An ocean of benefits or conflicts?

Published: July 4, 2015
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Ahsan Ali Zahid is an MPhil scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University.
Hasan Ehtisham is an MPhil scholar at the Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University

Ahsan Ali Zahid is an MPhil scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University. Hasan Ehtisham is an MPhil scholar at the Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University

Ahsan Ali Zahid is an MPhil scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University.
Hasan Ehtisham is an MPhil scholar at the Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University Ahsan Ali Zahid is an MPhil scholar at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University.
Hasan Ehtisham is an MPhil scholar at the Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University

The Indian Ocean can be saved from becoming a zone of conflicts if India stops thinking it owns it. If the West encourages New Delhi to build a blue-water navy, it would only be a matter of time before it ends up becoming a nightmare for the West itself. The Indian Ocean ranks as the fifth largest ocean, covering 20 per cent of the water on Earth. It consists of 60 islands owned by different states and has four major waterways — the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, Bab-el Mandeb and the Suez Canal.

Interestingly, the Indian Ocean had never been nuclearised even during the Cold War. The shifting of Indian nuclear weapons capabilities from land to sea, in their deployment against Pakistan and China, could end up initiating a three-party nuclear competition. India is modernising its navy at a rapid pace, and allocated it a budget of $4.8 billion in 2011. China, on the other hand, is not in a position right now to generate a stir in the contemporary strategic balance in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India dragged the IOR into an intense arms race by introducing a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant, in 2014; it is also in the process of building two more Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear submarines. India now has two platforms, INS Subhadra and INS Suvarna, to launch Dhanush missiles. The Indian Navy also has the ability to launch BrahMos missile, a joint venture between Russia and India, which can carry both conventional and nuclear payloads. In short, India is playing a dangerous game in pursuit of prestige and international recognition in the IOR where confidence-building measures or institutionalised conflict-resolution seem to be totally absent.

In the backdrop of the traditional rivalries in this region, the addition of nuclear-capable submarines in the Indian naval fleet is a serious threat to Pakistan and China. This provocation could force Pakistan and other regional states to launch drives to acquire similar capability, thus initiating an arms race in South Asia. It is not surprising that China is willing to sell eight diesel-electric, and not nuclear, submarines to Pakistan. As stated earlier, South Asia has no institutional mechanism that can be used to deal with confrontational behaviour that regional states may indulge in the IOR. If India is resolute about taking the route of sea-based nuclear strike capability, then it is highly unlikely that any possible escalation could be controlled. Pakistan needs to work on sea-based deterrence as this can provide it with strategic advantages, which could serve many implicit opportunities. The most vulnerable part of the Indian defence is its coastal belt, which the Pakistan Navy can exploit through the element of surprise.

During the Cold War, India was not happy about US presence in the IOR. However, China’s presence is the main factor that transformed the dynamic of Indian strategic thinking and today, Indian and US interests are congregating , which has generated a more favourable strategic environment for both countries against China. Regardless of Russian and Chinese opposition, India has offered a foothold to the US in the Indian Ocean by signing a new 10-year Defence Framework Agreement with it.

The Indian approach, which projects China as a potential threat in the IOR, is an exaggerated one. China is more focused in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, with trade security its only interest in the IOR. It is still behind India and the US in gaining geographical advantages and maritime power in the IOR. The imaginary Chinese ‘string of pearls strategy’ is playing with the minds of Indian strategists. Last year, in November 2014, after a patrolling Chinese submarine docked in Sri Lanka, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a cabinet committee to clear an $8billion warships project to counter the Chinese Navy. The US, on the other hand, wants to encircle China via agreements with regional states. Pakistan provides China the best way out to reach the Indian Ocean, near the Persian Gulf.

There are chances of a naval arms race emerging if we consider historical Indo-Russian naval cooperation and the current increased exchange of naval collaboration between the US and India. It is up to the global players, especially the US and Russia, to either promote global peace by denying India the acquisition of deadly war munitions like Akula-II or, to sell their weaponry and jeapordise global security.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Woz Ahmed
    Jul 4, 2015 - 2:37AM

    We need to increase our defence budget.

    8 subs will cost $5 billion, a fraction of our total debt.Recommend

  • Azam
    Jul 4, 2015 - 3:10AM

    Spot on – recently Chinese military told India that Indian Ocean is not your back yard.Recommend

  • ajeet
    Jul 4, 2015 - 3:34AM

    Pakistanis should wait for the actual 40 billion dollar from china to come into before praising Chinese actions.Recommend

  • Robert
    Jul 4, 2015 - 3:51AM

    India is continuing its quest to become a world naval power and continues to invest billions of dollars in developing its military powers particularly the air force and navy. the only nation which is in race to nuclearize open seas is India, If we look at the pattern of Indian hegemonic aspirations we come to know that it has posed serious challenges for both China and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sania
    Jul 4, 2015 - 3:57AM

    India is the reason why Pakistan decided to use its very valuable economic resources towards the nuclear program. India’s zeal to control the South Asia is an open secret. The country have been lead into an unbelievable war frenzy by the Indian media, the leadership and religious extremists. Recommend

  • Shahid
    Jul 4, 2015 - 4:17AM

    Interesting analysis, geographically Indian Ocean is a free area and not the property of any country. India can only take benefits till the limit of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), rest of the Indian Ocean in which Indian military wants to be aggressive is not their domain. Inducting nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean region will have far more worst implications on the strategic balance of the region. Therefore, India must be stopped before its ambitions’ circle increase and it goes further to target the major powers.Recommend

  • Ashok
    Jul 4, 2015 - 5:37AM

    The Indian approach, which projects China as a potential threat in the IOR, is an exaggerated one. China is more focused in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea, with trade security its only interest in the IOR

    Replace India by Pakistan and China by India, what you say?

    The Pakistan approach, which projects India as a potential threat in the IOR, is an exaggerated one. India is more focused with trade security and its only interest in the IORRecommend

  • abdullah
    Jul 4, 2015 - 6:12AM

    even if there is an arms race..pakistan is out of the picture..with all due respect..coz frankly you dont have the resources or the knowhow to compete.please stop demonising india in press..just coz you tend to ignore history doesnot mean others do…everybody knows who is the agressor in india-pak wars..you build up rhetoric and are froced to play your cards..stop war mongeringRecommend

  • Vikas
    Jul 4, 2015 - 6:38AM

    Okay. Point Noted.Recommend

  • sudkan
    Jul 4, 2015 - 7:14AM

    Indian ocean is India’s pond. We have thrown China out – and we will keep it out.

    As our economy grows faster than China’s economy over next several decades, our relative strength over China in the Indian Ocean will simply increase.

    As for Pakistan being a naval threat – that a good laugh! If thats what helps you guys sleep at night – then go back to sleep :) Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jul 4, 2015 - 9:13AM

    India knows where it wants to go and has the ability and human resources to get it there. Where any other country wants to go is for its people to decide, plan and implement. Pakistani so called intellectuals must evaluate why the entire world is in a rush to invest in India but no one wants to even visit Pakistan inspite of its incredible beauty, leave aside invest there. Why ???Recommend

  • Vectra
    Jul 4, 2015 - 9:30AM

    China at best can only offer statements like “Indian Ocean is not India’s backyard” but in practical it is in no position to challenge India in IOR besides China is disturbed by India not recognizing South China Sea as China’s own backyard and not once many times had publicly said that SCS is an international water and freedom of navigation shall continue and cannot be altered as per UNCLOS laws.China is also disturbed by the fact that world doesn’t recognize China the same way in SCS as they recognize India in IOR.The world recognize India as the “Net Provider of Indian Ocean” a powerful recognition of India as a dominant power but refuse to give same status as “Net Provider of SCS” to China.This puts China in bind but its chosen way of aggressive and forceful land reclamation in SCC to gain that status will only lead to hardened western stance including India’s and may possibly lead to military confrontation.SO China instead of provoking should think and come to negotiating table as recognition cannot be made by force but have to be earned though projecting soft power.Recommend

  • MAHAKAALCHAKRA
    Jul 4, 2015 - 10:04AM

    Pakistan has already handed over the sovereignty of its 2nd largest port at Gwader port to China for the exclusive use of Chinese Navy for the next 40 years which will never end. This is alarming for India and USA both. Which other aitmey koowvat (nuclear power) has ever done so?

    China is truly Pakistan’s IRON brother because China collects IRON ore (with significant presence of gold and copper and other rare earths) from Balochistan almost free of cost, ships to China and sells its steel back to Pakistan which has just one sick steel mill with production just one million ton while China produces more than 720 million ton of steel per year.Recommend

  • sanjeev
    Jul 4, 2015 - 10:54AM

    Nobody can hinder India’s plans when it decides to do anything. Denying any toys to India will not change the things. When America tried to block sale of cryogenic engine for rockets and super computers, Indian scientists developed the technology at the fraction of the cost and offered to sell the same to USA. Same thing will happen for other toys too. Recommend

  • Indian Guy
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:37AM

    China has apprehensions about American capabilities, India has apprehensions about Chinese capabilities, Pakistan about Indian capabilities, and may also say Afghanistan about Pakistani. Some of these may be real and some exaggerated. But this is a common occurrence wherever there is asymmetry, nothing new. Sometimes things might escalate, but more often than not things work out to maintain a dynamic balance.Recommend

  • Sohail-bin-Qasim
    Jul 4, 2015 - 12:44PM

    @Ashok: Cannot stop laughing after reading your comment, what i will say is you are one nice joker. Replacing words like you did and meant that again India is feeling inferior here, for only trade security India is increasing its navy and nuclear weapons at a rapid pace that now it is threatening both China and Pakistan. You mean this dangerous arms race initiated by India is just for the sake of fear in your own exclusive economic zone, then instead of dangerous arms race India should disarm its navy and hire real men to do this job like Pakistani and Chinese navy!Recommend

  • Hmm
    Jul 4, 2015 - 3:21PM

    We play this game as we like this game .And be aware, we will block Pakistani supplies and bring pakistan down to its knees . If you know this game, then you also play.Recommend

  • Lalit
    Jul 4, 2015 - 4:34PM

    Indian ocean is third largest ocean …how can an ocean with 20% of total water be 5th largest ? a simple math says its can’t…Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Jul 4, 2015 - 7:46PM

    India has published its nuclear doctrine. It has an official no first use policy and replies on retaliation. Having sea assets with nuclear capability is the natural extension of India’s nuclear doctrine.

    India means what it says. India is 1+ trillion dollar economy , with a billion plus people and a bast country. It needs its military assets to serve as deterrent. We know China only respects hard powers anyway.

    Its upto China and Pakistan to form their own doctrines and surprise attach dreams which OP writes about.

    Case in point – Will Pakistan abuse Afghanistan so much, had Afghanistan had military deterrent against Pakistan?Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:08PM

    Pakistan needs to work on sea-based deterrence as this can provide it with strategic advantages, which could serve many implicit opportunities..
    I disagree! Only thing Pakistan needs to work on is how to get next tranche of hand out from the IMF to pay the upcoming interest on the borrowed money.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:19PM

    Let Indians worry about the ‘Indian’ Ocean. Pakistan should only worry about the Pakistani ocean.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:22PM

    …It is up to the global players, especially the US and Russia, to either promote global peace by denying India the acquisition of deadly war munitions like Akula-II or, to sell their weaponry and jeapordise global security….

    The world powers have decided, however, India will forward Pakistans concerns to them when India meets with world powers.Recommend

  • rikahs
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:23PM

    @Lala Gee:
    they dont have doctrine, the one you are talking about is draft doctrine. and draft mean draft.Recommend

  • rikahs
    Jul 4, 2015 - 11:27PM

    india is creating mess in the ocean. let the ocean be the region of peace. India no let any place in the regions without their negative influence or clever policies of pseudo power. after land its ocean that they would love to manipulate and make it place of hurdles not only for world but for themselves too..Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Jul 5, 2015 - 1:16PM

    Wonder what interest does Pakistan has in Indian ocean which is about 3K km away from its borders? On the other hand it should thank India because its chinese perceived threat of Indian (its not real) combined with Pakistan acting as china’s slave, that Pakistan has got CPEC. Pakistan please send a” thank you” note to IndiaRecommend

  • Holagu Khan
    Jul 5, 2015 - 2:33PM

    @Sania:
    India has the capacity to lead entire region. Except Pakistan & China other countries have no problem. Iran, Oman, Yemen, KSA, African Union, Malaysia, Indonesia…. every country goes well with India.
    China should stay away from indian territories…Recommend

  • Rao
    Jul 5, 2015 - 8:07PM

    @IndianDude:

    The word “Indian Ocean” has been used for the past two millenniums and was named “mare Indicum”. Once there was flourishing trade in Roman ships as far as East coast of India. So it is just a historic name. Pakistanis turn green with envy and react with hate even to give a bit of credit to India which is a civillizational sub continent. Their reaction is understandable.

    So my suggestion is to rename it South Asian Ocean. Chinese and their future client state Pakistan will be very happy to note there is no word “Indian ” in itRecommend

  • Naresh
    Jul 5, 2015 - 11:58PM

    @Lala Gee: India means what it says. India is 1+ trillion dollar economy
    .
    Sir Jee the Indian Economy is US$ Two Trillion Plus!
    CheersRecommend

  • Goldsmith
    Jul 6, 2015 - 4:29AM

    All the tell tale signs and the Indian comments suggest that the powers have decided to jeopardise the security in IOR, whose consequences the countries in the region will pay in the future.Recommend

  • Fact finder
    Aug 26, 2015 - 7:33PM

    Why is there no mention of China’s aggression and artificial island building in the Pacific? Or the string of pearls that it has deployed?
    China definitely doesn’t own the ocean esp not the South China sea. Be brave enough to report the full story, not a hypocrite.Recommend

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