Authors: Meena Singh Roy &Rajorshi Roy*
“As the political landscape of the region changed at the turn of this century, India restored its historical ties of natural affinity with the Central Asian countries….. Our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a natural extension of these relationships and mirrors the region’s place in India’s future. Together with other countries present here, SCO could be a springboard for an integrated and connected Eurasia to become one of the most dynamic regions in the world” — statement by Prime Minister Modi at the 2015 SCO Ufa Summit that highlights the scope and importance of SCO in India’s Eurasian geostrategic calculus.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has emerged as a key regional organisation in the Eurasian space. Accounting for over 60 per cent of Eurasia’s territory and more than 40 per cent of the world’s population, the Eurasian members produce almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. The introduction of new states, both as permanent and observer members, has not only expanded the frontiers of the organisation but also helped unshackle the image of an organisation limited in its scope and effectiveness. The renewed momentum at building regional synergies is reflected in addressing common security challenges and building long-term economic and energy linkages. While still a work in progress, there inherently appears to be a strong desire among SCO stakeholders to strengthen the bonds of regional cooperation. This is, arguably, reflected in co-opting Afghanistan as an Observer State with a view to transform a potential arc of Eurasian instability into an oasis of regional stability.
India’s interests, against this backdrop, align with that of the SCO. New Delhi, which acquired the Observer status of the organisation in 2005, has constructively participated in all SCO summit meetings. This culminated in it being accorded the full member status in 2017. More than a decade’s participation in the organisation highlights India’s willingness to play a more meaningful role in this regional grouping. This stems from India’s strategy of rebuilding Eurasian partnerships that once made the confluence of South and Central Asia the magnetic centre of the known world. The SCO, thus, provides India with a platform to strengthen its outreach to Inner Asia.
The present paper seeks to examine India’s growing interest and role in this Eurasian organisation. More importantly, it aims to answer two key questions – what it means for India to be a full member of the SCO? And what are the likely opportunities for cooperation and challenges that New Delhi can encounter in the future?
It is argued that given India’s benign strategic image, growing economic potential, and vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, it can add greater value to SCO’s ongoing projects and share best practices in newer areas to forge a common vision for the region. India’s foundational pillars in the SCO appear at expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
However, the key challenge for India will be to adapt to Eurasia’s emerging geopolitical reality. Shifting great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, undercurrents of both geostrategic and geo-economic cooperation and competition, and desire of Central Asian states for greater strategic manoeuvre highlight the Eurasian churnings that New Delhi will need to navigate. This is, arguably, reflected in the geopolitics of the multiple ambitious integration projects being pursued by China, Russia, U.S. and even India. While integration is viewed as an antidote to Central Asia’s underdevelopment, which in turn contributes to the region’s political volatility and instability, yet their underlying agendas can have far-reaching strategic implications.
This paper is divided into four sections – the first deals with the evolution of SCO and the emerging regional dynamics, the second highlights the importance of SCO for India, the third delves into the opportunities for expanding New Delhi’s engagement with the organisation, and the final section crystal grazes into the future relevance of SCO and the challenges that India is likely to encounter.
I. Evolution of the SCO: An Expanded Regional Agenda
The profile of SCO, right from its nomenclature to its scope, has grown since its inception in 1996. Established as Shanghai Five by Russia, China and the newly independent Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the organisation aimed to resolve longstanding Eurasian border disputes. With its foundation being based on the Treaty of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions, the institution was looked through the prism of “promoting and deepening good neighbour relations, mutual confidence and friendship among the member-states”.
The organisation in its current avatar emerged in 2001 when the Shanghai Five was elevated to SCO by broadening its limited scope of resolving border issues to inculcating cooperation in the security, economic and cultural domains. Uzbekistan now joined the five founding members of Shanghai Five. The Founding Declaration of SCO outlined its defining goal as:
“strengthening mutual confidence, friendship and good neighbourly relations between the participating states; encouraging effective cooperation between them in the political, trade-economic, scientific-technical, cultural, educational, energy, transportation, ecological and other areas; joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and to build a new democratic, just and rational political and economic international order.”
The SCO also imbued elements of the 1996 Shanghai Spirit, with the organisation’s founding declaration aiming to “pursue its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and a desire for common development, while its external policy is conducted in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting any third country, and openness.”
With almost two decades behind it, the SCO, through an expanded agenda, has now evolved into a key pillar of Eurasian political and security architecture. It has morphed to focus on both traditional and non-traditional security threats, set up a fully functional Regional Anti-terrorist Structure (RATS) to tackle the three ‘evils’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, conducted anti-terror exercises, prioritised Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stability, dwelt on building long-term economic, connectivity and energy linkages, and articulated the need for strengthening cultural foundations and people to people contacts.
The inclusion of India and Pakistan as full members in 2017, co-opting Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia as the Observer States, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as Dialogue Partners have not only added a new vibrancy to the organisation but also reflected its pan-Asian geographical spread – straddling Central, South, South-East and West Asian regions. It’s guest attendees include ASEAN, UN, CIS and Turkmenistan. SCO, arguably, has emerged as a key platform for regional cooperation and engagement.
Nevertheless, given the inherent strategic importance of Eurasia, the organisation is not immune to great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, the balance of power politics, and undercurrents of geostrategic and geo-economic competition.
Evolving Regional Dynamics
The SCO remains rooted in Eurasian geopolitics. The organisation’s scope and importance have, therefore, evolved in sync with the regional geopolitical churnings. This stems primarily from the SCO being a vital instrument of China’s and Russia’s foreign policy towards Central Asian Republics (CARs), as well as a reflection of CARs strategy of balancing their relations with two big neighbours — Russia and China and maintaining their scope for strategic manoeuvre. In between, the U.S. has continued to remain a key tangent, oscillating between being a partner to becoming a rival and an adversary based on regional strategic calculations.
This trend continues, with Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West being the key driver shaping Eurasia’s strategic landscape. Moscow has sought to push-back the ‘Western’ attempts to isolate it by reasserting its influence in Central Asia — an area which has traditionally been the Kremlin’s sphere of influence or it’s near abroad’. Apart from being the predominant security provider of the region, Russia retains civilizational, cultural and ethnic linkages with CARs.
Meanwhile, China has emerged as Eurasia’s dominant trade and investment partner. Its modus operandi in SCO has been to utilise the organisation as a platform to cultivate stronger bilateral synergies with CARs. It has now increasingly sought to leverage its formidable economic prowess by making Central Asia the fulcrum of its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). This route, expected to connect Beijing with Europe via CARs, can fundamentally realign Eurasian geopolitics, with China edging out Russia at its forefront.
This undercurrent of clash of interests between Russia and China seemingly highlight their inherent shades of competition in Eurasia — with Moscow trying to reassert its fading influence while Beijing was attempting to expand its footprint. However, given Russia’s vulnerable position in its evolving confrontation with the West, Moscow has been compelled to build an entente with China to tap Beijing’s potential to be a bulwark against the Western geopolitical pressure. This Sino-Russian rapprochement has seen the Kremlin accommodate China even in Central Asia. Russian concessions involve acquiescing to a quantitative and qualitative improvement in Chinese military exchanges with regional countries and aligning the Moscow led Eurasian Economic Union’s (EEU) policies with SREB.
Russia and China also have a shared Eurasian interest — to counterbalance America’s Eurasian policy, which has been disruptive to their interests in the past — the ostensible regime changes through colour revolutions, in particular, and the U.S role and influence in global politics in general. Notably, they both face Western geopolitical pressure in their peripheries. As such, a Sino-Russian common vision for the region aims to ring-fence Eurasia from Western influence and project the image of an emerging geopolitical construct which is not only non-West but also bigger than the West. This convergence of interests is further highlighted in their need to insulate CARs from an Arab-Spring like situation, given the evolving politico-economic faultlines in Central Asia.
Nevertheless, hidden behind the Russian accommodative stand exists a more nuanced strategy aimed at subtly balancing Beijing in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium in their ties whose symmetry, otherwise, appears to be tilting towards Beijing. This is reflected in the Kremlin’s efforts to revive the EEU which inherently pulls Central Asian members into Moscow’s strategic embrace by offering exclusive preferential duties, a single currency and free movement of labour for the Eurasian economies. Needless to say, China is not a member of the EEU.
In the meantime, the U.S. too appears to be recalibrating its Eurasian strategy. While its 2015 C5+1 diplomatic platform had enabled Washington to establish a framework of high-level engagement with CARs, yet, if President Trump’s track record of being fixated on ‘America First’ policy is an indication, U.S. influence in Eurasia is likely to diminish, particularly at a time when Washington appears imminently poised to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. A 36 per cent reduction in the U.S. aid to Central Asia in 2018 is an indication that wheels of U.S. disengagement have already been set in motion. Viewed through the lens of Russia and China, while an American withdrawal from Kabul is likely to exacerbate the worsening security situation in the country with a potential spillover of violence into Eurasia, U.S. disengagement will also leave Eurasia to regional powers to carve out a regional cooperative mechanism. These developments are in marked contrast to the 2017 testimony of Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who stated that the America’s Central Asia policy aimed to improve the ‘ability of the Central Asian states to resist economic and political pressures from the powerful countries that border the region’, and that the engagement sought to ‘promote greater cooperation and connectivity in a region that has one of the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in the world’.
At a regional level, new developments in the Af-Pak region, renewed American sanctions on Iran and Turkey’s fissures with the West have created a situation of strategic alignments and realignments. In this emerging situation, regional actors like India, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan have been re-engaging CARs by developing ties, both at bilateral and regional levels. Notably, all these regional powers are partners of SCO, highlighting the centrality of the organisation in the regional integration process.
In this Eurasian geopolitical chessboard, the Central Asian countries have sought to strike a balance in maximising their political and economic gains from each actor while trying to preserve their strategic autonomy. Notably, CARs remain inherently suspicious of Beijing’s overall economic motives and apprehensive of a greater strategic embrace by Moscow. Broadening their regional relationships, thereby, provides them with a platform to increase their scope for strategic manoeuvre. Arguably, the political dynamics among CARs now appear inclined towards intra-regional cooperation. This is reflected in the new Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s conciliatory outreach to other Central Asian countries to resolve contentious regional issues, including those on the delimitation of borders and sharing river waters.
Consequently, while the spectre of great power rivalries and competition continue to cast its shadow on Eurasia, yet the ongoing regional dynamics highlight a shift towards the greater regional cooperative approach.
II. India and the SCO: From an Observer State to a Full Member
From an Observer State in 2005 to a full member in 2017, the evolution of India’s more than a decade long exposure and engagement with SCO highlight the growing relevance of the organisation in India’s Eurasian strategic calculus. As a full member of the SCO, India is now not just an observer, where it would earlier be compelled to react and recalibrate its position based on its Eurasian observations, but a key stakeholder in shaping the dynamics of Central Asia. Given the geopolitical realignments, the stakes are high, responsibilities higher and immense opportunities to expand its engagement.
In this context, India’s ongoing engagement with SCO can be seen through the prism of reconnecting and re-energising ties with a region with which India has shared civilizational linkages, and is considered the country’s extended neighbourhood. Significantly, India views the SCO as an Asian body and not a military bloc. From New Delhi’s perspective, SCO as a forum provides a unique opportunity to discuss and expand new areas of cooperation in the economic, energy, developmental, connectivity, and traditional and non-traditional security arenas. It is also an alternative regional platform to delve into the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan and the centrifugal forces arising from religious extremism and terrorism in the region which threaten India’s security and development. These nuances were aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2017 Astana SCO Summit, wherein he articulated the ‘many dimensions of India’s involvement with SCO countries, with energy, education, agriculture, security, minerals, capacity building, development partnership, trade and investment as its major drivers.’ The forum also provides India greater visibility in the affairs of the Eurasian region and enables it to renew bilateral ties with regional countries on an annual basis.
Similarly, from SCO’s perspective, India’s growing global economic and political heft adds weight and credence to the organisation’s own profile, and, perhaps, dispels the Western notion of its existence being solely limited to counter-balance American influence in the region and it being an exclusive anti-U.S. talk shop. In this context, New Delhi’s calibration of a new regional cooperation approach which prioritises connectivity and development projects, its achievements in nation-building, and positive economic outlook in an era of slowing global growth carries a significant resonance in the region.
More importantly, India retains the inherent potential to balance competing strategic interests. Its benign image, positive historical connections and expertise in developmental partnerships place India as a credible partner for CARs in their calculus to strengthen their strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Russia and China. Similarly, given the existing Russian vulnerability in the face of the balance of Sino-Russian ties tilting towards Beijing, a more prominent Indian presence in Central Asia, leveraged by the traditional Indo-Russian partnership, fits well within Moscow’s strategic calculus of subtly balancing Beijing. From New Delhi’s perspective, Moscow can facilitate an enduring Indian-Eurasian partnership, given the substantial linkages the Kremlin retains with CARs. A calibrated Indian-Russian coordination in Central Asia can also help overcome the latent dissonance that has lately crept in their strategic outlook.
Meanwhile, given the Wuhan Spirit-led ongoing positive momentum in India-China ties, the SCO can be a platform for India to reset ties with China. Beijing’s ongoing and unpredictable standoff with the U.S. can be leveraged to build greater Chinese sensitivity to India’ core concerns since a confrontation with New Delhi can further muddy China’s external strategic environment. In this context, it is in Beijing’s interest to prevent India from aligning its strategic priorities with that of the U.S., particularly in India being an inherent partner of the American policy to balance China. Therefore, the recent India-China joint programme to train Afghan diplomats is a reflection of not only their convergence of interests to stabilise the region but also the benefits of a détente in their strategic outlook towards each other. China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui has stated, “India and China shared similar views on the war-torn country, including the need to support an Afghan-led and owned peace and reconciliation process and fight terrorism.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was also quoted as saying, “the launch of this programme marks an important step forward. It reflects the closer coordination and cooperation between our two countries on regional affairs and represents a positive development in China-India relations.” While it is likely that India’s cooperation and contestation with China will go hand in hand, it is, nevertheless, in both their interest to comprehensively engage each other. With India seeking sustained high growth, and China transforming its economy to avoid the middle-income trap, both will gain by preserving strategic peace and forging increased mutual dependence between them. It is imperative that India and China set up a modus vivendi for the 21st century to be viewed through the lens of an Asia century. This sentiment was aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue wherein he stated: “Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century.”
In the same vein, SCO provides New Delhi with an opportunity to constructively engage Pakistan regionally while at the same time neutralise Islamabad’s negative moves in the region. A major impediment in India’s expanded engagement with Eurasia remains the strategic denial of direct land connectivity between India and Afghanistan and beyond by Islamabad. SCO’s emphasis on promoting economic cooperation, trade, energy and regional connectivity can, perhaps, unblock India’s access to Eurasia, and provide a fillip to projects like TAPI and CASAREM which seek to bridge the gap between an energy-rich and energy deficit region. Notably, India imports close to 80 per cent of its hydrocarbon requirements, the majority of it from the volatile West Asian region. This has led India to seek energy security in the resource-rich Central Asian region, and build its trade and transport linkages through bilateral and regional mechanisms. With Afghanistan’s membership of SAARC and an Observer State in SCO, it is theoretically possible to envision an arc of advantage — a new Silk Route of energy and economic stakes connecting the Ferghana Valley to the Mekong Delta — should peace and stability return to the region.
In this context, India has expressed its commitment to connectivity projects that are open, transparent, economically sustainable and fiscally responsible. It has also articulated the view that developmental finance for connectivity projects must respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity as well as the environment. And, connectivity projects should highlight the priorities of the host nations. India’s participation in the International North-South Transport Corridor and Ashgabat Agreement, and development of Chabahar Port appear to be guided by these principles.
Overall, India’s presence in SCO can provide better triangular relations between India, Russia and China to address new security challenges meaningfully, enhance infrastructural development projects, and create a network of regional oil and gas pipelines for the larger benefit of Central and South Asian region. This also blends in with PM Modi’s agenda of sustainable development of the region. Notably, at the 2018 SCO summit, the Indian Prime Minister had articulated the foundational dimension of Eurasia being ‘SECURE’. The letters in the word SECURE are:
S for Security of our citizens,
E for Economic development for all,
C for Connecting the region,
U for Unite our people,
R for Respect for Sovereignty and Integrity, and
E for Environment protection.
III. Opportunities for Expanding India’s Engagement with SCO: Forging a Common Vision
As a new full-time member, the onus is on New Delhi to carve out a meaningful role for itself and contribute constructively to the SCO’s expanded agenda. In its attempt to forge a common vision for the future, India does have a head start in the form of a benign and friendly image, growing economic profile, vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, and more importantly, the desire to qualitatively and quantitatively increase its engagement with the region. However, it will still need to adapt and adopt innovative ways of interaction in sync with the ongoing regional strategic realignments. In this context, a critique of India’s Central Asian outreach in the past has been the episodic nature of its engagement. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the region in 2015 and the robust political, strategic and economic interaction thereafter, however, do indicate a quantum shift in India’s commitment to play a bigger role in building regional synergies.
The Indian Prime Minister did lay out the scope of India’s contribution to SCO at the 2015 Ufa summit – “we will work together with SCO for sustainable development and combating climate change……. combat terrorism and extremism that is a rising threat to the entire region….. support efforts to create an environment that eases barriers and facilitates trade and investments in the region….. and would lend our support to improving transportation and communication networks in the region.” India’s focus, therefore, appears to be on expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
In this context, India is uniquely positioned to contribute towards these mutually beneficial projects — a fact acknowledged by the majority of SCO states. Notably, India is expected to maintain an annual growth rate over 6 per cent for the foreseeable future, and a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers report projects India to be the 3rd largest global economy in PPP terms by 2030. These economic indicators increase the attractiveness of India being a stable economic partner for SCO countries to fast-track Eurasia’s regional economic development.
A. Combining Strengths to Tackle Emerging Regional Security Threats
Today, terrorism is not limited to one particular area, having spread its tentacles to South, Central and the West Asian region. It has also morphed — new actors and forces connect more easily through terror networks, and use social media to recruit, train and finance their extremist activities.
In this context, the drawdown of Western forces from Afghanistan and the rise of Islamic State (IS) with its stated intention to create ‘Khorasan’ have added a new explosive dimension to the region’s security landscape. In many ways, security and stability of Eurasia are linked to peace in Afghanistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has shown signs of revival while the Taliban and IS have expanded their presence in northern parts of the country bordering CARs.  Similarly, the Al-Qaeda linked Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), comprising largely of Uighur jihadist members, has indicated its willingness to join the Afghan Taliban, apart from being active in Syria. This raises the prospect of spillover of violence into the Eurasian heartland, given the regional terror groups linkages. Central Asia also remains vulnerable due to the many drug trafficking routes that traverse through the region. This assumes even greater significance given the ties between drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime. Notably, the largely secular CARs have witnessed a growing shift towards Political Islam. Several fault lines, ranging from weakened socio-economic state structures to inter-ethnic discords, have led to increased radicalisation, particularly among the regional youth. This is has seen more than 2,000 Central Asians joining the IS. The Ferghana Valley remains a hotbed of religious extremism.
Similarly, the potential base of Khorasan in the Af-Pak area can be the pivot to spread IS influence in Kashmir. IS has already threatened to attack India, kidnapped Indians in the Middle East and indoctrinated a few. As such, the prospect of IMU, IS, Taliban, TIP and other extremist outfits coordinating their militant activities in Eurasia raise the spectre of an arc of regional instability. It is, therefore, in India and SCO’s interest that Afghanistan does not regress into a hub of terrorism.
India, as a victim of terrorism, has been developing its skills at the national and state level and cooperating with other countries at the regional and international level to fight this menace. It has articulated the belief that no country can fight terrorism alone, and that only a well-coordinated, multilateral and integrated effort can tackle this problem. To counter these threats and challenges, India can share its experience with the region. In the post 26/11 phase, India’s counter-terrorism infrastructure has been strengthened. India can offer expertise on policy aspects, train people and provide technological solutions. India has niche capabilities in satellite, bio and information technologies which can help in collecting and analysing intelligence that can, in turn, be employed for counter-terrorism and human development. Thus, India can offer customised solutions if required.
India’s desire to strengthen its security cooperation with SCO was noted by its External Affairs Minister during the 2014 SC summit meeting, where she said, “we are keen to deepen our security-related cooperation with the SCO in general and with the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure, in particular.” In this context, India has actively supported the SCO Qingdao Summit Leaders’ ‘Appeal to Youth’ against radicalisation of youth, participated in the SCO Peace Mission 2018 counter-terrorism exercises and attempted to strengthen its coordination with RATS. It is also likely to co-host the next meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group along with Afghanistan.
B. Strengthen Connectivity, Trade, Economic and Energy Linkages
The foundation of India’s economic outreach to Inner Asia is based on its 2012 Connect Central Asia Policy with its focus on the 4 C’s – Commerce, Connectivity, Consular and Community. These are aimed at building long-term partnerships, both bilaterally and collectively. India’s willingness to share its unique experience in banking, finance, Information Technology (IT), education, telecommunications, health and agriculture with CARs can be leveraged to build mutually beneficial development partnerships. Given the regional economic slowdown, brought on by the devaluation of the rouble, India, with its long-term positive economic outlook, can help stabilise the region. India has implemented several projects involving IT excellence, entrepreneurship development and industrial training centres in Central Asia. Some of India’s core strengths that can be leveraged to expand India’s engagement with SCO involve:
Pharmaceutical and Health Care: One of India’s biggest strength is its niche capabilities in the pharma, health care and hospitality sectors. It’s pharmaceutical companies have much to offer to the Eurasian region, including affordable medicines. Other areas of collaboration can include telemedicine and medical tourism. Notably, India has emerged as an attractive destination for medical tourism for regional countries.
Green Technology and Bio-Fuels: Green technology is an area where India is investing heavily, particularly in solar, bio and wind energy. India is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance with its secretariat based in the outskirts of New Delhi. India can contribute, collaborate and share its experience with the regional countries on adopting clean, renewable energy. These capabilities can gain traction on account of environmental issues being a serious cause of concern for the entire region. Given the successful India-Russia cooperation on ash damps, it has been suggested that this project could become one of the pilot projects for India to cooperate with SCO.
Education: India has a robust education and training curriculum that can be offered to the SCO member states. Its technology institutes, business schools, and banking and financial institutions can be of relevance for the region. In this context, India’s successful tele-education and telemedicine initiatives in Africa can be a model for the Eurasian region as well. Similarly, New Delhi’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme with the Central Asian countries, which seeks to build capacity in the region, can be further expanded.
Culture: Given India’s historical and civilizational linkages with the Eurasian countries, culture can be a vital area where India can contribute to the SCO processes. Old regional links can be revived in order to frame confidence-building measures. Cultural exchange programmes, in the mould of ‘SCO Our Common Home’, ‘Days of Open Doors’, SCO Film Festival and SCO World Heritage Exhibition, that foster greeter people to people contacts and exchange of ideas can be expanded. Indian art, music, dance and movies continue to be popular in the region. India’s proposal to host the SCO exhibition on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ in 2019 is a step in the right direction. Notably, Buddhism had spread from India to Central Asia with Buddhist stupas being discovered at Dalvarzintepe near Bukhara and Tashkent being named after a local Buddha altar.
Infrastructure and Energy: India and SCO members share a similar objective of developing multi-modal transport and transit routes, effectively linking markets of Central Asia to South Asia, South East Asia and Europe, to boost intra and inter-regional trade and investment. The need of the hour, therefore, is to build pan-Asian cooperation. India is already working to enhance its connectivity with the region through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The present government has recently outlined its vision for unified connectivity among the South Asian countries. In this context, cooperation between SARCC and SCO to enhance connectivity and build energy pipelines will go a long way in bridging distances. The first meeting of the Heads of Railways of the SCO Member States held in September 2018 highlights the endless possibilities of shortening the prevailing distances. Indian companies have, meanwhile, built considerable expertise in building refineries. Indian infrastructure and oil companies can cooperate with CARs, China, Russia, Iran, Mongolia and other member states to boost ties in the regional framework. The SCO’s deliberations on forming an Energy Club, in order to bring together the regional producers and consumers, hold strategic relevance for an energy deficit India.
Disaster Management: Given the multiple disasters, both natural and man-made, that India has faced, the country has developed robust disaster management practices covering a broad spectrum of worst-case scenarios. These are being further augmented by niche Indian advancements in space with satellite mapping and weather forecasting helping prevent and mitigate disasters. India’s skills can be of relevance for SCO members who have had to tackle critical environmental challenges in the past.
IV. Future of SCO
In less than two decades, SCO has emerged as an eminent Eurasian construct. Its geostrategic pillar, which prioritises tackling security threats, remains the most enduring fulcrum of its membership. While the organisation’s focus has expanded to build economic, connectivity and energy synergies, yet the results have been mixed. An evolving objective of SCO now appears to increase not just its regional but also its global strategic and economic profile. The inclusion of new members reflects a growing pan-Asian acceptance of the organisation beyond Eurasia. Against the backdrop of shifting sands of global economic and political heft from the West to the East, the SCO has morphed into a relevant pillar of this change. However, for the 21st century to be truly recognised as an Asian century, an effective regional cooperative mechanism would need to be one of its key pivots, and, arguably, the SCO can be a key organisation by the Asians, of the Asians and for the Asians.
The key challenge for SCO will be to navigate the evolving regional and global strategic landscape, marked by unpredictability and turbulence, in order to unlock its true regional potential. Recalibration of traditional alliances, the formation of new partnerships, and undermining 21st century’s foundational pillars, including globalisation which has acquired a pejorative connotation, are being played out at multiple spaces, including in Eurasia.
Given their dominant position in the SCO, their existential stakes in the region and ongoing rapprochement, it is likely that Russia and China will seek to consolidate continental Eurasia. However, the organisation’s inter and intra-regional contradictions, including the evolving asymmetric Moscow-China ties, can inherently limit the Sino-Russian calculus. A key vector of SCO’s future will, therefore, depend upon the equilibrium in Russia-China ties. Notably, this equilibrium or asymmetry, competition or cooperation, and being a partner or rival is linked to a large extent on the triangular Russia-China-U.S. relationship. For both Moscow and Beijing, their ongoing standoff with Washington has compelled them to seek greater synergies not just among themselves but also with others to navigate the Western pressure. This may lead to a more Sino-Russian accommodative approach towards regional players.
In this context, the manner in which the SCO will accommodate the concerns and interests of smaller CARs will be vital in shaping the organisation’s future. The Central Asian Republics remain fearful of a closer strategic embrace by Russia and apprehensive of China’s growing economic pre-eminence which has cast a shadow on their local economies. Their focus on intra-regional cooperation and exploration of new partnerships to increase their space for strategic manoeuvre highlight the centrifugal dynamics in play. Similarly, SCO members have, in the past, expressed fears of the organisation being held hostage to India’s and Pakistan’s adversarial relationship, and their fears would likely have worsened in recent times.
In the meantime, the organisation’s goals to create a web of trade, economic, connectivity and energy arteries may hit a brick wall in the face of the region’s evolving economic dynamics which is being increasingly dominated by and dependent on a singular power with all roads leading to and from Beijing. This raises long term questions on whether these linkages are transparent, economically sustainable, and fiscally responsible, and reflect the priorities of the host nations. In the 18th Qingdao SCO meeting, India did not endorse the grouping’s declaration on the Belt and the Road Initiative (BRI) since the BRI is centred on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which goes through areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). In order to build a cooperative spirit, the SCO would need to accommodate the concerns of all members who interest may not always converge although, in principle, ‘better connectivity can help nations overcome political differences by conceiving of their borders as bridges, not barriers, by better leveraging their geographic proximity for mutual benefit, by optimally utilising the vast resources of the region, and enhancing their capacities and competitiveness to more effectively engage with the international system’. The key challenge for SCO, given the enormous stakes, therefore, will be to find the proverbial sweet spot of regional cooperation.
It is likely that the immediate priority for cooperation will be in areas where the majority of SCO member states interests converge, and they can pool their strengths. These involve fighting terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. Even then, the vital question is will SCO, which is not a military organisation, find common ground to intervene militarily in Afghanistan if the country is on the verge of collapse?
Consequently, while the jury on SCO is still out yet its potential remains immense. The organisation will likely continue to remain a principal vector of Eurasia strategic architecture.
Meanwhile, India, as a new member, will need to formulate an appropriate Eurasian strategy. India’s regional interests stem from its goals to partner the CARs in sustainable nation-building through development partnerships, maintaining their sovereignty, preventing the region from being a hub of terrorism and extremism, and retaining Central Asia’s vector of being a bridge between Asia and Europe for building trade, transport, connectivity, and economic linkages. At the same time, it is also in India’s interest that this region does not evolve into a geopolitical chessboard of great game rivalries.
In this context, several of SCO’s initiatives have the potential to address these issues. Given the fact that decisions in SCO are made on the basis of consensus, India is now in a better position to advance its interests in its extended neighbourhood which, as an observer, it was unable to do so.
Today, India is also in a unique position to leverage the contradictions in great power rivalry. It is the only country within the Russia-India-China triangle which has a fairly positive relationship with the U.S. While this could be a challenge for New Delhi in SCO, particularly if the organisation morphs into an anti-U.S. grouping, yet the opportunity could be to leverage better ties with each big power to improve ties with others in this illustrative quadrilateral. Notably, India has improved its links will all SCO members, with the exception of Pakistan, in the last two years. This highlights the potential to reset great power relations with both Russia and China, with cooperation and not confrontation being the pivot of regional strategic orientation. Notably, the Wuhan spirit of cooperative engagement has seen even China adopt a fairly neutral position on India’s retaliation against Pakistan in response to Pulwama terror attacks.
Therefore, within the framework of SCO, India will have to make every possible effort to not only strengthen regional cooperation but also utilise SCO summit meetings to cement bilateral engagements with SCO member states.
Nevertheless, the challenges that need to be navigated, including the new equation of growing Russia-China-Pakistan triangular convergence of interests, remain on the horizon. This has seen even Russia — India’s traditional partner — adopt a more nuanced position on New Delhi’s key strategic concerns.
With the stakes being high, deft diplomacy in an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable yet opportunistic world would be called upon to preserve and promote India’s vital interests. Looking North is now more imperative than ever before.
*Rajorshi Roy Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
From our partner RIAC
Discussion of the authors on this theme with Amb Jayant Prasad, former Director-General, IDSA.
The two energy projects – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, and the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) which is expected to bring Tajik and Kyrgyz hydropower to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and evolve into the Central Asia-South Asia Regional Energy Market (CASAREM), once the planned Central Asian hydro potential comes on stream, can facilitate a region-wide energy exchange.
 Ibid (14)
 Meena Singh Roy and Rajorshi Roy, “Managing Threats and Challenges of Terrorism in the Eurasian Region”, in Asian Strategic Review 2016 – Terrorism: Emerging Trends, (ed) S.D. Muni and Vivek Chadha, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2016.
This quote, attributed to Amb Jayant Prasad, Director General of IDSA, was made during his interaction with the authors.
Asia’s Increasing Security Concerns: Special Focus on India-China
In a globalized world system like never before the rising powers like India and China has in the recent times more and more focuses on the maritime security in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean region. As the thrust of power shifted from the West to the Asian countries there has been greater competitive focuses between India and China. The best way which the emerged power tries is to strike a conflict between the emerging powers and rightly so whereby both these emerging economies of Asia have been trying to prove its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. United States have been backing India because of the assertive nature of China. The Asian security to a great deal depends on the security cooperation between India and China along with United States the world hegemonic power which has been influencing the Asian region to a great deal.
The major security challenges according to China in Asia have been its positioning in the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and also the nuclear issues of Iran. The Korean Peninsula is the only area where the Cols War situation still persists. Adding to these North Korea being equipped with missile power and nuclear power may add to the challenges to Asia’s peace and order. China has always been apprehensive that a third country such as the USA may use Korea which is a neighbor of China to challenge its security in the present times. China has also been facing various conflicts in the South China Sea with various Southeast Asian countries and also Russia, and India. It has been in confrontation with Philippines over the nine dash lines involving the Scarborough Shoal and the huge involvement of the UNCLOS to rule out China having conquered most of the territory. China having been an emerging power is trying to acquire its energy security in the South China Region which has been the evidence of its possible increasing assertiveness and influence in the South China Sea region. China wants to prevent Iran from showcasing the nuclear arms which may result in the increase in the price of oils in the world market and would be a major challenge to the Asian security and peace.
India has been infested with the security challenges which are no different from other Asian countries like that of South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam and so on. Major points of concern for India has been its unresolved territorial disputes, terrorism, maintaining economic prosperity, procuring energy needs, and so on, sovereignty issues. Indian has till date various sovereignty issues which had its roots from the times of the British colonization. Having to deal with versatile ethnicity, language, culture and religious preferences India is infested with various conflicts and issues internally which puts a challenge to its security needs. Moreover, it has serious territorial confrontations with Pakistan and China whereby Kashmir, Aksai Chin and so on form a major area of concerns. India has also been infested with “cross border terrorism” whereby Pakistan has been blamed by India several times. India had accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agencies for training, guiding and aiding for terrorist attacks in the Indian territories. Moreover, India had also internal terrorist and anti-national groups such as Maoists and ULFA which continuously puts a threat to the internal security dynamic of Indian system. Another very critical concern for India is its economic development which is essential to reduce poverty in the country and to provide with their basic needs. Also, technological advancement is required for the infrastructural development of the country. India is also in the dire need of preventing its climate change strategies along with the Global Commons and also to have greater access to energy pipelines to fulfil its energy needs. Such examples have been the TAPI pipelines. Also, to India China has been a major security threat because of the possible emerging power and its assertive nature in the Asian region. Both these countries have overlooked its areas of common interests to build in a competitive and conflicting relation between each other which may be prove to be a complete destroyer to the Asian peace and security relations. China has been continuously increasing its naval capabilities in the Indian Ocean Region and both these countries have been at standoffs at various situations to avoid only an armed attack several times.
In the present scenario of Covid-19 outbreak there have been greater suspicions and a chance of complete reconsiderations of foreign policies of various countries with that of China. Adding to these the China-India standoff which happened in the Galwan valley has also added to the security challenges and threat to the Asian region altogether. The situations have been complicated as the thrust and responsibility of spreading the epidemic have been completely pointed towards China as it was the emerging country for the viral disease. Along with India, United States have also been in a state of serious doubting towards the intentions of China in this pandemic situation which has put the whole world order in a serious turmoil. On the other hand, taking lead to the situations of Covid-19 China has started increasing is naval power and forces in the Indian Ocean region which have proved to be a major security concern for India.
India-China relations is a major yardstick to count on the security issues of various other Asian countries which have both traditional and non-traditional challenges to maintain stability, peace and security in the Asian region. The Asian countries have been suffering from challenges of ethnic conflicts, territorial integrity, climate change issues and also human rights and concerns of environmental protection. Adding to these economic development and energy needs have always been the rising concerns in the Asian region. Asian region has been characterized by multifaceted security challenges and needs which have remained unsolved at various instances. An all-inclusive peace, stability and strategic approach is the need of the hour to resolve the security needs of the Asian region. Being the emerging powers of Asia, China and India should focus on the common interest areas and bring about a climate of cooperation and peace rather than that of conflict and competition and prevent the apprehensions of a possible armed conflict in this region.
Maintaining Command of the Sea: Maritime Doctrines of Pakistan and India
Maritime and naval component is an important part of political, economic and military domain of a maritime nation. This component enhances a states role in foreign policy, diplomacy, economy and especially in military domain to further its national interests. Pakistan and India apart from being a hostile neighbors with over 3,323 km of international land border also share maritime space in Indian Ocean Region. To ensure robust presence and control of the maritime frontiers it’s the responsibility of the navy and its maritime forces to establish the writ of the state in alignment of national interests. For this purpose to understand and devise the role and duties of the navy a doctrine is established which acts as a anchor to establish the norms of the naval and maritime components and develop understanding among tri services (Army and Air-Force) and also of one state’s national maritime objectives with other states. Thus, for this purpose the establishment of a naval doctrine is necessary for a maritime nation. Pakistan being a responsible maritime state has published its own maritime doctrine termed as “Preserving Freedom of Seas” in December 2018.India on the other hand enjoys largest coastline of 7,516 km among any other maritime state with its blue water navy ambitions. The Indian Maritime Doctrine which was published in 2009 highlights the naval ambitions of yet a developing state which causes grave concerns and challenges to Pakistan’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region. Thus, a comparative analysis of both these doctrines underlines the aims and objectives of how both these states perceives the space of Indian Ocean Region.
Indian Ocean Region
Indian Ocean Region is the worlds third largest water body which comprises an area of 65.556 million sq km and have a coastline of 66,526 km. The IOR lies in one of the worlds most contested region which is rich in natural resources including fossil fuels, oil and gas, fisheries and untampered ores and minerals. The IOR has four most crucial access points or choke points namely water ways of Suez Canal (in Egypt), Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Strait of Malacca (located between Malaysia and Indonesia) and Bab-al-Mandeb (located near Djibouti and Yemen). The area is currently facing various turmoil’s and challenges including civil unrest, state conflicts and is in the lime-light of the major power politics and strategic interests. The northern part of Indian ocean region ferries 70% of sea borne oil trade and about 50% of sea borne trade.
Pakistan and India both share a significant importance in the international politics due to their geographical positioning and relevancy to major land and maritime routes. Pakistan enjoys an area of 350 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone in Indian Ocean Region, while, India maintains a significant larger jurisdiction over 2.8 million sq km of space in Indian Ocean. With over two naval engagements of 1965-1971 and disputed territories in the region including Sir Creek dispute, both of these South Asian states hold Indian Ocean as a vital component of their strategic apparatus in political, diplomatic and military domains. The economic importance attached to the mercantile component of the Indian Ocean Region thrives the economy of not only Pakistan and India but also the world at large with the onslaught of advance sea borne container freights and other vessels.
Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine 2018
The Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Navy was published in December 2018 during Maritime Security Workshop which was held at Karachi. This doctrine was published after a research of seven years by the academicians of Naval War College. The doctrine is a comprehensive document on issues pertaining to the maritime affairs and role of Pakistan Navy in mitigating them in the light of national interests. The main role as highlighted by the document is to protect the vital maritime interests, ensure national security and mitigate threats posed by any sea based source, economic viability and implement vital foreign policy tools and diplomacy through the naval component. Other major factors highlighted by the doctrine highlights the commitments of Pakistan at the international level and the responsible role played by Pakistan to fulfill its role to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region under its Area of Responsibility (AoR).
According to the document, the role of the doctrine is to establish particular set of principles which are advocated by major policy narratives acquired through experience and provide guidance pertaining to certain issues. The purpose of the doctrine should be to highlight the important factors, give accurate and authentic information, while, remaining flexible with continuous change. The doctrine helps in analyzing and managing change, the shared principles and practices, and is the force behind the institutional development which pursue fundamental national objectives. The interplay between the policy, strategy and doctrine is based upon the national interests and objectives enunciated in the constitutional directives issued by political leadership.
The Naval and Maritime Strategy
According to the document the naval strategy deals with the aspect of employment and deployment of the naval forces in time of war and peace. While, the maritime strategy comprises of a broader domain encompassing the issues pertaining to maritime ecosystem, economy, trade, security and safety, threats and opportunities emanating from the maritime domain. The economic component include the sea borne trade, fishery and marine resources, natural resources, while, the threats include sea borne human, drug trafficking, gun-running, piracy and poaching.
The naval component of the strategy comprise upon the employment and deployment of naval fire power against surface, sub-surface, air and ashore based threats. The domain of the naval strategy also comprises of the electromagnetic and cyber domain also which are neutralized by various hardware assets and human capital having technological edge over the adversary. This technological edge is ensured by maintaining advanced cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, amphibious assault ships and other fleet auxiliaries.
Foreign Policy Tool
The maritime forces maintained by a state should be flexible, versatile, and sustainable giving them mobility and readiness to operate when and where needed as the need arises, thus, ensuring the naval supremacy of a maritime power nation. Moreover, navy is an important component of the foreign policy ensuring the pursue of entailed objectives such as freedom of navigation, extension of alliances through friendly port visits, aiding in humanitarian and disaster relief operations among others.
International Maritime Regimes
The interaction of states on the high seas is regulated and controlled by various international regimes mainly United Nations Convention Laws of Seas (UNCLOS-1982). The role of the international maritime regimes is crucial to regulating the sea space between the states. Pakistan being a responsible member of the international community is a member of various cooperative, economic and security regimes. Regimes such as Indian Ocean Maritime Affairs Cooperation which was ratified in June 1983 focuses upon ocean governance and management. The Indian Ocean Rim Association which was signed in Mauritius in 1997 focuses upon regional technological and economic cooperation in maritime domain among member states. The International Maritime Conference such as AMAN are held biennially from 2007 by Pakistan to promote cooperation among regional naval forces and share same sense of security towards the maritime threats and challenges. Western Pacific Naval Symposium emphasizes upon pragmatic cooperation between the major states and has developed code of unplanned encounters in sea among the member states which ensures safety and develop bilateral relations.
Maritime Security Initiatives
The maritime security initiatives were readily taken in the aftermath of the 9/11 incident in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the international water ways. These initiatives ensure that the sea is safe from all threats and challenges. These initiatives comprises of issues relating to conventional maritime security issues, state sovereignty, non-traditional maritime security problems, terrorism, territorial disputes and human and drug trafficking issues. The initiatives comprises of International Ship Port Facility Security Code ISPS, which was launched in December 2002, focuses on security issues pertaining to port facilities and maintaining good order at sea. Other initiatives such as Automatic Identification System AIS is similar to Identification of Friend or Foe IFF but on sea regulating the movement of sea vessels and personnel onboard. Other multifaceted maritime security initiatives include Secure Freight Initiatives SFI, Proliferation Security Initiative PSI and Container Security Initiative CSI. These initiatives monitor sea based cargo and personnel movement through various checks and balances using non-intrusive equipment and optical character recognition instruments.
The progressive rise in the economic power centers especially in Asia-Pacific from trans-Atlantic has raised the stakes for the maritime component of trade, geo-politics and strategic dominance in the region. The threats in the region include jeopardizing the maritime trade due to political purposes, sea lanes of communications, combat restricted exclusive economic zones. The increasing maritime threats include smuggling, human and drug trafficking, gun-running. Moreover, the initiation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC is the pilot project to enhance the economic importance of the Gwadar port and Pakistan in the region.
Climate Change and Sea Level Rise
Climate change is a considerable threat which is dramatically impacting the coastal domain, increasing the sea level, changing the wave patterns, soil sedimentation and unpredictable storm events. These alterations impact the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem and also threatens the coastal regions.
Collaborative Maritime Security
The collaborative maritime security initiatives include Pakistan’s active participation in the Combined Task Force 150 and 151 which has been regularly commanded by Pakistan Navy. These task force ensures that the water ways in the Northern, Western and Central Indian Ocean are kept free from piracy and trafficking, ensuring a safe environment to the economic trade and free movement of sea freight.
Command Of The Sea
The command of the sea is projected through maritime power which enables a nation to control the sea through various spectrums of threats including surface, air, electromagnetic and cyber domains. The naval strategies are adopted by various sea based platforms which perform naval blockade, Force benign role such as ensuring balancing and avoiding head on collision with a greater enemy, naval diplomacy, coercion, gun-boat diplomacy and deterrence at conventional, sub-conventional and nuclear level among many others.
Maritime Command and Control
Maritime command and control is ensured by having a situational domain awareness across the sea based on technological advanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition ISRTA systems. Thus, the domain awareness helps in establishing a more robust and flexible strike element according to changing threat environment. The contemporary increase in sub-conventional maritime threats has forced navy to converge its focus upon threats generating from non-state actors either at land or sea.
The nuclearization of the Indian Ocean by the adversary has raised the stakes in the region, while, the adversary is still instigating in sub-conventional warfare under the cover of nuclear umbrella. Thus, the deliberate desire of the enemy to keep the conventional theater alive calls upon changing the apprehensions regarding the conventional threat. The Pakistan Navy considers that the prevalence of deterrence across all the spectrums must be ensured and upon the failure of the deterrence the protection of maritime interests must be ensured at all costs. For this purpose Pakistan Navy has adopted the approach of provocative, and flexible mobility using the sea space, regulating attrition from multi-dimension cause dilution of enemy forces. Lastly the approaches include hit first with maximum effects and minimum application of force. The nature of naval warfare in coming era will require a robust and flexible force posture ensuring stealthy capabilities. The high-tempo and high-intensity diversion and disruption of sea lanes of communications of the enemy using submarine component of the force to dominate the war theater are among the major priorities of the navy.
The future warfare environment would be in a network centric environment which would be prone to cyber threats upon the major critical infrastructure. Navy is working on ensuring that the force is ready to overcome the future challenges in coming years ranging from information wars to cyber threats and ensuring interoperability of land and air-forces in synchronization with navy thus ensuring accomplishment of goals as desired by political leadership.
The Comparative Analysis of Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine with Indian Maritime Doctrine
The maritime doctrine of India was published in 2009, which propagated the increasing role of Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region highlighting the Blue Water Navy ambitions of India. The doctrine of Pakistan Navy contrasts and contradicts the Indian Naval apprehensions at various points. While, both of the doctrines ensure to maintain the conventional and nuclear deterrence and ensure capability enhancement to overcome the upcoming information and cyber warfare domains. The Indian Naval doctrine undermines the chances of any Force-Benign and force balancing posture and subsequently highlights the of the role of maintaining a strategic superiority in the region. While, the maritime doctrine of Pakistan ensures that it is a responsible state by complying to international commitments pertaining to maritime domain. Indian Navy on the other hand does not highlight and discuss the importance of the maritime security initiatives altogether. Thus, this aspect highlights the Indian Naval ambitions to acquire superiority in the region.The contrasts in the doctrines of India and Pakistan are there to persist, but there are various similarities along various points relating to the command of sea and on war. The highlighted points include the realization of prevalence of sub-conventional warfare and the rapid change in the battle field and role of the navy in terms of combating various threats. The role of the navy has enhanced from maintaining control of the sea at non-conventional low intensity conflicts to conventional and all out nuclear conflicts including the total-war scenarios.
To maintain strategic stability and effective control over the maritime domain it is recommended that Pakistan should engage in effective diplomatic relations with states in Indian Ocean Region especially Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar and engage in enhancing the naval capabilities of these states, lease naval assets and deploy listening posts in the region to maintain surveillance over Indian naval movements. This ambit could be further expanded to Strait of Malacca especially Malaysia, Indonesia and in Strait of Hormuz due to its economic and strategic importance as more than 80% of energy resources for Pakistan flow through the Persian Gulf. Pakistan should diplomatically engage Gulf States especially Oman which hosts Indian Naval listening post in Ras al Hadd to monitor the potential hostile naval activates of India Navy in specific which has enhanced its patrolling in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. For maintaining an effective maritime domain awareness in the region it is recommended that Pakistan Navy should develop an Information Fusion Center (IFC) in the region including allies states which would enable to maintain a joint maritime domain awareness, further enhance the ambit of its Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP) and Amman Naval Exercises. This would enable the navy to develop a comprehensive network centric capability which would act as force multiplier and enabler for the navy to obtain its objectives as described in the maritime doctrine effectively. The strategic competition in the region and the changing strategic and military alliances following formulation of US Indo-Pacific Command following multiple strategic agreements between India and USA following 2+2 Dialogue, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA),India US Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOSA), Basic Exchange Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue would enhance Indian naval capabilities to project its blue water ambitions not only in the Indian Ocean Region alone but beyond that especially in South China Sea and Persian Gulf.Indian also have developed its Information Fusion Center for Indian Ocean region to enhance its maritime domain awareness with collaboration with regional and international partners including US and Australia in December 2018. Thus, following materialization of these agreements especially COMCASA would enable India to use not only US and NATO maritime domain awareness assets but also the real time and exclusive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in potential areas of interest in Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea vis-à-vis Pakistan and China’s naval capabilities. Thus, the emerging strategic picture following contemporary shifts in the region especially in maritime domain would pose a considerable threat to viability of maintaining command of the sea for Pakistan in its area of interest. For this reason Pakistan should develop and enhance considerable force structure, establish and deepen its strategic relations with the regional allies mainly China for enhancing its naval capabilities and maintain command of the sea according to its national interests and to counter the threats posed from Indian Blue Water ambitions.
The Indian Ocean Region is a shared space between not only the two South Asian neighbors but also by the whole world which is connected by the intricate web of land, sea, air and cyber links. The role of doctrines is to ensure stability and maintain rationality among the state actors in their dealings at various levels of analysis. The maritime doctrines of both Pakistan and India ensure that while they both long for peace and stability in the region they will not undermine their national security at any cost. To ensure peace and stability in the region, Pakistan has showcased its commitments to international community ensuring that it’s a responsible nation. While, the Indian on the other hand with their aspirations of becoming sole regional power are undermining their commitment to peace and security in the region. While, the trade and economics are a crucial part of the maritime domain Pakistan is working on readily to reinvigorate its economic resources to pursue its national interests accordingly. It is advised that India with its power ambitions may act a regional destabilizer that would enforce Pakistan to take provocative steps to maintain strategic balance.
 “The Exclusive Economic Zone of the Seas around India,” Geography and You, January 24, 2018, https://www.geographyandyou.com/exclusive-economic-zone-seas-around-india/, Accessed on December 19, 2019.
“President launches first Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan,” Pakistan Today, December 21, 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/12/21/president-launches-first-maritime-doctrine-of-pakistan/ (Accessed on December 19, 2019).
 Naval Headquarters, Islamabad, ”Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Preserving Freedom of Seas,” 2018.
 Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Navy), “Indian Maritime Doctrine,” 2009.
 “Indian Listening Station In Oman Monitoring Pakistan’s Naval Communications,”Aamen, February 27, 2013, https://www.aame.in/2013/02/indian-listening-station-in-oman.html
SOHAIL A. AZMIE,“Regional maritime security patrols: Pak Navy’s initiative for preserving freedom of the seas,” The Nation, June 2, 2019, https://nation.com.pk/02-Jun-2019/regional-maritime-security-patrols-pak-navy-s-initiative-for-preserving-freedom-of-the-seas
 Ankit Panda,“What the Recently Concluded US-India COMCASA Means,” The Diplomat, September 09, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/what-the-recently-concluded-us-india-comcasa-means/
Patrick M. Cronin, “US Asia Strategy: Beyond the Quad,” The Diplomat, March 09, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/us-asia-strategy-beyond-the-quad/
Dinakar Peri, What is LEMOA?,The Hindu, August 30, 2016,https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/What-is-LEMOA/article15604647.ecein
 Pradip R Sagar, “Indian Navy launches Information Fusion Centre to boost maritime security,” The Week, December 22, 2018, https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2018/12/22/Indian-Navy-launches-Information-Fusion-Centre-to-boost-maritime-security.html.
Gray Zone Conflicts in Asia Pacific
The Asia Pacific region holds front row seat in geo-political, economic, and strategic issues in international relations. The pivot to Asia policy of the west following shift of economic and technological base from the Atlantic to the Pacific region which tends to challenge and shift the global balance of power, western led international democratic system, following the economic rise of China. Thus, the emerging challenge put west in a precarious situation in which they felt to defend their hegemony and control over the region. For this purpose the west mainly US called upon using is diplomatic, economic and military elements of national power to contain the rise of China and maintain its hegemony over the region. Thus, the emerging tug of war for power domination in the region have given rise to gray zone conflict in which both sides are engaged in disrupting activities in between the threshold of diplomatic norms and total war. Either it be ongoing trade war, diplomatic and political or military coercion to a level which is short off any direct engagement leading to war and carried out to acquire veiled national interests. Thus, to analyze the gray zone conflicts in the Asia Pacific we can analyze and unfolding increasing hostility in South China Sea region. The ongoing US-China Tariff wars, increase in military diplomacy by the US in Asia Pacific under containment of China policy, use of coercive diplomacy and sanctions by the actors involved. Thus, analyzing and taking these dimensions into consideration we can categorize the contemporary events and policies adopted by the major powers along the sidelines of gray zone tactics.
Gray Zone Conflict
The changing nature of warfare strategies are based on engaging the enemy with an indirect approach which is above the line of normal diplomatic practices and below the threshold of an all-out war. This scenario has been described by various scholars as a Gray Zone Conflict in the strategic studies lexicon which is broad manner means the activities which are conducted beyond the steady state deterrence in an attempt to obtain security objectives without resorting to direct use of sizeable force in conventional manner. The actors involved use various tools ranging from political coercion, disinformation campaigns, political and economic coercion, cyber and space based operations and most importantly use of proxy and state controlled elements are used to carryout the gray zone tactics. The use of these tactics could also be accessed by the analyzing the following toolkits:
Information and Disinformation Information Operations:
Use of print, electronic and cyber media domains to manipulate and distort the information or spread disinformation to create confusion and perish the enemy’s will to resist by spreading propaganda and sowing doubt. US and China both have engaged in a constant disinformation campaign against each other in contemporary era where US is continuously propagating China as a revisionist and oppressive state which is engaged in oppressing Uyghur Muslims in Xingang region, shifting the regional population into re-education camps. US being wary of China’s economic rise and game changing project of BRI is persistent to sabotage China’s growing economic rise and for this purpose has excessively propagative that China’s BRI projects have hidden objectives based on their vague deals, debt trap policy which would exploit weak economic countries giving China exclusive access and control over the resources of the poor states. China on the other hand has recently revived its foreign policy approach and is actively engaged in countering allegations waged upon it in international media which Chinese used to avoid previously. Trump administration has continuously blamed China of involving of corrupt practices blaming it to cover up spread of Coronavirus Covid-19 as early as November 2019, while, the world came to know about it in January 2020 with help of bribing WHO which didn’t carried out its job and helped China in covering the issue, thus, Trump administration tried to hide its own incomitances by articulating this narrative.
The use of coercive instruments which can illicit or licit tools to affect and manipulate the decision making and political composition process within a state to reach for a desired outcome. China has over the years tried to assert its control over the Hong Kong which is currently being run under one state two systemspolicy. China recently changed its security and internal prosecution and extradition policies following which riots and civil unrest erupted in Hong Kong. According to Beijing the increase in civil unrest had been fueled by foreign elements mainly UK which is trying to instigate the current situation to increase political instability in the region. China has also openly criticized the role of US intelligence agencies mainly CIA in order to disrupt the political situation in Hong Kong. John Bolton in his memoirs have also accused Trump administration of colluding with Chinese CCP under Xi Jinping to assist Trump government in reelection in 2020 presidential campaign, a claim which is denied by both states. But this highlights the level of political coercion and manipulation among the major powers to acquire control and power.
The use of coercive economic and financial tools, use of sanctions, illicit financing, effect the exchange rate, balance of trade of an adversary to achieve desired objective. US-China world leading military and economic powers were engaged in trade war during July 2018 when US imposed tariffs and restrictions upon imports from China as it felt threatened that its economy was engaged into unfair and unequal trade with China which also violated the intellectual property codes and conducted corporate espionage harming US industrial sector. US was suffering from over $ 336 billion trade deficit and over $566 billion net trade deficit. Thus, President Trump placed tariffs over Chinese imports and China retaliated in kind. In July 2018 Trump administration imposed 25% tariffs on $50-300 billion worth of imports from China and China as a result imposed 25% of US goods comprising $34-60 billion.
The emerging trade wars between US and China is not isolated only to the trade wars but has its implications infringed into complex global economic system which is interdependent and proportionally linked with the policies and economic decisions made by one state impact others directly. China’s economy during 2000 was barely at par with US until China became part of World Trade Organization WTO in 2001. This gave China exponential growth opportunities for building its export relations ships with other states resulting in 10-40% turn over ultimately making its GDP over $14.2 trillion second to US only which had a GDP of over $21.44 trillion. China accounts for 50% of global growth and 30% of global prospects. The economic tensions resulting from US-China trade wars amid the pandemic had negative impact on global economy.
The trade wars among major economic giants have impacted the global economic integration with impact on businesses not only in US and China but have placed the global economic fabric in a flux and tension. US initiated trade wars against China to destabilize its economy, bring back the industries and factories back to US mainland from China. But according to wall street journal in January 2019 reported that China’s trade surplus amounted to $ 323.32 billion following US tariffs implementations despite Trumps efforts to restrict imports from China. This highlights that the enormous amount of imports and control of global trade market by China has over shadowed the US attempts to impact it. But it had adverse impact on global economic growth as according to IMF world economic outlook report the global economic growth had decreased from 3.6% in 2018 to 3.3% in 2019 following US China trade wars.
Due to the impositions of tariffs US economy faced a drop of 0.3% of its GDP while its real consumption decreased by 0.3% and private investment by 1.3%. The economic rift between US and China also caused the stock exchange market of US to lose investment and over 1000 points in foreign exchange in August 2019. In contrast China was able to withstand the impact following the economic battle with US due to its control over the world economic supply chain. Thus, giving an insight that the US was much more vulnerable and dependent upon Chinese economy for its normal economic growth and consistency in supply chain. Following this, the US retracted from its economic war and lower the tariffs on imports from China by reducing over 15% of its tariff from over $120 billion imports while maintaining a tariff ban of over 25% on $ 250 billion worth of goods import. In response China reduced tariffs over $75 billion import trade from US. Following the peace trade agreement both states will work on enhancing their economic cooperation, improve and carry out legislative trade reforms. Thus, analyzing this situation the complex economic interdependence had forced both major powers to retract from their aggressive economic posture and negotiate their way out as the survival for their economies depend upon relative gains approach.
Use of cyber domain to wage attacks in cyber domain by hacking, using viruses, trojan attacks, attack critical infrastructure, carry out disruption in communication, distortion of information and manipulation of political processes using malicious malware in cyber domain. US and China have both engaged in organized cyber operations against each other. While US had blamed China for carrying out industrial and corporate espionage, intellectual property theft using cyber domain. US has banned various Chinese electronic gadgets and devices, telecom giants and revamped its own technological coordination from China based upon allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft conducted by China. The recent ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei from US and arrest of its CEO from Toronto Canada has been made under this context.
Outer Space has become a competing zone for major power actors and they are in constant friction to maintain their dominance and hegemony by disrupting the competitors position of advantage by interfering in space-enabled services, equipment, communication and satellites data uplink procedures. Both China and US are actively engaged in claiming the cosmos for themselves. Space is considered the battlefield of the future, with major states including the USA, China, and Russia maintains a constellation of 1327, 263 and 192 respectively out of over 2666 satellites in space. The majority of satellites used by these states act as important ISR platforms, communication relay bases, with scientific and environmental applications. The USA is the first state which has inaugurated its space force as a separate armed force on 21 December 2019 with a hefty budget of over $1.4 trillion. These space forces are designated to perform three major functions in strategic military roles which are to collect ISR, enhance protected communication and protected data link within the command hierarchy and also to protect own space assets while destroying and targeting enemy space-based assets by using kinetic kill vehicles such as Anti-Satellite Weapons ASAT or directed energy weapons. Both China and US have developed orbital and space missions to outer space in which China has gained subsequent advancement which was marked by landing its spacecraft Chang’e 4 on dark side of the moon for the first time in history. China recently also launched its orbital and rover mission to Mars naming Tianwen-1 consisting of a lander, rover and an orbiter in a single space flight which is also a remarkable feat in itself.
Use of non-state, quasi state elements to wage or obtain military objective or control a certain territory to influence or achieve specific political outcomes.
Provocation by State Controlled Proxies:
The use of paramilitary elements in conjunction with private entities while aiding and financing them to achieve certain interests through informal use of force. This also includes sabotage activities, clandestine intelligence operations and use of private military contractors which operate outside the realm of normal state control and authority.
SCS is one of the major focal point of friction between China and the West. The region is estimated to be a rich source of energy and natural resources, a major sea lane of communication with geo-strategic implications. China has been asserting its control over the region under its revisionist policies claiming on historic suzerainty claims and 1948 nine-dash line. China has actively gained its control over the region by creating military bases on artificial islands in Spratly and Paracel islands, carried out extensive geo-logical surveys for extracting resources in the region while rejecting the concerns of regional states by deploying Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. While US has been actively engaged in enhancing its diplomatic and military cooperation with regional states to coerce China under the premise of Freedom of Navigation (FoN), increasing its military cooperation and carrying out routine naval and aerial patrols in the region. During May 270July 2020, US had carried out various air sorties of its strategic air command over the South China Sea and near Taiwan Strait in a blatant and blunt act of aggression and assertion against the Chinese A2AD and claims over SCS. China also had carried out month long naval exercises in the SCS region in response. US had also deployed strategic weapons in Okinawa, Japan and in South Korea by deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD, and Patroit Air Defense Systems (PAC) to keep China in check. US has also enhanced its ambit of operations in the region by creating Indo-Pacific Command on May 30, 2018 which is under the area of responsibility of US 7th Fleet. Thus, the SCS have the potential to be a major flash point of confrontation between the major powers in the future if the brinkmanship has not been maintained by the either side if balance of power in the region is shifted. US also has engaged in Quadrilateral military partnership which include US, Australia, Japan and India. US had recently arrested and convicted a Chinese female PLA officer on charges of espionage and VISA fraud as she was working on cancer research in US on false identity along with three other people on similar charges.
In contemporary era various geo-strategic and political events are unfolding in Asia Pacific region. While, the major powers are trying to reinstate and assert their control, hegemony while the revisionist state is upon the verge of consolidating its own strength over the region to further counter and challenge the status quo. While the Thucydides trap is a prevailing phenomenon when we talk about the competition in Asia Pacific region. Thus, by observing the situation in the context of above mentioned toolkit that helps in analyzing the role of gray zone techniques, we can say that US and China is engaged in gray zone conflict in Asia Pacific region, where both actors are trying to avoid crossing the threshold of a conventional and total war and deterrence and perusing their veiled interests by engaging political, economic, cyber and space operations and proxies. The region is also engaged in a complex economic interdependence situation which tends to effect and impact the global economy in an adverse manner. The outcome for a major power competition as defined by Thucydides is based on a zero sum game / absolute gains, while such a scenario can emerge if both states are unable to maintain the brinkmanship and cross the threshold of total war based upon misconception and wrong interpretation of each others actions.
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