Geopolitical challenges call for strong regional framework

(L to R) Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, Pankaj Saran, Sindarpal Singh, David Brewster and Hossain Ibrahim KhanProthom Alo

With the steady rise of geopolitical competition in the Indo-Pacific region, the countries of this region are gaining in importance.

However, there is an absence of an effective regional cooperation framework that is required to face this geopolitical challenge.

In this context, as the world's fastest growing region, it is imperative to build up a strong regional framework to face this challenge.

These observations were made by experts yesterday, Friday, during the two sessions on the first day of the Indian Ocean Conference - IOC, being held at a hotel in the capital city.

According to the experts, with the steady escalating competition between the United States and China centering the Indian Ocean, focus must be given to decreasing the security risks in the region as well as paying attention to economic cooperation.

This two-day conference has been jointly organised by the foreign ministries of Bangladesh and India, along with India Foundation Singapore's S Rajaratnam School of International Studies. There were four theme-based sessions on Friday, the first day of the conference.

Former deputy national security advisor of India, Pankaj Saran, moderated the third session on the 'rise of a peaceful Indo-Pacific for a resilient global future'.

This former Indian high commissioner in Dhaka said that the Indian Ocean Conference is taking place at a time when Bangladesh can prepare to play a role in the region. For many years and for various reasons Bangladesh had been hesitant to speak out about the Indian Ocean region. So by organising this event in Dhaka, Bangladesh is giving out a significant message. It must be seen how regional cooperation complements national efforts.

According to Pankaj Saran, there had been a time when many questions arose concerning the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), its objectives, who was behind it, and so on. That phase is over and now many countries have accepted the IPS in their respective perspectives. The overall objective of IPS is inclusive. IPS is recognised as a legitimate geographical and political framework for the Indo-Pacific region.

Pankaj Saran said that the Indo-Pacific Outlook released by Bangladesh two weeks ago is interesting. It is significant for the region that Bangladesh finalised this outlook and made it public.

Senior fellow of the Australian National University's National Security College, David Brewster, said that there is a visible competition among the US, China and India centering the Indo-Pacific region. China is influencing countries that are not economically stable, with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This contributes to economic and political unrest in those countries.

David Brewster cited the example of the crisis in Maldives in 2018 and in Sri Lanka in 2022. He said Pakistan was on the brink a similar crisis with the China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC).

In David Brewster's opinion, alongside the geopolitical challenges, there was the challenge of climate and environment, but there was no effective initiative or forum in this regard. He said Bangladesh and Australia could come forward to address this issue. He said, if needed, there could be common declaration to this end and minister-level talks to give the matter institutional shape.

Senior fellow of S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Sindarpal Singh, said the competition between the US and China was expected. If one looks at the problems of the region, the non-traditional security threats (health, environment, etc) are given a facade of traditional security. Non-traditional security threats cannot be considered in the context of general security. And when it comes to the issue of security cooperation, the matter of taking sides arises. And so a number of countries can take up cooperation in issues such as economic cooperation, blue economy and so on. If cooperation is to be made effective in this region, a multilateral framework is required. He said that economic cooperation and connectivity is the main path for regional cooperation in this region.

Former foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury raised the Rohingya issue. He said, the Rohingya problem is not Bangladesh's problem alone, but can create a security threat for the entire region. He said ambiguity regarding this issue cannot be an alternative to resolving the Rohingya crisis.

Also speaking in the third session was senior fellow of the Iran's Institute for Political and International Studies, Hossain Ibrahim Khani.

Former ambassador Tariq Karim moderated the conference's second session on sustainable partnership in the Indo-Pacific for peace and prosperity.

Speaking during the discussion, president of Turkey's Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, said there is a lack of effective cooperation in South and Southeast Asia to tackle the instability and security threats in the region. Due to this situation, powers from outside continue in their interference.

This expert from Turkey said that Bangladesh is in an advantageous position due to geopolitical and strategic reasons. He said Bangladesh is following a balanced and neutral policy in its relations with countries of this region. In the case of regional relations, particularly in dealing with Myanmar and the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh has played a sensitive and positive role.

Mehmet Seyfettin Erol went on to say that there was a need to restructure the regional framework in order to avoid the global political competition and also for this region's security and in the interests of linking South and Southeast Asia with the global economy.

Also speaking at this session were Somalia's ambassador to India, Ahmed Ali Dahir, deputy director of Tajikistan's Centre for Strategic Research, Mahmudzada Parvez Abdur Rahman and founder of India's website on defence affairs BharatShakti, Nitin Gokhale.