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 INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: GEOGRAPHY - OCEANS & THE INDIAN OCEAN -I : Nov 17, 2017 05:56 AM
Author: Bakhtiar Hakeem

Geography has played a fundamental and primary role in determining and shaping the inter-state relations. Oceans and mountain ranges have acted like natural walls of defence or the gate-ways to reach out and shake-hands. Barriers like huge deserts (like Shara), seas (like Atlantic) and ranges (like Himalayas) have even influenced the religions, histories, cultures and people; overall. The highest number of wars have been fought on territorial disputes among contiguous neighbouring countries. However, the impact of geography has often been over sighted, and underplayed or ignored.



INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: GEOGRAPHY - OCEANS & THE INDIAN OCEAN -I 1.0. General. Geography has played a fundamental and primary role in determining and shaping the inter-state relations. Oceans and mountain ranges have acted like natural walls of defence or the gate-ways to reach out and shake-hands. Barriers like huge deserts (like Shara), seas (like Atlantic) and ranges (like Himalayas) have even influenced the religions, histories, cultures and people; overall. The highest number of wars have been fought on territorial disputes among contiguous neighbouring countries. However, the impact of geography has often been over sighted, and underplayed or ignored. Similarly biggest surprises have been achieved either across the oceans; Normandy Landing (Belfield and Essame, 1965) or the mountain ranges Hannibal’s crossing of Alps (Prevas, 2009). This article is planned to be attempted in two parts. In Part I, oceans in general and Indian Ocean in particular will be discussed for its significance and geostrategic implications for the states of the region, and of course Pakistan. Part II, will be focused on Indian Ocean, with reference to India, China and Pakistan. And what Pakistan and its navy is doing and has to do. 2.0. Oceans cover roughly two-third of the surface of the globe. Before they could become the biggest means of logistics, oceans proved to be the vast reservoir of food for the mankind. “Nearly 40 per cent of the world population lives within 100 km of the coast.” (Khan, 2015-2106, p. 19). Throughout the history the oceans and the seas have been media for the trade and economic prosperity. In modern times there has been phenomenal growth in containerised shipment “… (O)f cargo with over 303 million container movement taking place annually. Carried by over 46,000 commercial ships to roughly 4, 000 ports worldwide.” (Khan, 2015-16, pp. 19-20). And the economic prosperity; its preservation and growth, became the means and the symbol of hegemony and imperium. Centuries gone by the media of water covering three-fourth of the globe and over which continents float could not be replaced. It remains to be the means of logistics, rest are but for very limited and specific purposes. Maritime enterprise is the backbone of world trade. And consequently the importance of sea lines of communications (SLOC) has grown manifolds (Sakhuja, 2001). Therefore, any act or even potential which could be inimical to the security of SLOC was considered a threat. At times of wars these SLOC became umbilical cords to sustain the war effort or to be severed to affect quarantine, and to suffocate the enemy to surrender or defeat. According to the estimates of World Bank sea-borne trade was pegged at 21, 480 billion ton-miles in 1991. “It is expected to touch 35, 000 billion ton-miles in 2010 and 41, 800 billion ton-miles in 2014” (Sakhuja, 2001, p.689). For further study see UNCTAD, Review of Maritime Transport 2000. 3.0. Indian Ocean. For many years Indian Ocean was least studied of the world’s great ocean systems (Alpers, 2014). Indian Ocean has been the arena of power-struggle since ages. There was an ancient era; approximately from 550 BC to the Rise of Roman Empire (27 BC). After the fall of Roman Empire Persia emerged as regional naval power; 531-571. Iranian dominant role continued till Arab-Islamic conquest in 637 (Rais, 1986.p.17) . Under Abbasids Arab-Islamic sea-power penetrated East Africa, Malabar-Gujrat and South-east Asia. 3.1. A Brief Description. A brief description of the geography of Indian Ocean follows. However, let us first see: Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, once remarked whoever control the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This Ocean is key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters. (Quoted in Major Power’s Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan, International Conference 18-19 November, 2014; IPRI). And that Indian Ocean lies at the core of India’s maritime strategy (Pattanik, 2014). Admiral Nauman Bashir, retired Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) of Pakistan had following to say: Pakistan was heavily dependent on Indian Ocean with 95 % its trade through sea, and 100 % of its Petroleum Oil and Lubricants (POL) were also through Arabian Sea. Also it had a reservoir of marine economic resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)…Pakistan was cognizant of the responsibilities bestowed upon it owning to geography. (International Conference, 2014, Major Power’s Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan, IPRI.) The wider meanings of South Asia encompass; all told 51 states (Khalid, 2013) whether land locked, rim states or littoral. A new term is being introduced here, ‘IORs’. It has been used by Iram Khalid in Journal of Political Studies (Khalid, 2013, p. 29). It stands for Indian Ocean Rim States. The term now used, to describe ‘South Asia’, used to be ‘Indian Subcontinent’, during colonial days and soon after that. The body or the alliance established in recent times; South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), defines South Asia to include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives. (Gojree, 2015). Biggest bulk of population lives in IORs. Indian Ocean is the third largest of the oceanic division of the globe; (Wikipedia, 250px-Indian_Ocean-CIA_WFB_Map.png, as retrieved on July 6th 2017). According to The World Fact Book Indian Ocean is located in South Asia, East Asia, Western Asia, North East Africa, East Africa, South Africa and Australia. (Fig.1.) “It stretches for more than 6,200 miles (10,000 km) between the southern tips of Africa and Australia and, without its marginal seas, has an area of about 28,360,000 square miles (73,440,000 square km). The Indian Ocean’s average depth is 12,990 feet (3,960 metres), and its deepest point, in the Sunda Deep of the Java Trench off the southern coast of the island of Java (Indonesia), is 24,442 feet (7,450 metres).” (https://www.britannica.com/place/Indian-Ocean.) The Continental Shelf is generally narrow, i.e., 200 Km. The International Hydrographical Organisation delineated the Indian Ocean in 1953. And it was done again in 2000, and “removed waters south of 60° S from Indian Ocean; the details are being left out. The Fig.2. shows all the IORs and the littorals. 3.2. Major Sea Routes. The map below; Figure.3, shows the main trade and supply routes in Indian Ocean. Bab-el-Mandab, the opening of Red Sea into Indian Ocean, the Strait of Hormuz, where Persian Gulf is opening into the Indian Ocean, and Strait of Malacca, the longest and narrow strait, opening the routes to South China Sea, Eastern Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific region are main points of significance. The Map also shows the direction of Monsoons, and the period of year affecting the change in their direction. Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca will appear repeatedly with reference to the SOLCs, their significance and their influence and role in geostrategic studies. Of course straits act as choke points. The chokepoints geographically channelize the maritime flow of traffic through a restricted course. Thus it enforces SLOCs to converge, changing the paradigm of geo-economics, geopolitical influence and the significance as to who can monitor, enforce a closer or deny of the use to a particular country. 3.3. Major Choke Points and Straits. The chokepoint as described above; can become critically important during the times of escalation, quarantine operations and wars. The chokepoints become all the more important when there are no alternatives or the alternatives are too hazardous, and too long to traverse. Looking at Bab el Mandab and Strait of Hormuz, the point would be explained that all ships must pass through these two narrow sea passages to move into and out of the Indian Ocean. The Strait of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea; is only 21 miles at its narrowest point. However, the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only 2 miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone. (Telegraph, Jan 5, 2012). While Strait of Malacca is only 1.7 miles wide. Strait of Malacca, could have alternative routes but those routes would be economically highly disadvantageous. The major choke points include Bab el Mandab, Lombok Strait, and Palak Strait. (Figure.4). Till two decades hence, almost half of the world’s merchant fleet capacity and one-third of the world’s ships sailed through these choke points. “Shipping traffic through Malacca Strait is several times greater than the traffic either through Suez Canal or Panama Canal” (Sakhuja, 2001, p.691.). Indian Ocean is marked by two famous choke points; Strait of Hormuz to Strait of Malacca. And these choke points can become flash points. Map in Figure.5 shows the North Western part of Indian Ocean. Six of the important chokepoints have been shown in red ovals. The map also explains the important channels, seas and Suez Canal. It covers all gulfs and the chokepoints of the region, as these would be most relevant to Pakistan, geo-strategically The following Figure.5 shows Suez Canal, the gulfs and straits in North-Western Indian Ocean. Of course the most important for the world and Pakistan is Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. In the same context of Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and their significance for Pakistan. This Fig also shows the proximity and relevant locations of Strait of Hormuz, Bandar Abbas, Chabahar and Gwadar. 3.4. Strait of Hormuz. At its narrowest, the strait has a width of 29 nautical miles (21 miles) Fig. 5. About 20% of the world's petroleum (about 35% of the petroleum traded by sea) passes through the strait, making it a highly important strategic location for international trade. 3.5. Strait of Malacca. It is about 800 km long and at narrowest only 40 km wide. Choke points like Strait of Malacca is dear like life to China. 80 % of Chinese imports pass from it. India had threatened to close it when China was mulling with Pakistan in 1971. (Dabas, 2017). Figure.5. Gwadar and Strait of Hormuz, North-Western Indian Ocean. Retrieved on 24 September, and developed from https://www.google.com/maps/@25.5400444,61.1065248,364846m/data=!3m1!1e3. 4.0. Marginal Seas, Main Sea Routes and Choke Points. Indian Ocean will now be studied from these three angles, of course choke points mean ‘straits’. Here is a brief summary of the important seas on the margins and fringes of the Ocean, various gulf and the bays. All these put together comprise Indian Ocean. 4.1. Andaman Sea. It is linking Bay of Bengal and Southern Indian Ocean with East Asian marginal seas thru Strait of Malacca. 4.2. Arabian Sea. It is very important sea, linking Gulf of Aden with Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz with rest of the Indian Ocean. Most important SLOC pass thru Arabian Sea. Gwadar Port gets all its significance because of Arabian Sea. 4.3. Bay of Bengal. Bay of Bengal is biggest Bay in the world. It is roughly triangular, and bordered by Bangladesh to the North, Myanmar to the East, Sri Lanka and India to the west. 4.4. Great Australian Bight. It is an open bay, south of Australian continent. It is of a little geo-political or geostrategic importance. 4.5. Gulf of Aden. Gulf of Aden is located in the North-Western Arabian Sea between Yemen, on the south coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. In the northwest, it connects with the Red Sea through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which is more than 32 kilometres wide. (Fig.4). 4.6. Gulf of Kutch and Gulf of Khambat. The Gulf of Khambhat, is also called the Gulf of Cambay. It is a bay on the Arabian Sea coast of India, south of Gulf of Kutch, bordering the state of Gujarat. The Gulf of Khambhat is about 200 km long and about 20 km. The Gulf of Kutch, which is south of Rann of Kutch, is an inlet of the Arabian Sea along the west coast of India, in the state of Gujarat. 4.7. Gulf of Oman. The Gulf of Oman which is also called Sea of Oman is in fact a strait and not a gulf. It connects the Arabian Sea with the Strait of Hormuz, which then runs into the Persian Gulf. It borders Pakistan and Iran on the north, Oman on the south, and the United Arab Emirates on the west. Figure.6. Persian Gulf, Choke Points and Straits; North-Western Indian Ocean. Retrieved on 24 September, and developed from Google Earth. . https://www.google.com/maps/@-9.9240526,110.2537078,5591899m/data=!3m1!1e3 4.8. Persian Gulf. It is like Mediterranean Sea in Western Asia. This body of water is an extension of the Indian Ocean through Gulf of Oman, as described above. Some Arab governments name call it Arabian Gulf. Littoral states of the Persian Gulf are Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and part of Oman. It is 989 km long with an average depth of 50 M. It is connected to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz and lies between Iran to the northeast and the Arabian Peninsula to the southwest. The Shatt-al-Arab river delta forms the northwest shoreline. The gulf has many fishing grounds, extensive coral reefs, and abundant pearl oysters, but its ecology has been damaged by industrialization and oil spills. Persian Gulf world’s biggest oil tankers water course. Because of the huge mineral oil resources of the Gulf States, Iraq and KSA leading; Persian Gulf has become a hot spot of power struggle among major world powers. That is what makes Strait of Hormuz most significant chokepoint in the world. 5.0. The Significance of Indian Ocean. The significance and importance of Indian Ocean and that of South Asia is highlighted below. On the importance of Indian Ocean Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, said; whoever control the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This Ocean is key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters. (Quoted in Major Power’s Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan, International Conference 18-19 November, 2014; IPRI). Admiral Nauman Bashir, retired Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) of Pakistan has following to say: Pakistan was heavily dependent on Indian Ocean with 95 % its trade through sea, and 100 % of its Petroleum Oil and Lubricants (POL) were also through Arabian Sea. Also it had a reservoir of marine economic resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)…Pakistan was cognizant of the responsibilities bestowed upon it owning to geography. (International Conference, 2014, Major Power’s Interests in Indian Ocean: Challenges and Options for Pakistan, IPRI.) 30 % of global trade is borne by Indian Ocean. And 80 % percent of world seaborne oil pass through choke points in Indian Ocean (Srivastava, 2017). Indian Ocean provided a year-long open connectivity between the European part and the far-eastern part of Soviet Russia. The IORs were a source of cheap human and raw materials, in addition; being most thickly populated. And that Indian Ocean lies at the core of India’s maritime strategy (Pattanik, 2014). Regional and world powers like Russia, China and India seek to access and maintain at least a power balance, if not hegemony in the Indian Ocean. __________________________ REFERENCES Ahmad, F. A. (2015). Role of Pakistan Navy in maintenance of regional peace and security. Proceedings of 6th International Maritime Conference, 14-16 February, 2015(pp.52-56). Karachi: NCMPR, Baharia University. Ahmar, M. (2015).Strategic meaning of the China-Pakistan economic corridor. Strategic Studies, 34(4), 35-50. Alpers, E. A. (2014). The Indian Ocean in the world history. New York, NY: OUP. Bhatty, M. A. (1996). Great powers and South Asia: Post-cold war trends (Vol. 5). Islamabad: Institute of Regional Studies. Dabas, M. (2017, June 22). Here is all you should know about ‘String of Pearls’, China’s policy to encircle India. India Times. Retrieved from http://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/here-is-all-you-should-know-about-string-of-pearls-china-s-policy-to-encircle-india-324315.html Khalid, I. (2013). Indian Ocean: Global and regional strategies. Journal of Political Studies, 20(2), 21. Khan, M. A. (July 2015 – June 2016). The economy and vulnerabilities in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). Polaris Journal of Maritime Research, 1(1), 19-42. Mahan, A. T. (1890). The influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783.London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. Mackinder, H. J. (1943). The round world and the winning of the peace. Foreign Affairs, 21(4), 595-605 Majeed, A. (1987). Indian Ocean: conflict & regional cooperation. Lahore: Ayaz Books. Pattanaik, S. S. (2016). Indian Ocean in the emerging geo-strategic context: Examining India’s relations with its maritime South Asian neighbours. Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, 12(2), 126–142.http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19480881.2016.1226750 Rais, R. B. (1986). The Indian Ocean and the superpowers. London: Croom Helm Sakhuja, V., (2009), http://www.isis.org.my/attachments/e-books/Vijay_Sakhuja_ Director of National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. Srivastava, N. (2017). Prospects for Russia–India Relations in the Indian Ocean Region. Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India, 13(1), 82-90. doi: 10.1080/09733159.2017.1326566 The battle for the Indian Ocean. (2009). Africa-Asia Confidential, 2(7). Retrieved from https://www.africa-confidential.com/article-preview/id/10233/The_battle_for_the_Indian_Ocean


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