Power Games in the Indian Ocean

India can’t select its geography and devise regional methods to dovetail into the Western Indian Ocean speculation conceived in the Pentagon, argues Ambassador M Okay Bhadrakumar.

IMAGE: The navies of India, US, Japan and Australia take part in the Malabar naval train in the Bay of Bengal, November 2020.


The AMAN-21 naval train, the biennial occasion hosted by the Pakistan navy since 2007, in Karachi and the Arabian Sea from February 11-16, attracts particular consideration.

As many as 45 navies reportedly participated, which makes AMAN in all probability the largest occasion of its form in the Indian Ocean or wherever.

Not solely that, the individuals embrace the US, UK, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and a few unnamed international locations from East Africa.

In a world torn aside like at no time since World War II, the US and Russia, the US and China and China and Japan are rubbing shoulders beneath the Pakistani cover.

Russia’s participation in AMAN is one other novelty.

Russia is having a army train with the NATO member international locations for the first time in a decade.

Without doubt, Pakistan’s rising diplomatic clout as a regional energy is on spectacular show.

Clearly, India’s marketing campaign to isolate Pakistan is just not taken significantly by the worldwide group.

India’s Pakistan coverage appears to have landed in a cul-de-sac.

It lacks credibility and has no future. A course correction is overdue.

AMAN-21 makes a mockery of India’s aspiration to be a ‘internet safety supplier’ for littoral States in the Indian Ocean.

The participation of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in AMAN-21 speaks for itself.

Comparison shall be drawn, inevitably, with the first-ever Indian Ocean Region defence ministers convention on February 4 at Bengaluru, which was poorly attended.

Only the Maldives, Iran and Seychelles have been represented at the ministerial stage.

Evidently, there aren’t many takers in the Indian Ocean Region for India’s self-appointed management function.

On the different hand, the militarisation of the Indian Ocean has resulted in a brand new actuality: Maritime safety challenges in the Indian Ocean Region have acquired worldwide dimensions.

The Trump administration’s growth of the Area of Responsibility of the US Indo-Pacific Command to incorporate the Indian Ocean waters inside its fold has proved, in retrospect, a defining second.

The rising notion is that the US, which has restricted presence in East Africa, could be relying on India to make sure freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and to counter the Chinese navy’s rising presence in the area.

India, in flip, is having back-to-back dealings additionally with the navies of France and the UK, NATO members, in addition to Japan, a brand new child on the block in the Indian Ocean Region, and the UAE and Bahrain, the US’ ssurrogates in the Persian Gulf.

Much is going on beneath the radar corresponding to a reported US-Indian train in Diego Garcia on ‘submarine looking’.

But India’s diplomatic thrust towards the Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros is drawing worldwide consideration to the quickly rising militarisation of the Indian Ocean.

The ‘Western Indian Ocean’ comprising Somalia, Kenya, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania is poised to develop into the focus of an elevated US-Indian geo-strategic curiosity.

The US’s National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2020 integrated enhanced amendments to improvise current Indo-US strategic ties in an enhanced framework in the Western Indian Ocean Region to take inventory of the army coordination actions of the two international locations.

Curiously, the US laws outlined ‘Western Indian Ocean’ as the ‘space in the Indian Ocean extending from the west coast of India to the east coast of Africa’, which subsumes international locations alongside the total east Africa belt and Iran and Pakistan.

Indian strategists are delighted that the Pentagon is creating a Western Indian Ocean model of the Indo-Pacific idea incorporating the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Africa that envisages India as the linchpin.

It appears India has begun engaged on it diligently, as evident from External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s current regional tour of Bahrain, the UAE and Seychelles.

The Indian strategic considerations look like two fold: China’s rising naval presence in IOR and Pakistan’s increasing submarine fleet.

Of course, the militarisation of the Indian Ocean is in direct violation of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2832 dated sixteenth December 1971 which designated the Indian Ocean as a ‘zone of peace’ and known as upon the nice powers to halt additional escalation of army presence together with bases, installations and logistic/provide amenities.

The Resolution 2832, which was sponsored by Sri Lanka, assured that warships and army plane wouldn’t use the Indian Ocean for any risk or use of power; the proper to free and unimpeded use of the zone by the vessels of all nations; and, a global settlement could be reached for the upkeep of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace.

Without doubt, Washington’s definition of the Western Indian Ocean is tantamount to imposition by an extra-regional energy, which basically violates numerous United Nations resolutions and encourages a conventional-cum-nuclear build-up in the excessive seas.

India ought to have had nothing to do with it.

Looking forward, India’s quasi-alliance with the US and different NATO powers won’t have acceptability in the Indian Ocean area, particularly Iran and Pakistan.

It is well predictable that Russia and China may even push again.

In 2019, Russia and China held a joint naval train with South Africa and Iran respectively.

Another Russia-China-Iran naval train is due in the northern Indian Ocean later this month.

Tehran’s gravitation towards China and its assist for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) additionally fall into perspective.

It is a matter of time earlier than Iran’s pursuits will converge with Pakistan’s and China’s through the BRI pivot. (Pakistan was invited initially to the Iran-Russia-China naval train in 2019.)

In the backdrop of AMAN-21, in an interview with the Chinese newspaper Global Times, Pakistani navy chief Admiral M Amjad Khan Niazi stated, ‘Pakistan finds itself in the midst of a posh geopolitical and geo-economic competitors prevailing in the area.’

‘Pakistan’s maritime safety is intertwined with the maritime surroundings in the Indian Ocean area which is quickly remodeling… India, with an expansionist mindset, is destabilising the area by actions that would imperil regional safety,’ Admiral Niazi added.

The Pakistani and Chinese navies, he stated, ‘with their longstanding and increasing cooperation can play an vital function in sustaining good order at sea. The PLA navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean area is thus an vital ingredient in sustaining the regional steadiness of energy and selling maritime safety.’

Admiral Niazi hinted that Gwadar port, which is able to function ‘the lynchpin of the CPEC’ (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) could obtain Chinese warships.

The admiral took notice: ‘Pakistan maintains shut and ever-growing ties with China which has been considered one of the most steadfast and dependable companions for peace in the area… PLA Navy now operates two plane carriers. The Pakistan navy wish to conduct an train with these carriers at any time when a possibility arises… the Pakistan navy would proceed to welcome additional visits by PLA Navy ships, together with plane carriers.’

Even India’s time-tested buddy Russia have to be nodding disapprovingly.

Russia lately introduced the establishing of a naval base in Sudan, presumably to service its nuclear-powered submarines deployed to the ‘Western Indian Ocean’.

Russia has mentioned with Myanmar a regime to facilitate common visits of its warships to the Bay of Bengal (which is, by the manner, prone to be a serious transportation route for China) in opposition to the backdrop of India offering entry for the US to its bases in the Andamans and Nicobar.

To be certain, the audacious Indian trajectory on the pretext of ‘maritime safety’ goes to isolate it in the area.

How a tie-up with the Western powers, that are eager to faucet into the emergent Asian Century, would serve India’s long-term pursuits is past comprehension.

Do not rule out the US’ ‘Suez second’ in a conceivable future.

India can’t select its geography and devise regional methods to dovetail into the Western Indian Ocean speculation conceived in the Pentagon.

India lives in its area and the accent needs to be to kind out its variations with Pakistan and China slightly than piggy using NATO powers to counter China in the Indian Ocean Region or to blockade Pakistan’s Makran coast.

Ambassador M Okay Bhadrakumar served the Indian Foreign Service for greater than 29 years.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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