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Maintaining Command of the Sea: Maritime Doctrines of Pakistan and India

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Maritime and naval component is an important part of political, economic and military domain of a maritime nation. This component enhances a states role in foreign policy, diplomacy, economy and especially in military domain to further its national interests. Pakistan and India apart from being a hostile neighbors with over 3,323 km of international land border also share maritime space in Indian Ocean Region. To ensure robust presence and control of the maritime frontiers it’s the responsibility of the navy and its maritime forces to establish the writ of the state in alignment of national interests. For this purpose to understand and devise the role and duties of the navy a doctrine is established which acts as a anchor to establish the norms of the naval and maritime components and develop understanding among tri services (Army and Air-Force) and also of one state’s national maritime objectives with other states. Thus, for this purpose the establishment of a naval doctrine is necessary for a maritime nation. Pakistan being a responsible maritime state has published its own maritime doctrine termed as “Preserving Freedom of Seas” in December 2018.India on the other hand enjoys largest coastline of 7,516 km among any other maritime state with its blue water navy ambitions. The Indian Maritime Doctrine which was published in 2009 highlights the naval ambitions of yet a developing state which causes grave concerns and challenges to Pakistan’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region. Thus, a comparative analysis of both these doctrines underlines the aims and objectives of how both these states perceives the space of Indian Ocean Region.

Indian Ocean Region

Indian Ocean Region is the worlds third largest water body which comprises an area of 65.556 million sq km and have a coastline of 66,526 km. The IOR lies in one of the worlds most contested region which is rich in natural resources including fossil fuels, oil and gas, fisheries and untampered ores and minerals. The IOR has four most crucial access points or choke points namely water ways of Suez Canal (in Egypt), Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman), Strait of Malacca (located between Malaysia and Indonesia) and Bab-al-Mandeb (located near Djibouti and Yemen). The area is currently facing various turmoil’s and challenges including civil unrest, state conflicts and is in the lime-light of the major power politics and strategic interests. The northern part of Indian ocean region ferries 70% of sea borne oil trade and about 50% of sea borne trade.[1]

Pakistan and India both share a significant importance in the international politics due to their geographical positioning and relevancy to major land and maritime routes. Pakistan enjoys an area of 350 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone in Indian Ocean Region, while, India maintains a significant larger jurisdiction over 2.8 million sq km of space in Indian Ocean.[2] With over two naval engagements of 1965-1971 and disputed territories in the region including Sir Creek dispute, both of these South Asian states hold Indian Ocean as a vital component of their strategic apparatus in political, diplomatic and military domains. The economic importance attached to the mercantile component of the Indian Ocean Region thrives the economy of not only Pakistan and India but also the world at large with the onslaught of advance sea borne container freights and other vessels.

Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine 2018

The Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Navy was published in December 2018 during Maritime Security Workshop which was held at Karachi.[3] This doctrine was published after a research of seven years by the academicians of Naval War College. The doctrine is a comprehensive document on issues pertaining to the maritime affairs and role of Pakistan Navy in mitigating them in the light of national interests. The main role as highlighted by the document is to protect the vital maritime interests, ensure national security and mitigate threats posed by any sea based source, economic viability and implement vital foreign policy tools and diplomacy through the naval component. Other major factors highlighted by the doctrine highlights the commitments of Pakistan at the international level and the responsible role played by Pakistan to fulfill its role to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region under its Area of Responsibility (AoR).

According to the document, the role of the doctrine is to establish particular set of principles which are advocated by major policy narratives acquired through experience and provide guidance pertaining to certain issues. The purpose of the doctrine should be to highlight the important factors, give accurate and authentic information, while, remaining flexible with continuous change. The doctrine helps in analyzing and managing change, the shared principles and practices, and is the force behind the institutional development which pursue fundamental national objectives. The interplay between the policy, strategy and doctrine is based upon the national interests and objectives enunciated in the constitutional directives issued by political leadership.[4]

The Naval and Maritime Strategy

According to the document the naval strategy deals with the aspect of employment and deployment of the naval forces in time of war and peace. While, the maritime strategy comprises of a broader domain encompassing the issues pertaining to maritime ecosystem, economy, trade, security and safety, threats and opportunities emanating from the maritime domain. The economic component include the sea borne trade, fishery and marine resources, natural resources, while, the threats include sea borne human, drug trafficking, gun-running, piracy and poaching.

Maritime Force

The naval component of the strategy comprise upon the employment and deployment of naval fire power against surface, sub-surface, air and ashore based threats. The domain of the naval strategy also comprises of the electromagnetic and cyber domain also which are neutralized by various hardware assets and human capital having technological edge over the adversary. This technological edge is ensured by maintaining advanced cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, amphibious assault ships and other fleet auxiliaries.

Foreign Policy Tool

The maritime forces maintained by a state should be flexible, versatile, and sustainable giving them mobility and readiness to operate when and where needed as the need arises, thus, ensuring the naval supremacy of a maritime power nation. Moreover, navy is an important component of the foreign policy ensuring the pursue of entailed objectives such as freedom of navigation, extension of alliances through friendly port visits, aiding in humanitarian and disaster relief operations among others.

International Maritime Regimes

The interaction of states on the high seas is regulated and controlled by various international regimes mainly United Nations Convention Laws of Seas (UNCLOS-1982). The role of the international maritime regimes is crucial to regulating the sea space between the states. Pakistan being a responsible member of the international community is a member of various cooperative, economic and security regimes. Regimes such as Indian Ocean Maritime Affairs Cooperation which was ratified in June 1983 focuses upon ocean governance and management. The Indian Ocean Rim Association which was signed in Mauritius in 1997 focuses upon regional technological and economic cooperation in maritime domain among member states. The International Maritime Conference such as AMAN are held biennially from 2007 by Pakistan to promote cooperation among regional naval forces and share same sense of security towards the maritime threats and challenges. Western Pacific Naval Symposium emphasizes upon pragmatic cooperation between the major states and has developed code of unplanned encounters in sea among the member states which ensures safety and develop bilateral relations.

Maritime Security Initiatives

The maritime security initiatives were readily taken in the aftermath of the 9/11 incident in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through the international water ways. These initiatives ensure that the sea is safe from all threats and challenges. These initiatives comprises of issues relating to conventional maritime security issues, state sovereignty, non-traditional maritime security problems, terrorism, territorial disputes and human and drug trafficking issues. The initiatives comprises of International Ship Port Facility Security Code ISPS, which was launched in December 2002, focuses on security issues pertaining to port facilities and maintaining good order at sea. Other initiatives such as Automatic Identification System AIS is similar to Identification of Friend or Foe IFF but on sea regulating the movement of sea vessels and personnel onboard. Other multifaceted maritime security initiatives include Secure Freight Initiatives SFI, Proliferation Security Initiative PSI and Container Security Initiative CSI. These initiatives monitor sea based cargo and personnel movement through various checks and balances using non-intrusive equipment and optical character recognition instruments.

Maritime Environment

The progressive rise in the economic power centers especially in Asia-Pacific from trans-Atlantic has raised the stakes for the maritime component of trade, geo-politics and strategic dominance in the region. The threats in the region include jeopardizing the maritime trade due to political purposes, sea lanes of communications, combat restricted exclusive economic zones. The increasing maritime threats include smuggling, human and drug trafficking, gun-running. Moreover, the initiation of  China-Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC is the pilot project to enhance the economic importance of the Gwadar port and Pakistan in the region.

Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Climate change is a considerable threat which is dramatically impacting the coastal domain, increasing the sea level, changing the wave patterns, soil sedimentation and unpredictable storm events. These alterations impact the biodiversity of the marine ecosystem and also threatens the coastal regions.

Collaborative Maritime Security

The collaborative maritime security initiatives include Pakistan’s active participation in the Combined Task Force 150 and 151 which has been regularly commanded by Pakistan Navy. These task force ensures that the water ways in the Northern, Western and Central Indian Ocean are kept free from piracy and trafficking, ensuring a safe environment to the economic trade and free movement of sea freight.

Command Of The Sea

The command of the sea is projected through maritime power which enables a nation to control the sea through various spectrums of threats including surface, air, electromagnetic and cyber domains. The naval strategies are adopted by various sea based platforms which perform naval blockade, Force benign role such as ensuring balancing and avoiding head on collision with a greater enemy, naval diplomacy, coercion, gun-boat diplomacy and deterrence at conventional, sub-conventional and nuclear level among many others.

Maritime Command and Control

Maritime command and control is ensured by having a situational domain awareness across the sea based on technological advanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition ISRTA systems. Thus, the domain awareness helps in establishing a more robust and flexible strike element according to changing threat environment. The contemporary increase in sub-conventional maritime threats has forced navy to converge its focus upon threats generating from non-state actors either at land or sea.

The nuclearization of the Indian Ocean by the adversary has raised the stakes in the region, while, the adversary is still instigating in sub-conventional warfare under the cover of nuclear umbrella. Thus, the deliberate desire of the enemy to keep the conventional theater alive calls upon changing the apprehensions regarding the conventional threat. The Pakistan Navy considers that the prevalence of deterrence across all the spectrums must be ensured and upon the failure of the deterrence the protection of maritime interests must be ensured at all costs. For this purpose Pakistan Navy has adopted the approach of provocative, and flexible mobility using the sea space, regulating attrition from multi-dimension cause dilution of enemy forces. Lastly the approaches include hit first with maximum effects and minimum application of force. The nature of naval warfare in coming era will require a robust and flexible force posture ensuring stealthy capabilities. The high-tempo and high-intensity diversion and disruption of sea lanes of communications of the enemy using submarine component of the force to dominate the war theater are among the major priorities of the navy.

The future warfare environment would be in a network centric environment which would be prone to cyber threats upon the major critical infrastructure. Navy is working on ensuring that the force is ready to overcome the future challenges in coming years ranging from information wars to cyber threats and ensuring interoperability of land and air-forces in synchronization with navy thus ensuring accomplishment of goals as desired by political leadership.

The Comparative Analysis of Pakistan’s Maritime Doctrine with Indian Maritime Doctrine

The maritime doctrine of India was published in 2009, which propagated the increasing role of Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region highlighting the Blue Water Navy ambitions of India. The doctrine of Pakistan Navy contrasts and contradicts the Indian Naval apprehensions at various points. While, both of the doctrines ensure to maintain the conventional and nuclear deterrence and ensure capability enhancement to overcome the upcoming information and cyber warfare domains. The Indian Naval doctrine undermines the chances of any Force-Benign and force balancing posture and subsequently highlights the of the role of maintaining a strategic superiority in the region. While, the maritime doctrine of Pakistan ensures that it is a responsible state by complying to international commitments pertaining to maritime domain. Indian Navy on the other hand does not highlight and discuss the importance of the maritime security initiatives altogether. Thus, this aspect highlights the Indian Naval ambitions to acquire superiority in the region.The contrasts in the doctrines of India and Pakistan are there to persist, but there are various similarities along various points relating to the command of sea and on war. The highlighted points include the realization of prevalence of sub-conventional warfare and the rapid change in the battle field and role of the navy in terms of combating various threats. The role of the navy has enhanced from maintaining control of the sea at non-conventional low intensity conflicts to conventional and all out nuclear conflicts including the total-war scenarios.[5]

Recommendations

To maintain strategic stability and effective control over the maritime domain it is recommended that Pakistan should engage in effective diplomatic relations with states in Indian Ocean Region especially Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar and engage in enhancing the naval capabilities of these states, lease naval assets and deploy listening posts in the region to maintain surveillance over Indian naval movements. This ambit could be further expanded to Strait of Malacca especially Malaysia, Indonesia and in Strait of Hormuz due to its economic and strategic importance as more than 80% of energy resources for Pakistan flow through the Persian Gulf.  Pakistan should  diplomatically engage Gulf States especially Oman which hosts Indian Naval listening post in Ras al Hadd to monitor the potential hostile naval activates of India Navy in specific which has enhanced its patrolling in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.[6] For maintaining an effective maritime domain awareness in the region it is recommended that Pakistan Navy should develop an Information Fusion Center (IFC) in the region including allies states which would enable to maintain a joint maritime domain awareness, further enhance the ambit of its Regional Maritime Security Patrol (RMSP) and Amman Naval Exercises.[7] This would enable the navy to develop a comprehensive network centric capability which would act as force multiplier and enabler for the navy to obtain its objectives as described in the maritime doctrine effectively. The strategic competition in the region and the changing strategic and military alliances following formulation of US Indo-Pacific Command following multiple strategic agreements between India and USA following 2+2 Dialogue, Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA),[8]India US Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOSA), Basic Exchange Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue[9] would enhance Indian naval capabilities to project its blue water ambitions not only in the Indian Ocean Region alone but beyond that especially in South China Sea and Persian Gulf.[10]Indian also have developed its Information Fusion Center for Indian Ocean region to enhance its maritime domain awareness with collaboration with regional and international partners including US and Australia in December 2018.[11] Thus, following materialization of these agreements especially COMCASA would enable India to use not only US and NATO maritime domain awareness assets but also the real time and exclusive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in potential areas of interest in Indian Ocean Region and South China Sea vis-à-vis Pakistan and China’s naval capabilities. Thus, the emerging strategic picture following contemporary shifts in the region especially in maritime domain would pose a considerable threat to viability of maintaining command of the sea for Pakistan in its area of interest. For this reason Pakistan should develop and enhance considerable force structure, establish and deepen its strategic relations with the regional allies mainly China for enhancing its naval capabilities and maintain command of the sea according to its national interests and to counter the threats posed from Indian Blue Water ambitions.

Conclusion

The Indian Ocean Region is a shared space between not only the two South Asian neighbors but also by the whole world which is connected by the intricate web of land, sea, air and cyber links. The role of doctrines is to ensure stability and maintain rationality among the state actors in their dealings at various levels of analysis. The maritime doctrines of both Pakistan and India ensure that while they both long for peace and stability in the region they will not undermine their national security at any cost. To ensure peace and stability in the region, Pakistan has showcased its commitments to international community ensuring that it’s a responsible nation. While, the Indian on the other hand with their aspirations of becoming sole regional power are undermining their commitment to peace and security in the region. While, the trade and economics are a crucial part of the maritime domain Pakistan is working on readily to reinvigorate its economic resources to pursue its national interests accordingly. It is advised that India with its power ambitions may act a regional destabilizer that would enforce Pakistan to take provocative steps to maintain strategic balance.


[1] “Indian Ocean Region,” US Naval War College, https://usnwc.libguides.com/IndianOcean, Accessed on December 19, 2019.

[2] “The Exclusive Economic Zone of the Seas around India,” Geography and You, January 24, 2018,  https://www.geographyandyou.com/exclusive-economic-zone-seas-around-india/, Accessed on December 19, 2019.

[3]“President launches first Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan,” Pakistan Today, December 21, 2018, https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/12/21/president-launches-first-maritime-doctrine-of-pakistan/ (Accessed on December 19, 2019).

[4] Naval Headquarters, Islamabad, ”Maritime Doctrine of Pakistan Preserving Freedom of Seas,” 2018.

[5] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defense (Navy), “Indian Maritime Doctrine,” 2009.

[6] “Indian Listening Station In Oman Monitoring Pakistan’s Naval Communications,”Aamen, February 27, 2013, https://www.aame.in/2013/02/indian-listening-station-in-oman.html

[7]SOHAIL A. AZMIE,“Regional maritime security patrols: Pak Navy’s initiative for preserving freedom of the seas,” The Nation, June 2, 2019, https://nation.com.pk/02-Jun-2019/regional-maritime-security-patrols-pak-navy-s-initiative-for-preserving-freedom-of-the-seas

[8] Ankit Panda,“What the Recently Concluded US-India COMCASA Means,” The Diplomat, September 09, 2018,   https://thediplomat.com/2018/09/what-the-recently-concluded-us-india-comcasa-means/

[9]Patrick M. Cronin, “US Asia Strategy: Beyond the Quad,” The Diplomat, March 09, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/03/us-asia-strategy-beyond-the-quad/

[10]Dinakar Peri, What is LEMOA?,The Hindu, August 30, 2016,https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/What-is-LEMOA/article15604647.ecein

[11] Pradip R Sagar, “Indian Navy launches Information Fusion Centre to boost maritime security,” The Week, December 22, 2018, https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2018/12/22/Indian-Navy-launches-Information-Fusion-Centre-to-boost-maritime-security.html.

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Afghanistan Will Test SCO’s Capacity

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The US is withdrawing from Afghanistan. Twenty years of the US-led foreign intervention has brought neither prosperity, nor stability, to the country. With hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the seemingly endless military operations and with thousands of Americans killed, the Biden Administration faces a harsh reality: A Western type political system is not likely to take roots in Kabul anytime soon. Washington has lost the war it waged for the last two decades. The main challenge for US President Joe Biden and his team is how to make the painful US defeat less humiliating and the ongoing retreat more graceful.

This is not to say that the US will play no role in and around Afghanistan after September 11, 2021. It might continue to support the government in Kabul for some time through economic and technical assistance, through intelligence data sharing, or even through limited US airstrikes against rebellious warlords in county’s provinces. Still, the place of Afghanistan in the US—and Western—strategic designs will go down dramatically. In the end of the day, only Afghans themselves can settle the conflict in their country through a political dialogue and an inclusive peace process.

On the other hand, from now on, the future of Afghanistan should be a matter of concern not for remote overseas powers, but for regional players around this country—such as Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, India and Central Asia countries. The ability or inability of these players to come to a common denominator on their respective approaches to Afghanistan will become the critical external factor affecting the country’s future.

Unfortunately, no consensus about Afghanistan exists between major regional players. Each of them has its own history of relations with the Afghan state and the Afghan people, sometimes quite controversial and sometimes even bitter. They have very different assessments of the current balance of powers inside the country, and often quite diverging threat perceptions. Their respective views on the military capabilities of the insurgent Taliban and on its long-term political goals are not the same. Each of the regional players has carefully developed its special lines of communication to the government in Kabul and, arguably, to various factions of the insurgent camp as well.

Still, the overall views within the neighboring countries on the desirable future of the country coincide or, at least, significantly overlap. Essentially, there are two fundamental issues at stake for all the Afghani neighbors. First, Afghanistan should not become an Islamic Emirate, which international terrorist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda could use to plan their malign subversive operations in the region. Second, Afghanistan should stop being the major producer and exporter of narcotics, which it has become under the Western occupation. Of course, regional players would also prefer to see Afghanistan as a politically stable, economically striving, socially inclusive, culturally diverse and religiously tolerant country. However, everybody understands that this is too high a bar to consider for in the immediate future.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might well be an appropriate platform to try figuring out how to approach these two critical issues in a multilateral format. Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Iran, has an observer status within SCO; Turkmenistan coordinates its Afghan policies with SCO countries; all other regional players are full-fledged members to the organization. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group has existed since the fall of 2005 and it has already accumulated a lot of useful practical experience. Still, until recently, the contact group operated in the shadows of the Western intervention in the country. The time has come for SCO member states to bring this body out to the light and to rise up to a new, post-US Afghan challenge.

One of the SCO comparative advantages is that, given its very broad and even ambiguous mandate, it is in a position to address simultaneously security, economic and human development agendas of Afghanistan, combining support for political stability, implementation of large-scale economic projects and assistance for social capital building. It can also coordinate efforts of other international actors ranging from the specialized agencies of the United Nations to private foreign companies to small NGOs interested in specific avenues of collaboration with partners in and around Afghanistan.

Keeping in mind significant disagreements between SCO members (especially between India and Pakistan) on a number of important Afghanistan related matters, one could envisage a multilateralism a la carte approach to specific projects in this country. It implies that select SCO states could form project-based coalitions to engage in initiatives of their choice without necessarily trying to involve all of SCO member states. However, it is important to make sure that such projects would not jeopardize or question core national interests of other SCO members.

The role of Afghanistan itself should not be limited to that of an SCO economic or security assistance recipient. Without an active Afghan involvement, some of the SCO plans would be hard to implement in full. For instance, engaging Afghanistan in major railway and energy infrastructure projects is indispensable for strengthening regional connectivity between Central and South Asia and in the SCO space as a whole. The China proposed-Belt and Road Initiative would remain incomplete, if it has to bypass Afghanistan due to unaddressed security concerns. In sum, Afghanistan should become a subject, not an object of the regional multilateral cooperation.

No doubt, Afghanistan stands out as a formidable challenge for SCO, but it is also a unique opportunity for the alliance of Eurasian nations. If the organization manages to succeed whether the US and its Western allies failed in the most dramatic way, this success would be the best possible illustration of the changing nature of international relations. After having successfully tested its institutional capacity in Afghanistan, SCO could find it much easier to approach various regional crises, civil conflicts and failed states in Eurasia—and even beyond the Eurasian continent. Regretfully, there will be no shortage of such crises, conflicts and failed states in years to come.

From our partner RIAC

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Foreign Troops withdrawal at a faster pace from Afghanistan

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The US is withdrawing troops at a faster pace than expected. It has been reported that almost half of the remaining forces have already been evacuated. It might be a part of the US strategy. Only time will explain it well. The US is handing over some crucial posts to Afghan Government Forces like the essential Bagram Air Base. Afghan Army was created by Americans, trained by Americans, equipped by Americans, and considered loyal with American. Their task was to obey American orders, protect American interests, and counter the Taliban.

The Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan forces has witnessed a sharp increase in diverse parts of more than twenty provinces of Afghanistan. The Taliban even attacked Mihtarlam – the 16th largest city in the Laghman province – which has been a comparatively quiet and calm city in the last few years. As a result of the Taliban’s current encounters, innocent Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the country. Their next destination may be Kabul and they are capable of taking over Kabul conveniently.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Governments of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were not legitimate Afghan-owned Governments; they were created by Americans and served Americans as puppet Governments. The natural pillars of the power were the Taliban. American took control from the Taliban in 2001, and they negotiated the troop’s withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without involving President Ashraf Ghani’s Government initially. American knows that Taliban are the real owners of Afghanistan and should rule their country in post withdrawl era. Americans acknowledged the potential and supremacy of the Taliban. President Ashraf Gahni or Hamid Karzai has no roots or public support in Afghanistan and will have no role in the future political setup in the post-withdrawal era.

Taliban are well-educated people, having good knowledge of Economics, Science & Technology, Industry, Agriculture, International relations and politics, and in-depth understanding of religions. They ruled the country in 1994-2001 successfully. Their era was one of the most peaceful eras in the recent history of Afghanistan.

Just like any defeating army, the US is trying to harm Afghanistan as much as possible, and destroying its weapons and war machinery at an estimated worth of US Dollars 80 Billion, and destroying ammunition depots, Infrastructures, and all-important places, before the surrender, creating a tough time for Taliban to reconstruct the war-torn country. Even the US is deliberately pushing Afghanistan towards chaos and civil war-like never-ending trobles.

Desperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani complained about American disloyalty in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 14, 2021.   Displaying a feeling of betrayal and helplessness, President ashraf Ghani is blaming Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s positive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table in Doha is widely admired by the US and International community.

Similarly, in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 22, 2021, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also taken a tough stance on Pakistan and blamed Islamabad for its alleged link with and support to the Taliban. However, he also indirectly gave the message that the United States would not want peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has expressed high hopes “for the so-called Troika Plus, a diplomatic initiative launched by Russia which also includes China and the United States.” In response to the very first question about the Taliban, Karzai says that “I realized early into my tenure as president that this war is not our conflict and we Afghans are just being used against each other” by external forces.

However, it was the people of Afghanistan who suffered the four decades of prolonged war. It seems their sufferings are reaching an end. All the neighboring countries also suffered due to the Afghan war, and it is time for all neighboring countries to support Afghan reconstruction. China is already willing to assist in reconstructing Afghanistan under its mega initiative BRI. Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia may also outreach Afghanistan and play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan will be beneficial for all its neighbors and the whole region. Let’s hope for the best, with our best struggles.

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What position would Russia take in case of an armed conflict between China and US?

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China and Russia have seen increasing interactions and closer bonds as they face amid US pressure. The trilateral relations of China, Russia and the US are of great significance in the international order. Ahead of the upcoming Putin-Biden summit, Global Times reporters Xie Wenting and Bai Yunyi (GT) interviewed Russian Ambassador to China Andrey Denisov (Denisov) on a range of issues including bilateral and trilateral relations, COVID-19, and many others.

GT: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June 16. What are your expectations for the meeting? How do you evaluate the possibility of improvement in Russia-US relations during Biden’s presidency?

Denisov: We are realists. We do not expect impossible outcomes. We welcome any measures that reduce tensions and competition, but we are very cautious about what we can expect from the Russian-American relations, especially in the context of the very tense relations between the two countries. The Geneva summit, the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office, is less likely to resolve important issues between the two countries. A better outcome, though, is that it sets the conditions for resolving problems in the future.

GT: Some analysts suggest the Biden administration may take measures to ease tensions with Russia in order to concentrate on dealing with China. Will this strategy alienate Russia from China and draw it closer to the US?

Denisov: This view is too short-sighted. It can’t happen. I think we’re smarter than what the Americans think.

GT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited China after the China-US meeting in Anchorage, while China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi visited Moscow after a Russia-US foreign ministers’ meeting. Was the timing of these two visits deliberately arranged? What signal did this send?

Denisov: As for the timing, it was purely coincidental that the two visits followed the high-level talks between China and the US in Anchorage and between Russia and the US in Iceland. It takes time and technical preparation to arrange a visit at the level of foreign minister and above.

When Russia was preparing for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China, it was not aware that senior diplomats from China and the US would meet in Anchorage. The same goes for Director Yang Jiechi’s visit to Russia.

But it is a good thing that these two diplomatic interactions came on the heels of Russia and China’s conversations with the US. It will give senior diplomats from both countries an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on what has happened in previous meetings between China and the US and between Russia and the US.

GT: Do Russia and China coordinate and communicate with each other on their stance toward the US?

Denisov: A principle in international political exchanges is that the question of an absent third party should not be discussed in the exchanges. However, this principle is almost never observed. A case in point is US President Biden’s trip to the UK for the G7 summit. Although Chinese representatives will not be present at the meeting and will not be able to express their positions, the US has announced that it will discuss its policy toward China with its European Allies.

In this context, the US topic certainly occupies a place on the agenda of the meeting between senior Chinese and Russian diplomats. Although the last two visits were short and had limited agendas, the two sides discussed in great detail a range of topics, including some of the most pressing and acute issues in the current international situation. As a matter of fact, there is no content or topic that should be avoided in the political dialogue between Russia and China.

GT: Competition and confrontation between China and the US are escalating. If one day an armed conflict between China and the US happens, what position would Russia take?

Denisov: There will be no answer to this question because I am convinced that there will be no armed conflict between China and the US, just as there will be no armed conflict between Russia and the US, because such a conflict would exterminate all mankind, and then there would be no point in taking sides. However, if you are asking about the judgment of the international situation and major issues, then Russia’s position is clearly much closer to China’s.

In recent years, the US has imposed sanctions both on Russia and China. Although the areas and content of the US’ dissatisfaction towards Russia and China are different, the goal of the US is the same: to crush the competitor. We clearly cannot accept such an attitude from the US. We hope that the Russia-China-US “tripod” will keep balance.

GT: As far as you know, is President Putin scheduled to visit China this year?
Denisov: There is a possibility. Our high-level exchange plan includes President Putin’s visit to China, and both sides have the willingness. China hopes that President Putin will be the first foreign leader to visit China after the pandemic, while Russia also hopes that President Putin’s first state visit after the outbreak will be arranged in China. However, whether this arrangement can be implemented will depend on how the pandemic develops. While the two leaders have not exchanged visits in the past two years, they have spoken on the phone a number of times and the exchanges between Russia and China at the highest levels remain close.

GT: President Putin recently said that the US was wrong to think that it was “powerful enough” to get away with threatening other countries; a mistake, he said, that led to the downfall of the former Soviet Union. How do you comprehend President Putin’s words?

Denisov: Anyone who follows current US policy will not disagree with President Putin’s views. My interpretation of this statement is that President Putin is not “foreseeing” that the US will suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, nor is he saying that he would like to see that happen. He is simply warning that the risk is real, but many American political elites have not yet fully realized it.

We cannot imagine a world without the US today. The US plays a big role in terms of economy, culture, science and technology, and we cannot deny this fact. But on the other hand, the US needs to recognize that it is not the only country in the world, and it needs to take into account and respect the realities and goals of other countries. President Putin is reminding the US not to make the mistakes of the Soviet Union.

GT: Many reports in recent years have said the US and some other countries are trying to incite a “color revolution” in China and Russia to create a “zone of geopolitical instability” around the two countries. Under the current situation, what kind of cooperation can China and Russia carry out?

Denisov: That is why I said that Russia and China are highly consistent in their judgment of the international situation. Both Russia and China follow the principle of non-interference in another country’s internal affairs, but in the past few years, we have witnessed “color revolutions” in many countries, which have led to domestic chaos. These “color revolutions” certainly have some domestic or local reasons, but they are always accompanied by the presence of external forces.

In order to prevent a third country from interfering in the internal affairs of Russia and China, we should jointly work out some “rules of the game,” especially in the field of information security so as to prevent some countries with more advanced information technology from imposing their own political agenda on other countries through IT technology.

Recently, a new phenomenon has emerged in the world: hybrid warfare (Hybrid warfare refers to a new type of warfare in the 21st century, which involves a mixture of conventional and non-conventional means. It is considered to be more varied and covert than conventional warfare.) In this field, the international community does not yet have the corresponding rules to restrict or regulate it.

On the one hand, it is the common concern of Russia and China to prevent their country from being invaded by bad information from the outside world. On the other hand, although Russia and China have sufficient capabilities and strong information networks to resist a “color revolution,” some countries and regions around us are relatively vulnerable in this regard, and external interference at the information level could easily lead to large-scale domestic turbulence [in these countries and regions]. The recent events in Belarus and what happened in Hong Kong two years ago are two examples. Therefore, to formulate common rules against “color revolutions” is also for the stability of more countries and regions.

GT: The West has been hyping up Russia and China’s so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” claiming that the two countries are pursuing geopolitical interests through vaccine exports and aid. What do you think of it?

Denisov: China has so far provided at least 350 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines overseas. Russia’s vaccines exports are not as large as China’s, but it has cooperated with 66 countries. San Marino has beaten the outbreak with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. At the same time, Russia has also taken the lead in proposing providing relevant technology and process support to help countries produce vaccines. So far, we have discussed relevant cooperation with 25 medical manufacturers from 14 countries.

We believe that the issue of mutual recognition of vaccines can best be addressed through multilateral platforms such as the WHO, as both Russian and Chinese vaccines may face difficulties in getting recognition. This is not because of the quality or protection rates of the Russian and Chinese vaccines, but because some competitors are very reluctant to allow Russian and Chinese vaccines into other countries. They will create artificial obstacles, including using political tools and unfair methods to achieve their goals.

The suggestion of “vaccine diplomacy” is one of the obstacles they create. Some countries with “vaccine nationalism” give priority to vaccinating their own population, which is fine in itself, but at the same time they are trying to discredit other countries’ vaccine aid and prevent Chinese and Russian vaccines from entering the market of third countries. This is not right. It is a typical “vaccine politicization.”

Besides, the West’s fabrication about the virus being a result of “a Chinese laboratory leak” is a classic case of politicizing the pandemic. These are very unfair political statements, which are not the right way to address this devastating human crisis.

GT: Some analysts said that there are considerable differences in terms of China and Russia’s strategic interests: Russia has little interest in maintaining the existing international order, while China, as the biggest beneficiary of the existing international order, only seeks to adjust the order. What do you think of this view?

Denisov: This is a rather black and white statement. It is also a radical view of the international situation, as if there are only two options before us: preserving the existing international order or destroying it. But that’s not the case.

Russia and China are both world powers and have their own interests at the global and regional levels. These interests cannot be identical in all cases. But on the whole, the international interests of Russia and China are the same, so our positions on most international issues are the same. The most obvious example is how we vote in the United Nations Security Council: Russia and China often cast the same vote at the Security Council.

The international order is not static. It not only evolves, but has recently accelerated its evolution. The international order needs reform to make it more responsive to today’s realities, but we cannot change it in a one-size-fits-all way.

I do not agree with the view that Russia and China have very different views on the reform of the international order. In fact, our positions on some of the most important issues are the same, and we just have different views on some specific details.

GT: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. How do you evaluate the CPC’s performance and achievements?
Denisov: Since I was assigned to work in Beijing in the 1970s, I have witnessed firsthand China’s development over the past half century. I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous progress China has made under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and I have seen that China’s success is the result of many important factors, such as the dedication and diligence of the Chinese people and the right decisions made by the leadership.

For the CPC, this year is very important. In the future, China will welcome another 100th anniversary: the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps I will be too old to see what China will look like when that day comes. But I can imagine it, because in the course of China’s development over the past 50 years, I have seen the support of the Chinese people for the CPC as the ruling party, and the crucial role it has played in China’s achievements. I know there is a song in China that many people sing: “Without the CPC, there would be no New China.” I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate all Chinese people.

GT: We learned that some Russian people have negative views of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Union. Will they equate the CPC with the Soviet Communist Party? Will this affect the current China-Russia relations?

Denisov: Russia is a big country and its people hold diverse views. I think the number of Russians who feel this way is very small.

Indeed, the Soviet era had many flaws, but people of my generation who actually experienced this era could still think of many good and positive things when they look back. Our poll shows that the negative attitude toward the Soviet Union is largely held by young Russians who were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not see it firsthand. They had a different attitude towards the Communist Party, but it was more about the Soviet Union’s own policies at that time, not the Communist Party in general.

I also want to share a personal view on the Soviet Union and the Communist Party: If a figure like Deng Xiaoping had appeared in the Soviet Communist Party at that time, perhaps the course of our country’s development would have changed forever.

Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about state and different social systems. We have also found that the responses of different countries to the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the strengths and weaknesses of different social development models. Today, the Chinese economy has emerged from the crisis caused by last year’s epidemic, demonstrating the great vitality of China’s development model. This reminds me of a Chinese saying: Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.

from our partner RIAC

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