adversaries and world powers”.

Published in a country that tightly controls the media as well as the output of think tanks, the study stroked with a memorandum drafted a year later by Bolton before he assumed office. The memo envisioned US support “for the democratic Iranian opposition”, including in Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province.

Iranian officials believe that Saudi Arabia and the US have a hand in a string of recent attacks by Baloch, Kurdish and Iranian Arab nationalists but have so far refrained from producing anything beyond allegations. Most recently, they point to a rare suicide bombing in Chabahar in December that targeted a Revolutionary Guards headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40.

Writing in the Pakistan Security Report 2018, journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai said, “to many in Pakistan” concerns about Indian support for the Baloch “were materialized with the arrest of Kulbushan Jadhav, an Indian spy in Balochistan who had come through Iran. Ever since, Pakistani intelligence agencies have been on extra-alert on its border with Iran”.

The journalist warned that “the more Pakistan slips into the Saudi orbit, the more its relations with Iran will worsen… If their borders remain troubled, anyone can fish in the troubled water”.

Mr. Notezai implicitly put his finger on the pitfalls Prince Mohammed and Mr. Modi will have to negotiate to ensure that their ever closer economic, energy and security relations can withstand the challenges posed by the escalating and intertwined rivalries that link West and South Asia.

Author’s note: This article appeared in Firstpost

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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South Asia

PTI Government in Pakistan: To full-fill its promise on curbing Corruption

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Big achievements of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf) Government in Pakistan. Corruption is an international phenomenon, especially among developing and underdeveloped countries. Corruption is a major hurdle in the fight against poverty and development. However, the beneficiary of corruption is still the developed world. The rulers from developing and underdeveloped world, transfer all their black money to developed countries and in the end, developed world enjoy out of their black money.

Pakistan, being a developing country, no exception to this curse. During the last few governments, it was very much visible. Either it was financial corruption of moral corruption, all are equally harmful to the country. Previous few governments, appointed corrupt and unqualified persons on key posts and used them as their front men in corruption.

Some of their front men were an evil genius and committed heinous crimes in such a technical manner that it is very difficult to find out evidence. Either it is fake accounts or various forms of money laundering or in the form of subsidies or government grants, commissions or kickbacks in projects or procurement, bribes or gift, all are the same but with different forms to harm the socio-economic of this country.

It was in the manifesto of PTI, and part of its slogan during the election campaign, to fight against corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan in his speech on several occasions has promised with the nation that, he will fix all corrupt, irrespective of their status in the society. It is logical to start from the big fish and later on to common corrupt officials at junior levels.

Pakistan’s judiciary and the military are also on the same page and extending full support to the PTI government’s mission to eliminate corruption from this society once for all. The recent arrests are just the beginning of accountability and have to go on a long journey. May it take one term or even next term, but the accountability process must keep on going till the eradication of corruption completely.

Pakistan is under the heavy foreign-debt, worth US Dollars 100 billion approximately. Who took this huge loan? Have they worked out, how to pay back? Have they spent all the loans on the development of Pakistan? Why this loan has not been trickled down impact? Why this heavy loan could not improve Pakistan’s economy? How useful was this loan to common man of Pakistan? Why IMF could not improve the governance of Pakistan? Why IMF failed to improve performance of Pakistan? Why IMF could not give positive advice to Government of Pakistan? The lenders also need to be blamed for lending without any feasibility and failure of IMF packages offered to Pakistan during last one decade or so long. Why few families (rulers) become more rich and country become poorer?

If the sitting governments of that times have been borrowing without any planning or homework or without considering how to pay back, all of them must be held responsible for this heinous crime against the nation. Whether they are inside Pakistan or left the country, they must be arrested and brought back to face justice.

If only a few corrupt families are arrested and asked for the return of looted money, Pakistan can get rid of its major part of foreign-debt. We may not need any bailout package from the IMF or any help from any friendly country. All the looted money must be returned, all the illegal assets must be confiscated and suctioned out. All the recovered money must be used to pay back our foreign-debt.

There is no need to impose additional taxes and duties on the common man. Electricity, Fuel, Gas and consumer products may be kept on the original position. It is illogical that the common man, who is not responsible for the debt and still suffers due to the corruption of rulers.  It is desired, the previous rulers, who have pushed the country into economic chaos, should be held responsible and all damages need to be compensated by them only. There is no need to punish the whole nation for few criminals. Recovery from previous corrupt rulers is very much do-able and very much possible, above all very much desired. There are examples available in the world, how they recovered looted money from their big shots.  Saudi Arabia has done it well. China is a role model to be followed in this regard.  The Chinese government is willing to share its experience and expertise in fighting against corruption.

Our internal resources may be utilized fully to control corruption and recover all black money. Even if there is a need to introduce new legislation, the Government should not hesitate. Masses in Pakistan stands with Government on this issue. The government should move smartly in this direction with full strength and confidence. Public support is already there.  However, if the Government fails to accomplish this task, it may lose popularity.

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Gentlemen’s game or Propaganda? Cricket and the India-Pakistan Voices

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Can a sport be utilized as an effective propaganda tool? And if so, does it ideally mean that government intrusion is a necessity for its success? The answer to this question lies in the reflection of the cricket scenario in Asia. Although recognized as a gentlemen’s game, much can be said about its dichotomy as a weapon in the ever-growing war between India and Pakistan. Cricket propaganda has become a major trend over the past decade between the two countries as competition remains scarce with the political tensions and matches are seen as a great opportunity to reflect those political tensions. 

Recently, the tension between the two countries escalated with a suicide bombing attack sponsored by the terror group, Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This grave attack resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, which in the opinion of the Indian government was an act of war leading them to raise the issue on the global platform. Surprising, one of the biggest acts of public response, with the usual backlash of the country’s rights over the Kashmir valley, was a call to abandon the upcoming match between the two countries following the start of the ICC cricket world cup. Although, the Modi government did conduct airstrikes against Pakistan, leading to a major confrontation between the two countries along the ‘line of control’ (the de facto border between the two countries), a large scale debate about whether India should abandon the game was a hotly debated topic in the country.

It is worth noticing that later the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), did hand over the matter to the Modi government, after which the decision was inclined towards the sportsmanship of the country, however, both the Indian cricket team and the BCCI were not ready to desert the will of the public that easily. Involved in an ODI series with Australia, the Indian team walked out wearing military caps as a sign of apparent solidarity with the troopers killed in the terrorist attack. Never before had Team India taken it upon themselves to spread such jingoistic propaganda on a global scale and make such overt statement. The rise of the protestors in Pakistan were met with official statements from the International body of Cricket (ICC), stating their approval as a means of “support” to the Indian team for a fund-raising effort for their fallen soldiers.  

Similarly, in an act of nationalistic fervor, the BCCI decided to get Pakistan banned from the upcoming world-cup prior to its commencement but was severely backlashed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), to keep politics away from the sanctity of the game. Although BCCI was unsuccessful in passing an unrealistic degree of order, given their large scale influence on the International body, it was clear that cricket had become an additional weapon of mass destruction and means of propaganda between the two countries.

So has the situation become better now? Recently, an Ad-war following the start of the world cup has emerged between the two countries, given their highly anticipated upcoming clash on the 16th of June. Ahead of the Sunday clash-guaranteed to put both the nations at a standstill- Star Sport’s Mauka ad ( loosely translated to a chance of winning) has captured the attention of the Indian fans, as the video has garnered over 2.5 million views after it was published on 10th June 2019. This video currently stands as a reprise an extension of the “Patakhe kab podhenge” campaign (clumsily translated to “When will be get to burn crackers”), wherein a Pakistani fan never gets a chance to burn his crackers as Pakistan is always defeated by India on a world cup stage, as indicated by the records as well. However, the new Mauka ad seems to recognize the importance of June 16th as Father’s day and does not fail to interject the role of India as a father in comparison Pakistan, as a means of cheeky humor which received large scale reaction from the Pakistani fans.

As a means of response, a Pakistani news channel Jazz Tv published a video with a character impersonating Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian air force pilot who was captured, briefly held and then released under the pretense of the Geneva Convention. The character is seen sporting the pilot’s handlebar mustache with a fake South Indian accent and is dressed in the Indian team jersey, following which an interrogator asks him to give back the teacup he has been holding, as a means to denote how the cup belongs to Pakistan. This video was met with the usual support from the Pakistani fans and deemed ‘racist’ by the Indian fans, accounting to the portrayal of the esteemed pilot with a fake southern accent. Although, tension has been running high between the countries for some time now, both the nations have resorted to extending their tensions to the cricket pitch as well, ensuring large scale traction for their upcoming matches.

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Modi’s Operandi

Syed Nasir Hassan

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Same old Modi puts himself in throne again but with different mandate this time. This time he came with much force and appeared more vigilant. Sweeping an electoral win with more than 300 seats out of 543 and restricting Indian National Congress to mere 52 seats. This clearly shows that India gave priority to nationalism over any other set of idea. Prior to previous electoral year i.e. 2014,Modi lured with promises of social and economic reforms and upheaval. Which sunk badly as some of the predicaments are still in the society. From being miserable in improving the job sector that gave rise to unemployment rate to the inducing grieves to the farmers, Modi bagged some failures as well in his previous tenure.

Whereas this time bait was the Hindu nationalistic sentiments, which Mr. Modi and his members of the den enjoyed the feast by winning the election. By using hate mandate, Modi successfully maneuvered himself and his party in to the realms of Delhi. Before elections, his unfortunate adventurous voyage with its neighbor and rival Pakistan made a lucid chance to portray himself as heroic figure. Modi flaunted anger and hate towards its immediate neighbor. It profited him in shape of getting a majority in the lower house of the Indian political saga. Hate sentiments were provoked and inducted in common minds. Question herby rises that how Hindu nationalism can or will transform India?

During previous reign of Mr. Modi, clear social and religious divisions were drawn onto the Indian society. This was mechanized in recent elections as well by promoting nationalism or more likely Hinduism. One of the tactics that was opted by BJP and Modi is persuasion of fears of Indian society and Hindu ideology and presenting himself as the only savior. Modi portrayed himself as the only option for Hindu caste to save Hindu ideology from external threats.

Modi has always been fond of shifting Indian secular discourse towards a Hindu nationalist sermon. His previous tenure and the plight minorities faced during that time testifies his aims. Now he has been elected for another five years. This time he has secured almost 56% of the lower house that clearly means that Mr. Modi will have to face no hurdle in his way towards passing a legislation.

Media and Modi has always been close aides to each other. This nexus was also prominent in the recent elections as Social and Electronic media, both were eminent in glaring Modi-ism. It ultimately cultivated his ideology in the minds of a common viewer hence reflecting it in the election results. His election campaign was given more coverage than any other thing on TV. The election soap series continued feeding the people of the India. Without any doubt, there have been immense flow of monetary funds in the veins on Indian media during the election time.

Modi’s Bharatya Jantya Party or BJP’s Modi have already drawn a plan to be executed in the society. Selection of candidates that were given tickets and won were some of the most extremist in nature. Shakshi Mahraj, a newly elected member of parliament on BJP’s seat already has more than 30 criminal cases against him. Another newly elected BJP’s Member of Parliament, Pragya Singh Thakur remarked Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin as “a patriot”. Not only this, selections for new cabinet members clearly indicated where Mr. Modi would be leading Indian society. Amit Shah who is also a president of BJP has ironically been selected as India’s Home Minister. There is a clear chance thatnew reforms might be religion centric rather than being focused on governance. BJP will clearly exhibit the Hindu ideology in governance that would further raise concerns for the minorities in India.

The Indian future and the question of Indian minorities seems bleak. Modi created a narrative on abhorrence and nationalism, he won elections on this mandate but now he has to defend it and every word of hatred that came out of his mouth may be realized through his actions. It puts Indian society in a dismal situation.

It is arduous to analyze that how large populous has voted in favor of hate mandate prompted by Modi. But there is a chance that Indian society might be falling prey to reverse psychology. It indulged itself so deep and intense in criticizing and accusing its neighbor, Pakistan, for being extremist and conservative society that it itself is becoming one.

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