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South Asia

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

Violence complicates Pakistan PM’s tightrope walk as he visits Iran and China

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Two attacks in as many weeks in Pakistan’s troubled province of Balochistan shatter hopes that the country has gained the upper hand in efforts to reduce political violence. The attacks also raise questions about Pakistan’s ability to walk a geopolitical tightrope.

Coming days before Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan embarked on a two-day visit to Iran, the attacks highlight the fallout of the debilitating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Pakistan’s mixed success in insulating China’s massive US$45 billion plus Belt and Road-related investment from the dispute as well as Baloch nationalist aspirations.

An April 12 bombing targeted a predominantly Hazara market, not because of the group’s ethnicity but because they were Shiites who have been under siege for years as a result of their religious beliefs. Nineteen people were killed in the bombing and dozens of others wounded.

Six days later, Baloch nationalists killed 14 members of Pakistan’s security forces on a coastal highway, raising renewed concern in Beijing about the safety of Chinese nationals and investment in Balochistan, a crown jewel of the Belt and Road.

Mr. Khan hopes that his talks in Tehran will help end mounting tensions in Balochistan and along the-960-kilometre-long Baloch-Iran border. He needs a lowering of tension in advance of meetings later this week with top Chinese officials on the side lines of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.

The heightened tension and Mr. Khan’s Tehran and Beijing talks come against the backdrop of heightened suspicion of US and Saudi intentions.

Many analysts saw this month’s Saudi-backed US designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as an escalation of tensions that risked military confrontation and would likely complicate any effort to steer parties towards the negotiating table.

Some Pakistani officials as well as Baloch activists suggested that the killing of the security forces was the result of predominantly Shiite Iran loosening its grip on the operations of Baloch nationalist groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) who are believed to have a presence in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan on the Iranian side of the Pakistani border.

Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan had evidence the “terrorist outfits” that carried out the attack had “training and logistic camps inside Iranian areas bordering Pakistan”.

The Iranian move was believed to be a response to attacks by allegedly Saudi-backed Sunni militants based in Pakistani Balochistan. The attacks include a suicide bombing in Chabahar in December that targeted a Revolutionary Guards headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40.

Chabahar is home to an Indian-backed port a mere 70 kilometres up the Arabian Sea coast from the Chinese-funded, Pakistani Baloch port of Gwadar.

Iran asserts that Jaish ul-Adel (Army of Justice), an allegedly Saudi-backed group, operates from Pakistani Balochistan. The group claimed responsibility in February for the killing of 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi vowed at the time to take revenge for the killings on “the masterminds, perpetrators and their sponsors”.

Iran has watched with growing concern what it perceives to be an increasing tilt towards Saudi Arabia helped pull financially strapped Pakistan back from the brink with at least US$6 billion in financial aid and promises of another US$10 billion in investment in Balochistan.

It will not have gone unnoticed in Tehran that authorities two days before the Hazara bombing released from prison Ramzan Mengal, a top leader of a banned sectarian group and alleged conduit of funds originating in Saudi Arabia that have been flowing in recent years to anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian militants in Balochistan.

Mr. Mengal, a bearded militant Islamic scholar, had been detained for three months suspected of public order offences, said Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema.

Mr. Mengal is believed to head the Balochistan chapter of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), a banned successor to Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) or The Army of the Companions of the Prophet, an outlawed group responsible for the death of a large number of Shiites in the past three decades that is believed to have long enjoyed Saudi financial backing.

He is also seen as a leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sipah offshoot that has ties to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and has claimed responsibility for the death of more than 200 Hazara Shiites in recent years.

Gulf nationals of Baloch heritage have funnelled funds originating in the kingdom to Mr. Mengal and other militant scholars, according to one of the founders of Sipah and other militant sources. They said the money had been transferred through hawala agents or money exchangers operating in the Middle East and South Asia.

“Ramzan gets whatever he needs from the Saudis,” the co-founder said.

Dressed in traditional white garb, a waistcoat and black turban, Mr. Mengal was known to often march on the streets of the Baloch capital of Quetta shouting sectarian slogans.

A frequent suspect in the killings of Hazara Shiites, he led crowds chanting “Kafir, kafir, Shia kafir (Infidels, infidels, Shiites are infidels),” but has recently become more cautious not to violate Pakistani laws on hate speech.

Mr. Mengal’s release on the eve of Mr. Khan’s visit to Iran hardly sends the right signal.

Mr. Qureishi, the foreign minister, phoned his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, on the eve of Mr. Khan’s visit to express the “anger of the Pakistani nation” at the attack on the Pakistani guards.

Mr. Qureshi further said that Pakistan had decided to build a fence along its border with Iran. “The work has already started from the points that are frequently misused,” Mr. Qureshi said.

The fence may enhance security on the porous border, but is unlikely to quell violence in Balochistan that, although exploited by Iran, is primarily driven by long-standing sectarian strife fuelled by the Saudi-Iranian rivalry; neglect of Baloch social and economic demands and political aspirations; and Baloch fears of becoming victims rather than beneficiaries of Chinese and Saudi investment.

Said columnist Naazir Mahmood: “Democracy means ensuring the rights to life, safety and security, the right to earn livelihood and the right to get an education without fear… A complete ban on, and disarming of, sectarian outfits, coupled with strengthening of democracy with all its rights respected by the state, may result in a curbing of violence in Balochistan.”

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South Asia

India’s purblind opposition to Belt and Road Initiative

Amjed Jaaved

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China intends to host second global Belt-Road-Initiative (BRI) meet next month. China expects delegates from over 100 countries to attend the moot. The initiative has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation. Some 123 countries and 29 international organisations have signed the BRI agreements with China. To extract `extra mélange’ from China, India and USA have expressed reservation about the imminent meet. The BRI includes US$ 60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which India opposes as it traverses through Azad Kashmir (Freed Kashmir).  India calls Freed Kashmir Pakistan-administered or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The so-called `constitution’ of the India-occupied Kashmir (valley, Jammu and Ladakh), provides seats for Azad Kashmir area. This gimmick is purported to convey the impression that Azad Kashmir is also part of India-0ccupied Kashmir. Practically India can’t trespass into Azad Kashmir as the Line of Control is heavily guarded by the two neighbours, at daggers drawn. Crossfire among bunkers is an everyday phenomenon.

The first BRI meeting was held in 2017. It was, among others, attended by 29 heads of state and government, the United Nations’ Secretary General and heads of World Bank. After dilly-dallying on various pretexts, India boycotted it. India and the USA have a mélange (sovereignty, debt trap, etc.) of objections against the BRI.

Geographic structure

The BRI initially included six corridors with landmass connectivity besides proposed Maritime Silk Road (MSR):  (a) New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia through Kazakhstan. (b) China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia. (c) China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey. (d) China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore. (e) China–Myanmar–Bangladesh–India Corridor, running from Southern China to Myanmar, and (f) China–Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan. When India decided not to participate in the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural Belt and Road Forum held in 2017, there emerged a dominant feeling among the supporters of BRI that New Delhi would be isolated. India never hesitated to share its concerns and always stood the ground.

No veto power to China

China despite being a stakeholder has no veto power. India is sanguine that Chinese initiative in Indian Ocean region (IOR) will not succeed unless and until India supports the BRI, even if in a piecemeal manner.

EU’s Perspective on BRI

China is an extremely important economic and trade partner for the European Union (EU). The EU is currently China’s largest trading partner, while China is the EU’s second largest trading.  Italy supports BRI. According to informed estimates, China’s Navy, for instance, plans to build 400 warships and 100 submarines by 2030.

India’s qualms about BRI’s impact on Indian Ocean

India is fearful that BRI would exacerbate Sino-Indian tension in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region.  India is worried about four specific corridors that constitute major components of the BRI and run across India’s South Asian neighborhood.  BRI includes the Trans-Himalayan Economic Corridor, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor (1990s), Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), a combination of bilateral infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region, besides the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India perceives these corridors and the associated infrastructure projects are detrimental to India’s strategic interests. They run close to India’s continental and maritime borders and may affect its security interests and strategic environment.

As an example of strategic implication, India quotes strategically located Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. The port was built using Chinese loans but, due to the high interest rates, Sri Lanka was unable to repay and incurred a burgeoning debt burden. Unable to pay debts, Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port to China for ninety-nine years in 2017 (lease rescinded under pressure prematurely).

Indian Ocean in a state of flux

Recent International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll. Many countries, including India are trying to dominate the Ocean

India’s interest

Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 per cent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States

India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan says that ‘this ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters’. This Ocean includes Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Flores Sea, Java Sea Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Savu Sea, Timor Sea, Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal, Mozambique Channel, and Persian Gulf.

Indian Ocean is rich with living and non-living resources, from marine life to oil and natural gas. Its beach sands are rich in heavy minerals and offshore placer deposits. India is actively exploiting them to its economic advantage. It is a major sea lane providing shipping to 90 per cent of world trade. It provides a waterway for heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia, and contains an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s offshore oil production.

Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. India possesses the technology to extract minerals from the deep sea bed. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences. Most of the ships approach the straits through the 10 degree channel between the Andaman and Nicobar islands. To dominate these straits, India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar islands.

China’s interest

In view of the spiraling demand for energy, China is sensitive to the security of the sea lines of communication and choke- points of the region. Sixty per cent of China’s oil supplies are shipped through the Straits of Malacca.

India and China: Eyeball to eyeball

Indian Ocean is fast emerging as the new hot-spot of Sino-Indian rivalry. Indian desire to expand its navy manifold to dominate the Indian Ocean has triggered shockwaves to China and other littoral states. Whether it is controlling piracy or use of sea resources, boats of the two countries face each other eyeball-to-eyeball. As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. The first item on Indian-Navy agenda is getting new aircraft carriers. In their media interviews, the chiefs of Indian Navy have lamented ‘dominance of smaller ships in the naval fleet imposes limitations of reach’. He asserted that ‘the Navy had to be built around three aircraft carriers, at least 30 destroyers and frigates, 20 submarines and replenishment ships’. The present Navy chief’s plans are no less grandiose.

One chief said, “We are looking at a fleet of 140 warships and 300 aircraft” (The News behind the News, April 6, 2009, pp.14-15). What the chiefs of Indian Navy said in the past, or the present chief says is no swagger. Dominating the Indian Ocean has been India’s long-cherished dream since its independence. George K Tanham, in his Indian Strategic Thought, a RAND research, observes that India wants to establish its hegemony over Indian Ocean by establishing Pax Indica, on the lines of Pax Britannica. He adds, India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’ (page vii).

Commodore (Retd) Uday Bhaskar of the Society for Policy Studies says, `India needs to project itself as a credible and long term partner in a more persuasive manner, than what has been the experience in recent years’. He added, `Islands in the Indian Ocean Region have acquired distinctive strategic relevance and India will have to step up its appeal and comfort index, more so since it is pitted against China’s deep pockets.

Barry Desker, Director Institute of defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore says, `The emergence of new powers like China and India is expected to transform the regional strategic landscape in a fashion that could be as dramatic as the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century’.

To counter Indian hegemony, China is intends to have six aircraft carriers. When New Delhi deployed one ship in the Gulf of Aden in October last year with great fanfare, China deployed two warships to the same area. The presence of the Chinese and Indian warships underlines Beijing’s and New Delhi’s intense economic and strategic interests in the world’s third largest ocean.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

India’s troubles in Maldives, Seychelles and Agalega Islands

India denies that its projects in Indian Ocean neighbourhood have never been acquisitive or “colonial”. However, it faced severe resistance, for instance, in Seychelles and Maldives and the Agalega Islands. After facing resistance over placing its helicopters in the Maldives’ Addu atoll and the virtual cancellation of its project to develop the Assumption Island in the Seychelles, New Delhi moved swiftly to ensure its US$87 million project in the Mauritius does not run into trouble. The project involved constructing a jetty, rebuilding and extending the runway, and building an airport terminal. Mauritian vice prime minister explained in the parliament that `the jetty is being improved to be able to receive ships and to extend the runway, which is in very poor condition, from the existent 1,300 metres to 3,000. At present, `only emergency medical evacuations are allowed due to the poor surface of the runway’. While the vice prime minister claimed ` she did not know “of India’s military plans, Indian Naval sources confirmed their involvement in the project. Mauritian opposition members point out lack of transparency in the project.  Mauritian government is still to answer why it has exempted the project from any Environmental license process (EIA clearances).

Indian view is that `unlike the military bases run by other countries [like Diego Garcia], the Indian model is of a soft base’. India does not ` bar locals from moving through any Indian-made project’. So `these governments get more control over their domain, without diluting their sovereignty’. Even when AFCON and RITES engineers visited the islands `they are greeted by the locals, who took their boats up to the ship that brought them in and even accommodated and feed them during their stay’.

Mauritian prime minister faced tough questions in the National Assembly over Indian involvement in the project, its costs and military implications. Mauritian vice-prime minister had to declare, `Agalega is and will remain a Mauritian territory’. `This is an important project. We don’t want the jetty and the airstrip to remain in poor condition,” she added. Even local people protested when they saw Indian naval and coastguard’s setting up transponder systems and surveillance infrastructure. Several Islanders, including some from Agalega, which has a tiny population of 300, formed the “Koalision Zilwa Pou Lape” (Islanders Coalition for Peace), to lobby against the Agalega project.

A similar situation led to Maldivian President’s decision to cancel the loan of two Indian military helicopters and the visas of about 28 naval personnel. `The Agalega islands, with land of only about 25 square kilometres is now in the crosshairs of similar concerns, although most officials aware of developments believe India’s “softer” methods will ensure the success of the project.

Adversaries’ view of `debt trap’

Smaller countries who received China’s bounteous loans are incapable of paying them back. India thinks BRI may militate against India’s strategic interests. India mulls connectivity offers a set of tools to influence other countries’ foreign policy choices

China’s view of BRI benefits

Chines aid helped build East Africa first-ever expressway, and Maldives’ first-ever inter-island bridge. Belarus was enabled to produce sedans, Kazakhstan connected to the sea, and Southeast Asia provided a high-speed railway (being completed). Eurasian continent gifted the longest distance freight train service.

China’s predecessors Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, the United States have played role in development of Asia. They were the primary donors for development projects in Asia since World War II The Asian Development Bank estimates that between 2016 and 2030 developing countries in the region will need to spend $1.7 trillion per year to build the infrastructure required to “maintain its growth momentum, eradicate poverty, and respond to climate change.”

One Belt One Road was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinxing in 2013. It envisaged constructing a continental road (or the economic belt) connecting China to Europe through South and Central Asia. In addition, it envisioned creating a sea-corridor between China and Europe by way of the Indian Ocean. Regarding the continental route, India’s primary concern is the CPEC and increasing unease about Chinese connectivity inroads in Nepal. The MSR horrifies India as this project could dilute Indian influence in the Indian. China’s  

 connectivity and infrastructure involves  four areas: transport infrastructure, port infrastructure, aviation infrastructure, and energy infrastructure. Besides, it includes Information Silk Road through the construction of “cross-border optical cables,” “transcontinental submarine optical cable projects,” and “spatial (satellite) information passageways.”

China answers suspicions

China says there is no hidden strategic agenda to use this initiative as a means to gain sphere of influence, or to violate other’s sovereignty. Aside from verbose statements, US, Japan or India has not offered any BRI-alternative. Some estimates project that China will invest up to $4 trillion to realize its vision for the BRI. Some of India’s neighbors were among the countries that thronged the forum (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan).

The China-Pakistan Economic corridor

The US $62 billion CPEC begins at Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and ends at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. It would build  a network of highways, roads, railways, pipelines, ports, and information technology parks along the route. It would facilitate movement of Chinese goods from China’s western provinces to the Arabian Sea across the Indian Ocean.  Karakoram Highway between Pakistan’s Punjab Province and Gilgit-Baltistan will be modernised. The corridor aims to connect Gilgit in northern Pakistan to Gwadar in the south. Chinese entities have invested approximately in the CPEC.

India’s narcissist objection to  Karakoram Highway

Earlier, India ineffectually objected to construction of the Karakoram Highway through Gilgit –Baltistan that India described as Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India’s then defence minister A. K. Antony noted in 2012, “Indian territory under occupation by China in Jammu & Kashmir since 1962 is approximately 38,000 [square kilometers]. In addition to this, under the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 [square kilometers] of Indian territory in [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir] to China.”  

Speaking at the seventieth session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Indian representative noted, “India’s reservations about the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor stem from the fact that it passes through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan for many years.” India alleges allowing the CPEC to continue would undermine India’s sovereignty and bolster Pakistan’s claim to the disputed territory.

So-called sovereignty over disputed territories?

India’s real bogeys are denial of Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territories.

Mythical militarisation of  Gilgit Baltistan and Gwadar

Without corroborative evidence, India claims that there are 30,000 Chinese army personnel to protect its economic interests in occupied Kashmir. Any further increase in Chinese troops along India’s borders would further jeopardise India’s security.

New Delhi expects Gwadar to emerge as an important naval base for China. If this turns out to be the case, Chinese access to Gwadar’s port would allow the Chinese navy to sustain a presence in the Indian Ocean, threatening pax indica.  Similarly another

Corridor would connect the Chinese city of Kunming with the Indian city of Kolkata through Dhaka in Bangladesh and Mandalay in Myanmar, seeking to boost trade, build infrastructure, and foster connectivity among these nations.

Pulwama ploy

India’s prime minister Narendre Modi pounced upon Pulwama-suicide attack (February 14, 2019) to project it into international limelight. With general 2019 elections in his mind, he pandered to voter’s sentiments, blaming Pakistan. As a ploy to show India’s chagrin, it launched a `counter-terror’ air strike in Balakot on February26, 2019. The strike foundered as Pakistan Air Force downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured its pilot the very next day (handed back on 1 March, 2019).

India attributed Pulwama attack to Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad). China blocked India-sponsored effort, spearheaded by the US, the UK and France, to get Azhar declared ` a global terrorist’.

India-China-Border (Doklam) standoff

In June 2017 Chinese troops were spotted extending a road through a strip of land disputed between China and Bhutan. India perceived this as an unacceptable change to the status quo and crossed its own border to block those works. The Doklam plateau slopes down to the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow strip of Indian territory dividing the Indian mainland from its north-eastern states. Were China able to block off the corridor it would isolate India’s north-eastern region from the rest of the country, a devastating scenario in the event of war. The Doklam standoff ended with disengagement on 28 August. Troops from both countries remain in the area, but are now separated by a few hundred metres.

Myth of India’s sovereignty over Kashmir

Kashmir is a simmering cauldron. For about seven decades, India denied Kashmiris’ their right of self-determination. It claims that the occupied Kashmir’s constituent assembly has voted for accession of disputed Kashmir to India. As such, it is no longer necessary for her to let the promised plebiscite be held in Kashmir. Is India’s argument tenable? Does history or documents corroborate India’s stand? Let us look a bit closely at India’s stance.

Kashmir’s accession to India

It is the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) which entitled Gulab Singh to rule Jammu and Kashmir State. This treaty stands lapsed under Article 7 of the Independence Act. The Act was passed by British Parliament on July 18, 1947 to assent to creation of independent states of India and Pakistan. The aforementioned Article 7 provides that, with lapse of His Majesty’s suzerainty over Indian states, all treaties, agreements, obligations, grants, usages and sufferance’s will lapse.

Mountbatten deliberately kept mum about this reality for considerations of political expediency. The Independence Act required intention of accession to be absolute and crystal-clear. But, a stray glance at the ‘Instrument’ would make it clear that it is equivocal. The ‘Instrument’ expresses ‘intention to set up an interim government and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities’ with maharajah’s prime minister. The last sentence in the ‘Instrument’ is ‘In haste and with kind regards’. Handwritten corrections on the text of the ‘Instrument’ speak volubly about the wavering state of the maharajah’s mind. The instrument, extracted under coercion and duress, is invalid under law.

Subsequent accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’ is also void. This resolution violates the Security Council’s resolutions forbidding India from going ahead with the accession farce. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

Renowned journalist Alastair Lamb also regards the Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990). He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947.

Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. The instrument remains null and void, even if the maharajah had actually signed it. The reason, as pointed out by Alastair is that the `signatures’ were obtained under coercion. She points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place. He questions: “Would the maharajah have signed the Instrument of Accession, had the Indian troops not been on Kashmiri soil?”

It is eerie to note that India has never shown the original `Instrument’ in any international forum. If India was truthful, it should have the temerity to present the document to Pakistan or to the UN. Isn’t it funny that, in the summer of 1995, the Indian authorities reported the original document as lost or stolen? This fact further beclouds authenticity of the document. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes. India avoided presenting the Kashmir case under the UN Chapter VII which relates to acts of aggression. Obviously, it did so because it knew that the Kashmir was a disputed state. And, issue of its integration with India or Pakistan remained to be resolved.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Instrument of Accession does not exist. The `accession’ of the disputed state, through a resolution of the puppet assembly, is null and void. This `resolution’ violates the Security Council’s directive forbidding India to forge unilateral ‘accession’ of the state.

India’s connectivity alternative

Chinese initiative is backed up by her surplus capital.  But rueful India has not been able to dangle an alternative to the BRI. Italy’s endorsement of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hasn’t had much impact on Indian officials, who have long objected to the initiative, as media reports said the South Asian country signaled it might boycott the upcoming second Belt and Road Forum, to be held in Beijing.

In fact, the United States, has responded to BRI by launching similar blueprint by recruiting Japan and any other country who feel less comfortable dealing with China.

China, the new global hegemon

Historians, like Ibn-e-Khaldun, Toynbee, and Arrighi, have postulated a life cycle for fall of nations. For instance, Arrighi thinks wealthy hegemonic centres of civilisation last for about a century and then collapse.  If USA collapses, China is likely to take her place. Much to India’s chagrin, Pakistan would remain her steadfast ally.

India’s myopic efforts to isolate Pakistan

India has now publicly stated its intention to isolate Pakistan in comity of nations. An isolated country is a weak target. India made holding the SAARC conference in Pakistan impossible.

India’s developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries in South Asia over the last four fiscal years amounted to over Rs 211 billion. The countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.   India extended developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries. The total aid to Afghanistan from 2014-15 to 2017-18 was Rs 22.32 billion, to Bangladesh it was Rs 5.14 billion, and to Bhutan it was Rs 156.8 billion. The developmental assistance to Maldives during the same period was Rs 2.7 billion, to Nepal it was Rs 13.22 billion, and to Sri Lanka it was Rs 10.8 billion. India has built a dam in Afghanistan and making 11 more there. She has committed Rs 45 billion for Bhutan’s 11th Plan – about 68 per cent of the total external assistance received. Another Rs 5 billion came in from India as part of the economic stimulus plan.

Modi visited only such countries that benefited India internally or externally. Between 2014 and 2018,  over Rs 2,021 crore was spent on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to top 10 countries from where India has received the maximum FDI inflows. Foreign Direct Investments grew from USD 30,930.5 million in 2014, to USD 43478.27 million in 2017. A total of Rs 1,583.18 crore was spent on maintenance of Modi’s aircraft and Rs 429.25 crore on chartered flights during the period between June 15, 2014 and December 3, 2018. The total expenditure on hotline was Rs 9.11 crore. Modi visited over 55 countries in 48 foreign trips since taking over as prime minister in May 2014. Over Rs 1,346 crore was incurred on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Manmohan Singh’s foreign visits from 2009-10 till 2013-14 during UPA-II. The cumulative FDI inflows between 2014 and June 2018 stood at USD 136,077.75 million, compared to USD 81,843.71 million recorded cumulatively for the years between 2011 and 2014.

Kashmir’s current inferno is of India’s own making

While India blames Pakistan for her Kashmir troubles, it is pertinent to recall what India’s former defence minister George Fernandez (June 30, 1930 to January 29, 1930) said about Kashmir. I quote from Victoria Schofield on page 293 of her book Kashmir in the Crossfire (IB Taurus, London/New York, 1996.). `I do not believe that any foreign hand engineered the Kashmir problem’, stated George Fernandez in 1990. `The problem was created by us, and if others decided to take advantage of it, I do not believe that one should make that an issue; given the nature of the politics of our subcontinent, such a development was inevitable’. (Source:  George Fernandez. 12 October 1990, India’s Policies in Kashmir: An Assessment and Discourse, in Thomas, ed. Perspectives of Kashmir.).

Pacifist Kashmiri

An adage about pacifist Kashmiris reflects how timid they were. A Kashmiri youth joined army but never fired a shot. Asked by a Punjabi sikh (assumed to be scion of a martial race), he replied tapsi tey thus karsi.  That is, when my gun heats up it will automatically fire.

How the pacifist Kashmiri is turned into human missiles?

Humiliation

`Credit’ goes to reign of terror by 7,80,000 Indian forces in disputed state for punishing Kashmiri stone pelters with live bullets or pellets that blinded them (Washington Post July 12, 2016, New York Times dated August 29, 2016) . William Lukens, Bluemont (USA) clarified in Washington Post `To most Americans, a pellet gun is an air-powered pistol or rifle firing a single pellet. It is rarely able to kill or even wound a person hit with the pellet. As used by Indian police, “pellet gun” is a 12-gauge shotgun using shells that contain dozens of pellets propelled by gunpowder. There is a huge difference. When Americans read “pellet gun,” they think of “you’ll shoot your eye out.” Even girls and babies in laps are not spared.  Most of the pellets, fired from a high-velocity pump-action guns (outlawed by Amnesty International) hit above chest, usually face. India’s ladla (pampered) army chief (a general’s son) has so far displayed a fight-or-flight response to insurgency rooted in Kashmiris ’multifaceted deprivation. Just recall Indian army chief awarded commendation certificate to Major Leetul Gogoi who drove his jeep with a Kashmiri protester, tied to his jeep front. Gogoi was later caught red handed with an 18-year-old girl in a Srinagar hotel. (The Hindu dated September 19, 2018).  The ladla let the offender off the hook by charging with mild charge `fraternization with a woman’. The army chief is a misogynist who publicly rebuked women and declared them unfit for military service.

Humiliation of Kashmiris motivates them to become human missiles. The Pulwama Fedayeen, a schoolboy, was forced to rub his nose on ground by a `soldier’.

Roads were blocked to prevent mourners from attending funeral prayers of Pulwama bomber. Even dead bodies of stone-throwers are mutilated, paraded unzipped in body-packs, and photographed by way of memorabilia. Renowned writer Barkha Dutt reminisced (Outlook India dated February 20, 2019) a sensible local police officer’s directive `Bodies of those killed in encounters were to be properly zipped in covers and not paraded. At post-mortems of killed terrorists, no photographs were to be taken or distributed.’

A Kashmiri newspaper reported that army mercilessly beats even peaceful Kashmiri `for not hoisting Indian flag on their cars, bikes and even bicycles’, `even for selling or buying a pencil battery for a radio or wall clock’ .The presumption is that  `these batteries will be used in the wireless sets or bombs’.

Persecution of Kashmiri students and traders in Indian states

Kashmir students and traders are being attacked or looted in schools and colleges, at bus stops and in railway apartments throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety.

Some retired generals and RAW’s former chief AS Daulat cautioned Modi against brutal use of force India stayed united while Pakistan broke apart for lack of resilience and political myopia. At the time of partition, India was embroiled in many virulent insurgencies: Dravidian South movement, seven angry sisters of North East, Khalistan movement. India overcame the insurgencies through talks with Laldenga, Master Tara Singh, Dr. Phizo and others. It accepted demand for creation of new states. Gradually the incendiary states merged into Indian Union. But, India stands alienated in Kashmir. Lest India breaks up into `a congeries of states’ (Sir John Winthrop Hackett, The Third World War), it should free Kashmiris before next war with Pakistan.

India buckles on issues

Taiwan

China considers self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province that it has vowed to reunite with the mainland even if it has to resort to force. China warned the US, India and other countries against transferring defence technology to Taiwan for producing submarines. Air India even removed logos showing Taiwan as an independent entity.

Boycott of Chinese goods

Following Pulwama incident, India’s Confederation of All India Traders, which represents 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on March 19 to “teach a lesson” to China. Swadeshi JagranManch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a boycott of Chinese goods. Chinese products like mobile phones made by companies such as Xiaomi Inc and toys are ubiquitous in India. 

Trade between the countries grew to nearly US$90 billion in the year ending March 2018. Aside from gung-ho, India’s trade ministry said in an email the country can’t take any unilateral punitive action against a fellow member of the World Trade Organisation.

India could not boycott import of China-made transistors that accounted for 81.9 percent of India’s transistor imports in 2017. The transistors are an input to almost all Indian electronic goods and machinery. India cannot afford to switch to home-made expensive alternative. These imports also contain embodied technologies, particularly semiconductors, fertilizer and pharmaceutical.

CPEC

India is yet to snatch back the Kashmir territory that China has occupied. No strike on Gwadar so far.

Inferences

Sagging US support

India can’t rely on Trump as bulwark against China. Trump values economic issues more than strategic issues. It may even slap tariffs on imports from India. Then there is the Afghan-exit nightmare.

No aid

There is no alternative to BRI for smaller countries. Gone are UNCTAD (UN conference on Trade and Development) or Lester Pearson’s trade, not aid, days. Countries are fighting for economic survival.  Like it could not stop BRI in other countries, India can’t stop CPEC.

Kashmir is not an intractable problem. Soon, India will have to revert to its foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta’s Kashmir proposals (soft borders). Trade across divided Kashmir, was agreed by India and Pakistan’s Musharraf within Mehta’s framework. It flourished until Modi recently stopped it to convert Kashmir into a veritable prison.. Mehta’s proposals are contained in his article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (quoted in Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press). India’s sovereignty mantra is a hoax to disguise its weak case on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradish.

WTO and BRIC

China’s role under World Trade Organisation and in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would force India to shun its spurious repugnance to BRI. In 1990, BRIC countries accounted for 11% of global gross domestic product (GDP), by 2014 nearly 30%. These countries are not a political alliance, like the European Union or a formal trading association. Yet they have power as an economic bloc.

By 2050 (with China as a sole hegemon), these economies, including India, would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers. Columbia University established the BRICLab, where students examine foreign, domestic, and financial policies of BRIC members. China and India are destined to become the world’s dominant suppliers of manufactured goods and services by 2050. Brazil and Russia will become dominant suppliers of raw materials. BRIC expanded to include South Africa as the fifth nation in 2010.

Writing on wall

Advice to India

India’s ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean does not augur well for the region. It should let Indian Ocean remain the zone of peace.Besides, India should mend its fence with Pakistan, sincerely support BRI and BRIC, or economically perish.

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South Asia

Pakistan: A Terrorized Rather than Terrorist State

Syed Nasir Hassan

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It is not hard to analyze the human audacity in engaging itself towards violence particularly in modern world. The charm of subjugating others through oppression or use of violence is not something new, it had been done in the past but since the inception of the modern world into its true shape, it has shifted its discourse in new and different modes. In the current order, there is a new form of inflicting pain that is through extremism and terrorism.

Pakistan a piece of land with diversity on Indus sands, has long been a victim of this ailment. One key tactic of ensuring the impact of terror or achieving what is desired is to hit the vulnerabilities of the victim. This seems to be true in case of Pakistan which was once vulnerable state for numerous reasons mainly internal, but now it has gotten up from its knees. Where once there were sirens of death and constant trepidation of a terrorist attack, people now believe that dark clouds have dispersed.

Since its independence, Pakistan has seen many blows in its journey but the most severe one was terrorism. In past eighteen years, more than 65,000 Pakistani civilians and armed forces personals had been a victim to or sacrificed their lives against terrorism. One can debate on whether the steps which were taken by the various chief executive of the country through extending hands with the shady ally and stepping into the quagmire, were need of that time or just another fallacy in our history but the fact remains that the nation suffered the impact of the decisions which were taken at that time. The mourning continued for more than 15 years and the despair remained/prevailed among the nation.

It is not to be misunderstood that Pakistan is the only nation who paid the price of fight against terrorism for quite a long period of time in shape of trauma, misery and grief. There’s a  narrative which is mainly spread by the antagonistic parties to demoralize the efforts of the state and inflict more pain to the suffered minds was that the Pakistan is a promoter and exporter of this franchise of terror. Moreover, that its security forces are involved in exporting and promoting it also, thus ignoring the sacrifices of the country which it had presented while fighting to uproot terrorism. The Pakistani military conducted more than  eight full scale military operations to curtail the malady, where numerous lives of soldiers were laid in order to achieve the desired goal. Unfortunately, most of the time international arena had neglected the efforts.

This all has its roots when Uncle-Sam decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001 on the tag of eradicating terrorism. which was threatening the global “peace” order. Washington compelled Islamabad to be its non-NATO ally and so Pakistan became part of this bleakness. The war against terrorism did not bring any fruitful results and it blow backed as the Afghan mess shackled the mighty US. It’s been more than 17 years now and Washington still finds itself clung in Afghan terrain. One of the crucial effect of this un-holy alliance of Islamabad with the Oval was that the Pakistan suffered the most at home, especially at the north-western front of its empire.

Pakistan is a save heaven for radicals and terrorists! This seems more like a false accusation rather than honest claim. The infection of terrorist organizations residing in Pakistan is courtesy of an untrusty ally, US. The moment United States started their war against terrorism the remnants flew to bordering Pakistani territories and due to high density of Pashtun Pakistani citizens in those territories it was difficult to operate with full military muscle. When Pakistan started doing it, those citizens turned more radicalized towards the state.

From the beginning till date, Pakistan had been the victim of terrorism rather than exporter of it. Its whole socio-economic segment got wounded by it and still even after efforts for curtailing the malevolence, it is still striving to overcome those effects in order to maintain its stature in the international standing as the Pakistani nation and state pay the excruciating price which was not even due on them. In a nut shell, Pakistan repented for the sins committed by the US. Pakistan’s un-accompanied skirmish against terrorism is not over, yet there remains more to achieve, especially rehabilitation, facilitation and mainstreaming of the war torn areas, but foremost is to learn the lessons from the past and refrain to repeat the gaffes which the predecessors did.

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