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

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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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Why Nepal’s Maoist finance minister is talking about legalizing black money?

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Despite being the oldest sovereign nation in South Asia, Nepal is also the most unstable nation of the subcontinent. For example since Nepal’s republican era of 2006, Nepal has got 12 Prime Ministers in 15 years. Even during multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy from 1990 to 2006, Nepal saw 15 Prime Ministers in 16 years. This tendency is reflected even in times of nondemocratic and transitional periods of past. If constant political history is an indication, Nepal is prone to repeated governmental build-ups and break-ups.

Nepal’s volatile governments naturally mean volatile plans and policies, which is reflected in the budgetary announcements. Interestingly, it is only Maoist and Maoist-background Finance Ministers in Nepal who have introduced budgetary provisions making provisions whitewashing black money.

Recently, Janardan Sharma, the Finance Minister representing CPN (Maoist Center) party of the coalition government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba, the President of Nepal’s oldest surviving party Nepali Congress, introduced a controversial provision for black money. On 10 September, while presenting his replacement bill to replace budget announced by erstwhile Government led by KP Sharma Oli, Finance Minister Sharma said investments in mega projects  such as international airports, tunnels, roadways and railways do not necessarily require to disclose their sources of revenues.

Such provision, main opposition CPN-UML leaders and majority of Nepal’s economic experts say, would whitewash all black money assembled by Nepal’s power elites and comprador capitalists.  Nepal’s largest-selling English daily The Kathmandu Post has termed it the ‘Thief’s Route’.  Post editorial has talked about its domestic and international implications. It has written, ”this move comes at a time when the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), a regional, inter-governmental, anti-money laundering body of which Nepal is also a member…. The ramification can be disastrous for Nepal.”

This budgetary provision of incumbent Maoist Finance Minister Sharma has gained critical uproar from all quarters. However, this gains vocal support from Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist ideologue and former Vice-Chair of Maoist who defected Maoist in 2015 to form his party. During his tenure as Finance Minister when the Government was led by Maoist’s Chair Prachanda for the first time in Nepal in 2008, Bhattarai has also introduced similar provision. He had legalized illegal property of individuals by self-declaring the worth of their property. This specific program was called ‘Voluntary Disclosure of Income Source’ (VDIS).

Though not implemented owing to widespread ire, Dr. Bhattarai had introduced plans of hydropower investments with no mandatory provisions of revenue source disclosure. Supporting the provision of his former comrade, Dr. Bhattarai has said, ”It is nice to legalize black money. Here is the tendency to do illegal works by black money. Whether it is black or white, it is right to invest in productive and employment-generating sector.”

It was the 180-degree departure in Maoist principle coined by its ideologue Dr. Bhattarai himself.  Before launching 10-year-long Maoist violent armed insurgency in 1996 which resulted in killing of more than 17 thousands Nepali, Bhattarai had handed over 40-point demand to the then PM Sher Bahadur Deuba on 4 February. In 39th. point, Dr. Bhattarai had written, ”Corruption, smuggling, black marketing, bribery and the practices of middlemen and so on should be eliminated.”

This starting demand opposing black money and ongoing defense of the same in the name of ‘productive investment’ displays how Nepali Maoist comrades have deviated from their own principles. Another coincidence is that they are the coalition partner of the Government led by the same Prime Minister Deuba to whom they have put forth their 40-point demand before launching violent Maoist armed insurgency before coming into mainstream politics in 2006.

Why Maoist and Maoist-background leaders are vocal supporters of black money?

Revenue nondisclosure provision mainly comes in tenures of Maoist Finance Minister like Janardan Sharma and Baburam Bhattarai. Other political parties have not vocally supported such malicious programs in Nepal.

Many suspects Maoist have huge illegal money grabbed in times of their 10-year-long violent armed insurgency when they did loot banks in capital Kathmandu and other economic centers of Nepal. Maoist had levied their ‘revolutionary tax’ to all working people and business activities in their vast swatches of base area. Forced donations and extortion further increased their revenues.  Bartil Lintner, a famed Swedish journalist-turned-author, in his Oxford University-published book titled ‘China’s India War’described Nepali Maoists as ‘one of the wealthiest rebel movement in Asia.’

Maoists, even after their entry into mainstream politics after Comprehensive Peace Accord of 21 November 2006 and terrorist delisting by State Department of the US on 6 September 2012, have not disclosed their party transactions. Nor there is any extensive research about net worth accumulated by Maoist during their underground violent armed insurgency in Nepal.

This legislation, if implemented, will force Nepal to sleepwalk towards money laundering, black money funneling and possibly terrorist financing. If big chunk of black money is invested in big income-making and employment-generating productive sections, its long-term impacts would be skyrocketed. This results in opaque financial activities.

 As an aid-dependent and remittance-receiving country from almost all economic powers of the world, legalizing black money  does not bode well not just for Nepal but also for its immediate giant neighbors-India and China. Nepal does not deserve to be the South Asian heaven of black investment and terrorist financing in the name of mega infrastructural projects.

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Kabul: Old Problems are New Challenges

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Source: Twitter

It has been some three months since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, precipitously and without large-scale bloodshed. This came as a complete surprise for the global community—but for the Taliban just as well, although this was what they had long been striving for. Perhaps, this could explain the contradictory situation in the country as of today.

On the one hand, the Taliban leadership is supremely confident in their ultimate victory, and they are determined to keep the power at any cost. The Taliban proceed from the premise that the way the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) existed throughout 1996 to 2001 never ceased to exist, with the last two decades marked by the fight against foreign military intervention and a puppet regime. Accordingly, this is the basis for the Taliban to consolidate their power through rigid theocratic institutions. There is hardly reason to believe they would take a different approach, which means foreign actors could only advocate a certain “liberalization” of these institutions, accounting for the current trends in international development.

On the other hand, the Taliban’s activities tend to ignore the economic aspects, which are still of fundamental significance as they are instrumental to resolve the pressing problems that the Afghani face, while having an impact on the country’s domestic stability and the long-term viability of the regime. So far, the Taliban have mostly been “patching up the holes” welcoming relief efforts from abroad. The recently announced “food for work” programme requires material support rather than mere slogans.

This can be explained by the following reasoning. Caught in the grip of conservative religious, ideological and political views, the Taliban lack any meaningful experience in modern state-building. As for the subjective circumstances that need be accounted for, these include the Taliban’s heterogeneity, contradictions between orthodox believers and pragmatists in the movement’s leadership, and close to none of sufficient control over the Taliban’s “rank-and-file”. The confrontation between the conservatives holding key offices in the government and the pragmatists continues, and it may even grow worse. Further changes in the government’s configuration will testify to the dynamics of Afghanistan’s overall domestic evolution amid the new circumstances.

Persisting historical contradictions between the Taliban (mostly ethnic Pashtuns) and the many ethnic minorities (Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras) are potentially dangerous for the new regime in Kabul. With the Taliban being reluctant to form a truly inclusive government rather relying on one that only purports to be such and with ethnic minorities willing to establish something like a front of resistance to the new authorities, these contradictions are becoming ever more visible.

Both the new government in Kabul and the global and regional communities are increasingly concerned with the spike in subversive activities in the country perpetrated by militants of various ethnic backgrounds affiliated with ISIS and Al-Qaeda. All this negatively affects the domestic situation, with a potential to undermine the Taliban regime itself, while posing additional risks for regional stability. The situation is gravely exacerbated by the deplorable state of Afghanistan’s economy, which could lead to famine in the very near future. Taken together, these circumstances demand that the Taliban take decisive steps to normalize the situation. As Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, recently noted, events in Afghanistan may lead to a catastrophe if the Taliban do not act in a timely manner.

At the same time, it is obvious that such an Afghanistan would not survive without external aid and assistance. Internationally, the situation is rather favorable for the new Afghanistan regime, particularly with the Taliban engaging in dynamic international activities. It is crucial for today’s Kabul to handle three principal tasks:

  • establishing working relations with the neighbouring states as well as regional and global powers with a view to having the Taliban struck from UN sanctions lists and obtaining official international recognition for the new authorities;
  • securing a positive international image of Kabul under the Taliban;
  • receiving large-scale foreign humanitarian aid.

The Taliban miss no opportunity to make statements at all levels, claiming they are ready to engage with the global community in comprehensive cooperation, abandoning support for international terrorism and extremism and willing to attract foreign investment from a wide range of countries into Afghanistan’s economy.

If we explore the stances taken by various members of the international community as regards the new regime in Afghanistan, we will notice that their positions have several points in common, all of which are important for a peaceful and stable situation in the region. These principles include preventing instability in Afghanistan from exacerbating, the need to form an inclusive government that represents the interests of all ethnic and political forces, building a state on the foundations of respect for contemporary human rights, putting an end to terrorism and extremism proliferating outward from Afghanistan, etc.

At the same time, countries demonstrate significantly different approaches to the Afghanistan profile. The United States and the European Union have taken the toughest stance with regard to the Taliban, although both are ready to launch relief efforts to avoid a humanitarian disaster that is fraught, among other things, with new waves of refugees. Unlike Europe, Washington regards the Taliban issue as more complex and complicated. First, the United States needs to “come to grips,” both politically and psychologically, with the shock and humiliation brought by the inglorious end to the Afghanistan escapade, which delivered a huge blow to the image and reputation of the U.S., both among its allies and worldwide. Washington also needs to resolve the issue of Afghanistan’s assets being relieved as quickly as possible—something that the Taliban, as well as many members of the international community, including Russia, insist on.

As far as Moscow and a number of other countries are concerned, the United States should be the one to provide a significant amount, if not the bulk, of foreign financial aid to Afghanistan moving forward. We should keep in mind that the practical steps taken by the United States concerning Afghanistan will largely serve as a model for the entire collective West. Everyone in Washington is aware of this. However, the United States is still pondering as to the best modes of interaction with the Taliban, exploring the possibility to participate in humanitarian and other programmes in Afghanistan. This is evidenced by the contacts that have already taken place.

Unlike the leading Western nations, many countries in the region, primarily Afghanistan’s neighbours, have de facto begun to foster active and dynamic links with the Taliban. Pakistan has become the main lobbyist for the recognition of the new regime in Kabul, as Islamabad hopes to ensure its place as the primary external influence on the new government in Afghanistan. Beijing has taken a similar stance. Many experts argue that China may come to be the leading external force in Afghanistan, seeing as it is ready to develop economic ties with Kabul provided the latter prevents anti-Chinese Uyghur Islamist militants from penetrating into China from Afghanistan. A stable Afghanistan accords with Beijing’s long-term interest in actively involving the country in implementing its strategic Belt and Road Initiative.

Turkey is now eyeing the opportunities for bolstering its standing in Afghanistan. Central Asian nations, particularly Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are visibly active in the area as well. Tajikistan is sounding something of a discordant note, openly proclaiming that it does not recognize Afghanistan’s regime in its current iteration. Dushanbe’s concerns are easy to understand especially if one recalls its negative experiences from the 1990s. However, the OSCE and the SCO cannot help but be concerned over the aggravation in Tajikistan–Taliban relations. India is also wary of the new regime in Kabul. Iran, like Pakistan, has long-standing historical ties with Afghanistan, and it is taking a “favourable pause” while striving to assist in advancing international cooperation in Afghanistan affairs. In the Islamic Middle East, the regime change in Kabul has been met with an equivocal response, ranging from enthusiasm of radical Islamists to restraint and certain wariness.

The way the situation in Afghanistan will evolve is a matter of fundamental importance for Russia’s national interests, primarily when it comes to ensuring security in Central Asia, within the SCO as well as in the greater Eurasian context. Long-term stability in Afghanistan cannot be ensured without a truly inclusive government and without the Taliban taking on clear commitments to counteract instability, terrorism, extremism and drugs flows spreading outwards and to prevent mass migration into adjacent regions. Kabul and the entire regional community need a peaceful, stable, and neutral Afghanistan, a country that lives in peace and harmony with its neighbours and a nation that is actively involved in economic cooperation in the region.

The international community may benefit from Russia’s experience in promoting domestic consensus in Afghanistan. Several international formats have great importance in this regard, such as the Moscow Format, the extended “Troika” (Russia, the United States, China + Pakistan), which was particularly highlighted by President Vladimir Putin in his recent address at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is particularly important that these formats complement each other rather than compete in terms of their influence on the processes.

From our partner RIAC

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Is Nepal an Indian colony?

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photo: Wikipedia

In yet another dictation, India has told Nepal that nationals of other countries will not be allowed to use the new 35-km rail link between Jaynagar in Bihar and Kurtha in Nepal, due to “security reasons” (The Print, November 25, 2021). The 34.9-km narrow gauge section was converted into broad gauge by India and handed over to Nepal in October this year.  Nepal protested India’s dictation resulting in operational delay. Ultimately India softened its “order” to the extent that “third country nationals can travel on the railway within Nepal, but they won’t be allowed to cross over to India,”

Nepal is perhaps the only country where the head of India’s premier intelligence, Research and Analysis wing is accorded a red carpet welcome as he calls on the Nepalese prime minister (amid popular protests). Not only the RAW’s chief but also the external affairs minister and army chief often visit Nepal with a handy list of  les choses a faire (things to be done). For instance when the Indian army chief visited Nepal, he reminded the PM that there are 136,000 pensioners in Nepal whose pension bill is disbursed by India. The army chief freely intermingled with pensioners as if Nepal was a colony and he was viceroy.

There are about 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas currently serving in the Indian Army’s seven Gorkha Rifle regiments (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th), each of which has five to six battalions (around 800 soldiers each).

Nepal resents its image as a contributor of mercenary soldiers to India and Britain. So it wanted to stop sending Gurkhas for recruitment to the two countries by amending the tripartite In 1962, Sino Indian conflict, the Gorkhas stayed loyal to India though  the Chinese used loudspeakers daily against the company of Major Dhan Singh Thapa, PVC,  to withdraw as they were from Nepal. The Nepalese troops returning to their native villages were pooh-poohed on their journey back home.

The total pension bill for the 1, 27,000 pensioners (90,000 defence and 37,000 Central and State Government as well as paramilitary), and serving soldiers remitting home money is around Rs 4,600 crore. It works out to Nepalese Rs.  6400, which is larger than the NR 3601.80 crore defence budget of Nepal.

The Nepalese still resent India’s hand in assassinating Nepal’s king Birendra and his family (‘Indian hand in Nepal massacre’. The Statesman January 11, 2010).

Nepal’s predicament

Nepal is a landlocked country dependent on India in many ways. In the past India blocked supplies to Nepal at least four times forcing it to capitulate to India’s diktat to stave off starvation.

Nepal is contiguous to Tibet. So it has to balance its relation with both India and China. As China has influence on Nepalese communists so India can’t dare subdue Nepal fully. India always regarded Nepalese prime minister Oli a hard nut to crack. It was Oly who amended national map to re- exhibit areas annexed by India within Nepalese territory. India heaved a sigh of relief when Nepalese Supreme Court ousted Oli and appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as the prime minister until the next general elections.   Deuba remained listless to popular protests against the Supreme Court’s decision.

Conspiracies to oust Oli

To topple Oli’s government, the Indian embassy in Nepal had been bankrolling corrupt politicians and other members of Nepalese society. Aware of India’s underhand machinations,  Oli

debunked India’s conspiracies during a ceremony to commemorate the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Party’s popular leader Madan Bandari. Oli “accused India of trying to destabilize his government” and alleged “Indian embassy in Nepal was conspiring about the same” He claimed, `Conspiracies were being plotted against him since the constitutional Nepali map amendment’.  He further added, `There is an open race to remove me from the post. No-one thought that a prime minister would be removed from office for printing a map’.

Be it observed that Nepal amended its map when its objections fell flat on India. India’s defense minister Rajnath Singh, went ahead to inaugurate an 80-kilometer-long road connecting the Lipulekh Pass in Nepal with Darchula in Uttarkhand (India). The Indian army chief insinuated that Oli was being prodded by China against India.

India’s ongoing annexation

Besides annexing the three new territories, India had already annexed 14000 hectares (140 km square) of territories in Susta, Tribeni Susta, Lumbini Zone, near Nichlaul (Uttar Pradesh).

Nepal being no match for India could not stop India by the use of force. But, to express its dissatisfaction, it printed 4000 copies of the updated version of the new map and distributed it to India, United Nations, and also Google. Additional 25,000 copies of the map were distributed throughout Nepal.

Concluding remarks

Gorkhas fought well in India’s post-independence wars (Indo-Pak 1965, 1971 and 1999 Kargil War, besides 1962 Sino-Indian War and peace keeping mission in Sri Lanka. Their battle cry is jai maha kali, ayo gorkhali. Three Indian army chiefs (SHEJ Manekshaw, Dilbri Singh and Bipin Rawat) served with Gorkha Rifles.

Nepali citizens have a right to apply for recruitment in Indian armed forces or civil services. Yet, they hate India and find more comfort with China as an ally. Whenever India blockades transit trade to Nepal, the latter fall back upon China for its economic needs. India also forced Nepal to grant citizenship to Indians illegally residing in Nepal.

Despite its economic woes, Nepal is ferociously independent minded. When Oli enacted a new map of Nepal, he was vehemently supported by most politicians including the present prime minister. India is unlikely to compel Nepal to toe its dictates fully. 

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