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Kashmir: Pakistan and India may resume ‘dialogue’ in Nepal

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Relations between India and Pakistan have been complex due to a number of historical and political events. Relations between the two states have been defined by the violent partition of British India in 1947, the Kashmir conflict, nuclear arsenals in ready mode, the numerous military conflicts fought between the two nations and regular cross fires at the LOC (essentially to terrorize the besieged Kashmiris on either side). Consequently, even though the two South Asian nations share linguistic, cultural, geographic, and economic links, their relationship has been plagued by hostility and suspicion.

Jammu Kashmir continues to be under joint occupation of India, Pakistan and China. Now India controls about two-thirds of the Jammu Kashmir state while some western and northwestern regions are under Pakistani occupation. China controls the uninhabited Aksai Chin region in the state’s frigid northeast that it “acquired” from Pakistan.

Dealing with each other has been one of the most formidable challenges that has confronted Pakistan and India over so many years, worsened during the last 35 years. The current BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Narendra Modi employs a more muscular strategy in its relations with Pakistan. While in opposition, the same Bharatiya Janata Party always opposed any relationship with it neighbor Pakistan and insisted that terror and talks cannot go together. The participation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014 allowed for some cautious optimism, but nothing positive emerged form that meeting. Foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for August 2014 were called off at the last moment because of a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi. Sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks as Indian foreign minister visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012. The restarting of a “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” was announced by India’s top diplomat Sushma Swaraj, the first Indian foreign minister to visit Pakistan since 2012.

Ever since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May last year, after his Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a landslide electoral victory, he has been courting India’s neighbors. He had invited the heads of SAARC countries to his swearing-in and followed this up with visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar. BJP has not been really accommodative of the genuine concerns causing deadlocks in bilateral talks. Analysts said India softened its position after a string of state elections that struck a gloomy picture for the ruling party when it was in the interest of Modi’s Hindutva BJP to strike a hawkish, populist line against Pakistan.

Reports suggest that Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may meet in Nepal this week on the sidelines of a Saarc ministerial-level meeting. Diplomatic sources reported that India and Pakistan were exploring the possibility of a meeting between Swaraj and Aziz and also between the foreign secretaries of the two countries in the Nepalese tourist city of Pokhara. Modi is slated to visit Islamabad in November 2016 for the SAARC regional summit.

The two South Asian prime ministers are scheduled to travel to the USA to attend a nuclear security summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama. In the first top-level diplomatic exchange between the two neighbors and archrivals in the last seven months, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar reached Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Jaishankar’s two-day visit – part of a broader trip to all member countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – is significant as it could mean that the two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought four wars since August 1947, when the British freed and divided the Indian subcontinent, could resume bilateral talks for the first time since India broke off a dialogue in response to Pakistani diplomats meeting with separatist leaders from Kashmir in New Delhi.

Jammu Kashmir , the only Muslim-majority in the northernmost state of India after annexing it in 1947 has been at the center of the dispute between the two neighbors throughout their independent history. Pakistan also shares a part of Kashmir now known as Azad Kashmir. While India considers the entire Jammu Kashmir state an inalienable part of its union, and Pakistan wants a UN-proctored plebiscite, as specified by UN, to decide the region’s fate, there is significant and growing support among Kashmiris for independence.

Summit exchanges and other high level meetings have done enough to stabilize bilateral ties mainly because of the Kashmir issue. Both South Asian nuclear states do not want to get rid of their dangerous WMD. Indian Foreign minister Swaraj met with Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, and his top foreign affairs adviser, and also agreed to start a dialogue process that would include Kashmir and other border disputes.

Pakistan said it was taking steps to bring about the early conclusion of the stalled trial of those involved in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Earlier in the day Swaraj told representatives of 31 countries gathered for the Heart of Asia conference on the future of Afghanistan that it was time for India and Pakistan to display “the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation…The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them.” The change in tack had been presaged by a closed-door meeting in Bangkok between the two countries’ national security advisers, which itself followed an informal conversation between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Paris climate change conference the week before.

Relations between Pakistan and India improved dramatically when the two sparring nuclear-armed neighbours agreed to unrestricted talks after years of disagreeing terms of any discussions of their numerous disputes. High-ranking officials from the nuclear-armed neighbours have held precious few meetings since the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India in May 2014 given his government’s insistence that talks focus on battling terrorism and not the contested region of Kashmir, a key Pakistan concern. The diplomatic breakthrough by two countries that regularly exchange fire across their contested borders was announced at the end of a regional summit in Islamabad where officials also hinted at a possible revival of talks between the Afghan government and “Taliban groups”.

Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup last week said that no schedule of bilateral meetings in Nepal have been drawn up with Pakistan or any other country. Aziz and Swaraj will be in Pokhara for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 16 and 17 March. A senior Pakistani official said Islamabad was ready to resume the dialogue at any time, and was also open to a meeting between Aziz and Swaraj in Nepal. the Pakistani official said there is no proposal as of now for the meeting in Nepal but Pakistan will respond positively if India approaches us for this purpose.

The meetings, if held, will provide an opportunity to the two sides to discuss the much-delayed talks between the foreign secretaries, who were to meet in Islamabad in January. The key foreign secretary-level talks are meant to draw up a roadmap for a series of meetings between the two countries on a range of issues, including Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, water, and trade and commerce.

The efforts to resume the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue hit a deadlock after the terror attack on Pathankot airbase that India has said was carried out by militants from Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group. Sources said Aziz and Swaraj, if they meet, will discuss the possibility of an interaction between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi later this month in Washington. During the meeting, the foreign secretaries realized that peaceful dialogue is the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues. However, an immediate resumption of dialogue between the two countries is not yet a certainty.

India has officially maintained that Jaishankar was travelling as part of Delhi’s plans to stay in touch with Saarc neighbors but had, however, made resumption of talks with Pakistan a non-negotiable condition for aligning with the BJP in Kashmir. Earlier, Jaishankar’s trip to Islamabad follows only days after a new government, in which the BJP is a junior coalition partner, was installed in Jammu and Kashmir in Indian side. This is the first time that the Hindutva BJP is sharing power in the Muslim-majority state, and in the elections conducted in December, Modi’s BJP had its best ever electoral result in the state. “I want to say on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister, that we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan and militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state,” Sayeed reportedly said. “People from across the border made the atmosphere conducive. They also have assets — Hurriyat, militants… if they had done something (during the election) such a participation of people would not have been possible. This gives us hope.”

India has put in place an elected government in the troubled state of JK. The BJP’s coalition partner is the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), which was led by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti. Sayeed, who had in the past been said to be close to Kashmiri separatists, caused a controversy soon after being sworn in as the state’s new chief minister after he expressed gratitude to local separatist outfits and armed militant groups for allowing peaceful elections in the state. The BJP-led federal government in New Delhi distanced itself from Sayeed’s comments, and instead, credited “the Election Commission, our armed forces and the people,” for peaceful elections in the state.

Decrying a Pakistani official’s reported remark about use of nuclear weapons against India, US has urged the two countries to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their long standing issues. “Obviously, what we want to see are the tensions decrease,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about a Pakistani official’s reported threat to use tactical weapons against India. “And speculation about the potential use of nuclear weapons certainly isn’t doing anything to help decrease tensions, if in fact those comments were made,” he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said repeatedly is that he wants the two nations to continue to work together with constructive dialogue to resolve their issues. “And we understand that there are issues longstanding,” he said. “But that’s what really needs to happen, is sitting down, dialogue, cooperation, talking through these things, and trying to work through some meaningful solutions.” Asked to comment on a new report by two US think tanks that Pakistan may have about 350 nuclear weapons in a decade or so to catch up with the status of India in the field, Kirby said he did not have a specific update regarding any talks with Pakistan on the nuclear issue. “Obviously, we continue to urge all nuclear-capable states, including Pakistan, to exercise restraint regarding furthering their nuclear capabilities,” he said.

Recently, USA and Pakistan urged India to give up its rigid attitude to Kashmir and help solve the issue in a amicable manner without nay wars. US spokesman, however, praised India’s constructive role in Afghanistan and said the USA would like other countries including China to play a similar role there. “We want Afghanistan to be a good neighbour in the region” Kirby said. “And India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same.” “I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous with better future,” Kirby said.

In a busy day of diplomacy, the Heart of Asia summit saw officials from leading countries hint at fresh talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government which were abandoned after just one round this summer. Antony J Blinken, US deputy secretary of state, said the Afghan and Pakistani leaders renewed their commitment to an “Afghan owned and Afghan led” process during meetings with senior diplomats from the US and China, in a sign of the powerful international pressures for a peaceful end to the war. Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former Pakistani ambassador to both Kabul and New Delhi, said there was now a “ray of hope” for improved relations with India. However bitter experience meant “you should never be overly enthusiastic because you never know where the next stumbling block will come”, he said. There are doubts over how quickly the talks can begin given the violent splits that developed within the Taliban after it was revealed in last July that the insurgency’s spiritual leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. News of Omar’s death triggered a sharp increase in attacks in Afghanistan as the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Mansoor attempted to assert his authority over a movement divided over both his leadership and the wisdom of negotiating with the Kabul government. The surge in violence, which many in Afghanistan believe is caused by clandestine Pakistani support for the rebels, heaped pressure on Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, to abandon his policy of making concessions to Islamabad to gain Pakistan’s backing for peace talks.

India and Pakistan occupy not only Kashmir valley but even the dangerous Siachen Glacier where avalanches take place regularly, killing soldiers. Recently, after an avalanche claimed the lives of Indian soldiers on the Siachen Glacier, calls for demilitarization are rising. The demilitarization of Siachen is definitely doable diplomatically. Moreover, there is a critical mass of opinion in both India and Pakistan that neither can sacrifice so many lives on the inhospitable glacier. If the initiative is not seized by both sides now, the vagaries of nature will continue to exact a toll on forces deployed in Siachen, even if peace holds.

Regional peace in South Asia, now depending on India and Pakistan, unless established, is not an option but a necessity.

Siachen Glacier only symbolizes the nature of mutual hatred between the nuke neighbors. Pakistan as well as India has a duty and responsibility as regional leaders.

Resumption of the Indo-Pak ‘talks” or ‘dialogue’ in Nepal or elsewhere would be meaningless unless the leaders realize the need for resolution of Kashmir issue.

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Why India won’t intervene militarily in Maldives

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An Indian Ocean archipelago of 1,192 islands, the Maldives is a tourist paradise. The Maldives is a low-lying country that is expected to be among the first in the world to go under water as a result of climate change. While it may take a few more decades for rising sea levels to wreak havoc on the archipelago, there are more immediate and pressing problems tearing the country apart.

Tourism is the backbone of the country’s economy, and tour operators have reported hundreds of daily cancellations since the state of emergency was imposed on February 5. Following the state of emergency, Maldives has been in a tensed state of existence in as the archipelago is facing a sort of turmoil, ransacking its tourism based economy.

Crisis

The current crisis was the result of a Supreme Court ruling on February 1, overturning the convictions of Yameen’s rivals. In addition to ordering the government to release the nine convicted opposition leaders, the apex court called for reinstating 12 parliamentarians who were stripped of their seats last year when they left Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives to join the opposition.

Two weeks after the government of the Maldives declared a state of emergency amid rising political tension, on February 20th Parliament approved a 30-day extension that, among other grave consequences, may result in serious damages to the economy, scaring away international visitors. On February 20, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom requested to extend the Maldives state of emergency for a total of 45 days. The Maldives government and the Ministry of Tourism have emphasized their commitment to safety for civilians and tourists alike.

The emergency “shall only apply to those alleged to have carried out illegal activities — it shall not apply to otherwise law-abiding residents of, or visitors to, the Maldives,” Yameen’s office said in a statement.

The opposition Jumhooree Party says the approval of the extension is illegal, and urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency in order to restore normalcy. “Despite the State of Emergency, the country is functioning as normal as possible,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism told TPG Tuesday before the extension was approved. “Schools and government offices are in operation and we do not foresee any threats to the public or tourists. We too are continuing with the promotional activities of the destination.”

Since Yameen became president in a controversial election in 2013, he has systematically crushed dissidence within his party and removed rivals from the political arena.

For instance, MDP leader and former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, the archipelago’s first democratically elected leader, was convicted on terrorism charges in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. While Nasheed has been living in self-exile in Britain since 2016, several other opposition leaders, including a former defense minister in the Nasheed government, Mohamed Nazim; Yameen’s once “trusted” vice-president, Ahmed Adheeb; and leader of the opposition Adhaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, are in jail on long prison terms.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) calls on neighboring India to militarily intervene to end the crisis, and let Nasheed become the president.

According to reports in the Indian media, the government has ruled out the military option for now, although it has activated its standing operating procedure for the Maldives by keeping troops ready for deployment there at short notice, should the need arise.

But India is said to be working with a group of countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to pressure the government through imposition of sanctions. However, India has traditionally opposed the sanctions option to influence regime behavior, as sanctions affects ordinary people rather than the ruling elite.

Relations between India and the Maldives have been strong for decades; India played a major role in building the Maldives’ economy and military. It was India’s support that kept the authoritarian Gayoom in power for three decades.

However, bilateral ties have been fraying since Nasheed’s exit from power in 2012. That year, the Maldivian government abruptly terminated a $500 million contract awarded to India’s GMR Infrastructure for developing an airport in Male. Bilateral ties have deteriorated since then. Yameen’s “authoritarian governance” has irked India, but it is his tight embrace of China that has raised hackles in Delhi.

No invitation for invasion

A country could decide to send military forces to neighboring or any other country only on the request form that nation concerned. Otherwise the intervention becomes totally illegal and amounts to invasion. USA led NATO have been occupying many countries in Middle East and Afghanistan after invading them on false justifications.

Anyone who closely follows Indian state behavior abroad would quickly endorse the argument that India would not intervene in Maldives citing any reason.

In order to decide to sent troops to nearby Maldives, India must have got a request from the government of Maldives but that government has not sought it. In 1988 when India intervened in Maldives it was on the request received from the then President Gayoom.

When an external government is engaged in dealing with an emergency situation, naturally that power should be given huge service charges. Without any request from Maldivian government of Yameen, India won’t get any service charges. Though the exiled opposition leader Nasheed might be willing to pay the money to India as he has made the request to New Delhi, but India cannot respond to non-government actors.

This step alone can easily do away with any suggestion to India for intervention in Maldives.

The government of Maldives has not asked for Indian military to help bring peace and normalcy back to the island nation. India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion by the opposition leader who now lives in Srilanka.

Claiming to be a ‘terror victim’, India would not like to be seen as an aggressor as no amount of justification can  make New Delhi “innocent” although it has got that look. .

China factor

But there are some more important reasons that deny India any chance to send troops to Maldives which, in the absence of a request from the government,   would mean to remove the President and government from power.

Today, archipelago Maldives is not alone, though insignificant for non-tourists. China is fast becoming an economic ally of Maldives and might soon have its own military bases in the island nations as well.

Chinese nexus is the prime strength Maldives would operate on.

Unlike China, USA can only bully small nations but cannot spend money on them, does not invest there to help their economies flourish. Already, Beijing, knowing the Indian strategic community’s desire for a military showcase byIndia in Maldives, has expressed its opposition to outside intervention from India.

Unlike USA, India cannot attack Maldives on the suggestion of USA or Israel or Opposition leader Nasheed and if that at all happens India would possibly be in a long term trouble.

In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Maldives, Yameen handed over the airport project to a state-run Chinese company. The two sides signed a string of deals during that visit that saw Beijing participate in a big way in infrastructure building in Maldives. Maldives also became an enthusiastic participant in the Maritime Belt of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Then in December last year, the Maldives and China signed a Free Trade Agreement, much to India’s concern. Delhi is worried about Beijing’s mounting influence over Maldives and the strategic implications for India.

China’s growing presence in the Maldives is a serious concern to India given the latter’s geographic proximity to the Indian coastline. The Maldives also sit near international sea lanes through which India’s oil imports traverse. India’s security would be threatened should the Chinese set up a naval base in the Maldives. These concerns are not without substance; in August 2017, three Chinese naval vessels docked at the Maldives’ capital, Male, setting off alarm bells in Delhi.

India’s vulnerability

India is watching the unfolding crisis in the Maldives with concern. It is mulling different options. Not doing anything is not an option given India’s stakes in a stable Maldives.

A seemingly busy India, whose PM is on a perpetual foreign tours as India’s foreign policy with very little time for the people and keeps mum on all major anti-people events, promotes rampant corruption and the powerful lords  loot the nation and its resources for private use, steel cash from nationalized banks, illegal mining and land grabbing.

IPL Modi, PNB looter Nirav Modi- both have escaped from India and are now abroad thanks to timely help and aid from agencies of Indian regime, Kothari, et al are just the tip of iceberg in Indian sage of misappropriation of state resources while the intelligence and media lords are terribly busy blasting fake news about Pakistan and Muslims in order rot keep the fanatic sections of India.

The Indian government has said it is “disturbed” by the declaration of emergency in the Maldives and “the suspension of the Maldivian people’s constitutional rights.” It is “carefully monitoring the situation,” it said. Earlier, its Ministry of External Affairs issued a travel advisory to its citizens traveling to Maldives.

Sections in India are in favor of an Indian military intervention in the Maldives. Some argue that it does not behoove a rising power with big ambitions like India to shrink away from acting robustly to defend its interests in the region.

A section of the BJP leadership has described the current crisis in the Maldives as an “opportunity” for India “to stake its claim to being a global player.” It is “imperative” for India to intervene in the Maldives, they argue,  “since any global role is always dependent on a country’s performance in the neighborhood first. Those who want to see India a superpower as soon as possible with a magic touch, say that “time is ripe for a decisive Indian intervention in the Maldives.”  Such intervention by India would have the support of countries like the USA, Israel and UK, which, they reason, would be keen to see the pro-China Yameen removed from power. “This could be used to silence the Kashmiris who fancy for sovereignty”.

If India does decide in favor of military intervention, this will not be the first time it has done so in the Maldives. In 1988, India sent in a small contingent of troops to avert a coup attempt against Gayoom. But the circumstances of that intervention were different from what exists today. In 1988, President Gayoom invited India to intervene. Yameen is unlikely to do so now. Importantly as well, 30 years ago the coup plotters were just a small group of mercenaries. A military intervention today could leave Indian troops stuck in a Maldivian quagmire.

Yameen wins power struggle

Yameen, like most rulers today, is determined to cling to power. Not only has Yameen ignored the court order, but he went on to declare an emergency and had the judges who handed out the ruling arrested. Reinstating the 12 parliamentarians would reduce his government to a minority. That would enable parliament to oust him in a no-confidence vote.

Besides, Yameen seems apprehensive that allowing Nasheed to return to the Maldives and freeing the other opposition leaders would galvanize the opposition and boost mass protests against his iron-fisted rule. Presidential elections are due later this year and Yameen fears that he will be defeated by a strong opposition campaign.

With the proclamation of a state of emergency, Yameen has prevented parliament from meeting. The emergency will be in place for 15 days, during which he can be expected to pack the judiciary with loyal judges. He is likely to engineer defections from the opposition. He could extend the state of emergency as well.

Yameen has already appointed new judges, who have since annulled the court order releasing the opposition politicians. Former president and opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is Yameen’s half-brother, has been detained and Yameen has fired two police chiefs over three days.

With Yameen tightening his grip, Nasheed has called on India “to send an envoy, backed by its military to free the judges and the political detainees.” He has asked for India’s “physical presence” in the Maldives.

China has warned India against any military intervention in Maldives.

Observation

China is closely watching events in the Maldives. The archipelago is a popular destination for Chinese tourists; in light of the current uncertainty, Beijing has advised its citizens to postpone travel to the Maldives. Having invested heavily in the Maldives, China is concerned about the safety of its investments, projects, and personnel. It has asked the Maldivian government to “to take necessary measures to earnestly protect the security of the Chinese enterprises, situations and personnel.”

Unlike India, China has leverage with the Maldivian government. Yameen is likely to listen to China. But Beijing would not want to see him go.

China is opposed to India meddling in Maldives and has made this more than clear. An editorial in China’s state-run Global Times chided India for openly intervening in its neighbors’ domestic affairs. There is “no justification” for India “to intervene in Male’s affairs,” it observed.

Any military showcase by India could also prove counterproductive to India’s long-term interests. It would push Yameen closer to the Chinese, for instance. Besides, it would boost perception of India as a “big brother” and a “bully” in the region. Undemocratic forces in India’s neighboring countries have usually stoked anti-India sentiment among the masses by stressing such perceptions. This can be expected to happen in the Maldives too.

Importantly, an Indian military intervention is unlikely to benefit democratic forces in the Maldives in the long run as a democratic government, should one come to power in the archipelago following an intervention, would be seen as “made in India” with the USA acting as a “midwife.” Such a government would lack legitimacy in the eyes of many Maldivian people.

It does seem that the Sino-Indian contest for influence in the archipelago is as fierce as the ongoing tussle between Yameen and the Maldivian opposition.

Thus any suggestion for Indian military intervention in Maldives is ruled out.

India could perhaps act as a facilitator or even a mediator in a possible dialogue between Yameen’s Maldivian government and the opposition. But will Yameen welcome an Indian role against the Chinese wish? Moreover, he has reportedly defied Indian requests relating to the current crisis. India cannot have privileged the leverage to influence the decisions of Maldivian President.

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Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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