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Monday September 16, 2019

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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours!

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By all accounts Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an extremely successful G20 summit. His bilaterals with leaders of the world top twenty went well, to say the least. India’s positions, policies and priorities, seem to have been accorded greater attention than in the past. The world acknowledged that India had changed, is continuing to change and was investing greater effort and energy in that change underway. The new Indian wants to be a part of that change, for it is based on a conviction that insularity and isolationism are no longer sustainable in this century. India wants to be a part of the change that is underway regionally and globally.

 

It was most apparent in the venue of the summit, Australia. Once the outpost of ‛western imperialism’ during the heydays of the Cold War, Australia has Asianised, regionalised, its priorities like no other country. It has explicitly identified its future interests as being closely tied in with the Asia-Pacific region, hence its efforts at bettering relations with both India and China. As difficult as it may sound but this has been the greater of Australia’s achievements in the recent past. Australia is important to understand because it is the only country that savours the waters of the Indian and the Pacific oceans, its eastern and western coasts washed by both oceans. So it is uniquely placed to play a role in the region and be the barometer of change that is spreading all over the seas and the region.


The Indian and Pacific oceans water the regions that are undoubtedly the future growth engines of the world. In every study and analysis the charts suggest global growth will be driven by this region. By the dynamism of its population, vibrant or improving industrial climate, positive population figures and the hunger to better ones life. All of these factors are in abundance in these parts of Asia. Unlike West Asia where terrorism and extremism have bedded in for a long haul, the Indo-Pacific region offers a greater semblance of hope than elsewhere. But this is something that cannot be taken for granted. From the Gulf to Guam there is a thread that draws the region together and it is trade that is the driver of this bond. The world’s busiest trade routes are in these oceans, but if they are to flow freely then the choke points need to be kept clean. Because of that fear nothing can be taken for granted in this region. Especially given the unfinished business of unsettled countries and their people.

Even as the people of Iraq are threatened by the ravages of the Islamic State, another country to the east faces similar heat. And unless Afghanistan is handled with fairness and firmness there is every chance it can fall back into the lawlessness which is the utopia sought by millennial militants massacring in the name of god. Any setback in Afghanistan is certain to have a deep impact on the largest city on coast – Karachi. And if Karachi suffers then there is every likelihood that the dream of oceanic highway linking the Gulf to Guam may never become a reality. For these millennial terrorists will pose a bigger threat to shipping than any non-state actor has done thus far. While every effort must be made to prevent this from happening by shoring up the Afghan state, attention must also be paid to the seas.

The future of security in the Indo-Pacific region depends entirely on the robustness of the navies that patrol it. Neglect in this direction has resulted in insufficient assets available to ensure security of the seas. Seaborne trade is the driver of global and regional growth. But for that trade to move unimpeded there have to be safeguards in place, in the seas and oceans, that ensure safety of passage. Such safety and security comes in the form of a regional compact on naval cooperation. An agreement that rests on the fundamentals of freedom of navigation, denying state and non-state actors with the evil eye an opportunity to derail and disrupt. That can only happen when regional navies are cooperating, planning and training for all eventualities. As the best placed on the Gulf to Guam highway it is the Indian Navy that must take the lead. Deciding now will have an impact all the way into the future. Especially if it is one where the Indo-Pacific region is to be the global driver of growth.

Manvendra Singh


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