Tensions are on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian state situated mostly in the Himalayas. For decades, it has had constitutional autonomy from India.
The region is an area of major territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. Parts of the Kashmir valley have been under Pakistan’s control since the 1948 Indo-Pakistani war and both India and Pakistan have since fought two more wars claiming title to Jammu and the whole of Kashmir.
But yesterday, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government’s decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. This status gave it the independence to have its own constitution, flag and the ability to make its own laws for its residents.
To do this, the government has abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, and announced a plan to divide the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
In recent weeks, India has discharged some 35,000 troops to the Indian parts of Kashmir, adding to the 500,000 troops already stationed in the territory. India also cancelled a major Hindu pilgrimage, asked tourists to leave and imposed curfews in parts of the state.
India cites the threat of militancy in the territory emanating from Pakistan as the reason for recent lockdown and security measures.
From now on, Jammu and Kashmir will be considered a part of India, the same as other Indian states. It will be subject to the Indian constitution in its entirety.
The Indian government, following its election promises, claims that removing the special status will provide better economic and political opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir, the same as those available in mainland India.
India Tomorrow part 3: Kashmir
But skeptics believe that such a rushed move is merely a cover for changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority Kashmir to make it more Hindu, in the same way Israel expanded into Palestinian territories.
The abolition of Article 35A removes a constitutional hurdle for foreigners to buy land, settle in Jammu and Kashmir and increase the non-Muslim population there.
Until now, the expansion of the non-Muslim population was restricted due to strict property, political and entrepreneurial state laws for non-residents.
Adopted in 1949, Article 370 grants Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status under the Indian constitution.
The article exempts the state from the terms of the constitution and limits the Indian Parliament in making laws for Jammu and Kashmir, except on matters of defence, external affairs and communications.
The Jammu and Kashmir legislature must approve any other law the Indian Parliament passes before it takes effect.
The article states that specific provisions in the Indian constitution can be extended to Jammu and Kashmir through presidential orders. But this can only happen with the agreement of the state government.
One such provision is Article 35A, which was passed through a presidential order in 1954. It allowed the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define rights and privileges for the permanent residents of the territory.
Article 370 was first adopted as a temporary term under the “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” section of India’s constitution when India had committed to holding a plebiscite in the territory to let the residents decide their political future.
According to India’s constitution, Article 370 could only be modified or revoked at the recommendation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly. The constituent assembly, however, dissolved itself in the 1950s, arguably entrenching Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in the Indian constitution permanently.
This means that abolishing Article 370 through yesterday’s presidential notification may be unconstitutional. And if this is the case, revoking the existing constitutional authority means India would be ruling Jammu and Kashmir by force.
The predominantly Muslim Kashmiri population has strong reservations about an influx of Indians into their homelands, particularly since 2008. Then, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to grant 40 hectares of forestland to a Hindu pilgrimage site to provide for housing facilities for pilgrims, but was met with strong public protests against the idea.
Over the years, despite the Kashmiris’ concerns, the Indian right-wing groups, with the help of central government, have been encouraging Hindus to undertake the pilgrimage in big numbers.
Recently, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the territorial conflict between Pakistan and India for a solution to the decades-old crises.
India has always maintained the dispute to be a bilateral issue between the two countries and refused to accept any third party’s involvement. Pakistan, on the other hand, regards it an international issue which, similar to the Israel-Palestine conflict, requires the UN and other international players to play their parts.
But bringing Jammu and Kashmir under India’s rule means this dispute will become more internalised between the two countries. This is concerning to Pakistan and could, once again, reignite border tensions between the two countries.
The links below are to articles reporting news relating to the persecution of Christians in India.
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The links below are to reports of the persecution of Christians in India (the most recent are at the top).
For more visit:
With the final approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine now apparently imminent, it is important to ask how it has seemingly defied the assessment of experts that it is not financially viable.
After all, it’s only a week since the Chinese owner of another mine planned for the Galilee Basin, the China Stone mine, suspended its bid for mining leases because of commercial considerations.
But such a purely financial analysis ignores the political forces driving the development of the coal industry in both India and Australia.
In short, both are locked into what I describe as a model of crony capitalism, in which special deals are handed out to projects such as Adani that tip the scales in favour of development.
The actions of China and Japan in deploying enormous state power to export their respective coal technologies to Southeast Asia strengthens the hands of those pushing such developments.
In my recent book, Adani and the war over coal, I outline a network of power that for several decades has promoted the development of Australia’s coal resources in the interests of national and international corporations.
The mining companies, then the big four banks became part of it, lending billions in the rush to develop Australian coal mines as Asian countries sought to lock in long-term supplies. The Minerals Council of Australia, the New South Wales Minerals Council and the Queensland Resources Council, with their collective close ties to both political parties, handled public relations.
Yet they have faced resistance from the rise of an anti-Adani movement that links grassroots environmentalists, peak environmental lobby groups and progressive organisations such as GetUp!
By mid-2018, these campaigners seemed to have backed the Carmichael mine into a cul de sac by scaring off both Australian and foreign investors. They had also pressured the Queensland government to withdraw its support for a loan to the project from the Commonwealth government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
Then Adani surprised them by announcing that it would scale back the project and fund it from its own resources. On the face of it this seemed unlikely, but it had help.
The chairman and founder of the Adani group, Gautam Adani, has had a long relationship with the recently re-elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.
Modi played a decisive role in paving the way for Adani’s latest mega deal: selling coal-fired power from a plant in the Indian state of Jharkhand to nearby Bangladesh.
The power for Bangladesh is set to be fired by Carmichael coal. Many Australians would be concerned to learn that our coal is to be used to power one of the most climate-challenged countries on the planet, but we have this on the authority of Adani’s previous Australian-based chief executive, Jeyakuma Janakaraj.
Twelve days before the 2019 Indian election date was announced, the Modi government gave approval for an Adani project in Jharkhand to become the first designated power project in India to get the status and benefits of a Special Economic Zone, saving Adani billions of dollars in taxes, including clean energy taxes.
The Indian state will provide land, infrastructure and water for the project and shoulder the burden of pollution. The cost of the power to Bangladesh is not expected to be cheap.
Adani’s form suggests it might come back to Australia for more. Following the re-election of the Morrison government it is already being speculated that the pro-coal Minister for Resources, Matt Canavan, will revisit the original proposal for a billion-dollar government-sponsored loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to construct the railway from the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port.
The Adani saga points to a critical flaw in the Paris climate agreement. It is an agreement between nation states, but what those states do is often determined by arrangements between politicians and private companies that feel no particular obligation to keep global warming to less than two degrees.
We are pawns in a larger, climate-destroying game.
The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition in India’s federal election represents a key marker in the modern history of India. It was the most extensive and probably most expensive election campaign in the country’s history, with 900 million voters casting their votes in one million polling stations over 38 days. Some 83 million Indians were first-time voters, with 15 million of them aged 18 and 19.
The great Indian festival of democracy – as the elections are often called – is seen as the most challenging exercise in making all Indians feel they have a say in the running of the government.
And the return of Narendra Modi as prime minister is both an opportunity and challenge for the country.
The 2019 parliamentary elections were the most “presidential” since the era of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi four decades ago, with a focus more on the personality of one leader (and his track record) than the candidates standing for office and their respective parties.
I travelled across India to the hustings in as many as 50 parliamentary constituencies and witnessed firsthand the “Modi phenomenon.” In constituency after constituency, BJP candidates evoked Modi’s name and displayed his image every opportunity they could.
Modi was projected as the only leader who would revive the great Indian civilization and save the country from the powerful elites and corrupt politicians who made up what the BJP deemed the “anti-national” opposition.
At times in the campaign, his personality assumed almost mythological proportions. The defining image was of the Indian leader shedding his regal robes and retreating to a bare cave in the Himalayas, close to one of the important centres of Hindu pilgrimage, where he meditated in a monastic saffron shawl. This reinforced his popular image as a puritanical and incorruptible leader whose first choice in life was to be a monk.
In contrast to this imagery, the opposition parties ran lazy, tired campaigns that failed to have much impact.
The Congress Party, the country’s once-dominant political party, did not improve much on its devastating results from the 2014 election. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, tried hard to mobilise voters with rousing speeches and campaign events, but these were just brief moments in the longest campaign in Indian electoral history.
The Congress Party’s traditional hubris showed little signs of abating as it abandoned any chance of building potentially winning coalitions that could have countered the Modi juggernaut.
The only real resistance to the BJP-led coalition came from India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, where two strong regional parties suspended their traditional rivalry to establish an alliance, but even that coalition did not live up to its initial promise.
The Modi campaign succeeded not just in appealing to nostalgia for India’s greatness or in the ultra-nationalism that peaked after airstrikes against what India viewed as terrorist camps in Pakistan in February. It was actual delivery on the ground.
The social welfare schemes built around providing lavatories, cooking gas and direct cash transfers to India’s poorest have had tremendous impact across the country. Surprisingly, even the more woolly-headed schemes of the Modi government, such as his chaotic demonetisation decision in 2016 and a poorly implemented introduction of GST, were perceived by many voters as policies that were well-intentioned, but badly executed by the toxic bureaucracy seeking to undermine Modi.
In part due to these social welfare schemes, the BJP expanded its presence in states where it has traditionally had little previous success, including Bengal, Odisha and many parts of southern India.
So, what can Indians expect from a BJP-led government for the next five years? Based on what we have seen since 2014, the government will be centralised and driven primarily from Modi’s office. Fortunately, the messiness of Indian democracy and the strengths of the constitution will prevent the country from leaning towards authoritarianism, so that should not be a concern.
The previous Modi government has shown it was possible to take a pragmatic approach to social and economic policies.
There are many key challenges that will require a fine balancing act. These include a further liberalising of the economy, with the structural changes needed to make it easier to do business in India and attract more foreign investment. Creating jobs and skills training for the vast numbers of young Indians remains a formidable challenge, as does India’s struggling agrarian sector, which has reached a crisis point.
It remains to be seen if the activism of the BJP’s rank-and-file members, as well as the party’s supporters in the Hindu nationalist movement, can be managed without compromising on key policies that India needs for social cohesion and to continue growing the economy. It will also fall to Modi to reassure ethnic and religious minorities – many of whom have fallen victim to Hindu mob attacks – that they are part of an inclusive vision for the country.
In terms of foreign policy, Modi has demonstrated deftness in New Delhi’s relations with powers like China and the US, as well as other countries in the region. There are sure to be new challenges with Pakistan, in particular, as well as an increasingly belligerent China, but Modi has already shown he has a unique ability to build a personal rapport with other leaders.
On March 27, India announced it had successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, called “Mission Shakti”. After the United States, Russia and China, India is now the fourth country in the world to have demonstrated this capability.
The destroyed satellite was one of India’s own. But the test has caused concerns about the space debris generated, which potentially threatens the operation of functional satellites.
There are also political and legal implications. The test’s success may be a plus for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now trying to win his second term in the upcoming election.
But the test can be viewed as a loss for global security, as nations and regulatory bodies struggle to maintain a view of space as a neutral and conflict-free arena in the face of escalating technological capabilities.
According to the official press release, India destroyed its own satellite by using technology known as “kinetic kill”. This particular technology is usually termed as “hit-to-kill”.
A kinetic kill missile is not equipped with an explosive warhead. Simply put, what India did was to launch the missile, hit the target satellite and destroy it with energy purely generated by the high speed of the missile interceptor. This technology is only one of many with ASAT capabilities, and is the one used by China in its 2007 ASAT test.
Since the first satellite was launched in 1957 (the Soviet Union’s Sputnik), space has become – and will continue to be – a frontier where big powers enhance their presence by launching and operating their own satellites.
There are currently 1,957 satellites orbiting Earth. They provide crucial economic, civil and scientific benefits to the world, from generating income to a wide range of services such as navigation, communication, weather forecasts and disaster relief.
The tricky thing about satellites is that they can also be used for military and national security purposes, while still serving the civil end: one good example is GPS.
So it’s not surprising big powers are keen to develop their ASAT capabilities. The name of India’s test, Shakti, means “power, strength, capability” in Hindi.
A direct consequence of ASAT is that it creates space debris when the original satellite breaks apart. Space debris consists of pieces of non-functional spacecraft, and can vary in size from tiny paint flecks to an entire “dead” satellite. Space debris orbits from hundreds to thousands of kilometres above Earth.
The presence of space debris increases the likelihood of operational satellites being damaged.
Although India downplayed the potential for danger by arguing that its test was conducted in the lower atmosphere, this perhaps did not take into account the creation of pieces smaller than 5-10 cm in diameter.
In addition, given the potential self-sustaining nature of space debris, it’s possible the amount of space debris caused by India’s ASAT will actually increase due to the collision.
Aside from the quantity, the speed of space debris is another worrying factor. Space junk can travel at up to 10km per second in lower Earth orbit (where India intercepted its satellite), so even very small particles pose a realistic threat to space missions such as human spaceflight and robotic refuelling missions.
As we’re seeing clearly now in social media, when technology moves fast the law can struggle to keep up, and this leads to regulatory absence. This is also true of international space law.
Five fundamental global space treaties were created 35-52 years ago:
These were written when there were only a handful of spacefaring nations, and space technologies were not as sophisticated as they are now.
Although these treaties are binding legal documents, they leave many of today’s issues unregulated. For example, in terms of military space activities, the Outer Space Treaty only prohibits the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space, not conventional weapons (including ballistic missiles, like the one used by India in Mission Shakti).
In addition, the treaty endorses that outer space shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. However, the issue is how to interpret the term “peaceful purposes”. India claimed, after its ASAT test:
we have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes.
When terms such as “peaceful” seem to be open to interpretation, it’s time to update laws and regulations that govern how we use space.
Several international efforts aim to address the issues posed by new scenarios in space, including the development of military space technologies.
A similar initiative, the Woomera Manual, has been undertaken by Adelaide Law School in Australia.
Though commendable, both projects will lead to publications of “soft laws”, which will have no legally binding force on governments.
The UN needs to work much harder to attend to space security issues – the Disarmament Commission and Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space can be encouraged to collaborate on the issues regarding space weapons.
It is in everyone’s best interests to keep space safe and peaceful.
The world’s largest democratic election is set to take place in India. Voting will take place in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and the result will be announced May 23.
An extraordinary 900 million people are eligible to vote, 130 million for the first time. Not only is it the “largest democratic exercise” in history, it is among world’s most expensive. In 2014, the Lok Sabha (lower house) elections cost the Election Commission of India half a billion US dollars.
Several key issues are emerging in this election that will prove decisive in voter decision-making behaviour. Unsurprisingly, economic development is front and centre. Despite having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, growth slowed to 6.4% in the final quarter of 2018, down from a peak of 8.2% in mid-2018.
Unemployment rates are at their highest since the 1970s, as the economy struggles to create jobs for rural migrants moving to cities and a large youth cohort now entering the labour market. Unemployment and inflation, which directly affect household incomes, are widely seen as the biggest concerns for Indians in the lead up to the election.
The spread of “fake news” and misinformation is also an important electoral complication. WhatsApp in India is tackling the spread of misinformation through a verification centre called Checkpoint. Indian users of the Facebook owned social networking service, of which there is 200 million, can send pictures, messages, and videos to be fact-checked.
This comes as Facebook removed hundreds of pages that shared misleading content about India and Pakistan following a suicide bombing in Kashmir. How to deal with these increasing tensions between India and Pakistan are a key feature of the political campaign.
India has a Westminster system of government, a legacy of the British Raj. In the Lok Sabha (lower house) there are 543 seats up for grabs. An additional two seats for the Anglo-Indian community are nominated by the president. These 545 seats will form the 17th Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the largest party or coalition.
There is no direct election for the Rajya Sabha (upper house). Rather, the current 233 Rajya Sabha members are elected by the Legislative Assembly in each of the states and the two union territories, with an additional 12 members nominated by the president. The Rajya Sabha may have up to 250 members, but it doesn’t reach this quota at present.
There are two distinct personalities leading the major parties in this election. Both have taken advantage of the Representation of the People Act 1951 during their career, which allows candidates to contest an election from two seats – what the Wall Street Journal calls the “political equivalent of spread betting”.
Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a Hindu nationalist party. Modi won both of the seats he nominated for in the 2014 elections, Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He chose the seat of Varanasi and will recontest this seat in 2019. It is unknown whether he will contest a second seat, but there is speculation he might in the south of the country.
Leader of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, leads the secular Indian National Congress (Congress). Gandhi has already declared that he will contest two seats in 2019, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, as well as Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.
Gandhi is latest generation of Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, which has played a decisive role in Indian politics since independence in 1947. In keeping with family tradition, Gandhi recently appointed his sister Priyanka Gandhi as the All India Congress Committee secretary responsible for Uttar Pradesh. The All India Congress Committee is responsible for the Congress’ decision making.
It’s no coincidence that both Modi and Gandhi will contest seats in Uttar Pradesh. Commentators often describe Uttar Pradesh as “the battleground state” of Indian elections. With a population size of roughly 230 million people, Uttar Pradesh sends more members to the Lok Sabha than any other state; it holds 80 seats, followed by Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42) and Bihar (40).
The BJP won the 2014 election with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The only time a party won by a larger majority was in 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to win 78% of seats. But an absolute majority is more of an anomaly than the norm in recent Indian electoral history.
This means that in 2019, both the major parties are courting and negotiating with minor parties. Reports on the status of party alliances have the BJP performing strongly with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while Congress is struggling to build their opposition coalition.
It’s hard to predict whether Modi or Gandhi will emerge victorious in the election. Opinion polls are presently split. Modi and the BJP benefit from the advantages of incumbency, but recent deterioration in economic performance poses an opportunity for opposition parties.
Although it’s shaping up more like elections of the past, where the result will depend on negotiating party alliances, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will still go down in history as the world’s biggest election.
More than 40 Indian security staff lost their lives in a suicide attack on February 14, 2019 in the Pulwama region of Indian-administered Kashmir. The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Twelve days later, India launched air strikes against JeM training camps in Balakot, Pakistan. India claimed the strikes inflicted significant damage on infrastructure and killed militant commanders, while avoiding civilians.
India said the strikes were “pre-emptive”, based on intelligence that JeM were planning more suicide attacks in Indian territory. Pakistan denied India’s claims, both about the damage done by their airstrikes and that Pakistan was planning further attacks.
But Pakistan retaliated with an airstrike on what it termed a “non-military installation” in the Indian controlled region of Kashmir. In the ensuing skirmish with the Indian Air Force, an Indian jet was downed and a pilot captured.
These events, in the disputed territory of Kashmir, have brought international attention to the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. But why is the decades-long conflict heating up again, and why now?
India and Pakistan have been involved in a territorial dispute over Kashmir for decades. The roots of the conflict lie in the partition of British India in 1947, which created the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan.
The idea behind the partition was for Muslim-majority regions to become a part of Pakistan. But Kashmir was complicated. Although a Muslim-majority state, it was ruled by a Hindu king.
He decided to accede to India in October 1947. This was unacceptable to Pakistan, which launched a war in 1948 to capture Kashmir by force.
A result of the war was a UN-mediated ceasefire line. This divided Kashmir into Indian-administered “Jammu and Kashmir” (J&K) – which constituted two-thirds of the territory – and Pakistan-administered “Azad (free) Kashmir”, which was one-third of the territory.
While the 1948 ceasefire brought an end to the fighting, Kashmir’s status remained unresolved and Pakistan continued to contest the territorial boundaries. India granted J&K constitutional autonomy, while the Pakistan-administered region was a self-governing entity.
Kashmir is central to Pakistan’s national identity as a Muslim state, and therefore it represents unfinished business after the 1947 partition.
Pakistan launched another war against India in 1965, which caused thousands of casualties on both sides. Hostilities between the two countries ended after a diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and the United States and a UN-mandated ceasefire.
The 1965 war, the 1971 Indian intervention in Pakistan’s civil war, and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh led to more changes to the territorial borders in Kashmir. The ceasefire line is now designated as the Line of Control (LoC).
Since the 1990s, Pakistan has supported militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to attack Indian security forces and civilians.
Kashmir has also been central to India’s national narrative of unity in diversity propagated by leaders of the independence movement, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Indian leaders have often projected the accommodation of a Muslim majority state in the J&K region as proof of Indian secular democracy.
India’s official position considers the whole of undivided Kashmir as a part of India. And India has not consistently upheld J&K’s constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy. Political instability in the state has been compounded by interference from the Indian government. Indian armed forces in the area have often used force against civilians.
In the 1990s, this led to a mass uprising and insurgency among the Kashmiri population in India. Pakistan exploited this discontent, offering arms, training and funds to both Pakistan-based and local Kashmiri militants.
The insurgency in Indian Kashmir eased in 2003, with a ceasefire and the initiation of an India-Pakistan peace process that led to a relative period of calm.
The peace process came to an end after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, carried out by the LeT. But India’s policy of strategic restraint and pressure on Pakistan by the United States to address militancy prevented a worsening of hostilities.
A new government came to power in India in 2014, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The leadership’s approach to Pakistan and Kashmir has been significantly different from the previous administration, with more emphasis on curbing dissent in J&K and using pre-emptive strikes across the LoC against militant groups in Pakistan’s territory.
Local discontent in Indian Kashmir has also led to an increase in militancy since 2014 with more Pakistani support and a combination of rising local recruitment and an influx of foreign militants.
The rules of engagement between India and Pakistan are changing. India’s “pre-emptive” air strikes in February were a significant shift away from the previous policy of strategic restraint. This is the first time since the dispute emerged that India has targeted militants inside Pakistani territory.
Pakistan chose to escalate tensions further, a move that had previously been prevented by the US. Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has reiterated his desire for dialogue with India. But ceasefire violations across the LoC and the international border have continued unabated since February 14k, with both sides reporting civilian casualties.
Diplomatic pressure from the UN and the rest of the international community has forced the Pakistani government to ban some militant groups. Yet, it continues to deny that JeM is active in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan are playing well into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of being a “strong leader”, capable of protecting the country from its enemies. This is all part of the strategy leading up to the coming elections.
The escalatory responses by both governments have shown the actions of the two countries are becoming more difficult to control, particularly with the United States’ lack of involvement in defusing tensions as it disengages from the region.
In recent days, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne announced efforts to strengthen Australia’s involvement in the Indian Ocean region, and the importance of working with India in defence and other activities. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi – a geopolitical conference co-hosted by the Indian government – Payne said:
Our respective futures are intertwined and heavily dependent on how well we cooperate on the challenges and opportunities in the Indian Ocean in the decades ahead.
Among Payne’s announcements was A$25 million for a four-year infrastructure program in South Asia (The South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, or SARIC), which will primarily focus on the transport and energy sectors.
She also pointed to increasing defence activities in the Indian Ocean, noting that in 2014, Australia and India had conducted 11 defence activities together, with the figure reaching 38 in 2018.
Payne’s speech highlights the emergent power of the Indian Ocean region in world affairs. The region comprises the ocean itself and the countries that border it. These include Australia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
In terms of global political significance, the Atlantic Ocean can be viewed as the ocean of our grandparents and parents; the Pacific Ocean as the ocean of us and our children; and the Indian Ocean as the ocean of our children and grandchildren.
There is an obvious sense in which the region is the future. The average age of people in the region’s countries is under 30, compared to 38 in the US and 46 in Japan. The countries bordering the Indian Ocean are home to 2.5 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population.
But there is also a strong economic and political logic to spotlighting the Indian Ocean as a key emerging region in world affairs and strategic priority for Australia.
Some 80% of the world’s maritime oil trade flows through three narrow passages of water, known as choke points, in the Indian Ocean. This includes the Strait of Hormuz – located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.
The economies of many Indian Ocean countries are expanding rapidly as investors seek new opportunities. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Tanzania witnessed economic growth in excess of 5% in 2017 – well above the global average of 3.2%.
India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. With a population expected to become the world’s largest in the coming decades, it is also the one with the most potential.
Politically, the Indian Ocean is becoming a pivotal zone of strategic competition. China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across the region as part of its One Belt One Road initiative.
For instance, China gave Kenya a US$3.2 billion loan to construct a 470 kilometre railway (Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project in over 50 years) linking the capital Nairobi to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa.
Chinese state-backed firms are also investing in infrastructure and ports in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. Western powers, including Australia and the United States, have sought to counter-balance China’s growing influence across the region by launching their own infrastructure funds – such as the US$113 million US fund announced last August for digital economy, energy, and infrastructure projects.
In security terms, piracy, unregulated migration, and the continued presence of extremist groups in Somalia, Bangladesh and parts of Indonesia pose significant threats to Indian ocean countries.
Countries in the region need to collaborate to build economic strength and address geopolitical risks, and there is a logical leadership role for India, being the largest player in the region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Shangri La Dialogue in June, 2008:
The Indo-Pacific is a natural region. It is also home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges. I am increasingly convinced with each passing day that the destinies of those of us who live in the region are linked.
More than previous Indian Prime Ministers, Modi has travelled up and down the east coast of Africa to promote cooperation and strengthen trade and investment ties, and he has articulated strong visions of India-Africa cooperative interest.
Broader groups are also emerging. In 1997, nations bordering the Bay of Bengal established the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which works to promote trade links and is currently negotiating a free trade agreement. Australia, along with 21 other border states, is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which seeks to promote sustainable economic growth, trade liberalisation and security.
But, notwithstanding India’s energy and this organisational growth, Indian Ocean cooperation is weak relative to Atlantic and Pacific initiatives.
Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper seeks to support IORA in areas such as maritime security and international law. Private organisations, such as the Minderoo Foundation, are doing impressive research – as part of the Flourishing Oceans intiative – on the migration of sea life in an effort to advance environmental sustainability and conservation.
But Australia could focus more on how to promote the Indian Ocean. In Australia’s foreign affairs circles, there used to be a sense Asia stopped at Malta. But it seems the current general understanding of the “Indo-Pacific” extends west only as far as India.
What this misses – apart from the historical relevance and contemporary economic and political significance of the Indian Ocean region generously defined – is the importance of the ocean itself.
If the Ocean was a rainforest, and widely acknowledged as a repository of enormous biodiversity, imagine the uproar at its current contamination and the clamour around collaborating across all countries bordering the ocean to protect it.
The reefs, mangroves, and marine species that live in the Ocean are under imminent threat. According to some estimates, the Indian Ocean is warming three times faster than the Pacific Ocean .
Overfishing, coastal degradation, and pollution are also harming the ocean. This could have catastrophic implications for the tens of millions of fishermen dependent on the region’s marine resources and the enormous population who rely on the Indian Ocean for their protein.
Australia must continue to strengthen its ties in the region – such as with India and Indonesia – and also build new connections, particularly in Africa.