Are the Seychelles smarter than us?

It would seem that the Seychelles have been more farsighted and smarter that Mauritius by hard bargaining with India to negotiate a win-win agreement

The agreements between India and Mauritius and the Seychelles respectively regarding Agalega and the Assumption islands must be seen in a larger, global perspective instead of being viewed as a hidden agenda on the part of India. Former Leader of Opposition Paul Berenger after his meeting with Indian President Ram Nath Kovind during his visit on the occasion of the 50th Independence celebrations has stated that India has no such hidden agenda, about which he (Berenger) had had apprehensions earlier.

“It would seem that the Seychelles have been more farsighted and smarter that Mauritius in this regard – as they are in matters of the environment – by hard bargaining with India to negotiate an agreement that is a win-win for both countries. As concerns Agalega, therefore, we should learn from the Seychelles and drive a pragmatic bargain so that we also have an agreement that benefits in the first instance the people living in Agalega – such as water desalination, medical facilities –, and Mauritius too, when it will come to the issue of exploitable oil resources and other marine resources…”


In an article titled ‘US saw Indian ‘hidden agenda’ in Mauritius’, the Indian daily The Hindu from Chennai of April 02, 2011, the author A. Srivathsan writes: ‘Did India have any “ulterior motive” in seeking to help Mauritius? The answer, according to a cable sent from the US Embassy in Port Louis on December 15, 2006, citing Mauritian and Indian diplomats, was that India indeed had a subtext to its moves, and oil prospecting was one of them. Surprisingly, Mauritians, as the cable noted, were not only aware of this, but were also ready to let India have its way, even indicating “willing subordination”.’

What is better, ‘willing subordination’ or forcible excision of and illegal occupation of territory as was done by the collusion between the US and the UK in Diego Garcia? In spite of this betrayal on the part of these two powers, taking a more pragmatic and realistic line, former Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth – who as Minister Mentor took the issue to the UN and obtained a vote for it to be taken up for determination by the UN – stated in a recent radio interview that Mauritius was willing to negotiate a long term lease for the use of Diego Garcia by the US, since it is still needed by the West for defence and other purposes.

What must be appreciated is that, as an article by S. Callikan in last week’s issue of this paper underlined, the ‘Indian Ocean Region has always been central to the trade, security and maritime resources of the littoral states as well as dominant world powers’. Further, ‘the Indian Ocean rim land from the Middle East to the Pacific accounts for 50% of the container traffic and 70% of the traffic of petroleum products for the entire world’. Besides, modern day piracy threatens this traffic, and Mauritius has proactively helped in its containment by allowing legal facilities for the trial of pirates who are caught.

Whereas the US, the UK and France have been the ‘traditional marshals’ of the Indian Ocean Region, they can no longer shun the reality that China and India are the new emerging global powers which must be accommodated because nearly 80-90% of their oil imports flow through this region, in a new paradigm of shifting from ‘Western dominance’ to ‘balanced strategies’. The US is already having to face the new pressures being exerted by China in the Pacific waters, with its increased naval presence and the construction of infrastructure on strategic islands that it claims as its own though they are disputed by neighbouring countries such as Japan, Vietnam, etc.

This new landscape of rivalry for dominance among the global powers is comprehensively discussed in a Special Report on ‘The Future of War’ in the UK paper The Economist of January 27, 2018. It is very pertinent for us to understand how the global powers are playing out this rivalry so that we can position ourselves advantageously rather than losing out, as we have no control over this power play.

From this point of view, these extracts from that Special Report should open our eyes. Thus, ‘In the past decade, both China and Russia have spent heavily on a wide range of military capabilities to counter America’s capacity to project power on behalf of threatened or bullied allies…Their aim is not to go to war with America but to make N American intervention more risky and more costly. This has increasingly enabled Russia and China to exploit a “grey zone” between war and peace. Grey-zone operations aim to reap either political or territorial gains normally associated with overt military aggression without tipping into the threshold into open warfare with a powerful adversary. They are all about calibration, leverage and ambiguity.’ (italics added).

Significantly, ‘the main reason why big powers will try to achieve their political objectives short of outright war is still the nuclear threat’. They are therefore beefing up their conventional strike capacities through massive investment in technological advances, along with developing further the capacities of cyberwarfare and anti-satellite weapons, etc.

We may therefore be unnecessarily raising the bogey of nuclear warfare in the region. On the other hand, we know that it is big power hegemony that poses a greater threat anywhere, so it makes sense to support strategies that will prevent such a possibility. As it is, the US, UK, France and more recently China – in a big way – already have a significant presence in Djibouti. Thus US/UK took over Diego Garcia, with no collateral benefit – quite the contrary! — to this country and its inhabitants. In addition, China has got strong footholds in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and the Gwadar port in Balochistan.

As such, therefore, given the modus operandi of Communist regimes, the past record of the US/UK in the matter of Diego Garcia, and the inevitability of superpower presence in the Indian Ocean, the realistic strategy for us is to seek balance that benefits us economically and politically – since the motivation for the powers that engage with us is not for reasons of sentiment or cultural affinity, but hard geopolitical and geostrategic considerations.

It would seem that the Seychelles have been more farsighted and smarter that Mauritius in this regard – as they are in matters of the environment – by hard bargaining with India to negotiate an agreement that is a win-win for both countries. As concerns Agalega, therefore, we should learn from the Seychelles and drive a pragmatic bargain so that we also have an agreement that benefits in the first instance the people living in Agalega – such as water desalination, medical facilities –, and Mauritius too, when it will come to the issue of exploitable oil resources and other marine resources for which India has capacities of exploration too.

That is the wisest, and the smarter, way to go about our future relations with India as a major player in the Indian Ocean.

 

* Published in print edition on 16 March 2018

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