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The Other Frontline: South Asia in the emerging great power competition

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The collapse of the Soviet Union sealed the fate of the realist-bipolar world order and the United States of America (USA) – the leader of the so-called free world – ascended triumphantly. Afterwards, the sole superpower asserted itself as a liberal hegemon and instituted the rules-based liberal world order, which synchronized the globe for more than two decades. Nonetheless, as opposed to the liberal imaginings – which John Mearsheimer brands as “delusions” – the rules-based order proved to be even evanescent. While the liberal hegemon was engaged in costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, China – the onetime sleeping dragon – steadily transformed its latent potential into tangible economic power and by the end of the first decade of 21st century, elevated itself to supplant Japan as world’s second-largest economy only preceded by the USA.

As China’s economy– an element considered central to the overall national power – underwent astonishing growth, it started translating its economic might into military power and by using the trump card of geo-economics, sought to expand its geopolitical influence; thus, aiming to establish its own order by replacing the US-led order. The Chinese aspirations were unveiled after the Xi Jinping’s rise to the power and post 2013,the dragon in effect repudiated the famous dictum of Deng Xiaoping, “hide your strength and bide your time” and embarked upon the mission to project the power beyond its borders and shores. Unsurprisingly, the upsurge of China and its grand ambitions resulted into a security dilemma for the USA and as a classic manifestation of Thucydides Trap, a geostrategic competition is quickly unfolding between the status-quo power USA and the revisionist power China.

Nevertheless, the geostrategic competition between China and the USA is improbable to culminate into a direct military confrontation, albeit, an intense security competition has already started, a reality manifested by a reinvigorated global arms race in nuclear and conventional realm. This competition, however, is not limited to military realm only and its manifestation can be discerned in; economy – where a bitter trade war has just waned after the conclusion of trade deal; diplomacy – where both the giants are vying for influence in various parts of the world; and most importantly, technology – where both the countries are competing for dominance in Artificial Intelligence and 5G technology.

For decades, South Asia remained an important geographical arena for the great power politics and traversing into the 21st century, the region’s geostrategic significance has just multiplied. It is home to roughly a quarter of world’s population; two generally hostile nuclear powers evoke intermittent great power interventions; the USA still maintains its two-decades-old presence in Afghanistan, which may end soon; resource-rich the Middle East and Central Asia are located next-door; revisionist China is the immediate neighbour and has direct stakes in the region; and above all, South Asian landmass forms the littoral of the warm-waters of Indian Ocean, through which pass some of the world’s most crucial Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs).

Competing Strategies of the USA and China in South Asia

At the dawn of the 21st century, the USA found itself directly involved in the South Asia region. At one hand, the superpower was waging a sanguinary war against terrorism in Afghanistan that necessitated a close partnership with Pakistan, while at the other hand; it entered into a strategic partnership with India after the two countries signed a groundbreaking civil nuclear deal in 2005. In 2011, President Obama announced the “Pivot to Asia” policy, which envisioned shifting the USA’s attentiveness to the Asia-Pacific – the region prophesied to host the most consequential geostrategic competition in the 21st century – after the relative oblivion of more than two decades.

However, it was in all probability too late. China – which emerged as the prime beneficiary of the rules-based international order and relished a “free ride” – had already acquired the wherewithal to challenge the liberal hegemon and redesign, if not remould the international order.

In 2013, newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a multitrillion-dollar economic plan that envisions connecting China with rest of Asia, Europe and Africa by building a network of highways, railway, and ports. Pakistan –China’s all-weather friend and geopolitical pivot on the Eurasian chessboard – became a destination to BRI’s flagship project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which contributed towards the further strengthening of the decades-old relationship between the two countries. Besides, China also reached out to the smaller countries of South Asia such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives, while regional giant India – because of its geostrategic rivalry with China – continued opposing the scheme.

In pursuance of BRI, China acquired a series of ports along the Indian Ocean littoral besides securing direct land access to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan. The projects, operational, are likely to enable China to mitigate its Malacca Dilemma and assuage its strategic vulnerabilities vis-à-vis the Indian Ocean.

Though China has been accentuating the economic outlook of BRI and negates any geopolitical angle associated with the scheme, it is irrefutable that economic influence always wields geopolitical influence and unquestionably, BRI has implications far beyond economics. Arguably, the BRI appears to be a grand geopolitical strategy camouflaged as a benign geo-economics venture, which aims to displace the USA as the dominant power in China’s immediate neighbourhood and defy its global dominance elsewhere necessary; thus, establishing a bounded Chinese order at the cost of the USA’s liberal order.

In response to China’s BRI, the USA intensified its “rebalancing towards Asia” efforts. In 2016, Uncle Sam sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)– which was to cover the 40% of world trade – and sought to strengthen regional alliances, but the election of President Trump led to a reversal in the policy. In 2017, the USA withdrew from TPP, sending shockwaves among its allies in the Asia-Pacific region and casting dicey shadows over the liberal hegemon’s global commitments.

However, Asia-Pacific was not a region to be overlooked such conveniently. In 2018, Trump administration presented the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which came as another formal acknowledgement of the China’s revisionist status – a threat to rules-based international order necessitating containment at the earliest.

From a South Asian perspective, the term “Indo-Pacific” emphasized India’s augmented significance for the USA in the Asia-Pacific, and further reinforced the beliefs that the USA is strategizing to use India as an offshore balancer to counterbalance China. Furthermore, some efforts were made to revive the Quad –a group of maritime democracies belonging to the Indo-Pacific rim– with a perceived common objective to contain China. However,as opposed to BRI – which has already made considerable progress – the USA’s initiatives without any real strategy, policy frameworks and implementation mechanisms, flaunt as aspirational set of goals.

Certainly, China’s BRI has challenged the USA’s long dominance of Eurasia and South Asia is no different. The status-quo power has yet to come up with something as impressive and tangible as BRI, which– despite facing hurdles and setbacks – is flexible enough to adapt to the regional requirements and accommodate the aspirations of host countries; thus, sprouting as more acceptable and omnipresent.

Implications for South Asia

A shift in the alliances and intensification in regional competition

South Asian regional order is undergoing a transformational shift in the alliances as regional powers realign with great powers according to the emerging trends in the global distribution of power. Pakistan – the transactional ally of USA – has become China’s most trusted ally, while India – the Soviet bloc country during the Cold-War – has entered into a strategic partnership with the USA. Afghanistan – the third-largest country in the region – is the arena for the power struggle between the regional and extra-regional countries and as the imminent US withdrawal from the country approaches, the power struggle is only expected to intensify. At the other hand, other smaller countries of South Asia have a little consequential relationship with the USA but are trying to maintain a delicate balance between the USA’s offshore balancer, India and the revisionist power China which by the spectacle of unmatchable economic enticements– enjoys a competitive edge.

The alliance shift and the emerging regional power structure imply that South Asia will be an important battlefield for the global geostrategic competition between the USA and China. In fact, in Pakistan, this battle for economic, diplomatic and military influence is already underway. The USA is hypercritical of CPEC and considers the Chinese financial ventures a debt trap for Pakistan, while China has branded CPEC as the flagship of BRI and successful implementation of CPEC projects in Pakistan will be a major confidence booster for the grand plan of BRI. Moreover, China – despite strategic anxieties and border disputes – has expanded its trade relationship with India and is a major economic partner of other smaller South Asian countries. Antithetically, Trump’s isolationist USA – with nothing tangible to offer in economic realm – is only circumscribed to expanding its defence cooperation with India.

Appeasement of Fascist Modi regime by the USA and increased chances of military confrontation in South Asia:

India under the fascist Modi regime is undergoing a massive transformation. Apart from pursuing divisive policies at home, Modi has been very keen to portray itself as a strongman against Pakistan and the tensions between the two arch-rivals have recently soared after India unilaterally abrogated disputed Kashmir’s special status and high ranking Indian officials hurled unveiled threats to militarily take over the part of Kashmir under Pakistani control. Given Modi’s hyper-nationalistic rhetoric, his fixation to engage in dangerous brinkmanship to earn domestic political mileage and threats of an invasion of Pakistan Administered Kashmir, the risk of a major military confrontation in the disputed Himalayan region has increased manifold.

The worrying trends in India, however, fail to constrain the USA to continuously appease the fascist Modi regime, and owing to economic and geopolitical expediencies, the USA has turned a blind eye towards India’s bellicosity. In the absence of any international rebuke and USA and other Western powers providing subtle support, India has emerged as more assertive and domineering than ever and immediately poses a grave threat to the stability of whole South Asia region.

After the launch of CPEC, Pakistan Administered areas of disputed Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan have assumed strategic significance for both Pakistan and China. The region connects the two all-weather allies and is home to various infrastructure projects planned under CPEC. This creates direct Chinese stakes in the disputed region and the recent assurance by Chinese President to safeguard Pakistan’s “core interests” – which admittedly include Kashmir – the dragon has made no secret of its intentions. Therefore, it is safe to argue that in case India embarks upon a military adventure in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, the response may not be from Pakistan only and the situation may drift away to uncontainable limits.

Intensified Arms Race in the region

India is already the world’s second-largest importer of arms and as its geostrategic competition with China intensifies and tensions with Pakistan soar, the country is likely to further intensify its arms procurement and military modernization. Convincingly, it will create a security dilemma for Pakistan and country will be left with no other option except to increase its own arms procurement to deny India any significant advantage and ensure arms race stability in the region, which forms an important component of Strategic Stability. Consequently, the country’s already crippling economy is likely to come under further pressure and less allocation to the Human Development Index related domains means further increase in the impoverishment in the world’s sixth most populous country.

An upsurge in proxy wars and increased instability in the region

Theory of Nuclear Deterrence proposes that two nuclear-armed states avoid engaging in a direct military confrontation. Consequently, Nuclear Weapon states became proficient at obtaining their political objectives using proxies. Although, because of the regular nuclear brinkmanship of the leaders of India and Pakistan, South Asia provides a paradoxical case study for Nuclear Deterrence, yet the countries here have also mastered the art of proxy wars and have been employing irregular warfare to inflict damage upon their adversaries.

In the wake of intensifying regional tensions and global powers getting more involved in South Asian affairs, the fomentation of subversive activities by regional states against each other with the patronage of global powers is expected to further intensify and Pakistan can be the most immediate victim. Given the common interest of the USA and India to disgruntle Chinese designs linked with CPEC, connivance between the two strategic partners to foment destabilization inside Pakistan is the most opportune strategy to counter growing Chinese influence.

The trend of proxy wars is also expected to escalate in war-torn Afghanistan and in addition to USA and China, India and Pakistan – which have long been fighting an undeclared indirect war for influence in the country – are likely to further intensify their exertions once a power vacuum is created after the proposed US withdrawal.

Ironically, if Pakistan and China decided to respond India in the same coin and launched schemes to exploit the internal fault lines within Indian society– which are deepening owing to divisive politics played by Modi regime –it can lead towards an ultimately nightmarish scenario and the whole region may be propelled into the whirlpool of instability.

Ever decreased Chances of Regional connectivity

South Asian countries have tremendous economic potential and if the regional giants Pakistan and India can sort out their differences and become more economically integrated, it can not only reduce the risk of wars but can also usher into anew era of economic progress and advancement. However, given the imminent scenario in which geopolitics is all set to dominate the region, chances of any regional economic interconnectivity are likely to diminish further, even appalling scenario for the region’s impoverished masses.

Conclusion:

South Asia region is all set to become one of the most important battlefields for the emerging geostrategic competition between the USA and China. The region is already home to ever-hostile nuclear-armed neighbours and the emergence of new great power politics in the region is all set to lead towards further instability. To add to the precariousness is the rising fascism in India and due to India’s strategic efficacy, USA’s continuous policy of appeasing the fascist Modi regime. Absolute impunity for its tyrannical moves and hysteria has rendered India ever more assertive and aggressive, and there are chances that country may instigate a war over the disputed region of Kashmir, which can escalate to cataclysmic levels. Soaring regional tensions are probable to enhance the Modi regime’s romance with arms buildup and an unrestrained arms race in the conventional and nuclear domain is very much on the cards. Furthermore, soaring geopolitical tensions leave no space for the toning-down of the trend of proxy wars and once adversarial countries are bent on exploiting each other’s fault lines, it will just augment to the instability and volatility in the region. Grownup instability and ratcheting-up of hostilities are likely to condense the chances of any economic cooperation between India and Pakistan, and South Asian economic integration would remain a dream unfulfilled.

Hamdan Khan is an alumnus of National Defense University Islamabad. He has previously worked for Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) & is currently associated with Pakistan Council on China (PCC). His major areas of interest include Geo-politics, Great Power Competition, Nuclear Affairs and Revolution in Military Affairs.

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Theorizing The teesta River Water Dispute

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Teesta River originates in the Himalayas and flows through the states of Sikkim and West  Bengal to merge with Jamuna in Bangladesh (Brahmaputra in Assam). The river drains nearly  95 per cent of the state of Sikkim. It covers 3,225 square kilometres across the districts of  Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri in West Bengal before entering into Bangladesh. It is the fourth  longest transboundary river of Bangladesh that flows down from India.

In Bangladesh, Teesta River covers 9,667 square kilometres with an estimated population of  9.15 million as in 2011.1 According to the estimates provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of  Statistics 2012, 21 million people are directly or indirectly dependent upon the river water for  their livelihoods in Bangladesh. It covers nearly 14 per cent out of the total area under  cultivation in Bangladesh.

This river has been a point of contention between India and Bangladesh since 1950s and 1960s  when India and former East Pakistan began discussing proposed projects on the river.  Immediately after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River  Commission was set up to carry forward the talks over the sharing of river waters in 1972.

The Teesta barrage, hydropower projects and dam constructions over Teesta in India has led  to a disturbance in the flow of river water downstream, i.e., in Bangladesh. Though the  hydropower projects and dam constructions are also being carried by the Bangladesh government on its side of the river.

Bangladesh, that gets lesser share than that of India of the Teesta River water, claims for an  equitable share which is unacceptable to the state of West Bengal. Negotiations over the same  have been going on since 1983. The matter is still over the table with an unresolved dispute.

The Dispute

A significant amount of Teesta’s water flows only during wet season i.e., between June and  September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e., October to April/May which paves  way to the issue of equitable sharing during lean season. The 50-50 allocation of the river water  could have been agreed to but it was opposed by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamta  Banerjee, who claims that it would be unfair to West Bengal since it would adversely impact  the water-flow available in the state.

The stakeholders here are not just the Indian state and the Bangladesh government but since  water is a state subject, the Indian state of West Bengal is a large party to the matter whereas  Sikkim has highly been ignored (which is also a point of highlight for the critics).

Bangladesh claims that an equal water sharing is essential for them since their basin dependence is higher than that of India’s and also, that the downstream nature of Bangladesh  makes them vulnerable since any construction by India affects the water flow available to them.  Apart from the farmers getting adversely affected, the inadequate flow of water has also created  siltation. Thus, these are reasons enough to get India’s attention towards this issue.

However, West Bengal’s concerns can also not be ignored which states that Teesta has dried  up due to which an acute drinking water problem has been caused apart from another issue  which states less availability of water for irrigation needs.

In 1983, an ad hoc arrangement was made between India and Bangladesh wherein both agreed  to share 75 per cent of river water with India using 39 per cent and Bangladesh 36 per cent.  The remaining 25 per cent was to be distributed after some further studies. In 1997, a Joint  Committee of Experts was formed to examine the matter. It took until 2004 for a Joint  Technical Group to be formed which drafted an interim agreement for the sharing of the river water during the lean season. However, in 2005, the JTG admitted its inability to come up with  a solution.

In 2005 itself, the Joint River Commission stated that the river will not be able to meet the  needs of both the countries during the lean seasons, hence, any agreement that is made will  have to be based upon shared sacrifices. In 2010, the two countries agreed to resolve the matter  expeditiously and drafted some principles for the sharing of river water during the lean season.

In 2011, the agreement was to be signed during the visit of the then Prime Minister of India,  Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Dhaka, Bangladesh. However, it fell through when the Chief Minister  of West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee protested against the proposed allocation of 50 per cent of  the river’s water to Bangladesh.

Since then there have been bilateral discussions on the dispute between the two countries but  they have been unable to reach upon a mutually agreed agreement. Something that has been  continued to be a major sore point within the bilateral relations of India and Bangladesh!

Main Problem

Teesta barrage, whose construction started in the late 1970s, is the largest irrigation project of  the entire eastern region. It aims at utilizing the potential of Teesta River in hydropower  generation, irrigation, navigation, and flood moderation. India, being the upper riparian  country, controls the flow of the river water into Bangladesh from the Teesta barrage. Even  Bangladesh has constructed a barrage downstream that provides water for agriculture and  irrigation to the drought prone areas of northern Bangladesh.

Bangladesh argues that the construction of Teesta barrage has drastically reduced the  availability of water downstream, especially, in the dry season. On the other hand, it’s not just  Bangladesh that is facing such issues, India is facing such issues as well. A reduced availability  of groundwater due to underground tunnelling has been witnessed which has impacted agricultural productions and livelihoods in the region. The drying up of natural springs and  local water resources, the matter which also needs to be addressed, has resulted in growing  scarcity of drinking water. An increasing number of landslides have also been witnessed in the  mountainous regions of Sikkim.

Development of hydropower projects and the construction of dams are majorly held  responsible for all such issues. It has been a growing concern in India and something that the  environmentalists, scientist, social activists have all cautioned against. Changes in the river,  which have largely been due to the dams being constructed on the Teesta are being witnessed,  including frequent changes in the course of the river, delta formation, high rates of siltation,  increased erosion, and siltation of agricultural land in the areas surrounded by the river.

Availability of water for irrigation is a key issue, particularly for West Bengal, as highlighted  by local communities. It is estimated that the availability of water for irrigation be reduced due  to the series of proposed dams since every hydropower project is estimated to absorb at least 5  per cent of the river’s running water.

Similar is the situation with Bangladesh as well where farmers are being forced to rely on tube  wells to pump underground water which has resulted in increased cost of production and also,  reduced areas under cultivation. In many areas, increased siltation of riverbed has caused  widening of the river which has resulted in bank erosion and flooding. 

The Perspective Of Institutional Economics

The dispute is still hanging somewhere unable to find itself a reasonable solution. It is not just  about the point of contention regarding the sharing of water, that how much water should India  consume or how much of it should Bangladesh take away from the river, but it is also about  the environmental concerns and the way it is impacting the humans. Maybe, if India takes up  the discussions regarding sharing of some of the benefits that it would gain from its hydropower  projects, it could happen that the dispute might be solved, but that would not solve the  environmental concerns altogether.

Environmental economics, a strand of economics, offers one such solution which talks about  using a price signal in waiving off a particular dispute. But in order to do that, you need to own  that particular resource which is not possible in the case of a river. The market, thus, cannot  allocate the resource using a price signal since there are no specified property rights, therefore,  none of the state can boast of ownership. The lack of property rights disables either of the state  to be able to sell it or rather, in this matter, be able to negotiate a settlement using a ‘price’  signal on the basis of cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, one state cannot also exclude the other  state from using the river water since it’s a common environmental resource for both the states.

This indicates towards the presence of externalities that happens when there are lack of  property rights and people utilize their utility not considering what additional/negative utility  others may get from it. In such a problem, institutional economics, another branch of  economics, has some solution to offer. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist talks  about common pool resources that people have managed successfully for generations. She says  that these resources should be managed in communities where people can collectively come  and decide and set up some rules that should match the local conditions since different regions  have different ecosystems.

Here, in the context of the Teesta River dispute, the major thing that is missing is the ‘people’  and their participation in forming a consensus over the usage of river water. The local  communities are the major stakeholders of the river water and it is them who are being majorly  effected but they have been kept away and everything has just boiled down to politics and the bilateral equations between the two states. This leads us to understand the issue from the lenses  of political ecology.

Political Ecology And Its Links With The Dispute

Political ecology is that branch of geography that emerges from ‘critical geography’ and makes  this basic point that physical environment in which we live in is not just natural but is  characterized by a constant human intervention making it a ‘built’ environment. And since we  live in such environment which is partly and very deeply influenced by human beings  themselves, social and human processes should be right at the centre of our analysis.

Political ecology fundamentally connects questions of environment with questions of political  processes and political power, something that is clearly visible in the dispute in discussion. It  also draws insights from political economy, particularly, Marxian political economy to draw  this connection between environmental issues, political power, and political and social  processes.

David Harvey, one of the renowned scholars of political ecology, talks about the phenomenon  of ‘Accumulation by Dispossession.’ This phenomenon talks about the existing social relations  between the capitalist class and the farmers/working class. This talks about how the farmers  are being left with no other option than to lose their lands and become a victim at the hands of  the industrial development.

Here, in the context of Teesta River dispute, something similar is happening. On one hand,  while the government and a section of civil society is happy with the expected benefits of the  hydropower project like employment, energy sufficiency, new revenues, on the other hand,  local communities, environmentalists, scientists, and activists are concerned about social,  cultural, and environmental aspects of these projects. More such projects are proposed, more the economic and industrial development but only at the cost of environmental development  and also, at the cost of the livelihoods of the local communities!

Conclusion

The politics of the two countries, their asymmetric relations, and their urge to economic and  industrial development has costed the local communities their livelihoods. For the authorities  concerned, it’s about their political ego, their incapability of meeting the local needs through  the existing water share, but holistically, this matter is not just about that. Undoubtedly, it  continues to be dominated by political procedures but what matters the most are the local  communities who are suffering on both the sides of the borders. It is these people who are  losing their livelihoods, lands, and the allied opportunities but have been kept away from the  major procedure of decision making. The sufferers are none but the environment itself whose  course is being decided by the humans and also, the humans – but only the ones that are  dependent upon the same environment for their livelihood opportunities. Rest that remains is  the politics!

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As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad

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The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.

Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.

The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.

India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.

India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.

Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.

New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.

Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.

The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.

The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.

With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.

The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.

Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.

The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.

All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.

The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.

With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.

Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.

The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.

Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.

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The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature

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The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.

 In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.

The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.

The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.

Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.

 The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.

The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.

The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions.  The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.

The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.

Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.

The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.

In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.

Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.

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