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Understanding the Indo-Pacific Strategy: From the View Point of Subramaniam Jaishankar

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Abstract: In the narratives of international relations, the term ‘great game’ has been used to describe those events that have drawn the great powers into the conflict. In the 21st century, the region which is the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is considered to be the arena of another ‘Great Game’ involving the US, China, EU, Russia, India, Japan, and Australia (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 182). Some call it a (Barauh, 2020). This region is increasingly been referred as Indo- Pacific region. In this essay, we shall understand the significance of the Indo – Pacific region from the perspective of India. Who would be a better person than the external affairs minister to explain India’s stance? We shall analytically discuss the insights and understanding of Subramanian Jaishankar from his newly released book ‘The India Way.’

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ was first introduced by Dr. Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation(Kuo, 2018). Even though such nomenclature leads people to think that India has a special role to play, it is rather a general mix of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. An interesting fact is known that during Obama’s office, the US decided to go with the name Indo- Asia- Pacific region encouraging India to be the ‘net security provider'(Ibid). However, Trump has made it short – calling it ‘Indo-Pacific’. The growing aggressive behavior of China in economic terms and physically in the South China Sea, and its string of pearls strategy engulfing the Indian Ocean region and extending its economic sea lanes till Northern Africa has become a cause of concern for the major powers. This makes the Indo- Pacific region a strategic hot spot of geopolitics.

China is India’s competitive neighbor with unresolved border issues. Accordingly, for India, securing its backyard – the Indian Ocean becomes a priority. However, India cannot challenge China’s rise and show the world that it belongs to the camp which will be hinged on containing China’s rise. Its huge titled balance of payments towards China shows strong economic dependence. It has to carefully manage the changing power dynamics and establish itself as one of the regional power in the upcoming multipolar world. Accordingly, India did not publicly declare Indo – Pacific to be the region of its strategic interest until 2018. It was in the Shangri La dialogue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defined Indo- Pacific expanding the strategic interests from Western Africa to the shores of America(PMO, 2018).

The importance of the Indo –Pacific region is reiterated by India’s external affairs minister in his book ‘The India Way.’ He asserted that it is not just India, but all the great powers are shifting their focus on to this region to counter the emerging hegemon. In the following section, we shall analytically understand his stand on this new great game using structural realist constructs.

Importance of the region and the reason for calling it a contemporary new great game(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 162)

  1. For India, it is a logical step to move beyond Act-East policy.
  2. For Japan, movement into the Indian Ocean would be a long term strategy.
  3. For the US, it is a necessary region to uphold its global dominance.
  4. For Russia, it is a new emphasis on the Far East.
  5. For China, it is a necessity to emerge as the regional hegemon
  6. For Europe, it is the return to the region from which it withdrew.

These assertions are easily understood from the Hegemonic Power Transition theory (Kugler & Organski, 1989). According to this theory, the international structure is considered hierarchical. When the nation-states reach their maturity of productivity, other great powers will soon catch up to the status of the dominant power. In such a scenario, the friction arises between the dominant and the challenger. Here, the dominant power would be the US and the great powers would be China, EU, Russia, and also India. The great power which has reached the position to challenge the dominant power is China. Japan’s long term strategy, and the US necessity, and the EU’s return to the region shows its limited options. They have to concentrate on the balancing strategies in the Indo- Pacific region. Such balancing needs a strong anchor in the region making India be the only option. When it comes to Russia, its focus would be on securing its SLOCs (Sea lanes of Communication) from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean region, and a free movement From Vladivostok to the South China Sea. However, Russia and India would not be strongly associated here because of the former’s strategic ties with China.

This region has not only come up in the foreign policy discourses with the growth of dominant players in Asia. Its importance has historical, cultural, and economic importance attached to it. India’s cultural influence can be traced to the extensive reach of Buddhism, temple architecture of South East Asia, and also migrations. Even during the colonial times, the trade between Europe and South East Asia was carried out in the confluence region of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Owing to the domination of the US and the fall of the UK, India’s role in this region both politically and economically dwindled. With China rising its stakes in the region, it has become inevitable for India to re-draft its balancing strategies and enhances its capabilities. With these challenging dynamics of the power relations between the great powers and the emerging multi-polarity, Jaishankar asserts that the Indian foreign policy strategy should adopt the real politic nature of Lord Krishna[1](Jaishankar, 2020, p. 49).

Jaishankar’s New Neo-realist stance on Indo- Pacific

Being a vivid structural-realist, he asserts that the Indo-Pacific policy should focus on strengthening India’s power as a regional dominant player. In achieving the same, it has to strengthen its centrality on the Indian Ocean by expanding the nation’s influence into the extended neighborhood. SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is one such promising initiative that advances cooperative development without pushing the Indian Ocean Littoral states to the fear of India becoming the regional hegemon. BIMSTEC, IORA, IONS are some of the other initiatives highlighted and asserted that they have to be a dynamic and collaborative approach to strengthen the security apparatus.

Bringing the perspective of Organski’s power transition theory, today’s Indo-pacific region’s importance should be attributed to the rise of China which is a great power, and its challenge to the Dominant power, the US. The other great power(perhaps middle powers in the present geopolitical context) in the region will be India, Japan, and Australia. China’s rise as a dominant maritime power in the region is not a sudden and standalone change. The retrenchment of the US from this region is also opined to be the cause(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 184) for the change in power dynamics. Even though his explanations fall in line with the Organski’s propositions, Jaishankar’s strategies are more inclined towards defensive realism. His four-point framework for India to develop its Indo-Pacific strategy blow explain the Waltz’s balancing strategies in the uncertain Indo- Pacific region.

  1. Safeguard islands and littoral and make India’s capabilities available for others
  2. Deepening economic and security cooperation with maritime neighbors
  3. Collective action and cooperation to advance peace and security
  4. Integrated and Co-operative future for the region enhancing sustainable development

Concentric Circles Approach

Another approach provided is that – the strategy shall be developed in terms of concentric circles. First involves the core, the strengthening of India’s capabilities, and influence in its neighborhood. The second circle includes the ties with island states like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles. Third, is the revival of the Indian Ocean as a community. The outermost circle is the periphery extending to the Pacific Ocean.

This conception appears to overcome both Makinder’s Heartland and Spyman’s Rimland theory. Heart land theory emphasizes on the Eurasian region to be the harbinger of the global control. Rimland theory states the same with an emphasis on the littoral region of Asian continent. Jaishankar’s concentric circles neither emphasizes only on the mainland or the Indian Ocean littoral which is the Rimland. The Oceanic region is considered to be the centrality.

Stretching the Neorealist perspective:

The Indian Ocean is not just a facilitator between the East and the West, it has got historical-cultural linkages across the Indo-pacific littoral states. India’s advantage in the region is its shared cultural history with its neighbors and East Asia. India’s Project Mausam is one such example where it promotes historical and archaeological research Soft power can be used to expand the cooperative development. Sectors such as technology sharing, tourism, education prove to be more practical for regional development.

While considering the African region, the total value of the Western Indian Ocean amounts to US$ $333.8 billion(wwf, 2017). India’s western coastline connects the oil reserves of the world and the untapped African natural wealth. There are a huge human capital and economic investments in the development projects apart from what the ocean itself provides. For the starters, India could use the established regional forums such as IORA and IONS where there are African member states.

Conclusion

Recognizing multi-polarity as the future, Jaishankar’s advocacy of having India’s strategic thought learning and making from its rich history is interesting and necessary. China is an immediate threat to both India and Japan. In such a situation, Jaishankar’s emphasis on the importance of a strategic alliance with Japan to uphold the strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific region is welcomed. It is also opined that the contemporary region of the great game would culminate in having a multilateral setting with regional powers including the US at the high table. Notably, India’s strategic expansion of its naval interests also started with recent buzz around the Quad (Informal strategic forum between India, US, Japan, and Australia) also appears to have a strong push from Jaishankar.

However, his emphasis on the cooperation and multilateral setting have their difficulties. The difficulty is caused by the colonial rule which fragmented social harmony. It dissected the regions into small political units providing them a changed identity(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 192). This makes the restructuring of the Indian Ocean community a difficult task. With the growing skepticism towards China and the growing prowess of QUAD, India should assert its centrality by extending its developmental help towards its Indian Ocean littorals. The strength lies in making the Indian Ocean the transit hub for the Indo-Pacific region (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 188). Thus, strengthening the UNCLOS and advocating freedom of navigation on international waters should be the fundamental anchor point.

The book ‘The India way’ will give a clear perspective on the way the NDA II government approaches its foreign policy. It adopts a neo-realist policy with a flavor of cultural diplomacy. His approaches may be compared to Organski and Waltz as in the other chapters, he encourages the importance of nationalism and historical influence. The power substantiated by the public support and historical justification is opined to carry many responsibilities and pave the path towards the nation’s transition into the great power within the multipolar system.

References

Barauh, M. D., 2020. India in the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi’s Theater of Opportunity. [Online].

Jaishankar, S., 2020. The India Way. New Delhi: Harper Collins.

Kugler, J. & Organski, A. F., 1989. The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In: Handbook of war studies. s.l.:Routledge, pp. 171-194.

Kuo, A. M., 2018. The Origin of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as Geopolitical Construct. [Online]
Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-origin-of-indo-pacific-as-geopolitical-construct/

PMO, 2018. PM Modi’s Keynote Speech at Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore | PMO. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRndujMJ99M

wwf, 2017. Western Indian Ocean valued at US$333.8 billion but at a crossroads. [Online]
Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?290410%252FWestern-Indian-Ocean-valued-at-US3338-billion-but-at-a-crossroads#:~:text=Antananarivo%2C%20Madagascar%20%2D%20A%20groundbreaking%20new,absence%20of%20stronger%20conservation%20actions.


[1]A Hindu lord whose contribution to the Hindu philosophy can be understood from the texts of Mahabharatam.

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Afghanistan: the US and NATO withdrawal and future prospects

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On April 14, the United States of America announced that it would withdraw all its troops stationed in Afghanistan from May 1 to September 11, 2021. On the same day, NATO also said it would coordinate with the White House military to initiate the withdrawal.

The year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has actually been going on since the Soviet invasion of that unfortunate country on December 24, 1979.

What are the plans of NATO and the United States? How will the situation in Afghanistan change in the future?

Regarding the US announcement of the deadline for troop withdrawal, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said that the Afghan government respects the US government’s decision to withdraw its troops by the agreed date.

According to the Associated Press, there were 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan before May 1, far below the peak of over 110,000 in 2011.

According to the websites of the Financial Times and theDeutsche Welle, some ten thousand soldiers from the 36 NATO Member States and other US allies are currently stationed in Afghanistan, including as many as 895 Italian soldiers, as well as 1,300 Germans, 750 Brits, 619 Romanians, 600 Turks, etc.

President Trump’s previous Administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in February 2020, setting May 1, 2021 as the deadline for NATO to begin withdrawing from that country. The Washington Post reported that after the current US government issued the withdrawal statement, the Taliban immediately said that if the United States violated the peace agreement and did not withdraw its troops in Afghanistan, the situation would get worse and one of the parties to the agreement would take responsibility for it.

This year is the twentieth since the United States started the war in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The war in Afghanistan is the United States’ longest overseas war, and has killed over 2,300 US soldiers and wounded some 20,000 people, at a cost of over 1 trillion US dollars.

Although the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the situation in Afghanistan has been turbulent for a long time, with over a hundred thousand Afghan civilian casualties in the fighting.

According to The New York Times, both Parties’ members of the US Congress have differing views on the consequences of withdrawal. According to the newspaper, Republicans and some Democrats believe that the troop withdrawal will encourage the Taliban insurgency, while others believe it is necessary to put an end to this indefinite war.

But what considerations can be made for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan?

It is well known that the purpose of the United States in taking the war to Afghanistan was a very heavy measure of retaliation against al-Qaeda, which had organised the terrorist attacks of September 11, and against the Taliban regime that protected the top leaders of that terrorist organisation. Although al-Qaeda has not been destroyed, it is unlikely to create similar problems. The United States has achieved its strategic goals and is no longer involved in East Asia’s tactics and strategy.

The interests of NATO (considering its individual Member States) in Afghanistan are fewer than those of the United States. As a military alliance with the United States, the achievement of US strategic goals means that NATO’s equal strategic goals have also been achieved. Hence, rather than continuing to run the risk of confronting the Taliban and al-Qaeda after US military withdrawals, NATO is more willing to remove the “political burden” as soon as possible.

While announcing the terms of the withdrawal, the White House has stated that the threat of extremist organisations such as Somalia’s al-Shabaab and ISIS is spreading globally and it is therefore meaningless to concentrate forces in Afghanistan, with a steady expansion of its military cycle. At the same time, however, the White House has stated that after withdrawal, diplomatic and counter-terrorism mechanisms will be reorganised in Afghanistan to face security challenges. Hence, from the US perspective, there is currently a greater terrorist threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The prospectsfor advancing the Indo-Pacific regional strategy to oppose China also means that it would be counterproductive for the United States to remain in Afghanistan any longer. Even after the troop withdrawal, there will be insecurity in Afghanistan. That being the case, however, the United States will still find ways and means to support the Afghan regime and the armed forces of the Kabul government.

The Washington Post has also reported statements by a Pentagon official who has stressed that Afghanistan is a landlocked country: consequently, once US and NATO forces withdraw, one of the biggest challenges will be how to effectively monitor and combat extremist organisations and resist threats to US security: at that distance it will be even more difficult without sea landings.

According to Reuters, the CIA predicts that the possibility of a further US-Afghan peace deal is little and has warned that once the United States and its allies withdraw, it will be difficult to stop the Taliban.

The Afghan government forces currently control Kabul and other large cities, but the Taliban are present in more than half of the country’s territory and rural areas. In the future, the possibility of a Taliban counter-offensive cannot be ruled out.

Great Britain’s The Guardian has commented that the years of war have generally made Afghans feel a strong sense of insecurity and the withdrawal of troops will not bring much comfort to the local population. According to the London-based newspaper, for the United States this is yet another war that cannot be won.

According to experts, there are two extreme possibilities in the future situation in Afghanistan. The excellent situation is the one in which the less extremist wing of the Taliban mediates so that, once the United States withdraws, the Taliban can gradually move from being an extremist organisation to being an internal administrative one and then negotiate with the legitimate government supported by the United Nations: this would mean a long-term peace after forty-two years of war.

Under extremely unfavourable circumstances, instead, the Afghan government forces would overestimate their military strength and intend to continue the war alone against their traditional opponents, at which point peace negotiations between the two sides would break down.

This would mean falling again into a prolonged civil war and into eternal war.

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Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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