Against this backdrop, India has been promoting the idea of ‘net security provider’ in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The 6th Indian Ocean Conference begins in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka May 12 and will be attended by about 150 delegates, including high-level representatives from 25 countries.
As it is taking place in the post-Covid situation and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the theme of this year's conference is Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future' which is being inaugurated by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Ahead of the two-day conference, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said that the event was mainly organised for the coastal countries of the Indian Ocean, but in the changing global context, various important and relevant issues are expected to be discussed. He said that by organising this conference, Bangaldesh expects its partnership with the countries along the Indian Ocean to be strengthened in the regional political sphere.
Flagship consultative forum on IOR
The Mauritius president, Maldives vice-president and Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar are among those expected to attend the conference. "Foreign Ministers of Bhutan, Nepal, Bahrain and Singapore alongside the ministerial representatives of Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Madagascar will also participate in the conference," Momen said.
The conference is being organised by the India Foundation in association with the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) was started in 2016 and in the last six years it has emerged as the "flagship consultative forum" for countries in the region over regional affairs. The conference endeavours to bring critical states and principal maritime partners of the region together on a common platform to deliberate upon the prospects of regional cooperation for the India-led vision called Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).
However, the 6th Indian Ocean Conference in Bangladesh, most importantly, is taking place at a time when the Bangladesh government has recently outlined its 'Indo-Pacific Outlook', the overarching goal of which is to enhance the country’s ties with the USA and West, India for engagement in this region, accelerate economic growth, and address common issues shared by the other nations.
The world has dramatically changed in the past few years. When the grouping was formed, the regional and global political landscape was relatively peaceful and harmonious. China, US, India, Russia and European Union had a minimal conflict of interest. It was a time when multipolarity enjoyed a positive ring in international relations despite the underlying competition. Today, the world has gradually become polarized and divided on issues of power, resources, and hegemony. The Quad-China confrontation and Ukraine War have been the ultimate test of the strategic visions of the West and its partners against China and Russia.
Net security provider
Against this backdrop, India has been promoting the idea of ‘net security provider’ in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region is now brewing through new strategic and security initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), Japan's Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and Australia, UK and US (AUKUS) let by the US and its allies.
Maritime security and countering terrorism and other crimes in the Indian Ocean have emerged as a focus area for India as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and the SAGAR doctrine. The main task of this grouping will be to maintain security in the sea area and stop human trafficking and smuggling. The members of the group will also work in harmonising their policies in providing mutual humanitarian assistance during disasters.
Both India and Bangladesh are becoming ever more dependent on maritime trade. They require an absence of maritime crime in order for trade to flow uninterrupted and for their economies to thrive.
In South Asia, littoral countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives face similar problems. Regional cooperation to ensure maritime safety and security in facing common challenges is the need of the hour.
(The author is a Kolkata-based educator and South Asian affairs researcher at the University of Calcutta. Views are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com)