Home / Opinion and Issues/ Indian Ocean: Let’s set the politics of peace and development right

Indian Ocean: Let’s set the politics of peace and development right

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 17 October 2017 00:00

The Indian Ocean region has been host to almost all major global civilisations; let us build on our evergreen values, principles, and wisdom and strive to shape a brighter tomorrow for all of us – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara



By Md. Shahidul Haque

Decades back, Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

As we look at and try to secure Indian Ocean, it would be important to see the concept of Peace within a broader context of absence of conflict and violence – rising inequality and the imperative to sustain peace.

Bangladesh regards peace as just not absence of violence and war. It is also about cooperation on securing the basis of peace – that is ensuring sustainable development. In our view, peace is an essential pre-condition for Development.

We ought to relate to the global context within which peace is evolving. The Preamble of Agenda 2030 says, “…This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom.” The Agenda 2030 envisages a world free of fear and violence. It also suggests that sustainable development cannot be realised without peace and security and peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development. The Agenda recognises the need to build a peaceful, just and inclusive society based on, among others, effective rule of law and good governance at all levels. 

For quite some time, we have been talking about effectively engaging on Indian Ocean, its adjoining seas and the hinterland. We all aspire to create a stable, secure and peaceful Indian Ocean region. The significance, potential and possibilities are adequately mapped by now. While so much of mutually beneficial ways and potential exists to harness in the Indian Ocean, the key issue remains: how do we have a narrative and scheme balancing geo-political and geo-strategic interests which secures well-being, dignity and sustainable development of people in the Region?

As a Bay of Bengal littoral State, Bangladesh has been engaged in every possible discourse to emphasis on a principle-driven, people-centric, transparent, objectively beneficial approach. We try to draw a balance between our own national interests as that of the interests of other people in the Region.

With that end in view, Bangladesh and large majority of UN Member States articulated the unanimous Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace at the UN General Assembly in late 90s. That continues to serve as an important component of peace in the United Nations. In adopting the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, the UN General Assembly  recognised (1999) that “…peace not only is the absence of conflict, but also requires a positive, dynamic participatory process where dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation..”

Ensuring equality and 5Ps

We cannot be remiss that peace is also profoundly related to inequalities in all forms, indeed absence of inclusion. To ensure equality within and among the States is a defining challenge of our times. SDG Target 10.3 asks us to “ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action” at all levels.

It is important is to see the linkages between peace – equality – governance and weave our collective pledge around the 5 Ps: people – planet – prosperity – peace – partnership. We pledged to a vision of ‘shared prosperity’ through ‘shared responsibility’, pledged on shared principles and commitments. 

We pledged to be guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter where all people and States commit on “…paying full respect for international law…”  in spite of the asymmetries in endowment, capacities or size and the kind of complex challenges arising. It is in that context that our Leaders agreed on the need for a “…a new approach” in Agenda 2030. 

Conservation and sustainability

As we build a new development structure to secure long-term global peace, SDG 14 solely focuses on “conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. We must embark on the unfinished business in linking sustainable development and governance as far as oceans, maritime resources and services are concerned. 

For instance: to connect with target 16.3 [promoting rule of law at national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all] as well as target 16 [promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies at all levels]. Clarity and acceptability of these linkages would ensure promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development for all around the Indian Ocean.

We also need to look at the interface between peace and connectivity as well as mobility of people. As much as absence of peace hinders realisation of the fruits of connectivity, it also leads to unwarranted manifestation of mobility and obstructs wider people–people contact.

UNCLOS originally aimed at establishing a legal order to promote peaceful use of seas and oceans, equitable and efficient use of their resources, conservation of their living resources and protect and preserve the marine environment. In order to ensure peaceful oceans and seas, we need a new regime supplementing and completing the UNCLOS. 

In that context, UN member states has most recently agreed to launch negotiations for the elaboration of an international legally-binding instrument dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction.  This upcoming instrument would further strengthen the existing instrument i.e. UNCLOS.

Principles of engagements

The Indian Ocean also needs to be looked through the prism of connected – enabled – technology-aided world that we live in. Across wider discourse on maritime affairs, our oceans and seas are a key ‘global common’. And, ‘oceanic [i.e. marine eco-system services] services’ as a key ‘public good’. Oceans offer us a last resource frontier contributing to sustainable development. It holds eminently true for Indian Ocean. But, as we approach an economically-crucial and strategically-significant space as Indian Ocean, we are often constrained by absolute ‘sovereignty’ considerations.

We would need to get the principles of engagements between countries and stakeholders right. The activities and undertakings should yield fair and equitable outcomes. Given that Indian Ocean countries are at different levels of development, it would be important to factor in the capacity constraints and need for capacity development of the countries in need.

In that context, certain Principles should guide all our cooperative undertakings in the Indian Ocean:

In a cooperative activity and overall engagements, all parties should demonstrate mutual respect to others’ views, contributions, traditions, etc. and recognise and comply with national laws, regulations, decision-making procedures so as to create a mutually comfortable environment.

In any activity, a country would cooperate with utmost sincerity, inclusiveness and in full consideration of the interests and needs of others. If any difference arises on any aspect or activity, efforts must be made to continuously enhance the level of trust amongst all entities, institutions, peoples.

In any cooperative endeavour or activity, every effort should be directed to yield maximum level of mutual benefit to the parties. The countries should also design and implement activities in such a manner that the accrued benefits are shared equitably among the parties involved, with full respect for the interests of the others.

Cooperative activities e.g. Projects should be designed and carried out in pragmatic and efficient manner, with result orientation.

Cooperation has to be open and intended to boost the development of all parties in the Indian Ocean.


Four years back, Bangladesh vindicated its resolve in these Principles through peaceful delimitation of our maritime boundary with our neighbours – India and Myanmar. Thus, we unlocked ways to explore enormous economic opportunities in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had called for regional unity and re-focusing on Blue Economy at the first-ever IORA Leaders’ Summit (Jakarta, March).

Bangladesh has always attached due importance to maintenance of peace and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight for international trade and economic cooperation. We affirm our belief in peaceful settlement of all international disputes through dialogues, negotiations and universally recognised principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (1982).

In context of disputes among the Indian Ocean littoral States, Bangladesh has stressed on promoting peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in all Seas; and of enhancing favourable conditions for peaceful and durable solutions of differences and disputes among countries concerned for shared prosperity in the region. 

Considering the increasing trade and economic ties Bangladesh enjoys with the countries across the Indian Ocean (Far-east, South-East Asia and beyond), Dhaka has encouraged all the parties concerned to reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the Seas and Bays.

In 1972, Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while attending the first banquet hosted in his honour by the Indian Prime Minister in Kolkata, said, “…as for us, we will be wanting to cooperate with all for creating an area of peace in South Asia where we could live side by side as good neighbours and pursue constructive policies for the benefit of our people…”

Shared prosperity

It is time that we seriously engage on de-securitising and de-sensitising the discourse on peace vis-à-vis our appreciation to all oceans, seas and their resources and services. To secure maximalist outcome out of engagements, we need to create ‘buy-ins’ for all states – nations – communities around Indian Ocean, such that it secures ‘shared prosperity’ in a common space as Ocean. 

It should be on a shared vision of prosperity i.e. where each nation and community would step forward in ‘shouldering’ its commensurate ‘responsibilities’ in guarding our Commons. We need innovative ways to bring result-orientation to manifestations of ‘peace’ vis-à-vis oceans and seas. We need to articulate the intersections between peace and innovation.

In setting a right narrative to peace and to focus on sustainable development, our cooperative endeavours and structures on peace and development – at bilateral or, regional levels – should be premised on sovereign equality of all participating countries.

The Indian Ocean region has been host to almost all major global civilisations. Let us build on our evergreen values, principles, and wisdom and strive to shape a brighter tomorrow for all of us.

(This is based on the presentation made by the author, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, at the plenary session on Peace at the Indian Ocean Conference in Colombo, 1 September.)

Share This Article


1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.


Today's Columnists

Economic and regional issues upstage Hindutva plank in Indian State elections

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Results of the recently-concluded State Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram show that economic and regional issues have upstaged “Hindutva” – the ideology of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJ

Rationality of Sirisena’s irrationality

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Man becomes a little cog in the machine, and, aware of this, his one preoccupation is to become a bigger cog said Max Weber, the founding father of sociology. Maithripala Sirisena became a small cog after the 19th Amendment. Then he decided to be a b

The Pinguttara of our politics

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Tale of Pinguttara There is an interesting piece in the LankaEnews of 13 December that refers to President Maithripala Sirisena as a ‘Pinguttara.’ I like to pick up that idea and develop on that. ‘Pinguttara,’ is a term that is ascribed to so

Overcoming the crisis: The second freedom struggle

Friday, 14 December 2018

The crisis that has been developing in Sri Lanka, manifesting itself in varied forms at different times since independence, has now taken the form of a constitutional crisis, threatening the survival of the Sri Lankan State. Regardless of the Court

Columnists More