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South Asia

Strategic Geopolitics and Bangladesh

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Authors: Dr. M. Munzurul Haque and Md Tareq Hasan

In recent times, South Asian geopolitics has become the focus of renewed interest from the world’s superpowers. The superpowers have started competing to establish strategic relations with various Asian countries in order to dominate and protect their geopolitical interests. India and China, two nuclear-armed countries in Asia, are working on various schemes and plans to maintain geopolitical control and dominance in South Asia. Superpower America, on the other hand, has focused on developing an Indo-Pacific economic framework and QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region in order to counter China’s growing economic rise and military dominance.

The United States has called on India to increase military cooperation with China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Pacific, as well as Japan, Australia, and South Asia in the South China Sea. During the epidemic, we saw the vaccine diplomacy of the superpowers. The United States, India, and China have donated millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to South Asian countries.

 China has already emerged as a major player in South Asian geopolitics. China, however, is not a South Asian country like India, but China’s interest in South Asian geopolitics is growing. They want to rein in India’s hegemony in South Asia. To this end, China has been making efforts for several years, and in almost all the countries of South Asia, China is participating in the development of countries through economic assistance and investment. Using its economic power, China has been able to build warm relations with almost all countries in South Asia. They plan to build an emergency vaccine platform in South Asia with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to address the crisis.

 Moreover, a lot of Chinese investment and various project activities are being carried out in these countries for the development of infrastructure. Due to the precarious situation in India, no country has been able to supply vaccines to any country. As a result, India lags far behind China in vaccine diplomacy and economic diplomacy. Thus, the duality of China and India in establishing their prestige in the geopolitical context of South Asia is now giving birth to a new polarization in world politics. Both countries consider each other adversaries, which is increasingly complicating the geopolitics of South Asia.

 The idea of QUAD was first mooted by a committee formed in the wake of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean region. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally proposed the QUAD in 2007, the dialogue has been ineffective for nearly a decade. The United States resumed QUAD talks with its three allies in Asia in 2017, much to the chagrin of Xi Jinping, who launched the Belt Road Initiative after China came to power in 2013. In addition to the Sino-Indian conflict, the QUAD alliance has become another important factor in the geopolitics of South Asia.

 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is referred to as “QUAD” for short. The main objective of the QUAD, comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, is to make the Indo-Pacific region more effective in the international arena by building areas of cooperation among member states, including sovereignty, independence, security, free trade, and navigation. According to international relations analysts, China’s concern about the QUAD is due to the recent efforts of the United States to expand the QUAD. China fears that the United States could pressure Bangladesh to join the QUAD through India. If Bangladesh joins the QUAD in the face of that pressure, it could be a big headache for China. Concerns have already been raised by the Chinese ambassador. In this case, Bangladesh has faced a diplomatic challenge.

 The seven states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal, and Nagaland in the northeastern part of India are called the Seven Sisters. As these seven states are surrounded by the lands of other states, they maintain communication with the mainland of India through a 60-km long and 21–40 km wide narrow path called the Chicken Neck Corridor. Communication through this route is time-consuming and expensive. The Chicken Neck Corridor is also known as the Siliguri Corridor. It is located in the northern part of the Indian state of West Bengal. Bangladesh is at one end of the corridor, with Nepal and Bhutan at the other end, and Sikkim in India. India is interested in establishing road, rail, and waterway transit through these seven states through Bangladesh. Researchers are of the opinion that the existing transit charges used by India are insufficient considering the economic interests of Bangladesh when compared to the cost of maintenance and use of infrastructure in Bangladesh using seaports, roads, railways, and waterways through transit.

 Despite Bangladesh’s good relations with China and India, they have always sided with Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. As a result, hopes for a solution to the Rohingya problem have been dashed. Moreover, due to strategic interests, China and India have come to side with Myanmar. In December 2021, China gifted a Ming class submarine to Myanmar, but Bangladesh had to buy two submarines of the same quality from China at a cost of 213 million. On the other hand, India, on the other hand, has recently donated an old Russian-made Kilo-class submarine to the Myanmar Navy. On the occasion, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a news conference on October 15, “The transfer of this submarine is in line with India’s ‘Sagar’ vision for the security and growth of the region.” “India’s commitment to the capacity and self-reliance of neighboring countries is helpful. India is appeasing Myanmar by handing over this military equipment. The Indian media says Myanmar has been given a submarine to stop China.

 Bangladesh’s military experts believe that the transfer of the submarine will not affect Sino-Myanmar and Indo-Myanmar strategic relations, but it will affect Bangladesh. So far, Bangladesh has maintained a “balancing game” between China and India, but it is difficult and risky to keep this balance, because failure to maintain balance can create animosity with any one country. Therefore, the success of Bangladesh’s foreign policy will depend on how efficiently Bangladesh can walk on the “rope” of this balance. Due to its proximity to China, an independent and up-to-date foreign policy can make Bangladesh an important country. By making proper use of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh can become a hub of the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor and contribute to communication between South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China.

 Most of the ongoing projects in Bangladesh are funded by the Chinese. Naturally, it is increasing its dependence on China. We have to be careful and tactful so that Bangladesh does not fall into the trap of Chinese debt like Sri Lanka. The United States relies heavily on India for its own interests in the Asian region. India is also a partner in the QUAD Alliance, and that is a risk for Bangladesh. It has also brought geostrategic advantages. The recent US pressure on Bangladesh on human rights and RAB is aimed at preventing Bangladesh from taking the lead on that path. With that, there are various elements in Sino-US relations and geopolitical calculations in the region. In this situation, Bangladesh has to say “friendship with everyone, not enmity with anyone.” Bangladesh is also having to deal with the regional and sub-regional situation with the Rohingyas.

 For geopolitical reasons, Myanmar is a very important neighbor to China. Similarly, India needs to be closer to Myanmar in curbing separatist insurgencies in Manipur, Assam, and Nagaland in northeastern India, including reducing Chinese influence in Myanmar. This makes the equation more complicated. It is difficult to separate from China if trade and the economy are to be maintained. ASEAN as an alliance will weaken, and the SAARC regional alliance in South Asia is virtually non-existent due to the Indo-Pakistani conflict. The recent confrontation between Russia and NATO over the Russia-Ukraine issue, the war situation, and China’s plans to occupy Taiwan will increase the arms race around the world, leading to increased military spending. It will undermine the impact of poverty alleviation and the impact of climate change and disrupt regional peace.

 In order to succeed in geopolitics and foreign policy, building friendly relations with all countries as well as increasing military capabilities will strengthen Bangladesh’s geopolitical position. In this case, we have to follow the path carefully because the policy of balanced neutrality will play an important and significant role in the geopolitics of Bangladesh. Moreover, good relations with neighboring countries will strengthen Bangladesh’s geopolitical position. It should be noted here that the interests of Bangladesh should be given top priority in balancing relations with China and India, as well as in establishing high diplomatic relations with the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union. And only then will we be able to deal with any future crisis and the country will be free from the clutches of complex geopolitics. Besides, strategic geopolitics is essential to keep the country free from pressure in any crisis and changing situation. Above all, not enmity but friendship with all countries will be the key to success in the country’s geopolitics. Therefore, let us try to uphold the interests of the country by increasing our diplomatic relations and scope of work with each country, as well as gaining the military capability of the country by relying on this diplomatic philosophy.

Dr. M. Munzurul Haque is a Professor, Islamic History and Culture, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh

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South Asia

“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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South Asia

When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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South Asia

Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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