Indian Ocean has always been instrumental in expanding India’s influence. From the ancient times when Indians had trade relations with Sumerian and Greek Civilizations to the times of Chola Empire when whole of South East Asia was under the ambit of Indian influence. Indian Ocean has not only served as a medium of trade but also linked the nations around culturally and religiously. India has always considered Indian Ocean as its own backyard. This changed in 21st century with the rise of China. Suddenly this prized possession was not safe from Chinese ambitions. Celebrated journalist and author Bertil Lintner explains the geopolitical ambitions of China to master the Indian Ocean. He argues that economic diplomacy of China is nothing more than a veil for a grand strategic takeover. Through various facts and scenarios he delivers a warning to the stakeholders of Indian Ocean about the changing reality.
China’s interest in the Indian Ocean coincides with its rise as an economic power. Historically China has never been present in the Indian Ocean in centuries. The only example is of Admiral Zhang He who in 15th century travelled across Malacca Strait to reach India and from there to the Horn of Africa. This feat was not repeated till the end of the 20th century partly because of China’s Middle Kingdom syndrome. However in the 21st century China increased its trade with Africa and Middle East therefore needed a presence in Indian Ocean to guard its interests. China is looking for shortcuts for its trade routes to relieve itself from strategic checkpoints of Malacca and Hormuz .Indian Ocean is an arena housed by various powers like US, UK, France, India and Australia. This book describes how China is winning over small island states in the Indian Ocean to establish its supremacy and pushing all these major powers on back foot. The title of the book is inspired by a US Strategy paper of 2005 which described the concept of ‘String of Pearls’. With US losing its supremacy in the arena it depends on other regional powers to counter China. Lintner also provides some insights on the future course of action of major powers of Indian Ocean to push back China and why it’s important to do so.
The pearls that China included in its strategy include Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Kyaukyu, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles etc. One of the most important geographic points on earth is Djibouti. A small state in Africa houses military bases of all major powers in the world. Lintner correctly describes it as a new Casablanca as it has become of a hotspot for confrontation. China has the biggest military base in Djibouti which can house 100,000 troops. Djibouti is a resource less country therefore allotting land for bases was a viable option for the tiny nation. China has trapped Djibouti in its debt trap by offering huge amounts of money for its development and can cause turmoil in the region. Two states are extensively dealt with are Myanmar and Mauritius. Myanmar has tried to balance out China and India. It gives shelter to networks of Indian rebel and Chinese rebel groups which cause havoc in their respective countries. India specially had trouble dealing with military junta government in Myanmar. China has provided extensive economic support to Myanmar for infrastructure. It was also instrumental in development of Kyaukyu port which couldn’t materialize because Myanmar realized that it could fall into the debt trap of China and lose its sovereignty. On the other hand India is building Siitwe port as part of its Kaladan multimodal project to compete with China. Mauritius has an interesting history as lots of migrant labours were taken away from India during British Raj. Now the Indian origin population makes a significant portion of the local populace and hence is favorable to India’s ambitions. The British and French interests in Mauritius have not faded due to adjacent strategic islands around Mauritius. Still China has invested large amounts of money and wants to build a smart city and uses tourism as a big factor to change policies of these island nations. Seychelles also stands as a frontline nation in Sino-Indian rivalry. Since it is the link for BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) China has used all means to keep Seychelles on its side from financial to military cooperation. China has trained an elite force of Seychelles army and provided them with naval equipments. China has also used tourism as a significant policy tool as island states’ income depend on tourism and overwhelming tourists of China drive the change. Examples have been given that how China crippled Palau’s economy by denying its tourists to visit it. However India has also maintained friendly relations and maintained a coastal surveillance system in Seychelles. Similarly Maldives also present an avenue for competition between India and China with both states promoting their candidates in the election. With Mohamed Solih’s election India could sigh relief for some time as Maldives leaders have also tried to outbalance both giants. In spite of India’s favored candidate winning presidency Maldives is under China’s stranglehold and it would be very difficult to free Maldives from this power struggle. Besides these islands Lintner talks about French Departments in the Indian Ocean, British Indian Ocean Territories including American base Diego Garcia and Australia’s island bases. These bases could prove effective in the possibility of a grand coalition against China’s aggressive policies in the Indian Ocean.
Present situation could be understood alternatively as a new Cold War. Strategy of China is to replace US as a world power. It is the classic Thucydides trap where war between rising power and established power is unavoidable. Author list historical examples from World War II when Japan wanted to replace US power in Pacific and Germany wanted to replace UK, the war was inevitable between them. If this theory is to be believed ‘Policy of Appeasement’ of China by US won’t work because China is not seeking compromise but World domination. Lintner dismisses a formation like G-2 to solve security crises and there is no point in pursuing compromise like British PM Chamberlain which failed to contain Germany. In this Sino-US struggle Australia finds itself in a dilemma. It has always aligned itself with western nations but now its economy is dependent on China, at the same time it is strategically important to counter China. Its decision would be important in security architecture of Indian Ocean. Lintner believes that countries response have been inadequate while China sprints in the region. India and Japan have signed various strategic documents but it has yet to come to life. He criticized India’s lopsided Look East policy because of India’s less investment in infrastructure hence not been able to compete with China in South East Asia. Lintner asks US and India to understand BRI as a strategic tool of China and do not mistake it as only economic plan. However he concludes in the end chapter that not everything is rosy for China. It’s facing a pushback in Myanmar and its pipelines in Pakistan are attacked by militants. There is a possibility that China won’t succeed through its aggressive techniques because it will antagonize small states. Hambantota port in Sri Lanka is a clear example of that. Besides India- Japan- US enhanced cooperation would be able overcome China’s maritime strength. India has also started to make a base in Seychelles and has tactical arrangement with Japan’s base at Djibouti to counter China. In the end challenges that China faces will have to be seen: Aging population, overstretching of BRI resources, Japan and India as an alternative security provider and a politically aware citizenry would be too great factors to cut short its ambitions. Lintner has adopted the lengthy narrative history of the territories. It’s important to understand the relation of these island states with China. Bertil outlines the economic dependence of these states on China but has not focused on security dimensions. He has ignored the proximity of islands with French and British powers which could also drive their policies. The book includes Myanmar as a case study while others were island states. Other nations like Thailand, Vietnam, and Bangladesh could have been included in the discussion. Despite India being a major power it was not mentioned enough in the book. A mention of its investment and military bases was there but no discussion about the strategy. Similarly he mentions China’s military overtures and investment, client patron relations but fails to give a wider perspective on their strategic intent and defence capability. Lintner writes as a journalist and makes information accessible but it does not provide in depth information and analysis for the researchers. But overall the book provides good insights on small nation states of Indian Ocean as the information is not readily available. This would help the policymakers in making efficient decisions when dealing with small island states and dealing with resurging China in India’s backyard.
Franklin Roosevelt has rightly put it, ‘In politics, nothing happens accidentally. If anything happens, it’s palpable that it planned this way’. Numerous features have been defining pre-pandemic world politics over the years. The current situation shows that pandemic will only reinforce largely five global fault lines that have been characterizing the global environment even in the pre-pandemic phase. Form this we can extrapolate the future course of global politics.
The first and the obvious feature is the rising multi-polarity with power being diffused vertically and horizontally between countries and within countries because citizens become more impart by accessible cheaper technologies. Therefore, global power especially economic power continues to be redistributed while the state power also continues to be eroded by the greater influence of non-state actors both good and bad. In today’s world, no single power can achieve outcomes on its own. It can only do so in conjunction or with the cooperation of other states. Since the Second World War, this pandemic is the first global crisis in which US leadership has been absent.
Secondly, the resurgence of competition and tensions between the big powers in the global environment have come into sight. US-China confrontation has become the most consequential and geopolitical development, which is going to influence and shape the world in the coming years. It can be seen that an outbreak of trade and tech war during the pre-pandemic will continue in the future. Political tensions are also at a record high. President Donald Trump of the United States has been using hostile rhetoric against China. Because of the severe actions taken by the US, China has reached its limits and started pushing back.
Thirdly, global powers are retreating from multilateralism and a rule-based international system. The renunciation of international agreements and treaties has been witnessed over the months. The irony is that the pandemic demands greater solidarity and cooperation but quite the opposite has happened, where there is an absence of international solidarity and much less collaboration. The USA has renounced a long list of treaties including the Iranian nuclear deal, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF), and recently the Open Skies agreement. It has also walked out of key multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the WHO more recently.
Another feature is the rise of populist leaders who are often described as strongmen. Although it’s debatable how much they deserve the description of strong men. Populist leaders act unilaterally with impunity as well as seek to rewrite the rules of game either in the world or their region depending upon their capability to manage. They are mostly disdainful toward international norms. In South Asia, the grimmest example is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is taking brutal and illegal actions not only in occupied Kashmir but also within India by pursuing communal politics.
Ultimately, there would be an emergence of anti-globalization sentiment due to multiple factors. The UN will be celebrating its 75th anniversary which is going to be a historic moment while American threatens to leave the World Health Organization (WHO) permanently. In this unenviable situation, the UN has been under great strain because its main agency which deals with the health crisis is under attack due to curtailment of funding by Donald Trump. Furthermore, certain leaders of the west are going to reject the existing trading regimes because they cannot compete anymore. The prevailing situation in those countries demands to remake global supply chains and they intend to reduce their dependence on China. Apart from that, plans are considered to move towards setting up local hubs of manufacture and supply.
In a nutshell, there is going to be a reversal of many aspects of globalization. Protectionism, trade wars, and to some extent travel restrictions will be a new reality. Right-wing populist leaders will use the health crisis to reinforce their policy preference for closed borders, strict immigration laws, and the ban on the free movement of labour that has been seen in recent decades. The future course of the most important bilateral relationship of our century which is between China and the United States will have a huge impact on the global economy as well as on the international order and multilateral institutions. Pandemic has further strained the relationship and resulted in trading accusations and allegations from both sides. Summarily, that has been described as the new cold war by many. The question arises whether these two global powers will arrive at modus vivendi or will there be a standoff. This has become a more enduring feature of the global landscape.
To round off the whole debate, the World is possibly at one of the history’s most unsettled periods in international relations with the atomization of the international system. This is an uncharted territory which the world has not seen before. For Pakistan, there are going to be strategic, political, and economic implications because it seeks to form good relations with both countries. Pakistan ought to understand that in the long run, its strategic future lies with China rather than the US.
Prime Minister K.P. Oli of Nepal miss the opportunity
In Nepal, Prime Minister K. P. Oli seems to stay in power by disrespecting his party members. He doesn’t care about agreement made with his party co-leaders Prachanda regarding power sharing after Oli’s 2.5 years reign. He bluntly made a statement that his party members are meeting covertly in hotels of Kathmandu to overthrow him with the assistance of India. This resulted to the seeding of conflict within party allowing Chinese ambassador running door to door for negotiating with party leaders to reconcile. Chinese ambassador to Nepal is engaging with Nepal Communist Party(NCP) leaders to keep K. P Oli in power but India wants to overthrow him. The Prime Minister post in Nepal is now became the platform where two big powers are colliding.
Oli’s 2.5 years in office achievement is not satisfactory. The two underperforming arena are Foreign Policy & Economy. In Foreign Policy, Nepal is facing proxy war from the US-China global confrontation heat, India’s assertiveness & defensive approach & Chinese greater engagement in Nepal comparing to past. Secondly, Nepal’s philosophical confusion whether to continue full liberal capitalism model set by Nepali Congress or follow socialism model based on the ambition of communism. Oli’s team is now surrounded by capitalist forcing them to decide in favor of them. By theory, they have to work for pro-poor(because they are communist). Secondly, capitalist lobby and party cadres aspiration smash together—every basic commodities like health, education should be free as said by cadres and capitalist see business in these sectors. Confrontation between party cadres aspiration and capitalist has made economy standstill. COVID-19 impact is bringing Nepal migrant workers back home. No one has plan to resettle them. Dependency with India is very much high. In 2017, Nepal imports from India worth US$6520 million( 64.95% of out of total imports) whereas Chinese exports to Nepal is worth of US$1267 million(12.63% out of total imports in Nepal). These two immediate neighbors exports more than 75% of commodities to Nepal making Nepal highly reliant state.
Oli instead of trimming down this dependency with India—engaged in “nationalist’ war. He is unaware about India that his Sudurpaschmin & Karnali province youth has a employment opportunity in India. These provinces has very low HDI comparing with countrywide index. The HDI of Sudurpaschmin is 0.478 and Karnali province is 0.469. Youths of these provinces going to India for work because of very low job prospects on Nepal. This our ground reality. Underestimating this reality, Oli rhetoric on “Indian virus is more lethal than Chinese virus” had damaged the bilateral relationship to very extent. Unfortunately, the impact of such damage wont’ have to bear by him but by the youth of Sudurpaschim and Karnali who are working in millions in India because we are clear Post COVID-19 Nepal won’t have tremendous job boom in these provinces. So, they are again forced to go back to their work. During their presence in various job stations of India, they may be disrespected and bullied based on the Nepal’s PM statement.
Secondly, Oli mishandling of foreign policy of Nepal—–becoming suicidal for Nepal. Nepal had long enjoyed a friendly relationships with almost every powers centers of the world. During the time of the Cold War also, Nepal had managed to deal effectively with both Russia & the US. But this time, Nepal’s reactionary foreign policy tactics fuelled by Oli had made our immediate neighbors irritated and had also welcomed the US geostrategic presence in Nepal; knowingly or unknowingly. Each neighbors are having lack of trust in current Nepali government and wants to secure their interest by “overt or covert” operation. Nepal’s Non-aligned foreign policy is seriously being challenged by Nepal’s unorganized engagement in India-China-US frontiers. We are now came across crossroads—We are dependent on India for food, Close to China for political backup & supporting communist regime and more closer to the US for financial support. This will bring us to nowhere. India and China has sense of Competition & Collaboration(2C), US-China has a global confrontation on many sense. Nepal’s closeness to India is not liked by mass public in Nepal. Nepal’s communist party ally with China is not liked by India & the US. This is where the current ball is trapped. Nepal is in complete dilemma. The Belt & Road Initiative; the signature grand strategy of China & Indo Pacific Strategy(IPS) of the US are both ideologically confronts with each other. And, Nepal wants take advantage of these two based on the fragile diplomatic capacity that Nepal has.
Inside home politics, Oli has managed to concentrate power within him. The three powerful departments are: National Investigation Department, Department of Revenue Investigation & Department of Money Laundering Investigation have brought under the Prime Minister’s office. This meaning, Intelligence department for “covert or overt” operation for his rivals and the remaining two “money” related department for “cleaning up” the money from offshore and freeing up the corruption charges for his loyal. This is dangerous. His path put us on doubt whether he wants to become new “dictator” for Nepal. Secondly, his jokes are not working anymore on public like that of pre-election period. Everyone is irritated. Oli crack jokes even in parliament at a time when country is hard hit by COVID-19. He suggest public to have turmeric powder as a solution to COVID-19 cure—which is a laughable matter for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not proven scientifically. Next to it, Oli is critically ill. He recently had a second Kidney transplant. How to become assure such critically ill person with the support of medicines can perform best for the country? He is even “misusing” president of Nepal to take decision in favor of himself. In recent time, President quickly approved the prorogation of the session of the parliament sent by the cabinet. This is a thinkable matter. How can institution like “President” can decide instantly without analyzing its constitutional & political challenges of the recommendation sent by the cabinet. Oli is hardly a school pass out leader and always vocal to “defame” intellectuals of Nepal. Nepali intellectuals irrespective of independent or democrats values are fade up Oli words. So, no use of criticizing such move of cabinet.
When his party members started to dethrone him for the first time; he had used “nationalism” card to put Limpiyadhura, Kalapani & Lipulekh area— encroached land by India on Nepal’s official map resulting public applaud. But critics know this is a tactics to remain in power. When he came to power with full majority—he has everything: Two-third majority, massive opposition support and enormous public trust on him but he failed like those other governments made within 30 years span of Nepal’s democratic life since 1990. He seriously missed the opportunity. This resulted to the Nepal’s prosperity again in deadlock phase.
The haunting Karo-Kari culture in Pakistan’s Sindh province
In the desolated land of district Ghotki in Pakistan’s Sindh province, which is comprising of sand dunes, barren fields and mounds of many destroyed settlements of yesteryears/past, hundreds of unfortunate women are buried who have been killed by any male member of their families in the name of honor. Tattered clothes and footwear of women, scattered human bones everywhere and a deep silence state that there are so many tragic untold stories of women who are killed for being Karis (dishonored) have been associated with this no man’s land. It is locally known as ‘The valley of witches’ so that people can be restricted from coming here and knowing the truth.
A local namely Rasool Bux tells an incident which happened to him a long ago here, ‘During my childhood, I once was passing through this place and saw that a flock of wild dogs was eating something mercilessly. I first thought that it could be a dead animal but when I saw the clothes on the dead body came to know that it’s a woman who might be buried by someone here and dogs had dig out the dead body. The blood curdling scene had made me seriously ill and for many days I was not in position to eat, talk or even walk. My parents thought that I had seen a witch but that was a woman’s dead body.’
Besides this valley of witches, in Deh Pooh’s Mehar Shah graveyard, a large number of Karis (women killed in the name honor) are buried in a separate corner and an aged woman has been performing here the duty of Mujawari (care taker) for years. She daily comes early in the morning, fills water in water pitchers, cleans graves/graveyard with broom and goes back to her home before sunset. She says ‘My only loving daughter was declared as Kari and killed by her husband and father in law. She is buried here in that corner (she pointed her finger toward south-west corner) since that day I have been coming here to meet and take care of my unfortunate daughter. This is the last hope behind my existence.’
Next to it is Fatu Shaheed graveyard which is situated 7 kilometers away in south from Reti Railway Station. In Deh Derawaro, Gharho Pir and Pir Mehboob graveyards are also notorious as they all have separate corners for Karis. From the walking distance of the Kun Waro Qabarustan in Deh Pooh, hundreds of Karis are buried on a desolated sand dune. Once, a Hindu priest (Bhopa) was also caught red handed from here who was trying to carry a bagfilled with human bones. He also affirmed that this was his second effort of the same type and he had dig out hundreds of graves of women for using their bones in black magic.
At some distance from this point, in Deh Chacharki’s Lundi Wara Luk area many Karis are buried which also include those educated mother and daughter, who revolted against the unfairness of their male family members on a property matter and were cruelly tortured and finally killed by their own male blood relatives after declaring them as Karis. According to a local who was the eyewitness of the incident ‘They first shackled the hands of both women in a jeep, dragged them from home to here at this spot and then buried them without any funeral services.’
Hundreds of women are killed in the name of honor in Sindh province every year and shockingly there happens no registration of FIR (First Information Report) by the Police against the killers because the police couldn’t find any clue and witness about murderers or even the whereabouts of dead bodies. Most of the cases remain unreported so the majority of the culprits remain safe. There is also involvement and pressure of local feudal lords (locally called Wadheras/Sardars in Sindhi language) in continuation of this negative social custom which have destroyed thousands of households in the province.
In a Karo-Kari case, mostly women suffer and men remain safe from being murdered. This happens because often the intensions behind declaring a couple, Karo happen to be financial and property related matters. Nobody takes any further efforts to prove those allegations ‘false’ because there happens no hearing or following of case after the murder of a Kari woman.
The height of our social backwardness can be measured from this Sindhi language phrase ‘Wadhi ya Kadhi’ means ‘slaughter or kick out’ which is considered as a powerful reply of a man when he finds that his woman has done anything wrong or betrayed him in a relationship. Kicking a woman out means giving her divorce which does not occur in most of the cases of Karo-Kari. Arranging a Jirga is the second and last part of this deplorable practice in which alleged man is pressurized to pay for the unproven guilt.
The women who get divorce from their men are handed over to relative Sardar’s palace for serving but in most of the cases they are sold by the local Sardars and powerful landlords and those who don’t get any buyer keep bearing the brunt for rest of their lives. According to a retired servant of a Sardar in upper Sindh(who requests to remain anonymous) his master/Sardar had sold around 2 dozen such women for approximately 5,000,000during his tenure of performing duties at his palace.
This is also a fact that for killing alleged Kari women, services of masters in this business are obtained. There are many such expert killers involved in honor killings in Sindh’s Ghotki, Jacobabad and Kashmore districts who have killed more than 10 women in Karo-Kari. A local tells ‘My uncle was famous in the area as an expert of honor killings as he alone killed more than 25 women throughout his nearly 100 years’ life. People came to him for such matters and he used to do that very easily for a little amount of money.’
Now since the state has been taking some action against such unlawful killings of deprived women and pressure of non-governmental agencies working to defend women’s rights starting to build up, the murderers have become adroit/clever and changed the modus-operandi of such killings. They now, first trace the desolated place and then kill the Kari women by expunging all the identities of the deceased. There is also another technique being used nowadays that is tying a stone to the neck of dead body and throw it in river/water body.
There is still a need that the awakened minds of the society must kick off an effective and decisive campaign against such social culprits in order to save the daughters of the Eve from the wildest humans of the social order because it’s the only way out to change the muted mindset of this society.
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