The Indo-Pacific strategy aims at deepened U.S.’ economic and diplomatic footprint in the region. In countering China’s growing influence, the resulting alliances such as Quad and AUKUS provide India and Australia greater role in the region. For Pakistan, the growing role of India in the region poses concerns, keeping in view its hegemonic designs.
The global power competition that the world has witnessed over the course of history has been resulting in alliances, partnerships, forums, pacts and agreements between likeminded nation states to thwart a perceived threat. In the recent past, we witnessed the Cold War era which culminated in dwarfing the Soviet threat. The world now seems to be entangled in another global power competition between the U.S. and China, the fallout of which may very well affect Pakistan. The U.S. and its allies are wary of China’s substantial economic influence around the globe, which has challenged their “freedom of action” in many parts of the world. In order to check China’s rising influence, Indo-Pacific emerges as the preferred theatre for the U.S. and its allies.
The manifestation of Indo-Pacific strategy is being seen in the form of important alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between the U.S., Australia, India and Japan and AUKUS with Australia, the UK and the U.S., and Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) formed ostensibly to challenge China within the Asia Pacific region. One thing that is evident from such arrangements is that the U.S. in its pursuit of checkmating China is shifting focus from land to sea. The evolving situation amply highlights the importance of stronger navies which could withstand multiple challenges.
The Contours of Indo-Pacific Strategy
The strategy revolves around five cornerstones: a free and open Indo-Pacific; building connections within and beyond the region; driving prosperity; bolstering security; and building collective resilience to transnational threats.
The strategy focuses on security in the region, thus the need arises for closer military cooperation along the complete spectrum of military affairs, interoperability among partners while developing and deploying advanced warfighting capabilities.
The policy document on U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy released by the U.S. State Department in February, 2022 further specifies that prosperity of the region as a whole has been identified as one of the key benchmarks. Moreover, the U.S. via this strategy vows to check information manipulation through supporting freedom of information and expression as well as a pluralistic and independent media. Fiscal transparency, strengthening of democratic institutions in the region and accessibility to the region via sea as well as air have also been focused upon. Cyber cooperation amongst regional countries and partners has been stated as one of the key ingredients of the policy. The document seeks to pool the collective strength of regional partners to face critical issues together.
The strategy focuses on security in the region, thus the need arises for closer military cooperation along the complete spectrum of military affairs, interoperability among partners while developing and deploying advanced warfighting capabilities. The document, besides countering conventional threats, also talks of cooperation on counter-terrorism, climate change, environmental degradation and COVID-19 as the most critical challenges to the region.
The achievement of stipulated ambitions is envisaged in a span of next one to two years. It is important to note the fact that it specifically supports India and declares it a rising regional power; the net security provider in the region. India is expected to reap the benefits from all the key strands of strategy, i.e., politics, economy, military and technology, which will surely affect Pakistan. This policy script, having so much emphasis on India, is an eye opener for Pakistan.
What is Quad?
The Quad is a security dialogue between the U.S., Australia, India and Japan. It is a quasi-military alliance, tilted more towards non-military cooperation; however, aspirations for freedom of navigation at sea exhibit militaristic notions. It is so far not structured like a typical multilateral organisation and it also does not provide for collective defense. Nonetheless, the conduct of joint military exercise, ‘Malabar’, appears to be a show of unity and diplomatic cohesion. Similarly, India has also joined hands with the U.S., Israel and the UAE in an arrangement known as the Quad of West Asia or the Middle Eastern Quad. It was formed on October 18, 2021 when the Foreign Ministers of India, Israel, the UAE and the U.S. met virtually and decided to create a joint working group on issues concerning maritime security, infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and transport. It is noteworthy that India’s role in Middle Eastern Quad has been appreciated by the U.S. during a 2+2 meeting held between the U.S. and India on April 11, 2022 in Washington.
What is AUKUS?
Australia, the UK and the U.S. formed a multipurpose military alliance called AUKUS on September 15, 2021. It is aimed at collective security in Indo-Pacific and mainly allows for the provision of long-range strike capabilities, and nuclear-powered submarines by the U.S. and the UK to Australia. It is being argued that the arrangement is a violation of NPT article-I which prohibits nuclear weapons states (NWS) to transfer or encourage development of nuclear weapons or other explosive devices by non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS). Similarly, it is a violation of NPT article-II which restricts NNWS from seeking such assistance. Of late, there has been a consideration to let Japan join AUKUS and convert it into JAUKUS. The idea is still in its infancy and will move towards fruition or otherwise in times to come.
What is IPEF?
The IPEF is a 13 member consortium proposed by the U.S. during President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan for the Quad leaders’ meeting in May, 2022. It is aimed to invest in digital economy, secure and resilient supply chain, clean energy infrastructure, transparency, fair taxation and anti-corruption. The idea was discussed by President Joe Biden during the first-ever ASEAN leaders’ summit held in Washington on May 12, 2022. The U.S. had proposed more than $200 million in clean energy and infrastructure initiatives in ASEAN during the summit. Obviously, it is considered as a boon vis-a-vis Chinese investments in the region.
What are the Advantages to India?
Politically, Quad affords India a position which can have leverage at the time of its choosing. India has been an aspirant of attaining Nuclear Supplies Group (NSC) membership to boost her stature to that of a power at the global stage. This Indian ambition is important as it will not only enhance India’s influence, but also the autonomy that it always aspires for. India will then be in a position to chart a diplomatic course of action according to its desires and territorial disputes with its neighbors can be managed as per its own interests.
The U.S. and India, during the last couple of years, have moved closer in the military domain also, whereby the U.S. and her allies have offered and supplied some of the most modern and effective weapons and platforms to India during the past few years.
The U.S. and India have become trading partners of a significantly large magnitude with the potential to grow further and surpass India-China trade. A large number of Indian expatriates to the U.S. also form a strong tool for Indian economy. In the prevalent era of geoeconomics, the economic aspect between any two countries is paramount in their mutual ties. The strengthened relations between both will certainly accrue political dividends for India, ultimately enabling it to maintain its say in international matters, so as to safeguard her interests and further its hegemonic agenda.
India today stands as one of the leading arms importers around the world. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) listed India as the first largest global importer from the year 2017 to year 2021, which accounted for 11 percent of global major conventional weapons imports. Russia is the biggest arms supplier to India while the U.S. is the second largest. The U.S. and India, during the last couple of years, have moved closer in the military domain also, whereby the U.S. and her allies have offered and supplied some of the most modern and effective weapons and platforms to India during the past few years. That has enhanced India’s military capability tangibly vis-a-vis her neighbours, especially Pakistan. Besides, numerous strategic level agreements ranging from information sharing to logistics at sea have been signed between both countries which are likely to benefit India exponentially.
Cooperation between both navies has specially grown in the recent past in the backdrop of shared interests in the Indian Ocean region. India has joined the Combined Maritime Forces as an associate partner. Holding of bilateral and multilateral exercises on land, at sea and in air are also a regular feature. The U.S. has shown interest in working closely on co-production, co-development, cooperative testing of advanced systems, investment promotion and the development of maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in India. Repair and maintenance of U.S. Navy ships at Indian shipyards has also been agreed upon between both.
Despite obvious advantages of its Quad membership, India is however averse to labelling Quad as against China. Considering trade quantum between India and China, India would not wish to antagonise China directly.
China has been keenly observing developments in the Indo-Pacific. It has been critical of the strategy and termed the Quad as Asian-NATO based on Cold War mindset. China has been cognisant of safeguarding its investments around the globe, especially under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but its strategic patience was jerked in particular in the aftermath of Russia-Ukraine crisis which has reignited an ideological war between the West and Russia. Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping while addressing the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022, proposed for the first time the Global Security Initiative (GSI) ostensibly aimed at building on the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. It was proposed to meet the common aspirations of all countries to uphold multilateralism and international solidarity. According to President Xi, the Cold War mentality is still prevailing and needs to be rejected.
The GSI focuses on the following six areas:
▪ Work for common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.
▪ Respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.
▪ Abide by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.
▪ Uphold the principle of indivisible security.
▪ Resolve differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation.
▪ Maintain security in both traditional and non-traditional domains.
China’s approach to address the Indo-Pacific strategy is somewhat similar to what the U.S. has argued for containing China. It is multilateralism that both have advocated as the solution to regional problems. China has, however, an edge of its economic investments in various regional and extraregional countries that it can always leverage to further her national interests. The U.S. can mostly rely on her military muscle and promises for economic assistance to the regional countries. It is also observed that the regional countries have been more into following the economic path rather than military confrontation in their region and are therefore likely to be tilted towards the strategy that China may like to pursue.
Implications for Pakistan
Pakistan is currently going through a rough patch as it is being confronted with myriad problems at the hands of international financial institutions, such as Financial Action Task Force (FATF), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank, etc. It is needless to highlight that the U.S. military hardware and agreements can afford a viable edge to India, notwithstanding its challenging amalgamation with the existing Russian inventory.
Pakistan very much lies in the area covered by the Indo-Pacific strategy and given her strategic partnership with China, can neither remain oblivious to the developments, nor remain unaffected.
Since it’s a sea-based strategy, the strain is also likely to be on the maritime forces. There is already a substantial quantitative disparity between Pakistani and Indian navies at present. If the capabilities of Indian Navy further accentuate, it will mandate Pakistan to invest more in maritime and air defense capabilities. Additionally, the basing rights available to the Indian Navy with various ports in the region makes it easier for Indian Navy to have its fleet battle-readied without navigating back to Indian waters. The situation demands permanent stationing of naval and air assets in the area by Pakistan. For this purpose, suitable locations along our west coast can be considered.
Supplying of nuclear submarines to Australia under AUKUS arrangement can have a domino effect in the region as it will entice not only China but other ASEAN countries as well to pursue enhancement in their submarine fleet. This in turn may instigate India to pursue an increase in the number of its nuclear submarines. The cumulative effect will again be worrisome for Pakistan as the capability attained by Indian Navy can be applied against Pakistan at the desired time. Hence, if the Indian Navy embarks upon an ambitious development and deployment plan, it will certainly be a troubling situation for Pakistan and shall mandate fast-paced development of its navy. With Gwadar serving as the key port in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the responsibility of Pakistan Navy in the upcoming epoch will therefore be intensified.
The Indo-Pacific strategy envisioned by the U.S. directly confronts China and is meant to curtail China’s economic and military influence in the region. Pakistan very much lies in the area covered by the Indo-Pacific strategy and given her strategic partnership with China, can neither remain oblivious to the developments, nor remain unaffected. Pakistan therefore has to grasp the essentials of this new tussle between the leading powers of the world and must leverage its elements of national power for advancing its own national interests.
Both U.S. and China have made use of multilateralism for furthering their respective narrative. The U.S. has military might and promises to influence the regional and extraregional partners, while China is leveraging its economic capacity for the same purpose. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has once again signified the existence of an ideological war between the two blocs which has clearly demarcated the world into West and others. Let’s not expect a situation which may ultimately lead to ‘with us or against us’ scenario once again, but the dynamics are perhaps the same. The countries who are being affected are in quandary and may have to choose between the two blocs in times to come. India is one country which is the most affected by this situation. Its centrality to Indo-Pacific notwithstanding, the ambivalent stance on Russian invasion of Ukraine is somewhat annoying for her newfound love in the U.S. and western allies. How does India manages to navigate these troubled waters and for how long is something only time will tell.
Above notwithstanding, India’s capability enhancement will pose a risk for Pakistan. We, therefore, have to be cognisant of the developments in this sphere and have to be proactive instead of being reactive. The Indian military developments and overtures especially at sea need to be carefully examined while appropriate preparations are to be made. We may have to look into the effectiveness of our measures that are already instituted along our coast and at sea to safeguard our interests. If beefing up of those is essential, we must not leave any stone unturned to achieve it.
The writer is a freelance columnist and currently working at the Institute of Regional Studies.
E-mail: [email protected]
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