May 26, 2018

The Role of Cultural Interactions and Resident Indian Communities in the GCC Countries in Shaping Gulf-India Ties

By Talmiz Ahmad

Published Online: May 05, 2018

India’s ties with the Gulf go back at least 8000 years. Archaeological excavations at Dilmun in Bahrain and Sur in Oman reveal links with the Harappan civilisation that go back to 2300-2000 BC. 

Cotton was a major export from India, while an ivory comb and clay pots carrying grain have been found at Sur. India’s relations with the Mesopotamian civilisations perhaps go back to the 9th century BC: clay tablets from Sumeria and Akkad show evidence of trade with the Indus valley involving imports of precious and semi-precious stones, while Sumerian exports were woven cloth, bronze weapons and jewellery inlaid with lapis lazuli. 

Cuneiform tablets from the reign of Sargon of Akkad (2300 BC) indicate the joy of the ruler at the large number of ships crowding his port of Akkad from Dilmun, Magan (Oman) and Mellukah (Indus valley). Excavations at Ur and the palace of Nebuchadnezzar show images of apes, elephants, camels and the presence of teak from India. There were also communities of Indian merchants from Makran and Baluchistan in the Mesopotamian cities of Elam and Sumer. 

According to Jewish records, during the reign of King Solomon (c. 800 BC) ships would visit Eastern ports every three years and bring back “gold and silver, ivory, apes, peacocks, almug trees and precious stones”. Their destination was the port of “Ophir” in India, identified with Sopara, in Thane district, near Mumbai.

Early commercial links

Navigation across the Indian Ocean was facilitated by the knowledge of the monsoon winds. Indian ships moved out of the port of Broach in Gujarat for Arab and African coastal towns carrying wood, rice, edible oil, cotton and honey, and brought back pearls, dates and wine. The teak wood used by Omani and Yemeni sailors to make their boats came from Malabar, on the western coast of Kerala. 

Again, in the absence of iron nails, the boats were constructed in the “stitch and sew” tradition, being bound together with coir ropes from coconut plantations along the Indian Ocean littoral. 

In the books in the library of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (d. 626 BC?), the word “Sindhu” is used to mean Indian cotton, while the Hebrew word “Karpas” for cotton is perhaps derived from the Sanskrit “Karpasa”. Historical documents refer to trade in metals from southern India, including iron and steel, brass and bronze vessels. 

The Achaemenid Empire in Persia in the 6th century BC gained control of Indian Ocean trade by capturing Sohar and then the entire coastline of Oman upto Sur, during the reign of Cyrus the Great (550 BC). Later, Darius I (520 BC) sent his ships to explore the mouth of the Indus, as also the Omani and Hadrami coasts upto the Red Sea. After conquering Egypt, Syria and Persia, Alexander the Great also sent a naval convoy down the Indus to chart the river and then explore and map the Persian and Arab coasts in the Gulf. 

During the period of the Ptolemies ruling from Egypt, trade with India was revived as the Greeks, such as Hippalos, learnt about the monsoon winds from Indian sailors (116 BC). 

While the later Romans from 30 BC maintained links with India through the Red Sea, the Sassanian rulers in Persia from 225 AD shifted the principal sea links with India through the Gulf. This continued till the advent of Islam, when power shifted from the Persians to the Arabs.

For several centuries, Oman played a central role in the commercial links between Indian and ports in the western Indian Ocean. Records from the 9th century BC depict the Omani port of Sur as the base of a cosmopolitan merchant community that included Jews, Persians, Indians and Arabs. 

Arab merchants played a central role in the trade between India and the Roman Empire, as also between India and Egypt. Egypt imported precious stones, spices, incense and muslin either directly from India through Arab merchants or through Indian merchants settled at different Arab ports, such as Aden and Socotra. 

Thus, before the advent of Islam, the people of India and West Asia had already been trading with each other for over 2000 years, had lived for long periods in each other’s lands, and were familiar with each other’s religion, culture, social norms and values and way of life. With the coming of Islam, not only was the mercantile relationship enhanced, but a deeper relationship, encompassing religious and cultural affiliation was initiated and in time consolidated.

The interaction with Islam

The Arab Muslims first encountered north India as invaders of Sindh when they made this province a part of the Caliphate in 718-800 AD. As the Indian scholar Malik Mohamed has noted, while this occupation was not particularly significant politically, its cultural value was “profound and far-reaching”; he goes on to say: “the Arabs … were astonished at the superiority of [India’s] civilisation. The sublimity of Indian philosophical ideas and the richness of the Indian intellect were a strange revelation to them.”

The military occupation began a very fruitful interaction between the two civilisations, when ancient Indian learning in the areas of medicine, astronomy and mathematics was translated from Sanskrit into Arabic. In the reign of the Abbasid caliph Al Mamoon (813-33 AD), the mathematician Al Khwarizmi (780-840 AD) adapted Sanskrit numerals into Arabic mathematics. 

Besides the intellectual engagement, there was considerable practical benefit derived by Arab rulers from the Indian experience, particularly in the art of state administration. This was achieved through the employment of Indians at the courts of the caliphs.

Arab travellers to India also showed deep interest in Indian religion and culture and translated several Indian sacred and literary texts into Arabic. A prominent commentator on Indian culture was Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1050) who travelled extensively across the country and has left behind eighty chapters containing his observations on Indian religious, cultural and social life. 

While Muslims came to north India as warriors, in southern India they came as merchants and travellers, following in a centuries’ old tradition, and were cordially welcomed by local rulers. There is a legend in the Keralapathi that Cheraman Perumal, the last Perumal ruler of Kerala, converted to Islam, performed Hajj at the time of Prophet Mohammed, and then on his return journey halted at the Omani port of Salalah where he passed away. His mausoleum in Salalah is visited by hundreds of pilgrims every to this day. 

Perumal is said to have sent some Arab families to Calicut with instructions that they be well-treated and given governance of his dominions. They were warmly received and permitted to build mosques: thus, eleven mosques were built along the Malabar Coast. The Arab traveller Mohammed Ibn Batuta (1304-77), during his travels along the western coast of India, saw several Muslims, from Persia and Yemen who were flourishing and were highly respected. 

The Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 AD) gave priority attention to trade with India, China and the West African coast. India was important for imports of rice, spices and fruits and above all for its teak that was required for ship-building. Marco Polo visited Dhofar in Oman in 1290 and described it as “a great, noble and fine city, where there is a great traffic of shipping with India, with merchants taking great numbers of Arab horses to that market, making great profits thereby”.  

Arab writers of the early Islamic period are full of praise for the Rashtrakuta rulers of the Deccan for protecting the life and property of the resident Arab community, facilitating trade and giving them freedom to worship. The Arab community soon integrated itself in local affairs, fighting wars on behalf of its Hindu rulers, setting up services and endowments for the benefit of local people and even having official positions in state administration.

Over the centuries, India-Arab cultural ties in southern India deepened with the frequent visits of merchants, travellers and scholars. In the Tamil-speaking areas, Tamil assimilated some Arabic words, such as “sukkan” and “malumi” which are derived from the Arabic sukkan meaning rudder, and mua’llim, the captain of the ship.

Not surprisingly, there were considerable cross-religious influences between the 8th-15th centuries, particularly with the initiation of Hindu reform movements by Vaisnava and Shaivite saints who were trying to wean the local people from the allure of Buddhism and Jainism towards the worship of the Hindu deities Shiva and Vishnu. The Indian scholar Tara Chand has noted:

[It was in the south where] Islam came into contact with Hinduism and leavened the growing mass of Hindu thought… The eighth century was thus a period of revolutionary activity in religion and politics. It was during this period of strenuous activity that the foundations of later religious development in the south were laid.

Tara Chand points out that the influence of Islam on the reform schools was initially “indirect and selective”, largely based on personal observations of Muslim rites and customs. This interaction later became the most fruitful and abiding space in Hindu-Muslim engagement: in the thinking and speculations of later sages, such as Ramanuja, Vishnuswami, Madhava and Nimbarka (12-13th centuries), there was a “closer parallelism” to Islam. This mutual influence became more robust in north India between the 13th-17th centuries and gave rise to the liberal Bhakti movement in Hinduism. As Malik Mahomed has noted, Bhakti was the religion of love and devotion that was brought about “by Hindu saints who had great respect for Islam and were impressed by its simplicity and insistence on oneness of God, besides its ideals of human equality and universal brotherhood”.

The impact of Islam brought by the Arab community to the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu is particularly interesting. Most of the 2 million-strong Muslim community in this state prides itself on being descended from people who converted to Islam during the life of the holy prophet and thus sees itself as the oldest Muslim community in the country. At the same time, Muslim men and women have been among the most eminent scholars in interpreting the ninth-century Tamil Ramayana, composed by Kampan, which is known as the Iramavataram or the Kampa Ramayanam. 

The most well-known work on Islam in Tamil is the Cirappuranam, the Life of the Prophet, by Umaru Pulavar or Omar the Poet (d. 1703), who lived in Kilkarai. The title of the work itself indicates the blending of languages: Cira is the Tamil form of the Arabic sirah, meaning biography, specifically the biography of the prophet, while purana (Tamil: puranam) refers to the Hindu literary genre containing pious accounts of the deeds of a divine being , often the incarnation of the supreme deity. 

European entry into the Indian Ocean

While the Portuguese established their military dominance over the Indian Ocean sea routes after the first voyage of Vasco da Gama in 1498, they could not muster the ships to take full control of the oceanic trade, so that most of the trade continued in Arab and Indian vessels. Later, Dutch, British and French ships also entered the ocean from the 17th century, slowly elbowing out the Portuguese from the region. In 1620-22, the Persians, with British support, removed the Portuguese from Bandar Abbas and Hormuz, while a local Omani uprising evicted them from Muscat in 1649. The new Omani dynasty, the Al Yaroubi, then built up a navy at the shipyards of the Maratha Empire on the west coast of India and in 1670-73 destroyed Portuguese forts at Diu and Bassein.

A later Omani dynasty, the Bu Said, that is still ruling the country today, established Omani naval and maritime domination over the western Indian Ocean from the late 18th-early 19th centuries, again on the basis of armed trading vessels, including the 70-gun Liverpool, that were built at the Bombay and Cochin shipyards between 1814-42. With the introduction of European steam ships in the second half of the 19th century, the era of Omani mercantile primacy in the ocean ended and the British now ruled supreme over the Indian Ocean trade.

Indian communities in the Gulf

British rule in India was unique in that not only did it extend across the Indian sub-continent, it also embraced the territories of the Gulf.  As James Onley has noted, Britain assumed responsibility for the defence of Oman in 1829, for the Trucial States in 1835, Bahrain in 1861, Kuwait in 1899 and Qatar in 1916. 

The actual implementation of this imperial responsibility was vested in the government of British India which provided the funding and personnel for this enterprise. This put in place an extraordinarily substantial and all-embracing political, economic and cultural linkage between India and the peoples of the Gulf. Onley describes the Gulf-India connection thus:

The [Gulf] region’s economic dependence on India and India’s profound cultural and political influence on the region up to 1947 was such that locals regarded India and Indians as highly as they now regard the West and Westerners. For generations leading up to Britain’s withdrawal from India, the sheikhdoms of Eastern Arabia formed part of Britain’s Indian Empire. India and Indians represented power and prestige.

The earliest account of the Indian community residing in the Gulf is from the Arab historian Abu Zayd Hasan who in his book written in 916 AD refers to over 100 Hindu merchants living in the Iranian port of Siraf. This community shifted to Kish, then the Gulf’s principal port, and after that to Hormuz, Bandar Abbas and Muscat. The Indian community in Muscat, mainly from Kutch, dates back to the 15th century, followed by the community in Manama from the 17th century, and the Lawati community from Sindh from the 1770s.

While the Gulf ports imported cloth, foodstuffs, wood and metal from India, pearls were the principal item exported from the Gulf to India from where they were sold world-wide. Indian ports became banking centres for the Gulf trade, while the Indian rupee was commonly used in Gulf ports from the 17th century, a situation that continued till the 1960s.

From the 18th century onwards, Indian merchants came to dominate the Gulf trading and finance sectors. In 1869, the British Resident in the Gulf noted that Muscat’s entire trade was in the hands of Indian merchants, an observation that was repeated by the British Consul in 1920 in regard to Bandar Abbas port.

Many Indian merchants in the Gulf also provided credit to Arab and Persian traders, thus linking the Gulf and Indian financial centres. Since most local creditors provided property as collateral for their loans, their inability to settle their loans meant that many Indian merchants became major property owners as well.

Indiahad considerable influence on cultural life in the Gulf in terms of local architecture, clothing and cuisine, with Indian-style buildings dominating Gulf coastlines, Indian headdresses being used by Gulf men, and Kashmiri shawls being used as turbans by sections of Gulf royalty. Again, Gulf Arabs and Iranians ate curried lamb and fish with Indian rice. In due course, the Indian biryani, seekh kabab and even the humble samosa became standard items of Gulf Arab cuisine.

In the 19th century, before the oil era, a few thousand families were residing in the Gulf. Most of them were merchants, but they also included in their ranks jewellers, builders, carpenters and ship-builders, as also officials in government departments. Figures in Lorrimer’s Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf indicate that in 1905 about 5000 Indians lived in the Gulf region, originating mainly from Sindh, Kutch and Gujarat. The Gazetteer noted that most Hindu merchants in Muscat, like their Muslim counterparts, were now accompanied by their wives and daughters.

While the resident Indian community in the Gulf in 1948 was estimated at 7500, there were two significant spurts in the Indian presence in the early 20th century: during World War I, half a million Indian soldiers were deployed in Iraq, and in World War II, several thousand Indians were used for the occupation of Iraq and Iran. 

Many Indians were deployed in the British Indian administrative set-up in the Gulf Sheikhdoms, manning the customs department, the postal and banking services, and in enforcing the civil, commercial and criminal codes of India. Indians also contributed to all-round regional development through their role in the municipal, communications, health, education and agriculture sectors. With the development of the oil industry from the 1920s, the lack of qualified local personnel ensured that Indians were recruited in their thousands to man this nascent enterprise.

Cross-movements of resident communities

The pearl trade led major Gulf Arab merchants to locate some of their family members in Bombay. These included: the Al Bassam, Ali Reza and Al Gosaibi families from Saudi Arabia; Al Ibrahim and Al Jinai from Kuwait; Al Zayani and Al Urrayed from Bahrain; Al Midfa and Al Sayegh from the Trucial Sheikhdoms, and the Al Sultan family from Oman. 

As the Gulf communities in western India expanded in the early 20th century, they came to be influenced by India in the cultural and intellectual areas. Information relating to developments in the Arab world in those turbulent times flowed to Bombay from where it moved to the Gulf. Many prominent Gulf families, including some from royal families, came to India to study English and pursue higher education. 

Many of them were influenced by the Indian freedom movement and promoted similar reform movements at home. The Bahraini scholar, Abdulla Al Madani has noted: “What probably made the Gulf merchants and reformers keenly observe India’s experience was the fact that their efforts were directed against the same colonial power, and the fact that the Indians supported their cause.” As early as 1928, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution expressing its sympathy with all Arabs in their struggle for freedom.

Since the early 1980s, there has been a remarkable increase in the presence of the Indian community in the Gulf Arab countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Commencing with just about a million or so in the early 1980s, the community increased to three and a half million by 2005 and then reached nearly eight million ten years later. Today, the Indian community is the largest expatriate community in every country of the GCC and remits about $ 30 billion annually to the mother country.

Besides its large size, it is important to note that Indians are represented in significant numbers at every level of the GCC economies – as business tycoons, professionals, technicians and blue collar workers. The last 15 years have also witnessed a change in the profile of the Indian presence: where once blue collar workers were dominant, today there is a marked shift in favour of Indian professionals as engineers, architects, doctors, managers and accountants. Today, several hundred Indians head Gulf and multinational companies in the region.

Another new feature of the regional economic landscape is the increasing presence of the Indian corporate sector in the GCC countries, representing infrastructure, communications, IT and diverse services sectors.

Cultural isolation and engagement

As the first influx of millions of expatriate communities flooded the Gulf geographical spaces in the 1970s, the immediate instinct of leaderships was to insulate their national communities from interactions with what were seen as alien cultures with their own values and ways of life; it was feared that this onslaught would strike at traditional khaleeji culture, corrode it over time, and finally create a new hybrid that uneasily joined the local with the multiplicity of foreign influences. 

Hence, within the same national spaces expatriate communities lived in their own national and cultural silos, so that the space would never become a melting pot but would exhibit a series of separate cultural towers, with hardly any junctions of engagement between them.

Over the last few years, these water-tight bastions seem to be crumbling. This largely due to khaleeji cultures themselves mutating in response to the information, technological, intellectual and cultural flows generated by the winds of globalisation. These have resulted from the extensive global engagements of Gulf citizens due to economic partnerships, presence at international fora, education at international institutions and tourism across the world. 

Today, as the third generation of the post-oil boom period comes to assume familial and national responsibilities, it has an easy sense of cultural engagement with other nationals from business and professional backgrounds. India is at the heart of the new interaction which effectively is a retrieval of the centuries-old ties that the Gulf has had with India, defined by a high level of mutual cultural comfort and familiarity. This engagement is of course facilitated by India’s own pluralistic and multi-cultural values, its democratic order in a large and diverse polity, its economic and technological achievements, and the excellent political and economic ties it has established with all the Gulf countries.

Bollywood cinema constitutes the premier contemporary cultural bond between the Gulf nationals and India, affirming the shared cultural ethos that Indians and the Gulf peoples have shaped through interactions over several millennia. Linked with this is the high regard for items of gracious living produced in India – jewellery, garments and modern Indian haute cuisine – again recalling the links that go back to Harappan times.

But, broader and deeper engagements are also taking shape slowly. Sections of the Indian community in the GCC countries are increasingly articulating their responses to their diasporic predicament, both in art and literature. Most responses speak of pain and loss. Thus, the Gulf-based protagonist in Asha Iyer’s novel, Sand Storms, Summer Rains, says: “Every man gets caught in his web of destiny. … I had never wanted to go abroad, but I did. I was forced to. I was newly married then. I carry the burden of her farewell tears all the time.”

Another writer, Sunaina Alhuwalia, in her novel Safe Harbour, has celebrated the landscape of serenity and beauty of Oman and even ascribes to it a curative quality to resolve doubt and strife: 

Clean, spacious and green beyond belief, this city [Muscat] was truly a model for gracious living … The garden soothed her senses and restored her equilibrium. Further ahead, she could see the sea. It was calm, the waters gently lapping at the shore. .. There was also a small fishing boat bobbing on the waves. The fisherman’s sojourn was undoubtedly solitary, but successful.

In fact, the beauty of the landscape has inspired expatriate Indian artists as well. The Muscat-based artist of Indian origin, Radhika Hamlai, finds the natural beauty of Oman inspirational; for her, “the world of beautiful nature, bright colours and dramatic light” is a source of “ultimate delight”; with this impulse, she then “wanders far into the depths of our being, of being a woman, of the dilemmas confronting us, of how we shape ourselves.”

Another Indian origin artist from Oman, Radhika Khimji, attempts to break out of the constraints of her formative cultural moorings; however, at Baraka fort, outside Muscat, she sees herself “hovering between two spaces”, the space of “a pragmatic, historic, lived experience of a people and a nation, and the search by the lonely artist to break out of the limits and definitions of a specific, inherited identity.”


India’s engagement with the Arabs and Persians of the Gulf began several millennia ago when bands of sailors, in fragile sea-craft, braved the waters and winds of the Indian Ocean, propelled forward by their sense of adventure and material gain, strengthened by their knowledge of the winds, waters and currents, and familiar with valuable maritime techniques and technologies. 

They have in most instances not left behind their names, nor have statues been erected to applaud their memory. What we have are pottery pieces, clay tablets, seals, glass beads, hints of grain, and jewellery. But, we can imagine that, as they spent several months together on the high seas, they talked, joked and laughed; they sang songs, bawdy and nostalgic, and exchanged stories and fables of gods and demons, and spoke of loved ones left behind and the perhaps of the affectionate ones awaiting them at the next port. 

And the learned merchants, the scholars, the ambassadors amongst them talked about religion, philosophy, the sciences and the arts, of music and poetry, and all aspects of life that elevate the mind and enrich the heart. These early passengers on the high seas from Arabia, Persia and India were the repositories of the inherited wisdom of the purpose of mankind on earth, of the lessons expounded by their sages, of the values of the mind and spirit. 

These men of diverse stations and backgrounds, from different ports in different parts of the ocean they shared, came together in camaraderie and harmony and have bequeathed to us the gifts of understanding and accommodation, have shaped our culture and ethos, and finally have made us what we are today.

The author, the former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International studies, Symbiosis International University, Pune, India. This was published in Arabic in the Jeddah-based academic journal, Al Araa, which may be accessed at:


Philippine Island Runway Repairs & China Weapon Systems on Woody Island

MAY 25, 2018  |  AMTI BRIEF

AMTI Double Feature: Philippine Island Runway Repairs & China Weapon Systems on Woody Island

AMTI published new imagery on two separate features this week, both presented here for your weekend reading.

Feature 1:

Philippines Launches Spratly Runway Repairs

May 25, 2018

The Philippines has begun long-delayed repairs to its crumbling runway at Thitu, or Pag-asa, Island, the largest of its nine outposts in the Spratly Islands and home to upwards of 100 civilians and a small military garrison. Thitu sits just over 12 nautical miles from China’s air and naval base at Subi Reef, and was the site of a tense standoff with a Chinese flotilla last August. Philippine defense officials in April 2017 announced that they would be upgrading facilities at the country’s occupied islands and reefs, but little work was apparent until now. In addition to the runway repairs, a comparison of recent imagery with photos from February 2017 shows minor upgrades to facilities on Thitu and three other outposts in the last year.

Satellite imagery from May 17 shows two barges anchored just off the western edge of the Thitu Island runway, which collapsed into the sea years ago. It appears that a grab dredger, consisting of a crane with a clamshell bucket, is installed on the smaller barge to the west, while the other carries a backhoe. Loose sediment from dredging can be seen in the water around the two barges and freshly-deposited sand is visible along the northern edge of the runway.

This method of dredging is similar to that used by Vietnam at several of its outposts in recent years. While still harmful to the marine environment, it affects surrounding reefs at a smaller scale and is far less environmentally destructive than the suction cutter dredging undertaken by China, which destroyed thousands of acres of reef from late 2013 to early 2017.

According to 2014 reports, when repairs were previously mooted, the repair process would involve two steps. First, dredgers would clear a small harbor on Thitu near the runway. The coral reef surrounding Thitu makes it impossible for large ships to approach, as evidenced by the rusting hulk of the BRP Lanao del Norte, a Philippine Navy ship that ran aground in 2004 while trying to dock. Once dredgers have cleared a harbor and an approach, larger ships carrying the heavy machinery necessary to repair the runway would be able to dock and begin the second step, focused on the runway.

The airstrip at Thitu Island was originally constructed in the 1970s and was the first runway in the Spratly Islands. It is officially 1,300 meters long, but the real figure is closer to 1,200 due to the collapse of the western end. That, along with the poor condition of the runway surface, makes landings and takeoffs difficult for Philippine C-130s, as seen in video taken from the one that carried Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr., then chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to the island in May 2015.

In addition to the start of work on the runway, other upgrades are visible around Thitu. At least seven new buildings have been constructed in the last year, with four near the residential area on the eastern side of the island, one near the administrative facilities at its center, another along the northern shore, and one at the western end next to the island’s basketball court, which has received a fresh coat of paint. Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in November that the country had started building a new beach ramp to more easily bring in supplies, but that site cannot be seen in the May 17 imagery due to cloud cover and no new ramp was visible as recently as February.

In addition to the upgrades on Thitu, AMTI before-and-after imagery shows minor upgrades at: Commodore, or Rizal, Reef; Nanshan, or Lawak, Island; and Loaita Cay, also called Panata Island.

A new round-roofed shelter has been constructed on the eastern side of the small Philippine outpost on Commodore Reef, visible in imagery from May 1.

An empty field on Nanshan Island has been converted into a helipad as of February 20, 2018.

On Loaita Cay, a small sandbar, an additional hexagonal shelter has joined the modest outpost, visible in this image from May 17, 2018. The Philippines mostly administers Loaita Cay from nearby Loaita, or Kota, Island to the southeast.

The location of this outpost, which the Philippines calls Panata Island, is often misreported as being on Lankiam Cay, to the east of Loaita Island. While it reports suggest Lankiam was once a small sandy cay, it appears to have been washed away, leaving only a submerged reef and a small, shifting sand bar. If there was ever a Filipino facility there, it was moved to Loaita Cay and took the name “Panata Island” with it.

The Philippines’ other five Spratly outposts, at Loaita Island, Northeast Cay, West York Island, Flat Island, and Second Thomas Shoal (where the purposely grounded BRP Sierra Madre serves as a permanent facility) show no visible upgrades in the last year.


Feature 2:
Exercises Bring New Weapons to the Paracels

May 24, 2018

Satellite imagery from May 12 shows the deployment of several new weapons systems to China’s base on Woody Island in the Paracels. These new military platforms, under blue and red covers in the imagery, have been placed down the beach from the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems, under brown covers, that China originally deployed to the island in early 2016.

Since they are covered, it is difficult to definitively identify the new platforms, but they likely include truck-mounted surface-to-air or anti-ship cruise missiles and accompanying radars. The platforms were likely placed on the island as part of military drills that took place on May 9, though other satellite imagery published by Fox News has shown that they were still present as of May 20. This suggests that the platforms could be there to stay, just as the HQ-9s that were originally sent to Woody as part of an exercise have remained for more than two years.

Looking more closely, it appears that there are 20 new vehicles in total on the island’s northern beach. Those under the red covers are wired together in two distinct groups. The group farthest west appears to consist of two larger vehicles (perhaps anti-air or anti-ship missiles systems on transporter erector launchers (TELs), though they seem to be shorter than the HQ-9s to the east), two smaller vehicles (perhaps a different missile system), and a large radar truck. The group in the middle consists of another radar truck and two of the smaller vehicles. The blue covers likely consist of various support vehicles.

Aside from these new deployments on the north shore of the island, China has also deployed what appears to be two trucks and four covered vehicles on the east side of Woody Island. These are smaller than the platforms under the red covers on the north, and they don’t appear to be wired together in any way. They are roughly the same size as the jamming platforms China deployed to Mischief Reef in the Spratlys earlier this year, but it is difficult to know for sure what is under the tarps.

In addition to these new platforms, China also deployed J-11 combat aircraft to the island as part of its military exercises. One J-11 is parked near the end of the island’s runway in the May 12 photo while more are likely inside of the hangars built along the airstrip. J-11s have been deployed to Woody Island on several occasions in the past, including as recently as October 2017.

Woody Island is the military and administrative hub of China’s activities the Paracel Islands, and military upgrades and deployments there often serve as a blueprint for future developments at China’s bases in the Spratly Islands to the south.



The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1962 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It seeks to advance global security and prosperity by providing strategic insights and policy solutions to decisionmakers

May 25, 2018

Silk Road Headlines

Silk Road Headlines

23 May 2018

Source: Louis Vest/flickr

 An important theme in this week's Silk Road Headlines is choice. As the Arab proverb goes: "Choose your neighbour before your house and your companion before the road."

A policy paper of King's College London states there is a paradigm shift in geopolitics. The paper delves into the added value of the United Kingdom as a strategic ally and it positions the UK as a vital partner for technological developments. Also, it highlights its financial hub and emphasizes the role of internationalizing the RMB. The paper also subtly displays the sensitive balancing act of the UK: finding new alliances between two superpowers, China and the United States. Yet, the paper leaves critical information out, mainly on the current partnerships of the UK. For example, the AIIB-membership of the UK remains unmentioned, as well as the long-lasting cultural and historical relationship with the US, of which the UK benefitted from the Marshall plan. Lastly, it does not dwell on Brexit, i.e. the necessity of looking for partnerships with superpowers [The Belt and Road Initiative: defining China's Grand Strategy and how it relates to the UK and China].

Japan and China are competing with each other on infrastructural projects within their region, e.g. Indonesia and Thailand. Chinese consortia are undercutting Japan by offering lower prices for realizing projects and offering shorter, albeit unrealistic, time-scales. This modus operandi provides the necessary challenges for the projects it has to deliver. Nonetheless, Japan is extending an olive branch in order to team up with Chinese consortia with projects within Asia, and possibly Africa. This cooperation might provide synergy and eventually more harmony within their difficult relationship [The China-Japan Infrastructure Nexus: Competition or Collaboration].

Africa on the other hand has set a building block for accelerating continental integration. The first step was taken on March 21st, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. The African continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was signed and will be ratified in due time. This trade area provides not only exporting opportunities (infrastructure) for BRI, but also facilitates investments in digital connectivity between African states, e.g. implementing 'cloud computing' in Africa. Thus, making the AfCFTA a suitable free trade partner for the BRI [A Digital Free Trade Agreement for Africa's Silk Road].

A free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) enables China to transport its goods across the Eurasian landmass (+ 6,000 km) duty free, up to the borders of the European Union. The EAEU consists of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, thus connecting the borders of China and the EU. Such an agreement has a lucrative side-effect for China to tap into an ancillary market with approximately 180 million people and a GDP of $4 trillion [Russia's Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement with Beijing Brings Chinese Goods to the EU Border]. The agreement would also facilitate more trains to Antwerp or any other destination in Western-Europe [Belt and Road landmarks as first direct freight train arrives in Antwerp from China].

The BRI receives a lot of critique and is doubted for its opaqueness, (difficult) governance and especially (high) debt-risk. Yet, China acts swift and independently, while other actors are reacting and grasping the strategy behind every move. In short, China takes its time to pick its own cherries and shares them when necessary. The consequences of realpolitik China is facing can be summed up by an old Chinese proverb: “One should be just as careful in choosing one’s pleasures as in avoiding calamities.”

Ali Cikmazkara

This week's Silk Road Headlines

New ‘Silk Road’ Brings Challenges And Opportunities For Biodiversity Conservation [Eurasia Review]

Belt And Road Initiative Enhances Pakistan’s Maritime Security, Decreases Likelihoods Of War Between India And Pakistan [Eurasia Review]

Opinion: Bonding with China [The Statesman]

Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement With Beijing Brings Chinese Goods To The EU Border [Silk Road Briefing]

A Digital Free Trade Agreement for Africa’s Silk Road [Silk Road Briefing]

The China-Japan Infrastructure Nexus: Competition or Collaboration? [The Diplomat]

The clouds gathering around China's Belt and Road [Nikkei Asian Review]

Belt and Road landmark as first direct freight train arrives in Antwerp from China[Seatrade Maritime News]

The Role of Investors in Promoting Sustainable Infrastructure Under the Belt and Road Initiative [Chatham House]

The Belt & Road Initiative: Defining China’s Grand Strategy And How It Relates To The UK & China [King’s College London, Policy Paper Series issue 7]


25 MAY 2018 - 13:07


Today’s international business environment is less predictable, more volatile, and involves more politics than in previous decades. The declining economic weight of the United States and growing doubts about its leadership role in global governance have important implications for European companies. There is a growing likelihood of high-profile incidents in which large enterprises suffer major financial and reputational damage from geopolitical risks – whether through sanctions, state-sponsored cyberattacks or geopolitical shocks. But while managers increasingly regard geopolitics as relevant to their activities, for many companies this insight has not yet resulted in changes to their behaviour.

In this Policy Brief an analysis is presented on the change in the geopolitical landscape, among others caused by the erosion of the US-led liberal international order and the declining role of the US as its main sponsor. Author Frans-Paul van der Putten indicates a number of implications for European companies:

Greater political uncertainty;Diminished functionality of global governance;Politicisation of international economic relations.

Also a number of geopolitical risks for businesses is included:

Boycotts, sanctions, embargoes and other politically motivated trade restrictions;Cyberattacks by state actors;Geopolitical shocks.

There seems to be an increasing interest in geopolitics among enterprises, which expect (geo)political and macroeconomic instability to affect their business. However, very few companies seem to have taken steps to address these issues. Yet, in order to be able to operate in a more uncertain, more volatile and more politicised international environment, European companies have to become more responsive and need to enlarge their geopolitical awareness. Geopolitics are increasingly regarded as a regular component of the business environment of many middle-sized and large European companies


25 JUN 2018 13:45 - 17:00



Connectivity and Beyond: Assessing the scope for EU/NL-India Cooperation

This symposium is co-organised by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the Asia Carousel series and the Clingendael Institute. It contributes to Clingendael's work conducted within the PROGRESS research framework agreement and to Clingendael-IDSA cooperation within the EU-India Think Tank Twinning Initiative. For further information please contact Maaike Okano-Heijmans.

A unique window of opportunity presents itself in EU and Dutch policy towards India. As the EU and its member states are seeking to deepen relations with so-called ‘like-minded countries’, India under Prime Minister Modi is actively looking for partners in political and economic cooperation. The Netherlands can engage India as a regional and global partner and as a counterweight to China, bilaterally and as through the EU, building on the forthcoming EU-strategy on India.

What steps should Delhi, The Hague and Brussels take to deliver on the ambition of deepened relations, and what are the chances of success? Can NL/EU connect to the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, put forward by India and Japan? For this purpose, can NL leverage membership of the International Solar Alliance and trilateral cooperation in areas like digital financial inclusion and waterways connectivity? How successful is the new Dutch approach to CSR and what can other EU member states learn from this?

13:45                    Registration-tea/coffee

14:00 - 15:15   Dynamics in Asia-Europe: geo-economic context offering new opportunities?
Speakers:           Jagannath Panda (Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses-IDSA)
                                 Maaike Okano-Heijmans (the Clingendael Institute)
Moderator:       Peter Potman (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

15:15                   Tea/coffee

15:45 - 17:00   Building blocks and new approaches to NL-India political-economic cooperation
Speakers:           Prachee van Brandenburg(ASSOCHAM Netherlands)
                                 Bernedine Bos (MVO Netherlands/CSR Europe)
Moderator:       Marten van den Berg(Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

17:00                   Drinks

This symposium brings together a broad group of stakeholders, policymakers, private sector representatives and other interested parties to discuss these topics in their Dutch and broader European context. Introductory statements by the speakers will be followed by a moderated Q&A and discussion with all participants.

This event may be recorded by photo, film or sound, or broadcasted by live-stream via internet. By attending this event you confirm that you agree to these terms.


Maaike Okano-Heijmans

Senior Research Fellow

Europe Should Defend the Iran Deal Without Burning Bridges to the US

18 May 2018

Precisely because America is more than Trump, it is crucial for Europeans to defend the JCPOA.

Dr Robin Niblett CMG

Director, Chatham House


Thomas Gomart

Director, Institut francais des relations internationales

Dr Daniela Schwarzer

Director, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik

Nathalie Tocci

Director, Istituto Affari Internazionali


Preparations are made for European leaders to meet with Iranian representatives in Brussels on 15 May. Photo: Getty Images.



US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will severely degrade regional and global security. His decision has increased the risk of war and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and beyond. He has undermined attempts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons through multilateral diplomacy, as unilateral withdrawal equals non-compliance with a legally-binding UN Security Council resolution. This is a rejection of the UN as arbiter of international peace and security, as well as of international law as a lynchpin of international relations.

The steps that Europeans now take will have serious consequences for their alliance with the US, for security in the Middle East, as well as for their relations vis-à-vis China, Russia and the wider world.

When it comes to Iran, the E3/EU and Trump have diverging interests. On top of the domestic considerations that drive him, President Trump would like to see regime change in Iran and/or the victory of Israel and Saudi Arabia over Iran and its regional partners. He depicts the nuclear agreement as a 'bad deal' because it does not further that goal. By contrast, killing the deal and hence preventing Iran from reintegrating into the international community economically and politically exerts maximum pressure on Tehran, potentially triggering the downfall of the regime. Given what we have seen in Iraq since 2003, this is an extremely dangerous course of action for the region, but also for Europe.

Since President Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA in October 2017, the E3 – France, Germany and the UK – have tried but failed to convince the US to remain in the deal, discussing with the administration how best to constrain Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional role. Yet, trying to mollify Trump has been a lost cause: not only because of the president’s views, but also because any deal with Iran entails conferring a degree of US acceptance and legitimacy toward the Islamic Republic, which is anathema to many in America, as well as the Iran hawks now solidly at the helm of the Trump administration.

In contrast, Europeans have a strategic interest in defending the Iran nuclear deal, given its role as a key plank against the risk of further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Both Europeans and Americans have a strategic interest to fight nuclear proliferation, but the role of the JCPOA in achieving this goal is interpreted very differently. The question is how the E3/EU now use this moment to apply leverage towards their own strategic objectives.

Ironically, we are back at 2003, where the US invasion of Iraq provided the E3/EU with the opportunity to negotiate with the Iranian government to halt what was then its clandestine nuclear programme. Europeans now need to use Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA to try to achieve what are genuine transatlantic as well as European goals: a containment of Iran’s ballistic missile programme, a de-escalation of its political-military engagements in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and security for Israel.

Unlike the Trump administration, in the broader regional conflagration of the Middle East, European governments and institutions see no possibility for one side winning squarely over the other. Instead, most believe that the seeds of a cooperative regional order lie in a balance of power in the region in which no regional player is excluded. Only by achieving this sort of a regional balance can Europeans also hope to tackle their own core security interest, which lies in the defeat of jihadi terrorism, ISIS first and foremost, but also a containment of the regional arms race.

This will require the E3/EU working with the remaining UN Security Council members and with Iran to keep the JCPOA alive, as announced in the meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier this week. In practice, this means the E3/EU taking specific steps to help protect European commercial investments in and trade with Iran, even if some major European multinationals choose to or are forced to withdraw. It also means resisting US pressure to close Iran off from the SWIFT financial transfer system and other such extra-territorial steps.

The Trump administration may object, but these steps cannot be construed as helping Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, which President Trump has said would lead to US retaliation. And, while remaining faithful to the JCPOA, Europeans can still step up their challenge to Iran’s increasingly problematic role in the region.

Europe and the US have traversed rough moments before. When the E3/EU first engaged the Iranians in talks over their nuclear programme in 2003, the George W Bush administration was adamantly opposed. In time, the incontrovertible reality of Iran’s advancing nuclear enrichment programme forced upon the US the need to find a diplomatic solution. Precisely because America is more than Trump, it is crucial for Europeans to defend the JCPOA, thereby preserving this diplomatic structure in the event that the United States decide to return to the path of multilateral diplomacy vis-à- vis Iran.

If Europe has the ambition to become strategically autonomous, fighting for the JCPOA is the place to start. The EU will only be able to negotiate effectively with the US over Iran if it develops its own strategy, and demonstrates its ability to act based on its own interests

Af-Pak Digest: MONTHLY H I G H L I G H T S

Ambassador TCA Raghavan
Adviser, Ananta Centre 
Former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan

MAY 2018 | VOL 02 ISSUE 05 | MONTHLY H I G H L I G H T S  

 • Overview   

 • Developments in Pakistan                          
 • Developments in Afghanistan              

I Overview

Pakistan: It would be true to say that Pakistan headed into Ramazan 2018 with former PM Nawaz Sharif ensuring that the agenda for debate would continue to be set by him and that it would be on the issue of civil military relations. This was achieved through a press interview in which he spoke about Pakistani role in the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 and the thwarting of the legal process to bring the conspirators to justice. The resulting storm will continue through the term of the current government and till the general elections. A caretaker government under a neutral prime minister is expected to take office in end May to conduct the elections and manage the transition till a new government takes over. How much Nawaz Sharif’s outspokenness will impact on the fortunes of his party remains the central question. 

An assassination attempt on the Interior Minister underscored the fragility of the security situation notwithstanding the stabilisation that has taken place. W.r.t. India the situation in the valley in early may saw a rash of statements from the Government of Pakistan. This was at the same time amidst moves that were widely interpreted as suggesting some slight loosening on positions of both sides. The plateau in relations with the US continued with no visible sign of any change. 

Afghanistan: Regular terrorist in different parts of the country including in Kabul continued to periodically punctuate the political chronology amidst continued intense fighting with the Taliban. This absence of any visible improvement in the security situation remains Afghanistan’s central challenge and there is no visible sign that there is any process underfoot that there will be a material change in the situation any time soon.


II Developments in Pakistan


India: An expected rash of high level Pakistan statements in early May accompanied security operations in Jammu and Kashmir. A statement by the Prime Minister on the 7th May referred to killing with ‘impunity’, ‘a reign of terror’, and that ‘peaceful protesters are being constantly terrorised and maimed by gunfire and pellet shots”. A Foreign Office statement on 9th May thereafter stated inter alia that “Kashmiri youth have been the deliberate target of this mindless killing spree, unleashed by the Indian occupation forces.” There have also been statements and protests over alleged Indian ceasefire violations on the LOC. 

All this is continuation of past trends and reflective of the tensions in the bilateral relationship. But what is new are some contrasting developments. In end April a meeting of the Neemrana Dialogue took place in Islamabad after a gap of some years. The origins of the Neemrana Dialogue go back to the early 1990s and was a US initiative to foster some India Pakistan contact at a non official level in a time of high tension. The meetings continued and over the years acquired the character of a government sponsored and approved non-governmental dialogue. For the past few years the Neemrana meetings have not been held regularly perhaps largely because of the proliferation of such meetings in third countries. Its ‘revival’ at this phase is therefore of interest.

Similarly, also of interest is the decision announced on 17th May to revive the Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners and Fisherman in custody that had been set up in 2007 but which has not met since 2013. The MEA statement noted however that such a proposal had been made to Pakistan in October 2017 and was accepted in March 2018. India has now announced its members of the joint committee and sought dates from Pakistan for the Committee to meet.

United States: The US State Department imposed travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats in Washington starting from 11 May 2018 in terms of which Pakistani diplomatic staff and their families will now have to seek prior permission for travelling outside the radius of 25 miles. The Pakistan F O announced that as a matter of reciprocity, US diplomats in Pakistan have been asked to seek prior permission for movement exceeding 25 miles limit while saying ‘We hope that the matter can be resolved through dialogue’. 

It was widely reported in the Pakistan media that the US placed a block in the UNSC Al-Qaeda/ISIL Sanctions Committee on the Pakistan proposal to list Umer Khalid Khurasani a.k.a Abdul Wali, the leader of Jamat-ul-Ahrar. The Pakistan Foreign Office statement said that it was “deeply disappointed over the failure of the Sanctions Committee to list Wali who is a known terrorist and has the blood of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis on his hands.” The statement pointed out that the organization Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has been listed by the Sanctions Committee and that this action “demonstrates the double standards prevailing in the international fight against terrorism and also show complete disregard of the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in this fight”. (Incidentally Pakistan had effectively lobbied China earlier to block listing of Masood Azhar notwithstanding the fact that the organization he leads the Jaish-e-Mohammad already is under UNSC sanctions.) According to Pakistan media the US based its objection on the fact that the listing application showed Abdul Wali’s present location as Afghanistan. 

OIC Foreign Minister Minister’s Meeting Dacca: Pakistan was represented by its Foreign Secretary at the 45th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) in Dacca that concluded on 6 May 2018. The lower than ministerial level participation possibly reflects the current state of Bangladesh Pakistan relations. The Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said that “The OIC position clearly is manifested by the five resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir dispute, which were unanimously adopted on 6th May during 45th CFM by all member states, including Bangladesh.” The underlying issues with Bangladesh however were revealed in a question put to the spokesperson that the Bangladeshi Minister called for reforms in the OIC to enable countries like India, to get an observer seat in the OIC. The spokesperson responded that “India cannot get representation in the OIC in any form. India, as an aggressor state is responsible for the massive Human Rights violations of the Kashmiri Muslims over last 70 years” and “India's inclusion in OIC as an Observer state has never been on OIC agenda. Any statement by the Bangladesh's Foreign Minister was given in individual capacity and doesn't reflect the principled stand of the OIC.” 



Civil Military Relations: Nawaz Sharif: In an interview to a newspaper the former P M made remarks whose intent could not have been anything other than to create a storm of controversy. Speaking to Cyril Almeida of the Dawn newspaper (and the choice of journalist is important), Nawaz Sharif said  “We have isolated ourselves. Despite giving sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it.”; “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”; “It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it”. The rest of the interview too struck all the notes of defiance that have characterized his statements since his ouster last year by the Supreme Court yet it was the Mumbai attack comments that were the obvious point over which the storm would obviously break. This was after all touching on two of the most sensitive issues in Pakistan today- relations with India and state support for extremists- and bringing them into play in election season and in the midst of Nawaz Sharif’s own personal campaign against the establishment he blames for his removal.  

Reactions to the press report published on 13th May were not slow in coming and their manner shows how deep Nawaz Sharif’s remarks had gone. An announcement came from the Army through the ISPR that the National Security Council would meet “to discuss recent misleading media statement regarding Bombay (Mumbai) incident”. The NSC, chaired by the Prime Minister thereafter described the statement as “incorrect and misleading,” and that the issue was presented by the former prime minister “in disregard of concrete facts and realities” because of “opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances” and finally that it “unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions”. The statement issued was also to state that it was India, and not Pakistan, that was delaying the finalization of the Mumbai attacks trial. 

The ruling party inevitably found itself between a rock and a hard place with the opposition jumping on to the former PM’s ‘betrayal’ and his ‘links with India’. Nawaz Sharif was however unmoved and his subsequent comments on the NSC statement were quoted in media reports as ‘rejecting the press release outright’. He was also quoted as saying: “It was painful and regrettable... I think time has come to tell the nation who had brought the country to this point. People should know who brought terrorism to our beloved country. It is equally painful to observe that we have also been isolated as not a single country [is] standing with us. This is the reason that I strongly demand formation of a national commission to differentiate between traitors and patriots.” The Prime Minister was subsequently to defend Mr Nawaz Sharif’s remarks saying that the ex PM did not say anything that had not been said earlier including by former Army Chiefs. 

It may be noted that the journalist to whom this interview was given is the same as who was responsible for the famous ‘Dawn Leaks’ story in October 2016 which had then led to intense civil military feuding leading to the dropping of the Information Minister from the Cabinet.

This latest duel between Nawaz Sharif and the Military may yet have other twists. Outcomes that are visible so far indicate the former PM’s combative frame of mind and the disquiet this is causing in his own party on the tactical wisdom of taking on the judiciary and the military just before an election. The question whether Nawaz Sharif does so out of political calculation, desperation or frustration remains to be answered. Whether this will energize Imran Khan’s campaign and if so to what extent is another imponderable.  

Asghar Khan Case: A Supreme Court Bench headed by the Chief Justice ordered that progress be intimated to it in the implementation of its 2012 verdict in the Asghar Khan Case.

The 2012 verdict had ordered the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate proceedings against the politicians, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who had allegedly been given a total of Rs 140 million with the objective of blocking chances of Pakistan Peoples Party’s victory in the 1990 general elections. The court had ordered the FIA to prepare cases for trial in case sufficient evidence was collected against the recipients of the funds. This latest order has now come by way of dismissing petitions filed by former army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and former director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Asad Durrani for review of the verdict petition of retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan. Air Marshal Asghar Khan died on Jan 5, 2018.

This case in brief relates to the 1990 election in Pakistan following the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto. Nawaz Sharif was then head of the IJI- Islami Jamhoori Itihaad- a front believed to have been put together by the ISI to ensure that the PPP lost the election. Air Marshal Asghar Khan had filed a petition in the Supreme Court on the basis of revelations of Durrani that he had paid sums of money to identified politicians on the orders of the then army chief Aslam Beg.

The reopening of this case is somewhat out of the blue. It is an obvious embarrassment to Nawaz Sharif and this may well be the principal reason for the development. Nevertheless, it portrays the army in a bad light too although it is possible that its present leadership has no particular love lost for Durrani or Beg.  

National Accountability Bureau: The National Accountability Bureau meanwhile said that it was verifying whether Nawaz Sharif was involved in sending $4.9 bn to India. This is in the context of a 2016 World Bank migration and remittance study that the foreign exchange reserves of India had increased by $4.9 bn on account of remittances from Pakistan. The World Bank report has been criticized in the past for its flawed methodology derived in part from modelling persons who migrated during 1947! The State Bank of Pakistan was also to clarify that the estimates showed in the WB report were based on “assumptions” which did not reflect reality.

This somewhat obscure matter is of interest only to underline the obvious intent to put as much pressure on Nawaz Sharif as possible and on occasion even using cases that are implausible to create a climate of opinion against him.

Interior Minister assassination attempt: Ahsan Iqbal survived with minor injuries an assassination attempt during a constituency meeting on 6th May in Narowal. 

Islamabad Airport: A new international airport in Islamabad was formally inaugurated on 1st May. It has been described as the country’s first greenfield airport project.  



III Developments in Afghanistan


India: A direct flight between Herat in Western Afghanistan and Delhi was inaugurated on 30th April.

6 Indian nationals were kidnapped in Baglan province on 6th May. They were working for a company setting up power transmission lines.

Pakistan: A trade related meeting was held in Islamabad on 8th May between the Commerce Ministries of the two countries led by the respective heads of departments. According to a press release of the Pakistan Ministry of Commerce the two sides discussed sanitary and phytosanitary measures, quarantine certification, and removal of regulatory duties on selected items including fresh fruits and vegetables, dry fruit, etc. to facilitate Afghan exports to Pakistan. The meeting is significant because of the long hiatus in Afghanistan Pakistan contacts and friction on numerous trade related issues. In recent weeks the Government of Pakistan has tried hard to reset this phase as a means of reducing frictions in its own relations with the US.

This meeting was followed by a Foreign Secretaries meeting also in Islamabad on 14th May   on the new Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral engagement framework — Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). This plan was thereafter declared operational with a joint press statement in which “Both sides agreed that effective and full implementation of APAPPS would contribute towards the common objectives of eliminating terrorism and achieving peace, stability, prosperity and development of the people of the two countries”. It will be recalled that the Pakistan PM had visited Kabul last month and it was then agreed to expedite conclusion of the agreement. The two leaders had on that occasion agreed on the new framework and tasked their foreign ministers and national security advisers with concluding the agreement.


The internal security situation remained the dominant issue in all discourse around Afghanistan as the spate of terrorist that have characterized previous months and years continued unabated. On 30th April ten journalists and about 15 others were killed in an suicide attack in Kabul. Media reports have described this as the single most lethal single attack on the media since the fall of the Taliban. Responsible for the attack was the Islamic State (IS) group. Other attacks in different parts of the country also took place over the month. An attack on a cricket match in Jalalabad at the beginning of Ramadan on 19th May led to a number of fatal casualties and also suggested that there may not be any let up during the month of fasting and prayer. 

21st May, 2018

The US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Indo-Pacific alignment or foam in the ocean?



PUBLISHED 05/21/2018




In late 2017 the US, Japan, India and Australia re-launched the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly referred to as “the Quad”, marking the revival of a grouping in place during 2007–2008. The move received widespread attention, but was also strongly criticized as a potential anti-China alliance.

During the ten-year gap, the four countries have significantly boosted security and defence cooperation, as evidenced by enhanced bilateral ties, regular trilateral dialogues, and expanded military exercises.

The underlying motivations, levels of engagement, and views of the Quad as a possible instrument to balance against a strengthening Chinese role in the Indo-Pacific region vary for each of the grouping’s members.

In spite of converging interests among the Quad’s members, the tangible risk of provoking China, the unsteady normative foundations of the grouping, the unpredictable impact of domestic politics, and the symbolic signal the formation of the group sends towards Beijing are all factors preventing a serious revival of the Quad.





How 3D Printing Technology Could Change World Trade Five Predictions on the Future of Global Trade

3D printing technology is still in its infancy. However, like many other technologies before it, it could soon develop into a widespread production technology. This would also have a serious impact on international trade.


3D Printing Technology – What is it all about?

3D printers are used to fuse plastics, metals and other raw materials into new objects. The 3D printing process is a so-called additive production process that joins materials in layers. This means that only the material input is used, all of which ultimately flows into the manufactured product, without any waste.

The current production processes, on the other hand, are subtractive manufacturing processes. This means that the required materials are cut and processed (milling, grinding, filing, etc.), which results in the loss of material which rarely can be reused. 3D printing technology therefore leads to a considerable reduction in material waste. This means increased productivity and lower prices for the products manufactured.

Parts made using a 3D printer are also often more durable and lightweight than traditionally produced parts. For example, a component made with a 3D printer of a shock absorber used in Formula 1 is twice as durable and at least three times more durable than its predecessor (cf. Rosenbach 2016: 78).


Importance of 3D printing technology in production – status quo

Although this technology is still at the beginning of its development, numerous products are already being manufactured with it. Not only individual parts are produced, but increasingly also final products. Examples are furniture, protheses, machine, aircraft and car parts and even entire automobiles and prefabricated house parts (see Rifkin 2014: 134-149, Ehrlich et al 2015: 34). Currently, 3D printers are mainly used in the plastics industry as well as in mechanical and plant engineering, the automotive industry and the aviation industry (cf. Müller and Karevska 2016: 6). Typically, these are objects produced in small batches or with a high degree of customisation where they currently have the highest utility.


Future importance of 3D printing technology for production

In the past, the costs associated with the introduction and use of new technologies in industrial production have decreased considerably over time. In perspective, it is therefore quite plausible that technological development makes the use of 3D printers also attractive for mass production (cf. Ehrlich et al 2015: 34).

If this should actually happen, world trade will change considerably. In my view, the following five theses could significantly shape these changes.


Thesis 1: Regional convergence of production and consumption

The increased use of 3D printers in production means that human labour is replaced by capital and technologies. Low-wage countries are thus losing their international competitiveness. The outsourcing of production processes to these countries is becoming less attractive for advanced industrialized countries. This means that a trend towards insourcing is to be expected in the industrialized countries.

This trend is reinforced by the fact that production at the consumer’s location saves transport costs. This concerns both the transport of the final products to the consumer and the previous transport of individual parts and preliminary work to the production site.

Both developments are likely to lead to an increase in the entire production of consumer goods where consumers live. From the point of view of the industrialized countries, there will be insourcing and, from a global perspective, a stronger regionalization of production.


Thesis 2: Shortening global value chains

The regionalization of production has reduced the importance of imported inputs. Individual parts are no longer produced by suppliers from abroad, but with the help of 3D printing technology at the place of production. This is cheaper (because material consumption is lower and transport costs are eliminated), faster (because transport routes are saved) and more flexible (because product-specific features can be addressed immediately).


Thesis 3: Reducing international trade in final products and intermediate products

As products are increasingly manufactured at the place of consumption, international trade in final products declines. As a result, the worldwide export volume of these products is falling. The same applies to primary products and individual parts, which are also produced at the place of consumption.


Thesis 4: Increasing international trade in raw materials

The production technology properties of 3D printing technology outlined above will result in an increase in cross-border trade in all basic and raw materials required for production with 3D printers. Industrialized countries such as Germany, which are particularly poor in raw materials, have to import more raw materials.

Overall, however, I believe that global trade volume will decline because the consumption of raw materials in the additive production process of 3D printers is much lower than in the traditional subtractive process. In addition, the reject volume of 3D printing technology is extremely low.

As a result, the increase in exports of raw materials cannot compensate for the decline in exports of primary and final products. The worldwide trading volume is thus decreasing.

From an ecological point of view, this is a positive development: less global trade means less energy consumption. This reduces environmental pollution.


Thesis 5: Increase in foreign direct investment

The decline in cross-border trade in intermediate and final products does not mean that companies can no longer sell their products abroad. This can still happen. However, companies will then manufacture a large proportion of their products using 3D printing technology in the country where they sell these products. To achieve this, it is necessary to build up the corresponding production capacities. This leads to foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment will therefore increase significantly in the future.



These five theses on the future of global trade against the background of the growing importance of 3D printing technology are associated with a high degree of uncertainty. Above all, it is unclear how quickly the developments I expect will take hold and to what extent.

The importance of 3D printers for world trade is still negligible. It could therefore take decades before the effects on international trade outlined above become a reality. On the other hand, the speed with which new technologies such as the automobile or the computer have become established has often been underestimated in the past. Therefore, these five theses cannot be completely excluded.



Ehrlich, Lars et al. (2015): Strategie 2030 – Digitalökonomie. Hamburg.

Müller, Andreas, und Stefana Karevska (2016): How will 3D printing make your company the strongest link in the value chain? – EY’s Global 3D printing Report 2016 (Executive Summary). Mannheim.

Rifkin, Jeremy (2014): Die Null Grenzkosten Gesellschaft. Frankfurt/New York.

Rosenbach, Marcel (2016): „Revolution aus gebündeltem Licht“. Der Spiegel (26) 2016. 16.7.2016. 78–79.


Additional reading tips:

The question of whether the consequences for world trade outlined here represent a possible development or not is the subject of intensive discussion. Here are just two examples from the large number of texts:

In an article for the “World Economic Forum” in October 2017, Wolfgang Lehmacher and Martin Schwemmer argue that „3D-printing might not kill global trade after all“.In his analysis „3D printing: a threat to global trade“ published in September 2017 (Amsterdam), however, Raoul Leering sees a significant long-term reduction in world trade due to this technology