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From Ancient Era to Imperial Era: Indian Ocean in Historical Lenses

Rana Danish Nisar

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“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters,” Alfred Mahan

Authors: Rana Danish Nisar & Ali Nagri*

Among the oceans of the world, The Indian Ocean is third largest covering 70,560,000 km that is approximately twenty percent of the water on the earth.  This is bounded by Asia on the north, Australia in the east and Africa in the west and the Southern Ocean which is situated in the south.  Its borders were defined in 1953 by Hydrographic Organization.  The average depth of Indian Ocean is 3741 m and the Sunda Trench (earlier known as java trench) is the deepest point of it that has a maximum depth of 7906m.  The important points are Bab el Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, the Lombok Strait, Strait of Malacca and the Palk Strait.  Its seas are Gulf of Aden, Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and Red sea.  It is artificially connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal. The whole Indian Ocean is lies in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is the warmest ocean of the world and its warming is the largest among the tropical oceans. This essay attempts to discuss the history of Indian Ocean from ancient period to imperial period.

Prehistoric and Ancient Era

It is not easy to date back the human history of the world; same is the case with the Indian Ocean. Early rock art in India as in other places like Africa and South East Asia is very difficult to date to a specific period.  The rock art designs found in caves are believed to be 10,000 and 6,000 years back. This art shows a row of animals outlined in red ochre crayon and filled with crisscross lines. According to scientists, around 8000 years ago the first modern humans left Africa and it was through Indian Ocean. They were originated from a single woman from East Africa and therefore named ‘mitochondrial Eve’ as she was ancestor of many Africans tribes and groups of migrants who populated the rest of the world. Bronze Age is some 3500-1100 BC named after a durable metal made by combining copper and tin together.  In southeast Asia bronze spearheads, bells, axes and jewelry have been discovered and some archaeologists argue that Thailand bay have been one of the first centers of Asian bronze industry. Cowries shells (small, oval mollusks, found in many varieties) are very smooth sea shells only found in Maldives, a chain of islands in Arabian Sea, became very important in world trade as these were used as money around the Indian Ocean.  Cowries have been found in ancient Harappa and in tombs in China in second millennium and later. These were not only used in Asia but also found in West Africa where these were used as money. These also provide proof of seagoing Indian Ocean Trade networks and their connection to land routes. Monsoon Winds blow in Indian Ocean in a regular pattern and are playing its important role in sea trade.  Since the beginning of trade and travel monsoon are very important as in one season a ship could sail from Arabia or East Africa towards coast of India and in other season when the wind change its direction this ship will sail back. Merchants are using monsoon winds roughly since 2000 BC and these winds encouraged regular trade, communication and migration across the Indian Ocean.

Classical and Medieval Era

By the end of Classical Era Sugar was very wonderful luxury for cooking and sweetening in Persia. During the next few centuries, sugar spreader widely in the world through Indian Ocean trade. The Isthmus of Kra is a narrow strip of land that connects the Malay Peninsula to continent of Asia. It separates the Indian Ocean form the China Sea.  Traders of Indian reached the rest of Southeast Asia by crossing the Isthmus of Kra rather making the longer and more difficult journey around the entire Malay Peninsula.  By the first century CE, traders from Arabia and Africa regularly transported across the Indian Ocean, overland through the Isthmus of Kra and up to China.  Merchants even continued to use this trade route when political disputes made land travel dangerous throughout the second and third century.  Muziris was also an ancient port city in today’s Indian state of Kerala.  It was famous trading market for Roman-Indian merchants in India. Around 100-200 CE, in Roman Empire pearl jewelry was very popular.  Pearls which were produced by oysters and fished out of sea were very favorite of wealthy Romans.  Pearls were very ideal trade good because it takes very little room on ships but were very precious and commonly used for jewelry and decoration.  These were also used for medicine.  The world’s best pearls came from the water of the Persian Gulf, near Bahrain, UAE, Qatar and Oman.  

The pearling industry was very important to these countries as to export to Roman Empire. Ibn Battuta a very famous traveler and historian also contribute towards Indian Ocean. He tells a lot about Maldives Islands of Indian Ocean and their exchange of unique resources of their islands that directly lie on the Arabian Sea for necessities and food, metals and brass goods and textiles.  Two products were particularly important one was coconut fiber rope very important for shipping industry and second was cowrie’s shells used as currency at that time.  Cowries are known to have been used as money for Indian Ocean trade from the earliest periods to the 19th century. Ivory was another important product highly traded at that time from India and Southeast Asia but African ivory was highly prized because of shapes and very large tusks of African elephants. These were also very soft for carving.  Greek and Roman geographers reported the trade of ivory from East Africa as early as 4th century BC. 

As trade with east Africa expanded, gold rhinoceros horn, mangrove poles with ivory tusks from the Africa were goods traded through Swahili cities of East Africa.  Interestingly, Bananas have been cultivated since 6000 BC or even earlier in Southeast Asia, and were spread to Indian and China and major sea routes of Indian Ocean by 1000CE. As Islam spread and its contact along the land and water routes, bananas were also spread across the Mediterranean, in Palestine and Egypt, and from North Africa it moved to Muslim Spain and to the West Africa.  Bananas could not be grown in Europe, but later in the 1500s, the Portuguese carried the banana to the New World, where it has been grown since the 1500s. Biruni a very famous historian and geographer contributed a lot with the efforts and help of Caliph al Ma’mun to measure the meridian in the 9th century.  Al Biruni advanced the technology to determine the positioning and coordination of earth and different places. An advanced form of this is known as Global Positioning System (GPS) today.  He also writes a book “The Determination of the Coordinates of Positions for the Correction of Distances between Cities in 1025 CE by using the mathematical geography.  Al Biruni work was very accurate at that time and modern measurements confirm it.

Global Era 1500 to 1770 CE

Among the famous explorer of this era a famous name is Ferdinand Magellan from Portugal born in 1480.  When he was younger he worked as a helper in the Queen’s palace where he heard the fantastic adventures of great sailors like Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus and Bartholomew Dias, and their discoveries.  Magellan sailed under the Portuguese flag form years until he got a dispute with the Portuguese King.   After it Magellan approached the Spanish King join his fleet with an idea to find a western passage to Spice Islands and to compete with the Portuguese trading system in Indian Ocean.  At the time explorers believed that the Strait of Magellan only opened up into a bay rather than the Pacific Ocean but Magellan believed otherwise.  He sent a small crew to explore the western parts of the strait.  Magellan named the strait as Estrecho de Todos los Santos (the Strait of all Saints) but the Spanish King renamed it in the honor of Magellan as a Strait of Magellan.  Magellan set sail from South American coastline into Pacific Ocean; he named it Pacific as he found it very calm as compared to the Atlantic where he spent the most of time. 

The crew continued the journey for three months without fresh food and many died but ultimately reach to eastern Asia.  This era cannot be concluded without mentioning the Captain Cook.  James Cook is probably the most accomplished European mariner of the 18th century.  He went on three official voyages and spent over a decade at sea from 1766 to 1778. His first voyage was scientific in nature to Pacific Ocean in 1766 to observe and record the transit of Venus across the sun. After his return from first voyage Cook was commissioned to lead another scientific expedition on behalf of Royal Society to search the Terra Australia.  His last voyage was to locate a Northwest Passage around the continent of America.  The purpose of the voyage was to find a Northwest route that many believed led back to Europe.  In 1778 captain James Cook became the first European that has formal contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Cooked named this archipelago the “Sandwich Islands”.  Captain Cook was also murdered in 1779 on a Hawaiian island by local villagers on his final voyage when Tensions rose, and a number of quarrels broke out between the Europeans and Hawaiians.  His voyages are best known for their contributions to geographic discovery, science, and the arts.(Rumely. d, 2007) He brought back plants, animals, and collections of art along with maps he made of his South Pacific voyages.

Captain Cook is credited for mapping New Zealand, some Polynesian islands, the eastern coast of Australia and was the first to circumnavigate Antarctica while searching for a southern continent. Captain Cooke was among the first to use the newly perfected chronometer on his Antarctic voyage, a device which allowed him to measure his longitude with precision. The Dutch East India Company also known as The United East Indian Company was founded in 1602 as a charter company by Dutch Government granting it monopoly over Dutch spice trade business. This company came Indian Ocean later than the Portuguese but it dominated the spice trade of Indian Ocean by taking complete control of cloves, nutmeg and mace. On the other hand, although pepper was most important good of trade for this company yet company failed to control the pepper its sale and shipment as it grew in many places and Dutch East Indian Company could not control ever source of pepper.  According to a rough estimate Europeans, in the seventeenth century, carried out almost seven million pounds of pepper shipment from Indian Ocean to Europe every year. In addition to spices, printed fabrics with fantastic flowers of many colors were very important goods of trade. These were originally printed in France. But during the 17th and 18th centuries, Indian style chintz fashion was very popular. 

These were hand painted on smooth cotton fabric with fast color dyes and imported from the India from Gujarat province and were sold in France by British East Indian Company.  Their demand was so high that French lawmakers were afraid that it would hurt French weaver industry so they banned it by law to import and forbidden to wear it. But amazingly, they continued to be popular, even though the French law included the death penalty. The reason was that the Mediterranean port of Marseilles was exempted from all such laws and it became the heaven for smugglers of Indian cottons and from here it was imitated into other parts of France and people wear these cloths secretly in their homes instead of public places.  Ultimately on the pressure of public these fabrics were made legal by lifting up all laws. During this era when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, they established a center point for navigation for their territories around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.

The Ottomans were well aware of the growing competition from Italy and other European powers. The King, Sultan Mehmet, built a naval ship building arsenal on the Golden Horn, known as Halic in modern Turkey a waterway of Istanbul, and appointed a Commander of the Navy. At the arsenal, galleys, or ships with oars, were built, repaired and equipped with supplies. This arsenal was consisting of more than 200 buildings for preparation and repair of ships, ammunition depot, a mosque, a prison, kitchens for preparing food for working labor and to store on ships, water reserves for fresh water supply for voyage and administration buildings including studios for artisans related to shipping and outfitting.  There was no match Istanbul maritime Arsenal but only one in Arsenal of Venice.  A large Ottoman fleet which expanded in sixteenth century was built in the arsenal. Sultan announced that he would build 500 warships in addition to already existing hundreds of war ships to threaten other powers. They were already controlling the ports in Syria and Egypt, and wanted to hold major Eastern Mediterranean islands. Thousands of men from all over the Ottoman Empire were employed in Ottoman navy.  They were organized into Officers and crews.  The commanders and seamen who sailed and other were the workers and managers of the Arsenal, and both braches were headed by the Grand Admiral of the Fleet who directly reported to the Sultan.  The whole operation was highly organized and well financed. 

The Ottoman Navy kept it organized for centuries and ensure its presence it three major seas. The people living on the Malabar Coast of Kerala province of India are known as Mappilas. This community was grown by intermarriages of Arab traders and local Hindus on the coast of Malabar.  This community maintained peaceful trade relations for centuries with other communities of India and Indian Ocean.  These links with traders of Arab and Persia dated back to centuries.  According to a legend, the King Chera Manperumal Malabar had a vision during the time when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived and the king departed to visit Makkah. King Chera Manperumal embraced Islam and supported its spread on the Coast of Malabar. The Malabar mosque, built in 629 CE, is the oldest on the continent of India. It still exists today.   The community of Mappilas developed their own culture in dress, food music and in dance also.  They lived in a peaceful and beneficial way with other groups and communities and Hindu king of Malabar Coast treated them as a merchant caste, who gained wealth and status from their activities as traders.  Famous explorer like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo mention this community as a peaceful trader.  When Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean he was amazed to know that Muslims were prominent merchants in Africa and Asia and Portuguese had fought against Muslims traders to gain control of trader routes.  They anchored on Malabar Coast with cannons and demanded the Hindu rulers to expel the Muslim traders from the coast. 

The Hindu rulers were stunned and refused to do so. Portuguese bombarded the towns and demanded the control of seas also authority to allow the passage by special permission.  This situation was very awful for Mappilas so they retreated inland and became farmers or involved into fishing business.  Others used their maritime skills and fought against Portuguese ships, captured them and continue trading.  To the Portuguese the Mappilas were pirates and smugglers. The Europeans used the Carracks to take the control of all trade in Indian Ocean.  They also armed these ships and attacked major ports of Indian Ocean for example Mombasa and Kilwa in Africa, and Calicut and Malabar Coast in India.  They also attacked on Arab merchant’s ships and other ships that have not trading permits form Portuguese government.  This was to take all the trade control of Indian Ocean trade and to control the ports. However, they only had limited success and they met a great resistance from Ottoman Empire Navy and from other Europeans.  Besides, the Indian Ocean was too large to control by this way.

The Opium became also an important product for trade. Opium poppies are natively grown in Mediterranean region from thousands of years. From this it traveled to Greek, China and also to India by sea routes before 12th century.  Opium poppies were grown also in India and the Mughal Empire controlled the trader of Opium.  The Narcotic property of opium was used as a medicinal plant and its use can be found in Greek and Arabic manuscripts.  When Muslim medical work was translated in European languages it also became known to Europeans.  The trade of opium increased extensively after the entry of Europeans into Indian Ocean region in 16th century. It was imported to Europe as a popular medicine.  Portuguese also trader the it from India to China and the Dutch brought into China and Japan the practice of smoking opium through tobacco pipes.  After the weakened the Mughal Empire the British gained power in India and British East India Company gained complete control of trade also of opium and started taxing the sale of Indian Opium. European also gave very importance to opium by using it as an exchange commodity for trading of tea, silk and porcelain instead of gold and silver.  They expectant Chinese merchants to buy opium they bought in India as an exchange for trade. Soon the Chinese became addicted of it and by seeing all this situation Chinese government banned its import and use. But on the other hand British started its smuggling and increased opium production as it was most profitable crop. This all situation leaded to Opium Wars between China and British East India Company.

Industrial and Imperial Era         

During 19th century the Royal Geographic Society of Britain announced a prize competition to find and chart the Nile’s source.  Two explorers Captain John H. Speke and Captain Sir Richard F. Burton found this in 1858. Captain Speke named the lake after the Queen Victoria. James Bruce a Scottish explorer also claimed to be the first from Europe to reach to Nile source.The people working on ships of British were known as Lascars. The word Lascar is drawn from the Persian language that means army.  This term was used by the East India Company for the persons who were working on their ships.  These persons were skillful seamen, rope makers, ship carpenter and other crew needed on the board belonging from different regions of coastal areas of Asia.  These were free men who sold their services for wages mostly came from Indian Ocean region. These people were later settled.  There life was not easy and they had to do all the chores of the shipping life.  The Lascars worked long shifts in the dark, hot, dangerous engine rooms and coal furnaces that powered the ships. By 1928, there were more Lascars employed on British ships. Slave trade was common in regions associated to Indian Ocean. Slavery in the Indian Ocean was consisting of a wide variety of peoples of scattered cultural and backgrounds. 

Peoples were involved in different capacities as slaves, slave traders and owners of slave’s form regions of Africa, Arab, Asia and Europe. Male slaves were indulging in the business of pearl divers, ship crew, employed into trade, working in agricultural fields and as soldiers of wars while female slaves often worked in homes as maids, nannies and nurses.   In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries African slaves demand was rapidly increased because of less price and hard working.  British worked hard to end slavery. British Empire declared protect zone for slavery. But unfortunately, till to date, slavery is persisting is some sorts of forced labor, especially involving women, children and poor population of third world countries and refugees. Suez Canal was also built during this era. This is the artificial waterway is 163 km long, running north to south across the Isthmus of Suez in northeastern Egypt and shorted the distance between the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea. This canal is one of most important water ways of the world.  This is also known as crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia because it is interlinking these three continents. It was built in 1856 by a French company after ten years’ hard work.  This made trade easy as traders had not to sail around the Africa or carry goods overland and gained its importance to European Imperial powers. in combination with the expansion of the American transcontinental railroad, the canal permitted the world to be circled in record time. The Suez Canal was not initially a financial success for Egypt, nor for France. Due to the growing debt required to finance it, Egypt was forced to sell the canal to Great Britain in 1875.

The English controlled the Suez Canal until shortly after Egypt regained its independence from Britain and nationalized the canal. Steamships changed the Indian Ocean trade by opening new routes that were not dependent on the winds.  By the mid to end of the 19th century, the British Empire had the largest and most successful naval force in the world powered by steam. Steam power allowed for expanded exploration of the continents, the mass movement of people around the world, and caused great changes in the trade system. During the period of the steam engine ships grew larger and faster, but they had to refuel often. The ships were first used for short and regular service, like mail and wealthy passengers. These first ships had a huge advantage over sailing ships, in that they were much easier to navigate upstream and this made rivers and canals more accessible. Steam-driven railways also transformed the British Empire, and the Indian Ocean region, increasing business activity, and giving consumers access to cheaper goods. In 19th century the most important and the busiest port of Arabian Peninsula was the city of Muscat in Oman. Being an international port, the city was heavily populated, having different religious, and multi-ethnic. Muscat was the crossroads of trade between East Africa, the eastern shores of the Gulf, and western India. In the 19th century every kind of merchandise could be found, silk and linen, spices, dates, coffee brought across the desert by caravans, pearls, grapes, bananas, figs, butter, fowl, and many more. Muscat was known for being supreme in trade and military power, and the city produced a lot of wealth for the Omani nation. Omani rulers carried out careful associations with customary Indian Ocean trading partners and with the European powers. They even concluded a trade treaty with the Americans.

*Ali Nagri, PhD Candidate, School of Politics and International Studies

PhD Student of the School of Politics and International Studies, Central China Normal University 152, Luoyu Road, Wuhan, Hubei, People’s Republic of China 430079

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India’s Harebrained Nuclear Behaviour

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Politics with an opportune, proportionate, precise and unequivocal resolve represents the continuous face of nuclear signaling within the Indo-Pak rivalry. As has been evident, strategic restraint is so far being ingeniously and perpetually reinstated to redefine the archetypal connectivity between politics and war. It does, however, reassert the proclivity of a paradox. Lowering the nuclear threshold towards one’s redlines represents a gradual upward gradience of threat. Penetrating through the inherent blurriness of fluid and whirled debates in arms control and disarmament regime to establish fear, honor and interest (Robert E. Osgood) is calculated but mutually fatal. Deterrence is made ever more relevant in a setting of nationalist predominance particularly in India. On the other hand, Indian force posture driven through deterrence while skillfully synchronizing the four components of national power; the diplomatic, economic, conventional and nuclear ability allowed by a hypocritic environment of international order cannot be taken dismissively.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto of 2014 in relation to India’s nuclear doctrine was raised initially by India’s Strategic Force Command (ISF). It urged India’s stated nuclear doctrine of No First Use (NFU) to change and emphasized massive retaliation. Rather than having a flexible and limited nuclear response and looking for counter-force instead of counter-value targets reaffirms the Indian wish of twining the battle of nerves by the arms of death. The caveated description of surgical strikes and attacks on non-state base points while breaching the sovereign geographical identity of the state of Pakistan, as demonstrated in February 2019 by India, has certainly enhanced an uncertain security environment. “In taking aim at each one of its doctrinal pillars, albeit in language that is caveated and cautious, Menon is indicating that the Indian nuclear doctrine should not be taken for granted, whether by Pakistan or China.” Such a warning espoused along with a doctrinal shift is fraught with serious risks but does it really aspire any trust or confidence? Can the threat of targeting Pakistan’s nuclear weapon’s program in an act of preemption be presumed as a false promise?  Is a consequent aggressive and competitive conventional and nuclear arms build-up by both India and Pakistan more reassuring?

The recently promulgated Joint Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) to fully address the growing Chinese threat in cyber and information warfare, also apparently suggests “a written national security strategy document that would help to outline the primary tenets of a “comprehensive defence strategy” by India. The doctrine categorically indicates the Indian decision of dealing cross border threats with surgical strikes. Akin tothe Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (JP-1),the JDIAF elaborates on the basic fundamentals of power and excellence in war-fighting across the full spectrum of conflict closely knit into a triad.  Both the JDIAF and LWD are coercive and are aimed at deterring Pakistan. India believes that the conventional options for military ‘counter terrorism’ against Pakistan are limited, so the adoption of “Deterrence through Punishment” rather than “Deterrence through Denial” is more viable in order to maintain the notions of ambiguity, uncertainty, short and swift yet lethal and intense, precise and non-linear, unrestricted and hybrid. The JDIAF represents the operational integration of the three armed services. Publically presented in April 2017, the JDIAF-2017,is the second edition of the doctrine meant to expanding India’s overseas operations. The JDIAF may also lead to a nuclear disaster owing to its ambiguity on “the first-use or no first use of nuclear weapons”. Similarly, the LWD promulgated in the latter half of December 2018, offers an insight into Indian strategic thinking and the dominant logic that drives Indian posturing and behaviour towards Pakistan.

Both the JDIAF and LWD have the potential to transform into adventurism at any time. Already the presence of security dilemma, conventional asymmetries, the conventional and strategic arms race between these countries, gaps in defense production, offensive and defensive nuclear capabilities and the non-existence of arms control and threat reduction measures (TRMs) between India and Pakistan have increased the threat of conflict escalation or even initiating conflict among regional powers.

John J. Mearsheimer in theTragedy of Great Power Politics maintains that states are not satisfied with a given amount of power but seek hegemony for security. Similarly, Carl von Clausewitz, also linked tactics to a wider objective and ultimately, of course strategy to policy. Operations, intelligence, technology management, human resources development, operational logistics whether conventional or nuclear, diplomacy and politics all bear ample testimony that the character of conflict is changing. The trends are new for the strategic equilibrium, however, throwing challenges and opportunities at the same time for both India and Pakistan. At Pulwama, Pakistan clearly exposed India’s long-held myth of conventional superiority. At the same time, it does urge Pakistan to rethink on non-contact warfare abilities. To resuscitate the debate on nuclear thresholds and the uncertainty it generates is equally orchestrated. Understanding of both these doctrines in view of the recent episode of escalations have almost brought the thresholds of nuclear exchange at their lowest. Nonetheless, the political nature of war/conflict and use of military force remain predominant which would keep the Indian nuclear behavior dangerous particularly under the radical Hindutva mindset.

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India’s De-Humanizing Path to Global Catastrophe

M Waqas Jan

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For a country that has since its inception prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, India has seen its very identity being bastardized by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party for well over a decade now. With its divisive and religious inspired brand of politics, the BJP’s populism is based primarily on exploiting some of India’s most deep seeded fault-lines in what has been repeatedly ascribed by many as nothing short of pure and simple fascism. Not only does this go against what India’s founding fathers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned for a united India, it also goes against the very principles of an inclusive more secular democracy in which India’s minorities were afforded equal protection under its own constitution.

It is extremely distressing to see how lynch mobs, cow vigilantes and their enthusiastic apologists, some of whom hold the highest offices in the Indian state, have come to dominate mainstream socio-political discourse within the country. The rampant fanaticism that is being witnessed under the garb of preserving the age-old customs and traditions of India’s Hindu majority, has led to a near unprecedented level of hate being directed at India’s religious minorities. These include Christian, Sikh and especially Muslim and Dalit communities all of whom combined comprise of nearly 20% of India’s population of 1.37 billion people.

What’s more troubling is the fact that such hate is being directed in an almost systemic and carefully concerted manner at the state level. This has been evident throughout the BJP’s divisive and exclusivist politics that has been clearly manifest in its policies. For instance, the ruling government’s partisanship in the Ayodhya Dispute, its near overt support for the many cow vigilante groups that have sprung up, and its attempts at re-writing science and history being taught in Indian schools all represent a newfound zeal for culturally re-appropriating India’s national identity as a predominantly Hindu one. Not to mention, the sizeable amount of funds and resources the Indian state has devoted to its revisionist and fundamentalist agenda. This for instance is evident in the $400 million annual budget set aside for its cultural ministry which its leaders have charged with enforcing its vision. A vision that is based on nothing more than religious inspired hegemony, that harks back to the glorious near mythic past of Hindu civilization. In addition, the government has also directed crucial staff and resources towards its religiously driven policies as apparent in its decision to assign State Police with ‘cow protection’ responsibilities. While the protection of animals may be justified along the lines of human decency, even when stripped off its more religious connotations; the fact that the same police and civil bureaucracy are forced to look the other way when innocent minorities are beaten, burnt and slaughtered by enraged mobs represents an appalling state of affairs. 

The way such rampant abuse of power and privilege has come to define Indian society is extremely ironic when considering the vast body of work that has been done by Indian academics and policymakers in an attempt at better understanding and addressing such socio-political divisions. The likes of Shashi Tharoor and Arundhati Roy for instance have long written of the dangers of letting hardline zealots run rampant with official state affairs. In fact, the entire field of post-colonial studies owes a great deal to the likes of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak for their exposition and detailed explanation of concepts such as the ‘subaltern’. Rooted in the politics of otherness, these concepts are derived primarily from the historic and cultural subjugation of some of the most oppressed cultures and peoples. These have historically included some of India’s most vulnerable communities such as Dalits, whose historical and institutionalized marginalization as the voiceless subaltern has been enshrined in the very belief system that has now come to dominate Indian politics.

While the Indian state had in the past recognized and championed the secular foundations of the Indian Union as the basis for awarding equal rights to all its citizens, the present government is unabashedly dismantling those very foundations. Considering how vehemently mainstream socio-political discourse within India is geared towards simply dehumanizing the country’s minorities through a perversion of its own ancient belief system, it is an absolute shame to see the ruling government use some of the most archaic aspects of its history to justify its own legitimacy and controversial vision of an ultranationalist society. A vision that already runs dangerous parallels with the many fascist and totalitarian regimes of the past. Hitler’s Final Solution, Mussolini’s justification of a glorious hereditary past, or the Khmer Rouge’s purges along even the most basic socio-political and racial lines, all offer horrifying reminders to how the politics of hate and division can lead to some of the worst excesses of humanity upon one another, even in our modern world.

Considering how the same Indian government after consolidating such power within its borders is looking to project the same outwards; one wonders why the world watches in silence as its second most populous country with the second largest military embarks upon a direction that once saw the entire world embroiled in the throes of an unprecedented global war. Even with the benefit of such hindsight, should such a history really be allowed to rhyme let alone repeat itself?

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India-Japan 2+2 Strategic Dialogue Resets Strategic Ties

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India-Japan bilateral ties reached another milestone when the maiden Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue (2+2) was held on 30 November in New Delhi during which the two sides discussed boosting defence and security ties besides other issues of mutual interest. While the Indian delegation was led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Taro Kono led the Japanese side. The 2+2 ministerial dialogue is seen as an upgrade of the meeting between foreign and defence secretaries of the two countries, the first round of which took place in 2010. The upgrade to the ministerial level talks follows an agreement reached between Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and his Japanese counterpart Abe Shinzo during the 13th India-Japan Annual Summit held in Japan in October 2018. So far, India holds similar ministerial level 2+2 dialogue only with the US and with the start of similar format with Japan, the strategic congruence between the three countries comes into focus.

The significance of this bilateral ministerial meeting can be deciphered from the fact that it came weeks ahead of the annual summit of the two prime ministers, the 14th summit, scheduled to be held in Guwahati later in December 2019. The choice of Guwahati as the summit venue is in line with the Modi government’s policy to hold such high-profile meets outside Delhi to give glimpses of India’s rich cultural history to visiting dignitaries. The Japanese Prime Minister may also visit Imphal in neighbouring Manipur, once a battlefield between Japan and the Allied forces during World War II and pray for peace.  

The 2+2 meeting provided an opportunity for the two sides to review the status and exchange further views on strengthening defence and security cooperation between the two countries and also aimed to give stronger spine to the existing India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Besides, the two sides exchanged views on the situation in the Indo-Pacific region and their respective efforts under India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision’ for achieving their shared objective of peace, prosperity and progress to realize a better future for the people of the two countries and the region.

The 2+2 ministerial dialogue reflects the growing relations between the two countries, especially on strategic and security issues. The focus was on seeking ways to advance cooperation for peace and progress in the Indo-Pacific region and the desire of both countries to create a rules-based framework to ensure the Indo-Pacific region remains free, fair and inclusive. The two countries, both major importers of energy, are keen to ensure freedom of navigation in regional waters against the backdrop of China’s increasingly assertive behaviour. India and Japan have also made progress in efforts aimed at maritime domain awareness in regional waters and are currently engaged in negotiations for an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which is aimed at boosting joint efforts on military hardware.

The armies and air forces of the two countries held their first bilateral exercises in 2018. Though there is a great deal of convergence of interests in the strategic and security domains, a Japanese proposal to sell the Shin Maywa US-2 amphibious aircraft to the Indian Navy appears to have run into trouble, largely due to the cost of the aircraft. If an agreement on this strategic asset is concluded enabling India to purchase the aircraft, it could enhance India’s capability mix in the context of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts. It would also be a good addition to India’s recent maritime capability acquisitions including the P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and the potential acquisition of the Sea Guardian armed drone.

Japan is keen that an agreement on this is reached as soon as possible. In order to entice India for this acquisition, Japan has committed to manufacture 30 percent of the aircraft in India and this could eventually help improve Indian defense manufacturing. The two have also established a working group to study the possibilities in Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) Based Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Augmentation Technology for UGV/robotics. Opportunities in the areas of technology collaboration are significant. Defense electronics is particularly important for India since its domestic defense electronic manufacturing segment is still at a nascent stage and it has to partner with its strategic partners in building a domestic capability base but also direct procurement of those capabilities in the interim.

At the last 2+2 dialogue at the official level in 2018, the two sides had “discussed measures to strengthen cooperation in fields such as counterterrorism, maritime security, defence equipment and technology

[and]

peacekeeping operations”. These issues were taken up at a higher level at the ministerial level dialogue. During the India-Japan defence dialogue last September, defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Takeshi Iwaya had stressed that peace and stability in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are “crucial for ensuring prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region”. They had also discussed the security situation in the Indo-Pacific, including developments on the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea. The Prime Ministers of India and Japan in their Vision Statement in October 2018 had reiterated their commitments to working together towards a free and open Indo-Pacific. Both sides have an inclusive approach in the region and defined their emerging Asian strategic framework with that goal in mind. Both see China’s approach in the region as being exclusivist. There is a clear clash between their two visions of the region.

This time around, the ministerial dialogue added strategic heft to the special relationship in the wake of growing Chinese assertiveness on regional affairs.  No wonder, maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific topped in the ministerial talks. There is strategic congruence between the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Indian Navy demonstrated by participation in multilateral exercises, including participation as observers. Both the Japan-India-US trilateral maritime exercise ‘Malabar 2019’ held from late September to early October 2019, and the second Japan-India-US trilateral mine-countermeasures exercise (MINEX) held in July 2019 are aimed at deepening cooperation in the maritime domain. Similar trilateral exercises in the same framework are likely to continue at an annual basis. 

Besides, the Armies and Air Forces of India and Japan held their first bilateral exercises, ‘Dharma Guardian’ and ‘Shinyuu Maitri’ in 2018. Last year, Japan also joined the India-US Air Force exercise ‘Cope India’ as an observer for the first time. The two countries have made steady progress in Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) based on implementing the arrangement for deeper cooperation between the two navies, signed in 2018. With an eye on China, both the countries are also close to concluding negotiations on Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ASCA), a military logistics sharing pact. Such an agreement could expand the strategic reach and influence of both the militaries that would allow both countries to access each others’ naval bases. While Japan could gain access to Indian facilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India could have access to Japan’s naval facility in Djibouti. India took more than a decade to finalize such an agreement with the United States, but now that it has been done once, New Delhi has found it less problematic to do others. It has now concluded such deals also with France and South Korea; talks for a similar deal with Australia are at an advanced stage. The negotiations for the ASCA with Japan commenced after the October 2018 summit meeting. Discussions on global commons including maritime, outer space, and cyber space have been key themes in the dialogue process.

When India opted to stay out of the RCEP in November 2019 Bangkok summit, reports surfaced that Japan shall make a big push to convince India to join the mega pact. But soon it transpired that Japan itself would not be a part of the RCEP without India. Japan’s deputy minister for economy, trade and industry Hideki Makihara made it clear that Japan was at the moment thinking only of negotiations. China has sought to accelerate the RCEP deal but India is unwilling without adequate safeguards and commensurate market access to the rest of the 15 RCEP members for its IT and services sector.

In a meeting with Kono and Motegi in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi reiterated that joining the free trade pact in its present form would be detrimental to India’s interests. Modi was assured that Tokyo was working with other RCEP countries to address “core concerns” raised by India. Kono and Motegi referred to the RCEP joint statement issued in Bangkok which said India had outstanding issues and that all participating countries will work together to resolve these in a mutually satisfactory way. China in particular that hoped to benefit massively through market access in India seems to be perturbed by India’s decision not to join the RCEP deal, effectively wrecking its aim to create the world’s largest free trade area having half of the world’s population.  

Japan sees free trade as one of the pillars of its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and is keen that India joins the RCEP. Japanese foreign ministry deputy press secretary Atsushi Kaifu, who accompanied Motegi to India underlined to working with India for regional peace and prosperity by enhancing connectivity. Japan acknowledges its commitment to the infrastructure development and increase connectivity, with the north-east as the focus area. It remains unclear at the moment if India will be willing to change its stance on the RCEP.

War against terror is a common issue between India and Japan. In strong words on Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, the ministers from both sides asked Islamabad to take “resolute and irreversible” steps against terror networks operating from its soil. The two countries called upon Islamabad to “fully comply” with its international commitments to deal with terrorism including the steps prescribed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Indian defence and foreign ministers will be meeting their US counterparts Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper for the next round of the 2+2 dialogue on December 18. It is likely that some of the issues discussed with the Japanese counterparts would be shared with Pompeo and Esper, contributing further towards mutual understanding.            

The India-Japan ministerial level 2+2 strategic dialogue is an important initiative. It emphasizes the deep interest that both sides have to further strengthen their security and strategic engagements. Unlike Japan’s relations with China, Koreas and some ASEAN countries which suffer from the shadow of history, India-Japan ties have no such historical baggage, the only aberration being when Japan reacted harshly after India detonated a nuclear bomb in 1998. The China factor also propels both to see common grounds and their worldviews are shaped accordingly. India and Japan alone are unlikely be able to cope with the China challenge. They need a larger coalition to balance China effectively. The Quad initiative could be a possible channel that can address issues in the larger Asia and the world.

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