Brig.rtd. Sayed Intekhab Gardezi
- Indian Ocean has witnessed maximum human activities like trade, transportation, explorations, communication even piracy during known human history. Great civilizations in the history evolved either on the rim of this great water source or in its near confines. Its fundamental reason is human population living around it. The regime includes 28 continental and island states with 35% of world population. Natural resource especially Hydro Carbon stocks around this ocean have also been a great attraction for power aspiring nations. Earlier, it could be reached through either Cape of Good Hope or Strait of Malacca but opening of Suez Canal boosted shipping and trade to unprecedented limits. Another important factor which transformed this ocean into power struggle regime is access to energy rich Middle East and Central Asia. Thus, its dominance is mandatory not only to protect trade objectives but trade resources through military dominance being inter dependent. In late 18th and early 19th century, Great Britain ruled the world from East to West. The basis of this ascendancy was greatly due to the authority over Indian Ocean. Brits formulated a policy known as possession of “String of Pearls”. It entailed physical occupation of important port cities starting from Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to Malaya (Malaysia) including Zimbabwe, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, India and Burma.
- After the decline of Great Britain, USA progressively replaced the vacuum but instead of physical occupation on the rim of the ocean, strong naval presence was adopted followed by intrigues and conspiracies to instill puppet regimes in the rim countries of Indian Ocean. The nations resisting to this strategy were embroiled into unrest and civil wars and many settled and prospering nations turned into ruins like Zimbabwe, Somalia and Yemen. Craving of ascendency and supremacy never endure for long time as nature plays it role to benefit the weeks. So is the case in power struggle in the contemporary world. After the fall of USSR, US became guardian of the world and ruled the glob on own terms and conditions being single supper power. Many nations were devastated for disobedience directly or indirectly. Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan were openly invaded and destroyed while Somalia, Liberia, Zimbabwe and Egypt were pushed into internal unrest and civil wars. Millions of people were killed and millions displaced. Pakistan and Central Asia stood fast although suffered a bit merely because of strong armed forces and religious/ ethnical strengths. At the same time, another power aspiring nation was rising in the East. China was winning the world instead of applying arrogance, policing, coercing and punishing as policy tools but affection, support and trade as gears of extending influence. Today, China is felt everywhere in the world regardless of strong and bitter US opposition. The US own debt to China was $23.4 trillion as of Feb. 19, 2020 which may signifies the economic strength and future prospects of Chinese designs, capabilities and future. Chinese military muscles are also compatible in term of naval inventory, aerial might and space pursuits. Shall US succumb to new geo-political change without resistance and reactions? Will Indian Ocean witness a new conflict in term of military clash is the scope of this study with a view to evaluate the effects of future geo-political milieu in Indian Ocean and nations living around. Overview of recent past and present settings in the region are: – a. In 1890, Alfred Thayer Mahan, a US Naval strategist emphasized on importance of naval power to dominate the globe. In His famous book “The influence of sea power on the history, 1660-1783″ he denotes that ” whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters”.
After the WW-2, Britain influence in the world started declining while naval presence also dwindled. In 1968, US virtually took over the command of Indian Ocean from UK. US established a naval base in Diego Garcia while her flotilla patrolled Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. By then 50% of the world business and 80% of energy trade was taking place in Indian Ocean making it an International Trade Highway.
b. China was a growing economy and her energy demands were ever increasing. All routes leading to China for supplies were physically dominated by US. A cold war was being fought between West and Warsaw Pact countries. China wisely remained away from this clash. After the demise of USSR, US became single guardian of energy resources of the world while her blue water navy guaranteed domination in Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. In the arena China could not afford one on one confrontation with US.
c. Another stake holder in the region was India. India has 750 km long coast along Indian Ocean with important islands like Andaman and Nicobar. Although, India is considered a stake holder and boost to be future broker of power in Indian Ocean, Indian mind set is accustomed to a proxy status or subordinate role with liberty to a limited extent. This state of mind has developed due to prolong and sustained slavery by the people of sub-continent. US saw a potential proxy in the region while India after USSR gone, found a friendly master thus a new collaboration started. India unfortunately, could not get rid of Pakistan centric policy while US had threats from China. A duo formed with divergent objectives. A new great game commenced in Indian Ocean which is possibly ending soon with US recoiling from the glob due to economic degradation.
d. Many small economies are dependent on Indian Ocean like Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, UAE and Indonesia. Except UAE, remaining countries have strong influence and presence of China in their business infrastructure in the form of investments, experts and technical support. China is physically present at all important ports on the rim of Indian Ocean. US roars are that of a dying lion as economic strength is shrinking fast with strong and draining military in size and deployment.
f. Another key disadvantage to US is an unreliable and untrustworthy proxy. India has history of switching partners, owing to its economic and geographic lollipops. Any rapprochement with China whereby India sees advantage, India shall happily depart from US’ embrace into Chinese arms. China is probably already working on such lines. Indian strategists are perplexed rightly as US also has long history of abandoning partners after the completion of objectives. Thus India is not willing to dump China totally lest a future superpower become hostile next door.
g. China takes a broader approach. Geo-strategically, China defines South Asia and the Indian Ocean as an extension of its Maritime Silk Route, the trade and infrastructure corridor linking coastal China to other Asian countries. The Maritime Silk Route is half of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to expand China’s links throughout Eurasia. Thus, Beijing treats the region as extending from coastal China, through Southeast Asia, into the Indian Ocean, and all the way to the Arabian Peninsula and African reaches. Unlike India’s limited objectives, the Chinese view of the region is an integral part of a broader geo-economic and geostrategic vision.
h. Arab countries have neither will, nor capability to play some role in power sharing arrangements in Indian Ocean or Arabian Sea. Their limited role is also ending with drying oil reserves. They have played their role in the power politics against gains like Night Clubs, call girls from all around the world, luxury SUVs and state of the art housing projects. No long term entrepreneur could be planned whereas recreational projects end in very short time during our life time. Beirut, Hong Kong and Macao are no more attractions. Arabs could be important players in power play had they been wise to develop military hard ware, industries which could be sustained locally with strong, well trained, motivated land and sea forces but their governors failed to capitalize on long term vision.
j. Another important nation which could have significant role in Indian Ocean regime was Iran but their selection of partner was faulty. Iran selected India to be shareholder in geo strategic quest probably on US instructions, a self-striving and unreliable state which always plan policy whereby Pakistan is undermined thus, confines her regional and extra regional role. Besides, Iran’s utmost objective has always been Middle East centric pressurizing and trying to isolate Sunni states. Such a parochial regional policy can never enable a nation to play significant role in great geo-strategic pursuits. Lately, Iran has shown some flexibility to bring China into infrastructure development but KSA Aramco has canceled its projects in China as reaction. Policies governed by sectarian hatred are misfortune.
k. Pakistan despite feeble economic state, bad governance and administrative issues have been convincingly wise in the great game unfurled in the context of Indian Ocean. Without alienating US, Pakistan joined hands with China. Resultantly, deep Sea port Gawader is coming up while CPEC is progressing. Trade and military ties between China and Pakistan have always been strong and upbeat. Hopefully, China taking over Indian Ocean regime shall benefit Pakistan with surprising pace and quantum.
- In the wake of above referred conclusions, Afro-Asiatic region with Indian Ocean , a medium of future conflict, following is likely to transpire sooner and later: –
a. China unlike US has devised a policy whereby spirit of Belt and Road viz-a-viz Maritime Silk Route objectives are trade and commerce, incorporating other nations as partners and equal beneficiaries although its military advantages shall also be reaped. Thus competition and revelry is expected to be least except India. India shall strangely react with whatever possible means considering herself a big market economy and attractions for West and US.
b. India could benefit more by joining Chinese economic and broad trade and transportation pursuits but as mentioned earlier, Indian intelligentsia has unique mindset which has shaped owing to centuries long suppression and tends to conspire, intrigue and deceive. Resultantly, India fails to visualize a larger picture. Another issue of Indian policy is enmity of Pakistan which forces India to forego bigger advantage if Pakistan gets a share even smaller. A recent standoff with China is an example where India was prompted by US and India got engaged into nonproductive and worthless conflict.
c. China has already established its grip starting from South Africa to Indonesia. The String of Pearls has reemerged with better planning, resources and future designs. Chinese Naval force with two aircraft carriers is already operating and a growing fleet of sub-surface ogre shall be able to regulate and influence military maneuvers and trade in Indian Ocean. India is likely to react but in the absence of substantial support from US, India alone may not sustain opposition for longer duration.
d. US shall be rolling out of region sooner or later due to declining economy and ethnic unrest which is growing. While contemplating US withdrawal from Indian Ocean, it may be remembered that USSR had huge war waging potentials but crippling economy compelled USSR to forego the status of the spear head of an opposing camp instead of contesting a futile effort. A wise and timely departure even casted USSR fragmentation. If US does not extricate timely, fate may not be different from USSR.
e Australia although is showing interest in the region and express close cooperation with India but Australia is not that strong in international geo-politics while India herself is not that strong and role worthy therefore, no significant role may be contemplated from Australia.
- The geo-political settings of the region are changing fast. Although, a game of thorn was already fought in the context of Indian Ocean but COVID-19 has increased the speed manifolds. The resistance of stake holder has retarded due to health and economic issues at home. Threat of US president to WHO is sign of same depression, anger and helplessness. US sponsorship dwindling, Middle Eastern economies are artificial and shall parish with no policy of own. India, propagated as emerging economy is cosmetic and over-exaggerated. India with new fascist internal outlook and poverty with corruption in administrative working can never be global or regional power. Russia neither has fortitude nor capabilities to exercise some significant role in Afro-Asiatic region except supporting aspiring nations in the region. China shall not only govern global supremacy in term of trade, business, and transportation, communication but military expressions too and shall solely dictate the geopolitics in Indian Ocean. Pakistan being close and trustworthy partner shall also have a defining role in the regional regime if our political leadership is wise enough to grasp and handle the situation aptly.