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April 16, 2016

A new great game


April 16, 2016

While Pakistan is abuzz with Panama Leaks, a major agreement between India and the US is taking shape, which could have long-lasting strategic effects on the security calculus of the Afro-Asian region and beyond.

The US had been consistently prodding India since 2004 to cement their security relationship by enhancing military cooperation. In military parlance, logistics is the activity of organising the movement, equipment, and accommodation of military forces. Apparently a benign word, logistics forms the backbone of military operations and is considered the first step in any military campaign.

As a smiling US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter shook hand with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on April 11, the Hindu described it as a “significant decision that could have far-reaching implications for India’s military posture”.

US Defence Secretary Carter’s three-day visit to India was aimed at signing a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which would ultimately pave way for a Strategic Logistic Agreement in the near future. Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announced initiatives to strengthen the growing strategic partnership and declared it as the dawn of new relationship between both countries.

Narendra Modi may be credited to have overcome the strategic passivity in India’s policy, which under previous governments of Congress-led coalitions had been more balanced and addressed sensitivities of relations with China and Russia. The current shift is a calculated move within the changing strategic environment in the region.

An incisive analysis of the Indo-US dialogue held in India recently and the body language of security stakeholders like the US defence secretary and his Indian counterpart indicate the following.

India is opening up to the US, not only in terms of buying military hardware but also as a meaningful strategic partnership. India also does not consider these relations as intrusive or impinging on its relationship with traditional partners like Russia.

The proposal to establish a maritime security dialogue between officials from respective defence and external affairs ministries, and conclude an agreement to improve maritime domain awareness with an arrangement to improve sharing of data on commercial shipping traffic would pave the way for more frequent collaboration in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region. This is the first time that a joint statement between both countries has reiterated the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, including “in the South China Sea.” There is another major development to start navy-to-navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare.

The US-sponsored concept of developing an Asia pivot with leading powers of the continent like Japan, Australia and India is now crystallising into a meaningful military cooperation. China’s strategic encirclement and creation of a new Rim-land around China from West Asia through Indian Ocean right up to Sea of Japan is now becoming a reality.

For the last four years, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been propagating an Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond to contest a rising China. According to him: “The ongoing disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea mean that Japan’s top foreign-policy priority must be to expand the country’s strategic horizons...I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan, and the US state of Hawaii form a diamond to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific. I am prepared to invest, to the greatest possible extent, Japan’s capabilities in this security diamond”.

The new strategic partnership between both powers is also a reminder to Pakistan that India will be given full support as a regional hegemon to play a greater role on behalf of the US by enhancing the new Obama Doctrine. The Pakistan-China strategic partnership and fast-track development on the CPEC is seen with lot of suspicion in Washington and New Delhi and this project will constantly remain on the radar of both powers. Indian efforts to sabotage this project, as indicated in the Kulbhushan Yadav case, support this argument.

The new Obama Doctrine has already forecast a destabilised West Asia and painted a bleak picture of the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; there is also talk of nuclear terrorism. Are these doctrines part of forecasting or threat-making?

For Russia, an old Indian ally, the message is clear – India is no more neutral. If US and Indian Navy ships are seen patrolling the Indian and Pacific Oceans and Shinzo Abe’s dream of Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond becomes a reality, it would effectively become a counter-weight to the Russo-Chinese strategic partnership.

With the world busy in trying to make out something intelligible from the Panama Leaks, the Indo-US military cooperation may be setting the agenda for the Obama Doctrine and a new Great Game in the Asia Pacific region.

The writer is a Lahore-based defence analyst.

Email: [email protected]



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