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South Asia

Sri Lanka needs an Indo-Pacific strategy

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If there was any doubt that Indo-Pacific is in fact the metaphorical “Heartland” of the 21st century, recent developments indicating intensifying U.S.-China competition in the region confirm this.  Writing in 1904, Mackinder described ‘heartland’ as a geopolitical region where great powers would bid for world domination and identified the landlocked region of central Eurasia as the same. Developments since, particularly the introduction of Intercontinental Ballistic  Missiles, has undermined the validity of his arguments in favour of landbased powers, but the allusion to a geographical ‘heartland’ is arguably more relevant now than ever.

Since the official adoption of the term “Indo-Pacific” by the U.S. in 2017, it has captured geopolitical imagination and emerged as a hotly contested topic in contemporary discussions on the evolving balance of power dynamics. Home to over 4.3 billion people accounting for half of the world’s GDP and constituting  60% of the global maritime trade, it is no wonder that the U.S. government has identified the region as the “single most consequential region for America’s future.” Meanwhile Beijing has been strengthening maritime ties with strategically important players in the region, building artificial islands in the South China Sea, expanding its naval strength – decisively indicating that it is ready to increase its overall presence in the region. This has in turn invited retaliatory moves by the U.S. which sees Chinese actions as threatening the existing rules based order of the region. Although “free and open Indo-Pacific” is the overarching theme binding together liberal democratic countries in the region, there are subtle but significant differences in their individual Indo-Pacific strategies. While U.S. has been vocal of its Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at ensuring Beijing’s attempts to “reorder the region to its advantage” are opposed, India, for example, has sought to focus more on inclusivity and ASEAN centrality as the central pillars of its SAGAR vision. Beijing which has long rejected the Indo-Pacific construct is now aligning itself more closely to ASEAN’s vision of the region, possibly fearing regional isolation if the more “neutral” countries adopt the U.S. vision.  It is clear that global powers such as U.S. and China alone cannot define the regional order for the Indo-Pacific and that the middle and smaller powers will have a decisive say as regional actors.

The rapid alignments and re-alignments has left the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific in a flux. Nevertheless, this flux has also opened up vast opportunities for the smaller countries to have a decisive say over what the future of the region will look like. For the first time, the German government released a 70 page policy guideline for the Indo-Pacific indicating how distant European nations are aligning themselves in the Indo-Pacific axis. With bigger external powers vying for influence, the smaller countries in the region have to act decisively to ensure they don’t become mere paws in the larger geopolitical chessboard of the Indo-Pacific.

Sri Lanka in the Indo-Pacific:

The small island nation sits geographically across important Indian Ocean sea-lanes and the East-West shipping route—which has over 60,000 ships ply annually— is just about six to ten nautical miles south of the island. Its natural geography endows it with immense potential to emerge as the Indo-Pacific hub, but overall it has failed to leverage this position. Sri Lanka has a natural advantage in providing hub services in the region but falls behind because of the lack of attention to and proper investment in infrastructure development. Although Sri Lanka was ranked the most connected country and port by sea in South Asia by the 2019 UNCTAD’s Liner Shipping connectivity index, it did not fare well compared to the south-east Asian nations of Malaysia and Singapore. Global container trade volumes and container port volumes declined over the first few months of 2020 and is not expected to recover before 2021, which adds to the pre-COVID economic woes of Sri Lanka caused by serious balance of payments deficit due to serious balance of payments deficit. Colombo port has further witnessed erosion in trans-shipment cargo because of India’s amended cabotage rules.

Sri Lanka’s Indo-Pacific outlook has to be understood against the backdrop of its overall foreign policy approach. Between 1977 to 2015 there has been shifts from balancing to band wagoning and then back to balancing. China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka under the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is well documented. Beijing’s selective investments in expanding Colombo Port, Hambantota Port undoubtedly has much to do with leveraging Sri Lanka’s natural geography to bring it under its own umbrella of influence. Under the traditionally pro-Western United National Party from 2015-2019, Washington tried to bring Colombo closer to its own vision of the Indo-Pacific, but failed. Although the current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly stressed that his government would adopt a ‘strictly neutral foreign policy,’ it is unlikely that the Chinese influence will wear off easily. Recent moves such as  U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Sri Lanka and more recently with Colombo hosting the India-Maldives-Sri Lanka Maritime Security NSA Trilateral meeting indicates that Sri Lanka is actively moving to maintains close ties with all the major powers of the Indo-Pacific region suggesting a return to balancing behaviour. Yet, there are limits to this balancing behaviour particularly since the intensification of Sino-US rivalry is seeming to take an irreversible turn making neutrality an increasingly ill-suited option.

Sri Lanka is showing active interest in the evolving geopolitics of the region, but a comprehensive long term vision is still missing. This will cost Sri Lanka dearly especially since as it seeks to emerge as an international financial center and a regional maritime hub. Colombo needs to make its voice heard in the evolving narrative of order building in the region, to ensure it can retain its strategic advantage and make independent foreign policy choices.

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South Asia

Pakistan and Germany are keen to Sustain Multifaceted and Mutually beneficial Cooperation

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Pakistan has varied history of relationship and cooperation with other countries in international arena. Despite of proactive foreign policy Pakistan has been struggling to acquire global or regional status as a major power. Now in the age of globalization, the foreign relations between states have become more significant than before. Global and regional organizations, societies, economic zones and countries have network to attract and develop relationship among them. A major goal of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to develop good relations with international community and to handle global and regional issues. Activism of Pakistan‘s foreign policy reflects on the domestic socio-economic development. The national interest of Pakistan also support to regulate inputs from the external atmosphere into internal situation and to strive security and territorial integrity in the region and glob which always remained top concern of Pakistan. As bearing geo-strategic position, Pakistan seeks good relations with regional and global powers like America, China and European Union. Within European Union Germany has emergence as the developed economy in Europe. It is not only playing vital role within European Union but at the global level. Pakistan is also enjoying cordial relations with Germany on the base of common interest and perception on all international issues. Germany is also very keen to see sustainable development in Pakistan and acknowledges that the Pakistan is playing constructive role for regional peace. Germany greatly values Pakistan intense to strengthen multifaceted and mutual beneficial cooperation. Both the countries have been engaged on political, economic and socio-cultural partnership.

In past, East and West Germany had tilted towards forming alliance with India in 1950s but in 1960s, President Ayob Khan‘s visit to West Germany established economic relation between both the countries. Post Pak-India war 1971, East Germany was the first country of the Europe who recognized Bangladesh. During 1990s, Pakistan and Germany established Pakistan German Business Forum and Germany had become the fourth largest trade partner of Pakistan in 2000.  Germany also was ally of Pakistan in the war against terrorism in the north-west part of the country. Since the last few years, both the countries developed trade relations as well as Germany invested in the field of science and technology in Pakistan. On August 24, 2014, Germany built Pakistan Gate in Berlin to provide business and trade facilities to the businessmen of both the countries.

In November 2018, Pakistan offered Germany to join CPEC and to invest in the Special Economic Zone (SEZs). The mutual trade between both the countries enhanced to 3.0 billion euro in 2019.In 2021, Both Pakistan and Germany are celebrating 70th anniversary of establishment of bilateral relationship. Both the countries are planning to undertake several activities in this regard. Last month German Ambassador visited Karachi Chamber of Commerce and industries to call German companies, entrepreneurs and investors to earn from the potential and opportunities which are available in Pakistan and to bring business communities of both the countries more closer as well. Foreign minister of Pakistan has visited to Germany and meeting with business and members of Pakistani community. The foreign Minister held meetings with the leadership of Germany and repeated the desire of expansion of bilateral economic activities and exchange of technology. Both sides also discussed rapidly changing situation of Afghanistan and South Asian region. During the discussion, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Mass, Pakistan and Germany agreed to review the entire gamut of Pakistan-Germany relationship and tools of further deep bilateral cooperation in the field of trade, investment security and defense, health, education, tourism. The mass of both the countries want to utilize the potential of good relationship but it is observed that both sides have lack of political hierarchy, dedication and sincerity in past. The development and expansion of bilateral relationship lies on the path of peaceful coexistence and serious changes in the socio-economic structure is needed. Peace process with the neighboring countries like Afghanistan and India may attract Germany to invest in CPEC projects and other local project of education, vocational training, dam construction, tourism and economic activities in Pakistan. There is a need to organize a forum for the students and scholars of both the countries could interact and exchange their expertise for academic, economic and technology growth. There is potential of people to people interaction and development of cooperation between Pakistan and Germany. Pakistan may be more benefit from the relationship with Germany if the serious efforts be made on government level.

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South Asia

Modi’s Illiberal Majoritarian Democracy: a Question Mark on the Future of Indian Minorities

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The word majoritarian is an adjective which relates to or constitutes a majority, majoritarian politics, or majoritarian democracy. It can be defined as a traditional political idea, philosophy or a practice according to which any decision whether political, social, or economic of an organized society should be made by a numerical majority of that society or it can be defined as a traditional political philosophy that stresses that a majority usually branded by religious, language, social class that also includes other recognizing factors of individuals in a society are subject to a level of superiority in a society because of which they have a say in every affair of a society. The concept of majoritarian dispensation in India under Narendra Modi has deep links with four other political philosophies i.e. Populism, Nationalism, Authoritarianism, and Sultanism. Before exploring Narendra Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India and its effects on the future of Indian minorities, I will first uncover the link of majoritarianism to political philosophies as mentioned.

A majoritarian leader is actually a populist leader who works hard for the concerns of people that who thinks are being ignored by the established elite groups in a society, and who always present himself as a new man mostly of a modest and plebeian background against old political establishment, in spite of the fact that who is a seasoned political figure, but usually not centre stage. This is exactly what Narendra Modi is, because in his 2014 election campaign, he presented himself as a new man against the Ghandi’s family’s old political system despite the fact he was CM Gujrat at that time. He also presented himself as someone who belongs to a very plebeian background that he had to work in his father’s tea shop when he was a child. Whereas, nationalism is a political idea or a philosophy that promotes and protects the interests of a particular nation, nationalism is the bedrock of most of the populists and NarendraModi is no exception. NarendraModi is a majoritarian national-populist leader who since his childhood has been the member of RSS, and now is a full time pracharak of RSS ideology that stresses that Hindu are the true and only sons of this Indian soil.

Majoritarian national- populist leaders like Narendra Modi are basically authoritarian leaders who reject political pluralism, and this is exactly what Modi is doing in India.Modi  and the BJP has made it clear that no other party should compete with it, or is even needed, as indicative from its slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (a Congress-free India).Whereas, Sultanism is a form of authoritarian government and according to Max Weber NarendraModi is a new sultan of India who is pushing India towards illiberal democracy by rejecting all kind of civil liberties particularly of Indian Muslim minority.

Modi’s majoritarian policy of governance in India is basically the promotion of majoritarian democracy that asserts Hindus a special and superior status in India because they constitute 80.5% of total Indian population and that this majoritarian policy protests Hindutva ideology  that stresses that Hindus are the only sons of this soil and that strengthen the Hindu community. This majoritarian democracy is a big question mark on India as the world biggest liberal democracy because continuous violence, rejection of civil liberties, and crimes against the minorities that are Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians have been on the increase. About 1.8 million people who are minority communities are tortured in police custody every year. The word murder of minorities has been replaced by the term encounter killings. Torture have increased to such a huge extent that it questions the credibility of the rule of law and criminal justice. Hindu nationalists are revolting all around India especially against Muslims because they are the largest minority in India constituting 13.4% of total population and because Hindus have resentment toward their religion, Christians and Sikhs are no exception to their violence because they too constitute 2.3% and 1.9% of total Indian population.

Unfortunately, India under Narendra Modi is crawling from the world’s biggest liberal democracy to illiberal majoritarian democracy which is promoting and safeguarding only Hindu’s civil rights and liberties and that which is negating minority’s civil liberties and civil rights especially rights and liberties of Muslims of India. One such example of this is the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).Under the act, for the first time in India, religion is a basis for granting citizenship. According to some this citizenship amendment bill by BJP is an intentional act in order to marginalize Muslims from mainstream politics. In addition to this, Muslims are not only being tortured at their religious places for their religious affiliations, but they are also being tortured at their educational institutions which is evident from a video of 15 December 2020, where Delhi police brutally tortured Muslims students of Jamia Millia Islamia university.

Keeping in mind Narendra Modi’s illiberal majoritarian democracy, the future of liberal democracy or pluralistic India appears to be gloomy, where the future of Indian minorities especially Muslims is a big question mark. 

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South Asia

CoVID-19 Control: Can Pakistan Learn From China?

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It has been over a year since the first case of CoVID-19 was confirmed in Pakistan. The tally has reached 721,018 confirmed cases, 15,443 have died and 4,143 critical cases by 11thApril2021. Across many countries, since January 2020, a massive surge of research into CoVID-19 had enabled the scientific and medical community to better understand how to manage and eliminate the virus through public health interventions. Today, we have learned, CoVID-19 causes acute symptoms and death. We have learned, immunity lasts at least eight months and we also have five licensed vaccines. We have learned, the long-term effects of CoVID-19 and the morbidity attached to having this virus. We have learned, virus transmission occurs through droplets and aerosols spread through coughing, sneezing, breathing and speaking. We also have learned, stopping the spread of CoVID-19 requires people to avoid mixing though restrictions on social life. We have learned, the virus can mutate into various strains that can be more transmissible – and we also have understand cat-and-mouse game between vaccine and variants.

To alleviate the destructive effects of CoVID-19 on the economy, Pakistan has sought debt relief of slightly around $2 billion from its G20 creditors. In addition to the G20 countries, China was the largest bilateral creditor with $9 billion, followed by Japan with $5 billion. By early April 2020, when there were just about 2,000 CoVID-19 positive cases in Pakistan, the World Bank approved $200 million package to help Pakistan. Likewise, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had approved the payout of $1.386 billion as financial support to Pakistan to meet its urgent balance of payment needs halting from the CoVID-19 outbreak. Further, to support Pakistan’s public health response to the CoVID-19 and allow to meet the basic needs of the vulnerable and poor segment of society, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved $500 million emergency assistance loan to Pakistan. Similarly, The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) also provided a $650 million financial package to support Pakistan in its efforts against the CoVID-19. All these grants were provided to Government of Pakistan to assist in effective and timely action in response to the spread of the CoVID-19. The objective was to strengthen Pakistan’s public health infrastructure and to alleviate socioeconomic disruptions due to the pandemic. Despite huge grants and substantial endowments, Pakistan’s response to the CoVID-19 has been unsatisfactory. Lack of basic healthcare infrastructure, disease surveillance and management system,  and inconsistent implementation of policies and SOPs resulted in the rapid and incessant spread of third-wave of CoVID-19 throughout the county.

China’s extraordinary organized and preventive risk management approach, established on coalition between government officials, virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts, has demonstrated to be successful in containing and controlling CoVID-19.The experience in China emphasized the significance of listening to science and public health experts during pandemic event. Firstly, China’s response demonstrates the value of national research and public health capability. Huge investment in research and development rendered China much better prepared for CoVID-19. China’s experience indicates the value of investing in national health and research scheme to boost laboratory capacity along with workforce. They are essential to a rapid and effective national response to health emergencies and to national health security. Secondly, a strong foundation of research and development cannot ensure effective control without powerful top-level political dedication to use science to confront the outbreak. Government and leaders must respect science, understand its significance, and act on science-based advice in a way that is best for society. Thirdly, attaining speedy and successful implementation of control measures for CoVID-19 requires extensive community engagement. Public solidarity during the CoVID-19 outbreak in China had been unprecedented. Control measures that could sacrifice personal freedom were accepted readily by the nation.

To be brief, cricket is to South Asia and football is to Europe. In fighting CoVID-19, everyone is equal. Everyone has the identical liability and shares the equal threat. The effective implementation of prevention and control measures in China is a model for Pakistan other parts of world to follow. From the beginning, a science-based, risk-informed and phased approach was taken, with a clear appreciation and enthusiasm. Today, China has restarted its economy, reopened and almost returned to normality. The key of success story is to make everybody responsible, get every single division involved and held executives accountable. These are the most prominent lessons Pakistan could learn from China at national and local levels. After the failure of “Smart-Lockdown” strategy, Pakistan needs to choose a strict strategy, should follow the example of China and continue the lockdown until the number of CoVID-19 infections is brought close to zero; the strategy should then be to maintain infection rates at very low level until vaccination is done. China’s epidemic management provides an important experience from which countries such as Pakistan can learn. This applies in particular to Pakistan, which would risk to lose many of its achievements in case of a severe third wave of the epidemic. Government of Pakistan should involve not only public health experts, virologists and epidemiologists, but also scientist and respect science advice when making any decision that is required to keep the epidemic under control. The rest of the world can also learn from China’s success in bringing outbreak under control.

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