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Another bead in the ‘string of pearls’?: interpreting Sri Lanka’s foreign policy realignment February 24, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe

In this article, Sergei De Silva-Ranasinghe argues that India should be differentiated from the West in analysing Sri Lanka’s apparent drift towards a strategic relationship with China.  The West’s diminishing influence in relation to China should be seen as a manifestation of its overall decline.  Not so with India, which seeks to balance China’s involvement with Sri Lanka, and which also has a dynamic, on-going aid and trade relationship with the strategically placed island.  To read the article in Issue 19 of ChinaSecurity click here.

Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

Guest author: N. Sathiya Moorthy

First published in Future Directions International on 15 February 2012

A week after President Mohammed Nasheed resigned, to be succeeded by his Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives is limping back to normality. Hassan is to complete the residual part of Nasheed’s five-year term, ending November 2013. The deep political divisions remain, and the wounds of the previous week’s events have left a bad taste in the mouths of the people at large, and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cadres in particular. All now need to take stock of the recent developments with equanimity and arrive at solutions for the medium- and long-term good of the nation.

Nasheed’s sudden resignation had been preceded by a series of events, not just over the previous weeks, as is often being said now, in a reference to the ‘protect Islam’ call by the ‘December 23 Coalition’ launched by religious NGOs, to which desperate Opposition political groups, whose egos were matched only by the personal ambitions of their leaders, tagged along. It had commenced as early as mid-2010, when the parliamentary polls threw up a minority for the President’s party.


Sri Lanka: Colombo orders Islamist clerics to leave February 2, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Jahnu Russell, Future Directions International Associate

Reprinted from Future Directions International, Strategic Weekly Analysis, 1 February 2012. Read the full story.

The move by the Sri Lankan Government to order a group of 161 foreign Islamic clerics to leave the country by 31 January highlights the role of a global Islamic group that is challenging the more moderate indigenous form of Sufi Islam in Sri Lanka.

According to the Controller of Immigration and Emigration, Chulananda Perera, the clerics belonged to the Tablighi Jamaat group. They had entered the country on tourism visas in small batches, without officially applying for permission to preach. The clandestine nature of their arrival brings to light the activities of the largest Muslim proselytising organisation in the world. It is estimated to have between 80-150 million followers.

“Containment” no longer in the lexicon January 8, 2012

Posted by auriolweigold in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

President Obama’s Defence Strategy Review, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defence, published on 5 January 2012, states that “we will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region … This includes emphasising existing alliances and expanding cooperation to ‘ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests’”. Addressing China’s emergence as a regional power, the Review reports that both countries have a strong stake in regional peace and stability and an interest in establishing a cooperative relationship.  Nonetheless, the United States will continue to ensure access to, and an ability to operate across, the broader Indian Ocean region.

In an interview Australia’s Ambassador in Washington, Kim Beazley, said on 6 January, that the U.S. commitment is to access to vital waterways, “ … is a commitment to the global commons …  It is not a containment strategy”.  This makes all the more strange a statement attributed to Australian Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, however inaccurately reported by the Times of India on the 1 and 2 December 2011, that Australia, India and the United States may frame a tripartite security pact. Mr Rudd said that his message had been misrepresented.


‘Greater deterrence power': Iran’s evolving blue-water naval ambitions December 7, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, South Asia - General , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This posting first appeared here on Future Directions International

The fallout over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, and the threat of war with the US and its allies, continues to give impetus to the expansion and modernisation of Iran’s military, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy. Today, the Navy forms an essential part of Iran’s foreign policy. It is considered by some to be Iran’s best-equipped, trained and organised armed forces institution – one which seeks to extend Iranian influence in seas far outside the Persian Gulf.

Iran has two dedicated naval forces, the first being the older 18,000-strong Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the second the 20,000-strong and much-vaunted Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, formed in 1985. Subjected to a strategic review in 2007, followed by a major reorganisation, both naval forces have since developed clearly defined roles. The Iranian Navy has developed blue-water capabilities, to operate in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy specialises in asymmetrical warfare and operating in the Persian Gulf.

Iranian Kilo class submarine


Sri Lanka’s stability critical to New Delhi’s Indian Ocean ambitions June 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Sri Lanka , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared in Future Directions International.


A controversial advisory panel report, published by the United Nations in late March 2011, called for a full investigation into the perceived breaches in the Laws of Armed Conflict during the endgame of Sri Lanka’s civil war. As a result, India continues to face the challenge of balancing its relations with Sri Lanka, while appeasing the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is home to over 72 million Indian Tamils.


China-India rivalry in Maldives set to intensify June 12, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, Maldives , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared here in Future Directions International


The 28-31 May visit to Maldives by the most senior Chinese official ever to visit the Islamic archipelago-nation went largely unreported in the Western media. The significance of the visit by Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, underscored the increasing importance of Maldives to China’s regional strategic calculations.


China and Maldives first established diplomatic relations in 1972. Since then, relations have gradually developed. More recently, Indian policy analysts referred to China’s soft power rise throughout South Asia as a “creeping expansionism”. They went so far as to accuse China of harbouring ambitions to set up a submarine base facility in Maldives.

For instance, in 2005, Indian commentator, A.B. Mahapatra, asserted that:

“China has engineered a manner of a coup by coaxing Maldives’ Abdul Gayoom government to let it establish a base in Marao. Marao is one of the largest of the 1192 coral islands grouped into atolls that comprise Maldives and lies 40 km south of Male, the capital. Scientists warn that global warming is pushing up ocean and sea levels. They fear that most of Maldives will be submerged by year 2040. Marao may be one of the few large islands that may survive. ‘And even if it goes under water’, said a naval official, ‘it will be ideal for submarines.’ In February 2001, a small delegation from Pakistan visited Maldives to boost cultural ties. ‘The Pakistanis put pressure on Male to facilitate Chinese plans for a naval base’, said an official. ‘China used Pakistan to play the Islamic card with Maldives.’ But the Marao base is not expected to be operational until 2010.”


China refutes Gwadar naval base conjecture June 7, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared in The Sunday Leader.

The Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar has affirmed that Pakistan is appreciative of China’s willingness to operate Gwadar port.

It is also keen to see that “a naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan.” Predictably, the remarks attracted international attention. They reinforced existing views among foreign commentators, who believe that China has intentions to build a series of naval bases in the Indian Ocean, which have been referred to as the “string of pearls.” Nonetheless, it should be equally emphasised that any analysis of Gwadar should be seen as a microcosm of China’s wider relations and interests with Pakistan and the region, which often tend to be understated.


Looking west again – to the Indian Ocean and India February 16, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Weigold, Auriol , comments closed

Auriol Weigold

An article in The Australian, published on 31 March 2010, notes Australia’s inconsistent interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in its headline ‘We must look west to the Indian Ocean …’.  It goes on to remind that Australia should be a ‘pre-eminent country’ in the IOR and notes that a ‘new maritime great game’ is visible as ‘strategic competition between India and China’ grows. These ideas, verging on directives, are drawn from Bateman’s and Bergin’s Australian Strategic Policy Institute Paper, Our Western Front: Australia and the Indian Ocean, launched by Australia’s former Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, on the same day in 2010.  The Australian concluded its article by reporting that Australia’s policies vis-a-vis the Indian Ocean have been ‘relatively opaque and spasmodic’, and should be embedded in the mainstream of foreign policy.

Despite its inconsistent and often neglectful approach to engagement in the Indian Ocean as a whole, Australia has had an historical interest in the Indian Ocean, which is vital to its import and export markets and sea-lines communications. It relies on Indian Ocean sea-routes and access points for its globalised trade, and the ever-increasing importance of security and stability demand deeper engagement: geographically Australia is well-placed to play a prominent role in the Indian Ocean region.

Crew of HMAS Melbourne board a pirated Chinese tanker in the Indian Ocean,  Photo ABC


The US in Southern Asia: power versus influence April 13, 2010

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The United States and its allies are engaged in two wars in South West Asia.  But this costly involvement does not appear to have won the US and the West the influence they would expect to enjoy in the region. This is not due so much to military factors, but rather to the fact that there are now a number of alternatives to the financial and economic influence of the West.  The most immediate implication of any such decline in influence is likely to be a diminution of the capacity of the West to assert its governance and human rights agendas.

This decline of Western influence was starkly illustrated by the failed attempts of a number of Western powers to influence the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the dénouement of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009.  As reported earlier in South Asia Masala, the US and some European powers attempted to bring financial pressure to bear on the Rajapaksa government to allow a humanitarian pause in the fighting to enable civilians to escape the war zone.  Even though Sri Lanka was hard-pressed for cash and had gone cap-in-hand to the IMF, President Rajapaksa was able to ignore Western demands and fight the Tamil Tigers ‘into the ground’.   He could do so largely because of other support from China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Such support was unconditional, whereas Western support came garlanded with human rights considerations.

Mr Karzai goes to Beijing.  Source – People’s Daily