Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

Power Politics in Indian Ocean


Power Politics in Indian Ocean

The countries like Russia, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also have their interests in the Indian Ocean and they can prove to be vital players in its power politics. 
Russia has been emerging as an important military power at the international and regional arena, particularly, under Vladimir Putin. Though it has lost the glory it once possessed within United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), it has gained new political and military role since the dawn of 21st century.
As far as Indian Ocean is concerned, Russia seas it in the light of striking a balance against the growing role of the US. Though it has not been able to counter that alone, it has made some important difference in cooperation with China. Russia, very recently, was involved in a military training with China and Iran in Indian Ocean. Iran has been an arch rival to the US, which has always countered US interests in the Middle East, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and Russia has always backed Iran’s such initiatives. Moreover, it has been involved in serious confrontations with the US in North Arabian Sea recently. Russian and US ships hit with angry glare in the sea. The US Fifth Fleet claimed that the USS Farragut, was “aggressively approached” by the Russian Navy. While the Russian Ministry of Defense criticized the American accusation and said that the US ship “crossed the Russian navy’s traffic lane in a deliberate breach of international health regulations”.
Moreover, Russia has been trying to play a role in Sri-Lanka so that it can convince the country for favorable relations with Russia and China. The US and India have been active in Sri-Lanka to back the government of their choice, which could deal serious blow to the Chinese and Russian interests. However, currently, Russia and China seem to have more favorable circumstances in Sri-Lanka, where China has an important sea port.
Thus, Russia’s role in Indian Ocean region also appears to be more security-oriented. It has an imperative role to balance the power against the US, and in cooperation with China, which can provide for the financial support, Russia can prove to be a serious challenge for the US.
India has always considered Indian Ocean as ‘its own’ and has been making efforts to establish its dominance in the sea. However, it has been facing severe challenges from China in particular. India’s current strategy in Indian Ocean region can be understood through Narendra Modi’s so-called vision of “Security and Growth for All in the Region” or SAGAR. Within this vision, India considers the region to extend from the Gulf of Aden in the west to Burma and Thailand in the east. However, it excludes Pakistan from the region, placing more emphasis on Chabahar Port in Iran. India’s exclusion of Pakistan is because of the long-lasting troubled relations between both the countries. Moreover, as Pakistan has gained importance as a result of CPEC, India wants to counter it through Chabahar. In the process, India also wants to counter growing influence of China, with which it has serious border tensions that experienced further deterioration recently. India is also being backed by the US to create a balance of power against China in the region, which was explained in my previous article with the same heading.
Another Indian tactic within the Indian Ocean region is a Look East policy, that seeks to establish strong commercial ties with the South East and East Asian nations. At the same time, India has been able to establish closer trade relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, Qatar and Oman to secure energy resources for its growing economy. Indian’s relations with GCC and Iran are imperative as far as Pakistan’s relations with them are concerned. Though GCC countries have always had favorable relations with Pakistan, they have prioritized India in certain cases because of its large consumer market.
Indian role in Indian Ocean region currently has the backing of the US; however, it has also made sure that its role is not purely security-oriented. Though US will further push and support India for such a role, particularly, to counter China, it is very difficult and inappropriate for India to pursue it, as it will ultimately, put India in a difficult position as far as its economic relations are concerned.
Other important countries within the Indian Ocean region are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are two important countries in Persian Gulf. They have large petroleum resources, which have always kept them relevant in the region. Both the countries became the target of multinational European and American oil companies, that developed their oil reservoirs and at the same time utilized them for their own benefits. In fact, the oil politics in both Iran and Saudi Arabia kept both the countries under the control of Western powers. Unfortunately, both the countries also developed differences between each other on the basis of sect. Even today, they are arch rival to each other because of the same, and also because the same has been utilized by the Western powers to further harm their relations.
Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have imperative role in Indian Ocean because they have huge transportation of oil through the region. These transportation routes and the important choke points in the Persian Gulf have been determining the role of regional and international players to a large extent, and will keep on doing so for some time in near future.  
Pakistan is also being considered an important country in Indian Ocean because of its sea ports in Karachi and Gwadar. CPEC has further amplified this role and put Pakistan relevant in the regional and international politics. Pakistan’s strategic importance has always been accepted; however, because of certain politico-economic challenges, the country has not been able to leave its marks as it could have. China’s rising power, involving Pakistan’s role, and the US concerns and efforts to put a check on that power has brought Pakistan at a very crucial juncture of its history. Moreover, the US’s dependence on Pakistan to strike a peace deal in Afghanistan has also made Pakistan’s role significant. However, it is to be seen how the policy and decision makers take advantages of these facts and scenario. 

Sajjad Aasim is a PhD scholar in International Relations. He can be reached at sajjad.aasim@hotmail.com.

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