A few days ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi travelled to Mosul to celebrate the liberation of the city from the hands of ISIS after months of fighting…
although there were one or two pockets of resistance that were still present. There was confidence that these too would soon be overcome. Nevertheless an American army officer there said that the war may have been won, but there are still battles to be fought. In fact, as TV footage has shown, the city is devastated, with houses and other buildings having been flattened to the ground. It needs to be rebuilt from ground zero practically. People returning back face not only their ruined houses and localities, but also an absence of all amenities that are required for normal living – power supply, potable water, sanitation facilities, health facilities and so on.
The war in that region involving several countries has been analysed and commented upon comprehensively many times over by seasoned observers, as has also been the origins and rise of ISIS. It has been pointed out that although ISIS has lost much territory and seems to be also losing the war in what it had claimed as its stronghold, it still retains the capacity for terror on a global scale and this fact must not be minimized. Be that as it may, the cauldron that has been boiling there for years has been a mix of several elements: ideology, religion, ethnicity, politics, economy (oil mainly), factionalism are the main ones. Terrorism erupted out of this to bring about not only physical destruction of the countries but also to prevent their citizens from enjoying peace, which is the primary condition without which no durable development and progress can be made.
The factors inimical to peace include: civil wars, terrorism, nuclear and biological weapons, transnational organized crime, small arms and light weapons, bio-threats, cyber-attacks, climate change, corruption, drug trafficking and drug-related violence. The Global Peace Index (GPI), a product of the Institute for Economics and Peace, attempts to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness. It gauges global peace using three broad themes: the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarization. Factors are both internal, such as levels of violence and crime within the country, and external such as military expenditure and wars.
It has been noted that there is an ‘underlying trend of declining peace, which has been the story of the last decade.’ As far as Mauritius goes, we can say we are a relatively peaceful country, but we must not forget that as a small island with a small economy we are vulnerable to disturbances that shake the world. Besides, we are situated in the Indian Ocean which is facing geopolitical challenges that inevitably are of major concern to us. How can it not be, when part of our territory was forcibly excised from us at the time of independence, defying a UN provision that explicitly cautions against such an illegal action? All manner of obstacles have been put against our rightful claim to regain our territory and the right of the Chagossians to return there, until there was no option left than to resort to the International Court of Justice through a resolution at the UN General Assembly, as was successfully and ably done by Sir Anerood Jugnauth at its last session in New York.
Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region: security and our national interest
This experience, which is not yet over as we must await the decision of the UN Court, should open our eyes and make us wary of the power games and intentions of former colonisers and potential neocolonisers in the Indian Ocean.
But SAJ made it clear in his statement that ‘Mauritius is also very much concerned about security in the world and that is why we have repeatedly said that we do not have any problem with the military base, but that our decolonization process should be completed. We want to assure the United Kingdom and the United States of America that the exercise of effective control by Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago would not, in any way, pose any threat to the military base. Mauritius is committed to the continued operation of the base in Diego Garcia under a long-term framework, which Mauritius stands ready to enter into with the concerned parties.’(italics added)
With the break-up of the USSR under Gorbatchev, the US remained as the only superpower. Its interventions in Ukraine and in Syria have brought back Russia into the superpower orbit which now includes two potential new ones: China and India, by virtue of their population sizes, their growing economies (despite fluctuations), and in the case of China its massive military expansion which is sending jitters around the globe.
It is becoming increasingly assertive, witness its confrontations with Japan about islands which are claimed by both, its rejection of a UN ruling about its claim to the South China Seas where it is in conflict with several countries over what they consider to be its encroachments, and its ‘String of Pearls’ project. This refers to the network of Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), comprising military and commercial facilities developed by China in countries falling in the Indian Ocean between the Chinese mainland and Port Sudan. It includes, inter alia, port and military base facilities in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Djibouti (became operational in the latter two days ago), and importantly the Gwadar port in Pakistan which will link it via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the OBOR mega-project.
Besides the stand-off it is currently sparring with India at the Bhutan-China-India Tri-junction, the unfortunate irony is that despite the joint declaration in which China was a party at the recent G-20 meeting in Hamburg condemning all forms of terrorism and havens of terrorism with Pakistan clearly implicated, China continues to support the latter country militarily and at the UN Security Council. It has consistently vetoed the designation of Hafiz Saeed of the LeT organisation in Pakistan as an international terrorist. And this despite itself facing repeated terrorist attacks on its Western front from the Uighur militants in Xinjiang province.
Further, given its common political creed (commmunism) with North Korea and its huge commercial ties with the country over which only it can wield influence, it is not deemed to be doing enough to dissuade North Korea from scaling up its nuclear arsenal. Both north Korea and China are taking a fiercely belligerent stance, as if they want to go to war at any cost. This is very dangerous indeed, and poses a direct threat to global peace. In this context, the US, Japan and India deemed it fit to carry out an urgent naval military exercise in the Bay of Bengal recently. This has been done between the US and India annually for nearly ten years, but it is the first time that Japan joined in, given the real threat situation it faces.
Here then we are in the Indian Ocean, with a negative experience with France about Tromelin (hence its abstention during the Chagos vote; and we recall that it did not support our compatriot Jean Claude de L’Estrac for the post of secretary-general of La Francophonie), with the UK and US occupying Chagos, and with a belligerent China readying to take the role of a hegemon, not only in the Indian Ocean but globally. China also abstained on the Chagos vote. The last thing we want is hegemony by any power.
If ever the question of a military base in Agalega arises, therefore, we must be very careful that we do not get trapped in any hegemonic design at the cost of our sovereignty. But with vision and keeping the interest of the country as a whole and that of the inhabitants of Agalega in particular in view, we must prepare to negotiate along the lines in SAJ’s statement quoted above, namely ‘under a long-term framework, which Mauritius stands ready to enter into’, with the most suitable party. That is, one that will not betray the State of Mauritius nor repress/expel the inhabitants of Agalega but instead assist them to develop the island in a sustainable manner and for their overall benefit, as well as help to maintain a sort of power neutrality and reinforce the security environment in the Indian Ocean.
Only a balance of forces between several powers can ensure such a state of affairs so that we have peace in the region. A single dominating power will inevitably act as a bully, and Chagos is a case in point, an experience we do not want to repeat. Small we may be, but by the force of circumstances we will have to play hardball politics so as to secure our national interest, engaging with a power which best supports us in this objective.