Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said this week that both India and Pakistan must resolve their differences if India is to ensure double-digit growth and become a powerful nation, and Pakistan was not to collapse due to unsustainable defence expenditure. He said that both countries were nuclear powers and the security of the entire [...]


Recipe for disaster if Indo-Pak rift is not resolved: Ranil


Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said this week that both India and Pakistan must resolve their differences if India is to ensure double-digit growth and become a powerful nation, and Pakistan was not to collapse due to unsustainable defence expenditure.

He said that both countries were nuclear powers and the security of the entire region would soon face a “youth bulge” with increased populations, and the inability to meet their aspirations could see the growth of violence and terrorism.

He was addressing a forum on “Indian Ocean; the Vortex of Destiny” on May 1, organised by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at Boston, USA. Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is currently a Robert E. Willhelm Fellow at the MIT’s Center for International Studies.

In his introductory remarks, he said “We are in an axial age, best described, with apologies to Mathew Arnold, as “wandering between two worlds, one dying, the other struggling to be born”. This has happened before. In the 16th century, Colombus, Bartolomeu Dias and Magellan made global navigation possible, opening the way for Europe’s Great Powers. In the 19th century, the American and French Revolutions unleashed new political aspirations leading to modern democracy. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution which replaced human energy with mechanical energy, laid the groundwork for a new economic system. Today we are in another scarcely anticipated transition resulting from the globalised economy, the digital revolution, climate change, the rise of Jihadists, unheard of a decade ago. Nowhere is this transition more evident than in the Indian Ocean which was once the richest region in the world. Having followed the developments of this region for over three decades, I am taking this opportunity to share my view of the future. I will give my observations in four sections.

1) Observations on the Indian Ocean.
2) South Asia. A naturally cohesive area deeply divided politically.
3) The potential for a broader regional approach, and
4) The impact and the role of USA, China, EU and Japan in the region.

He said by 2050 the Indian Ocean will be the most populous region in the world. The total population of India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Tanzania will be 2.6 billion. Five other countries in the region (Thailand. Myanmar, Iraq, Kenya and Mozambique) will each have a population exceeding 50 million.

With the Asian economies growing, the flow of East-West maritime commerce is expanding. This has resulted in priority being given to economies of scale in the design of new ships. Large ships and tankers which navigate are suitable for the India Ocean though not in some other seas. Therefore, the Western powers, China and Japan have a stake in the security of the Indian Ocean.

He said that within a decade the region will face a youth bulge. Inability to satisfy their aspirations will lead to extensive discontent giving an impetus to violence and terrorism. Corruption, extremism and violence can lead to weakening of governments.

“The Indian Ocean Region, he said has yet to realize its full potential both economically and politically. To do so it’s necessary to resolve the geopolitical rivalries with the tendencies to disrupt regional peace and stability. Thereafter, the political atmosphere will be conducive for an initiative to promote rapid economic growth in the region.

“India, he said has to achieve double digit growth for two decades, similar to China in the comparable decades, to be able to punch beyond its weight.

“Meanwhile, South Asia has and continues to dominate the Indian Ocean Region. Two South Asian nations, India and Pakistan, possess nuclear weapons. Their geo political rivalry overshadows everything else in the region. They came close to a nuclear confrontation when I was Sri Lanka's Prime Minister in 2002. India mobilized 500,000 troops. Similarly, Pakistan matched this with 300,000. Both had their nuclear weapons ready. I knew both leaders, Mr. Wickremesinghe said. 

“Their nuclear weapon stockpiles are not on the scale of U.S.A or Russia. Both countries have short and medium range missiles. India also has developed both long range missiles and nuclear submarines. They have sufficient stockpiles to destroy a good part of the sub-continent. The terrorist attack on Mumbai was another flash point. The Indian Government acted with restraint. Proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism has made South Asia the most volatile region in the world”, he added.

“The people of both countries have no appetite for war, which will destroy Gujarat and Punjab. They all accept the LOC as the reality in Kashmir. The middle class, the business class and the ordinary masses all want peace. Some of India's best military leaders are Muslims. There is no one to lead a jihad in India. To many the interstate rivalry is fulfilled when they win at cricket.
“So far the two countries have failed to come to any meaningful agreements. All talks including the Back Channel Negotiations and the Composite Dialogue have broken down. The last meeting of the two prime ministers in New York during the U.N. General Assembly Sessions 2013 did not produce any results.

“A conventional approach cannot work in an unconventional situation. The talks have become a war of attrition without an ultimate objective. On both sides the experts focus on how little they need to concede at the talks. But this strategy does not work with non-state actors such as LeT or the Pakistan Taliban. The final outcome is increased defense expenditure which is a drag on developments. There is a complete lack of faith on both sides.

“The only option is an out of the box approach to the talks. The step by step confidence building process will not work. The Indians and the Pakistanis are the same people. The governments have to cut a political deal. They also have to build the space for such a deal. Both have to go concurrently. The experts’ outlook has to be tempered with the flexibility of the politician and the unpredictability of the non-state actors. There is no option. The Pakistanis have put the ball in the Indian court. They have made it clear that they are willing to talk to the new government and it should be a composite dialogue.

“The Pakistani fears arise out of a lack of strategic depth to stall a conventional attack by India. Therefore the use of nuclear weapons to deter such an attack including the first use policy. India has built up nuclear arsenal to deter a Pakistani nuclear strike on India. India is also building the armed forces to fight a conventional two front war. Then the core issue is what is the deal that will assure each side. This is a tortuous process that will take time.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said talks should involve three tracks. A public debate, the composite dialogue and the back channel negotiations. A public debate spread over two to three years will make the public stakeholders. Once the public buys a proposal the others will have to go along. The actions of the different actors, state or not, will also come under scrutiny making it more difficult to sabotage. The middle class is becoming more assertive in Pakistan and cannot be ignored. The civil society has become an active participant in Indian politics. India has a robust media. The parameters set by this debate will create the space for an agreement between the two governments. This is too serious a matter to be left to experts, be it military or foreign affairs. It will involve allowing more people to people contact. Why not permit Pakistani cricketers to participate in the I.P.l.  From my knowledge, the public will accept a practical solution rather than hair splitting approaches of the Establishments.

“The back channel negotiations must recommence. This will be crucial talks focusing on the security of the two states.  Pakistan will require effective measures to ensure that there is no conventional attack by India. Another issue will be an Afghanistan settlement acceptable to Pakistan. India will require effective guarantee of a no first use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and the control of the terrorist operating from Pakistan.

“The back channel negotiations will have to include all issues. It is not possible to be selective. Then it will become a debate on the agenda. The issues are likely to include the following:
a) The first strike option
b) The cold start doctrine
c) Pakistan's asymmetrical escalation plan and the effectiveness of the central command authorization
d) India's Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry vehicle MIRV
e) The status of the Pakistan Taliban and LeT
f) Kashmir
“Afghanistan will also come up for discussion. The final settlement has to be left to the Afghanistan actors together with U.S.A, Pakistan, China and Russia.

“Sections of the Establishment and extremist will oppose such an approach. A robust media and civil society has the strength to carry such a debate forward. This debate will not be limited to these two countries. Others, especially those in the region, will join the debate.

“The Indian objective has to be long term. By mid-century India will be the most populous country in the world having the third largest economy in G.D.P terms. The West, Russia, Japan, South Korea will have a much higher per capita income keeping them ahead of India. China's per capita G.D.P will also be higher. The elimination of tension with Pakistan will ensure stability. It will also enable a better control of defense expenditure. These will enable double digit growth. A stronger economy will make India powerful politically and militarily.

“Unsustainable defense expenditure and terrorism can lead to the collapse of Pakistan. Resolving the tension with India will ensure a faster rate of growth required to meet the employment needs of the youth bulge. It will also give Pakistan a strong regional player.

“Rapid economic growth will create strong middle classes in both countries. This in turn will strengthen democracy in the region, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.


Mr. Wickremesinghe said that a successful regional approach also requires the strengthening of the Moderates in Iran to resolve the Sunni - Shia conflict. A crescent of instability starting from Afghanistan spreading through Iraq to Syria is the result of this conflict. Therefore the dialogue between the West and Iran must continue in a manner that will consolidate the moderates.

“The Indian Ocean Region has no effective regional organization to promote a broader regional approach. The main achievement of the Indian Ocean Association for Regional Cooperation has been to change its name to the Indian Ocean Rim Association. IORAC seeks to promote economic cooperation between the member countries. This is a non-starter. Intra-regional trade is low. The main export markets for the member countries are in the Western economies. These countries together with China and Japan are the main aid donors. Integration with the global economy is the requirement for economic growth. Both trade and investments are necessary for growth. This in turn will spur intra-regional trade. Since it is not possible to integrate the whole region in one go the IORA need not be displaced. Initially two sub regional initiatives will suffice.

“This is an initiative to promote economic growth based on open regionalism. The 10 countries in the region (Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh,Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia,Singapore, Indonesia and Australia) together with USA, EU, China and Japan to be the members of this initiative. It will also bring together the SAARC and the ASEAN.  The members belonging to the APEC are already committed to free and open trading and investment. Political decisions are required by the other five nations regarding market integration and the non-discriminatory approach. Such decisions are inevitable. Then open regionalism is pushed all the way to India. BIMSTEC.

“The second initiative will take open regionalism further. Pakistan has promoted regional cooperation in Central and West Asia. Building on these economic opportunities will give these countries the much needed faster economic growth. Pakistan and India will have to take the lead in promoting this initiative. This will further strengthen Pakistan's role in the area.

“The African Economic Community AEC and its 3 Regional organizations representing the countries on the Indian Ocean Rim are working on closer integration of these economies. They start from a lower economic base and therefore will take longer.

“The rising populations and the increasing incomes of this region will put in place the building blocks for intra-regional trade. The vast increase in population creates a demand for food. Not only basic food items but also for those who will move up the food chain as their incomes improve. Demand for fertilizer. Value addition in the supply chain. The logistics of brining the food products to the retailers. The development of ports and shipping. The Education and Health sectors will also reap the benefit of the demographic dividends. There will be rapid growth in both these sectors.

“To make all these possible the integration has to be phased in. The Bay of Bengal economies other than Myanmar are complimentary. Therefore the integration should be completed by 2025. The target for Central and West Asia to be 2030. The final phase the African integration to be completed by 2035. This will ensure that the momentum of global economic growth continues beyond the APEC open trade and the transformation of the Chinese economy to domestic consumption.

“I have set out my thinking on the Indian Ocean Region. Nevertheless, predictions in International Affairs is a hazardous enterprise. History has been reshaped by developments largely unforeseen and unpredictable. For instance on 28 June 1914 a Serbian student named Princip changed world history. Otherwise we will not be having this discussion today.
“We must peer into the future if only to try and imagine the perimeters of the possible. Then we must also speculate as to what will happen if the above mentioned scenario does not take place.

“If geopolitical rivalry is not contained and regional economic growth does not take place then the Indian Ocean Region will not become a game changer. The bleaker scenario set out in Global Trends 2030 becomes likely.
a) The region will trigger broader instability
b) Religio-ethnic extremist organizations, including terrorist will find support from a dissatisfied youth population
c) The collapse of governing institutions in many states including Afghanistan and Pakistan
d) Non-state actors laying hands on nuclear weapons
e) Fragmentation of governmental authority in India. In such a scenario the U.S.A and China will work together to prevent regional tensions escalating into conflict. It is possible that Europe, Russia and Japan will join them. At some stage they may even intervene in the Indo-Pak disputes. Then the outside players will have a greater say in the affairs of the region. This will be the consequence of India not being able to capitalize on its economic advantage now.
 “The crescent of instability consisting of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
 “Unlike the Atlantic and the Pacific the key actors in the Indian Ocean do not belong to the region.
 “USA, the most powerful actor has provided donor aid and military assistance to many of the countries. It is also the major trading partner providing markets for them. Not merely its economic strength but also a series of defense partnerships with a number of these countries, the base at Diego Garcia and the presence of its fleet helped to establish this position. The objective of the US maritime strategy is to maintain control over the 8 key choke points. They are the key to mastery of the regions shipping lanes. This is laid out in Sustaining US Global Leadership, Priorities for the 21st Century (2020). This is depends on the plans for a 300 ship navy, including 11 Gerald Ford class aircraft carriers, 90 surface combatant ships and 70 submarines.

“Chinese economic growth relies on the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. Manufactured goods have to be shipped out and oil and raw materials shipped in. Chinese naval build up cannot challenge the supremacy of US and its allies in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It will build surface combatants to protect its long distance shipping. The Chinese strategy is to utilize its soft diplomacy. China has become the main donor of long term development finance to the countries of the region.
“They are building a number of ports and air ports in the region including Sri Lanka. Gwadar in Pakistan will connect with the Xiangen Province. A port in Myanmar, Sittwe?, will be connected to South West China by road. This gives the Bay of Bengal countries road access to China.

“Europe continues to be one of the main markets for the Indian Ocean countries, U.K and France the two main colonial powers still retain their political and economic influence in the area. Their naval ships also join the US Navy operations. Japan is a main aid donor. It's Maritime Self-Defense Force ships joined the US Navy operations during the Iraq War. These countries have strong connections in the region.

“India is the leading power within the region. The Freedom of The Sea, India's Military Maritime Doctrine is based on India becoming the dominant sea power in the region. This strategy involves strengthening the US - India alliance. India plans for a navy with 3 aircraft carriers, 60 surface combatant ships and 30 submarines.



“All that I have discussed with you today is the by-product of a long term vision - the need to develop a set of political and strategic arrangements that will enhance the great potential of the region.  It is only in this way that two to three billion people in the Indian Ocean State will be able to live a better life. To liberate these people from the torments of history should be the collective actions of leaders.  Unfortunately, one that has not been realized so far, but well within the realm of possibilities”, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.


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