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The Rise of the Indo-Pacific

Emil Avdaliani

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The world is in flux. Global geopolitical trends that existed before the onset of the coronavirus will only intensify in its wake, and US-China competition will become more pronounced across the Eurasian landmass.

The major struggle will play out in the newly emerging Indo-Pacific region. Though this geographic concept only recently replaced the outdated Asia-Pacific vision, it has surfaced from time to time in the writing and speeches of past political thinkers and politicians.

The Indo-Pacific region refers to the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which interconnect in Southeast Asia. Beijing is opposed to the Indo-Pacific concept as it views it as the product of American efforts to contain its own rising economic and military capabilities. Many believe the emergence of this new concept is indeed a matter of cold-blooded, Cold War-style geopolitical thinking.

That is a misreading. The shift from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific is not just a matter of realpolitik. It reflects tectonic geopolitical shifts that have occurred in the world over the past two decades or so.

A primary motor behind this change is exponential economic growth ranging from India to China and Japan. The entire Indo-Pacific rim of island states, larger countries like Vietnam and South Korea, and the Indian and Chinese giants have become economically interconnected and now represent the world’s biggest trade markets. Several studies show that at least 50% of global GDP will be shared by the Indo-Pacific region.

Another tectonic development is China’s rise. Through its near-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it has expanded its economic (and, some argue, military) foothold in the Indian Ocean. Though the Chinese might disagree with the emergence of the Indo-Pacific concept, it was their economic ambition that showed how the two oceans are economically and militarily inseparable.

A bit of history helps prove this point. Consider Marco Polo, the famous Venetian traveler, and his trip to China in the thirteenth century. On his way home, Polo traveled through Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf. He provided a detailed portrait of the broad web of trade relations that existed between Chinese mainland ports and cities in modern day Indonesia, India, and along the Persian Gulf. Chinese products reached east African shores in what are today Somalia and Eritrea as well as other neighboring territories.

China’s geography always propels it to seek an outlet to the Indian Ocean when it wishes to pursue economic and military expansion. With mountains, steppes, and deserts to the west and northwest, the only natural highway for China’s expansion is Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. This was the case in Marco Polo’s time and it is still true today.

Another example proving this premise was Chinese mariner Zheng He, who traveled into the Indian Ocean in the early fifteenth century in an attempt to establish a long-term Chinese presence there.

The Indian and Pacific Oceans are thus very much interlinked. Japan’s expansion during WWII showed a military trajectory toward Southeast Asia and further into the Indian Ocean.

Historical context and geography aside, the emergence—or rather re-emergence—of the Indo-Pacific concept is underpinned by today’s closer India-Japan relations. Both countries neighbor China and are worried about how far Chinese power can extend. Both see the need to cooperate on military and economic matters and to try to entice Australia and get stronger US support. A kind of quadrilateral format is emerging, perhaps even some version of a long-term strategy toward the region and specifically China.

There is one caveat to bear in mind when evaluating this new geopolitical concept. To cast it as a new containment policy would not bring much of a result. China should be engaged, not simply cut off from the Indian Ocean. Were China more like the former Soviet Union—that is, only a powerful military player—then containment would be a sensible approach. But because China is an integral part of the world economy and especially critical to the Indo-Pacific region, containment would likely fail to bring about the same results it achieved in the Cold War era.

An interesting twist might take place even in the Chinese vision. Accepting the Indo-Pacific region might be an inescapable geopolitical development. In fact, abandoning the Asia-Pacific concept could allow China to better justify its deep involvement in the Indian Ocean, which is so much feared by India and other states.

The emergence of the Indo-Pacific region will have wider repercussions as well. Global trade and a subsequent growth in China’s military presence at the confluence of the two oceans will shift American and European attention away from the depths of Eurasia and the possibility of a confrontation with Russia toward China.

The US will need to bolster its presence in the region by building deeper cooperation platforms with India, Japan, and Australia. This will have to involve attracting large-scale investment. The US will not be able to match the economic potential of China’s BRI, but together with its allies it could set up mechanisms for open investment programs that could provide a striking contrast to Chinese investment models.

The US should act in the emerging Indo-Pacific realm similarly to the way the UK acted from the eighteenth century until WWII. Recognizing that its real strength was as a sea power, the British worked hard to prevent the emergence of a dominant European power on the continent. It accomplished this by building a variety of military coalitions. The British also understood the limits of their human resources, which prompted them to seek help from other continental powers and maintain constant engagement with all European states.

The US now faces similar constraints when it comes to China. Washington needs India, Japan, and Australia first and foremost, as well as smaller states like South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia, to balance China.

The shift of American attention from inner Eurasia to the Indo-Pacific region will accelerate in the 2020s. This will benefit Russia, as it will have a much freer hand in dealing with its immediate neighborhood. It should also result in a further delay of NATO/EU expansion, which works to Moscow’s benefit.

The emergence of the Indo-Pacific region should also benefit Iran, as it has been under immense US pressure ever since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in early 2000s. The rise of the Indo-Pacific region could mean Iran has more room to maneuver in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

The Indo-Pacific region is already a geopolitical constant. It connects large swaths of the globe into one unit. The region has the largest and wealthiest states in the world and will attract the US and other global players. It is on the way to becoming a major playground for geopolitical influence.

Author’s note: first published in BESA Center

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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South Asia

Independence and Beyond: The Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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As Mr. Lincoln might have said …three-score and thirteen years ago the Indian subcontinent gained independence (August 14/15, 1947) from the British — although Indians were even then substantially running the country.  The Indian Civil Service and its administrators, the police and the military were all Indian, as were many members of the Viceroy’s council — the viceroy as the British government’s representative having ultimate say.  Thus the day-to-day running of the country was essentially being managed by Indians themselves.

The Hindu nationalist ideas of the Narendra Modi government are uniquely (and mistakenly) revanchist for Hindus were involved in government during the Mughal era.  A proud country treasures its history; not Mr. Modi’s BJP Party.  It and its goons instigated mobs and participated in the destruction of the Babri Mosque, where last week Mr. Modi was at a ceremony marking the beginning of construction of a Hindu temple on the Mosque site, believed by some Hindus to be the birthplace of the god Rama.

Introduced in the epic Ramayana, he is its central figure, and while it is mentioned he was born in Ayodhya, nowhere does it say where in Ayodhya.  The epic also features a monkey king Hanuman and a monkey army that helped Rama in the story.  Beliefs are beliefs and if all of this clashes with modern rationality just consider some of the ardent beliefs of other religions. 

Of course a harmonious solution for the site might have opted for the structure to be either utilized by both religions or moved to a nearby location. 

If religious structures offend, why not convert them for your own use?  That is precisely what President Erdogan has done — in the process turning Turkey’s secular tradition upside down,  In fact, he led the first Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia, a mosque now by Erdogan edict that was the former Byzantine cathedral museum and a popular tourist site in Istanbul.  Modern Turkey’s secular founder Kamal Ataturk is probably turning over in his grave. 

No such luck for the early 16th century Babri mosque, it was razed to the ground, a signal to Indian minority religions (Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, even atheists and humanists) of the primacy of Hinduism.  The ones who strived so long and hard for India’s independence, namely the secular Fabian socialist Nehru and the inclusive Gandhi would be doing the same as Ataturk, had they not been cremated.

With all its conflicts, any wonder that India hovers precariously near the bottom of the World Happiness Index, as does Delhi as one of the world’s least happy cities — about as nice to live in as Gaza.  If Pakistan (number 66 near Japan at 62) and its cities are much higher in the Happiness Index, it has its own problems … like the disappearance of activists.  The latest, a human rights activist turned up after three months without a word to the families from the security agencies holding him.  Some are not so lucky — they never turn up.  Moreover, religious extremism has spawned anti-blasphemy laws that border on censorship and serve as a gag on free speech.

Bangladesh the perennial disaster area is now suffering the triple whammy of its usual flooding, plus the new covid-19 and the consequent lost livelihoods.  It is at number 107 on the World Happiness Index, much happier than India ranked 144 and now one of the worst places to live in the world. 

In the age of management consultants, experts, specialists and private equity companies with special expertise in turnarounds, perhaps India (perhaps the subcontinent as a whole) could do worse than invite the British back and pay them to run the place.  At the very least, it is likely to make life bearable in Kashmir.

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Pakistan’s Independence Day: Time for soul searching

Amjed Jaaved

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Fanatic Hindus in Indian National Congress thought that creation of separate homeland for the Muslim in undivided India is impossible. Fanatic Hindus in Indian National Congress thought that Pakistan would, at best, be a still-born baby.

 Even Nehru, an outwardly liberal leader said, ‘I shall not have that carbuncle on my back’(D. H. Bhutani,  The Future of Pakistan , page 14). Yet, Pakistan came into being. It proved its viability despite severe politico-economic jolts in post-independence period. Stanley Wolpert paid tributes to the Quaid in following words, “Few individual significantly alter the course of history. Few still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone could be credited with creating a nation State. Muhammad All Jinnah did all three”. Despite lapse of decades, India still has to reconcile with Pakistan, as a reality.

Unmitigated rancour: The Quaid wantedindia and Pakistan to o live in peace after independence. But, India remained at daggers drawn. In his Will and Testament he bequeathed a part of his fortune to educational institutions in Aligarh, Bombay and Delhi. He never changed his will as he hoped to visit India again.

The 1916 Lucknow Pact was acknowledged as a pillar of Hindu-Muslim friendship. However, Motilal Nehru, at the behest of the fanatic Hindus, shattered the spirit of peaceful coexistence by formulating his Nehru Report (1928). Jaswant Singh, in his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, and Independence reveals that Jinnah shelved the idea of independent Pakistan by putting his signature to the Cabinet Mission’s recommendations. This Mission envisaged keeping India undivided for ten years. The constituent assemblies were to consider the question of division after 10 years. When Congress refused to accept the recommendations of the Cabinet Mission, the British government decided to divide India.

Ayesha Jalal in his paper Why Jinnah Matters (Meleeha Lodhi, edited papers, `Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State, pp.  33-34 ) recalls `Just before his own death, Jinnah proposed a joint defence with India as the Cold War started to shape the world and the two power blocs began to form.

In marked contrast to Jinnah’s pacifist attitude, when Jinnah left India on August 7, 1947, Vallabhai Patel said, ‘The poison had been removed from the body of India’. But, the Quaid said, ‘The past has been buried and let us start afresh as two independent sovereign States’.

Points to Ponder

India’s belligerence: :India is arming itself to the hilt to harm Pakistan. Here, no-one is lynched or burnt alive for eating beef, imprisoned for voicing dissent on social media, or shouting a slogan. Yogi Adityanath of India’s Uttar Pradesh state equated cows with human beings (Tribune , July 25, 2018). Justice Mahesh Chandra Sharma of Rajasthan High Court told reporters (May 31, 2018) `All doctors are frauds and we could have all been cured of diseases with nothing more than cow’s milk.’ He `urged the Centre to declare cow as India’s national animal and recommended life imprisonment for cow slaughter’.  He hypothesized  `cow inhales and exhales oxygen’, and `a peacock is a lifelong celibate like Krishna’.

A democracy, not a theocracyIn a broadcast addressed to the people of the USA (February 1948), the Quaid  said, ‘In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims _Hindus, Christians, and Parsees _ but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizen and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan’ (Maleeha Lodhi (ed.), Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State).

 When an over-ebullient admirer addressed him as `Maulana Jinnah’, he snubbed him. Jinnah retorted, ‘I am not a Maulana, just plain Mr. Jinnah’. About minorities, the Quaid often reminded Muslim zealots ‘Our own history and our and our Prophet(PBUH) have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously. He added, ‘I am going to constitute myself the Protector-general of the Hindu minority in Pakistan’. He joined Christmas celebrations in December 1947 as a guest. In his first seven-member Cabinet, he included a Hindu. Quaid participated in Christmas celebrations in December 1947 as a guest of the Christian community. He declared: ‘I am going to constitute myself the Protector General of Hindu minority in Pakistan’.

 The following extracts from the Quaid’s speeches and statements as Governor General of Pakistan reflect his vision: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan…you may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State…”.

A. K. Brohi, in his The Fundamental Law of Pakistan, argues that Pakistan is an Islamic state, but not a theocracy.

Mixing religion with politics: Our Constitution has a long list of Islamic rights. But they are circumscribed the proviso that they are not enforceable through courts. Our law of evidence lays down conditions to qualify as a competent witness. But, a proviso makes any witness acceptable if a competent one is not available.

Pro-Rich democracy: In his study of political systems (oligarchy, monarchy, etc.), Aristotle concluded demokratia was probably the best system. The problem that bothered him was that the majority of free people (then excluding women and slaves) would use their brute voting power to introduce pro-poor legislation like taking away property from the rich. During Aristotelian age there was only one house, a unicameral legislature. Aristotle too was a man of means. His household had slaves.

Aristotle suggested that we reduce income inequalities so that have-not representatives of the poor people were not tempted to prowl upon haves’ property. Like Aristotle, American founding fathers were unnerved by spectre of `rule of the proletariat’.

American founding father James Maddison harboured similar concerns. He feared `if freemen had democracy, then the poor farmers would insist on taking property from the rich’ via land reforms (Noam Chomsky, Power Systems, p 84). The fear was addressed by creating a senate (US) or a house of lords (Britain) as antidotes against legislative vulgarities of house of representative or a house of commons., a house of peoples (lok sabha) vs. council of states (rajya sabha) in India,  and so on.

Mafias:  William A. Welsh says, `The rise of democracy has signaled the decline of elites (Leaders and Elites, p.1). Not true of Pakistan? Here talent rusts and mafias prevail. We see mafias all around, in media, politics, justice, education and health-care.

Why democracy is flawed? Democracy in Pakistan failed to deliver the goods as it ignored ‘sine qua nons’ of Aristotelian demokratia. The SQNs are honesty, merit, nationalism, spirit of sacrifice, corruption-free public services, across-the-board military-civil accountability, truthfulness and welfare of the masses.

The demokratia envisions opportunities of political participation for larger proportions of the population and across-the-board accountability. Aristotle would rejoice in the grave to see both, Pakistan’s National Assembly and the Senate, being populated by the rich. One member defiantly wears Louis Moinet `Meteoris’ wrist-watch, worth about Rs. 460m. Another, with a capacity to shut down the whole country, lives in a 30-kanal house (his divorced wife denies having gifted it). They never took any legislative steps to equalise citizens in access to education, medicare, housing and jobs. In short, in all realms of life.

Our governments  never looked into the origin of landed aristocracy, chiefs and chieftains in the subcontinent

In India, feudal fiefs were abolished in 1948. But, they have a heyday in Pakistan even today because of a decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the Qazalbash Waqf versus Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab, on 10 August 1989 (made effective from 23 March 1990). The Court, by a 3-2 vote declared land reforms un-Islamic and repugnant to injunctions of Islam.

Article 38 is titled ‘Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people’. And abolition of riba is just a sub-paragraph. While we re-christened riba as PLS, partnership as modarba/mosharika, and so on, we did nothing to provide social justice to the people. We tax people without taxpayers’ welfare. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent.

Quest for stability: Pakistan’s demokratia practitioners are subconsciously contemptuous of separation of powers. The stakeholders appear to suffer from ‘I’m the constitution’ narcissism. Former finance secretary Saeed Ahmed Qureshi in his book Governance Deficit: A Case Study of Pakistani recounts ‘Eight blows to the Constitutional System’ including dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, dismissal of elected prime ministers, induction of Gen Ayub Khan as defence minister on 24 October 1954, and imposition of martial or quasi-martial law ‘for 33 out of Pakistan’s 68 years of history’.

Pakistan is a divine gift that we need to protect with our blood and sweat.

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South Asia

The Power Competition between Liberals and Conservatives in Pakistan

Ali Abbas

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There is competition between the two sections of society in Pakistan. Their ideologies, ideas and agendas are essentially conflictual in nature. The champions of Liberalism believes in struggle for democracy, pluralism, human rights, freedom of speech, individual liberty and modernization. While the Religious forces focus and struggle for the introduction and implementation of Islamic Law. As they also often raise the voice for the unification of Muslim Umaah and injustices with Muslims in all over the world. 

The poor and neglected segments of society are the natural recruitment for the religious group. Usually they are supported by the conservative section of society and local financial resource base is very strong. This section gained the support of national establishment in different times particularly when the era of Zia’s Islamization. Liberal section of the society suffered more hindrances because of absence of democracy, constitutionalism and influence of undemocratic forces. Mostly the liberals look towards the western liberal democracies for political support. However, their influential campaigns for the rights of the people has established appreciable credentials in the society. With the absence of democracy the basic requirements for the liberal civil society remain strange in Pakistan therefore the right wing section has strengthened in the country.

The society can effectively change by two ways: i-e from top to bottom or from bottom to top, usually it has been said that the political strategies and progress is based on this idea. The change at the top and the trickledown effect will create an impact at the bottom where it is needed. The religious segment of civil society started its organization in Pakistan on the base of Islamic ideology or religious expression for the creation of Pakistan.

 International context has played a crucial and definitive role in the establishment of two divergent and conflicting segments of civil society in Pakistan. The final battles of Cold War were executed through the religious force of Pakistan and Afghanistan leaving an indelible mark of extremism and religiosity on Pakistani society. The unfair treatment of the problems of Muslims in the world by USA and its allies sometimes frustrate the masses and thus serve as the breeding ground of hatred and religious extremism.

Two divergent ideologies are in power competition in the country. Basically the ruling elites of Pakistan has used religion for their own power and political purposes. The society is more emotionally attached with religion, so it’s too easy for ruling elites to exploit the religious sentiments of the common people. In fact the religious section has strong rooted in society, a common person can be easily provoke in the name of religion by ruling and religious elites. Even the leaderships of political parties having western educational background, ideas and progressive thinking. The performance of religious political parties in elections throughout the history of Pakistan remained poor. However, failure of mainstream political parties in revitalizing politics, economics and society and hopes of establishing Islamic law and a system of justice and equality attracted some people to the religious forces.

On the other side, the liberal or secular elites are frequently vocal against the mixture of religion in the state affairs. But this section of the society is weak as compare to the right wing of the society. The secular elites mostly having the western background of education have inspired from the west democracies and open societies. The idea of open and secular society cannot be constitutionalize because of the deep rooted religion within the society. The actual agenda of liberalism has been failed to the deliver by the liberal elites. They have their own definition of liberal society that cannot be consider as counter ideology. The extreme definition of open society has not suited in an underdeveloped society. The society lacks several things for a liberal and open and progressive society. Pakistan’s society is underdeveloped, lack of political awareness, rights and duties of a responsible citizen. The poor educational system in Pakistan has become the point of international concern. The lack of quality and modern education, limited economic opportunities make an ordinary man target for the groups. The system suffers from insufficient investment in education sector, institutional incapability, and the poor curriculum that often provokes intolerance. Education is the most important factor that rescues the nation from these ills.

Finally, it can be argued that the conflict between the religious and secular is deeply rooted in sociopolitical history of Pakistan. Both occupy entirely different societal sections with opposing ideologies. Civil society in Pakistan in its present form presents a multidimensional, fragmented but dynamic picture because of the existing divisions and conflict between the secular and the religious. There is need a proper definition of relationship between state and religion and also need to build up the morale of civil society to realize that for the development and progress is only in moderation. Media including print and electronic should encourage progressive mind and dialogues for societal harmony and tolerance.

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