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Triangulating India-Iran-Pakistan’s Balance of Equation

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Hypothesis of narrative of power of the three countries is manifestly simple in the regional setting but more one ponders about the complexities, more frustration grips once any side endeavors to relegate its conflict vulnerabilities to workable equation with the neighbors. Like Pierre Courtade’s dialogue, Pakistani ‘right’ sounds Indian ‘wrong’,

Iranian ‘wrong’ may be Indian ‘right’ and Indian ‘wrong’  may be Pakistani ‘right’ as one moves along and around the pivots of the triangle. Discussing Iran-India in isolation would be a parochial approach. Their foreign policy undercurrents and strategic objectives invariably crisscross, of necessity, to India, Pakistan, Iran, China and beyond.

India is relatively huge land mass. Its geo-strategic significance is established not only as a South Asian country but also as a power with massive expanding ability to influence sea-lanes in Indian Ocean and thus South East Asia and Middle Eastern countries by implications. Approaches to the Pacific, land operations in Himalayan Range, southern plains and the desert with China and Pakistan are also located within its prowess. India has a firm foot in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, notably Kazakhstan for energy proxy, Tajikistan and Mongolia where it now maintains military facilities that afford her better strategic orientation against the adjoining countries, Pakistan and China from the North West. Its economy leapt forward in mid 90s era and speculations abound that the center of gravity of the ‘riches’ would shift to BRICS[2] from the West, some placing it exclusively between China and India. However, geo-political environments which, would remain a major threat to its expansive ambitions and adoption of the global role that some world powers would like it to embrace, not necessarily to India’s advantage, acutely eclipse India’s future prosperity.

The simmering Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and its corollaries like Siachen Glacier, Sir Creek and now Rivers Water Distribution can catapult the prevailing ‘no war no peace’ scenario, should any side lose patience. Impending war among the two would perhaps be unprecedented by the (de)merit of its horrific mutual destruction because both sides have counted each other’s teeth very accurately. Indian military might is impressive while Pakistan, a much smaller country, maintains an efficient system of forces with credible nuclear deterrence. Despite being riveted by internal turmoil, it has shown remarkable astuteness to keep ready its ‘steeds of war’ to deter any of the perceived threats. It has remained laced with crises since inception but at the same time, it has fine-finished its ability to survive the crises as well. Whenever Pakistan was found ignorant of internal and external build up of storms, and its leadership failed to rise to the occasion, it paid an exorbitant price. India imposed such ‘price’ on it, at least once before during the final phases of cutting Pakistan to size. Obviously, the reference is to the debacle of erstwhile East Pakistan.

India’s territorial dispute with China could develop into a formal conflict if it fits the design of capturing geo-political space by either power. Sujit Dutta comments euphemistically but with visible concern, downplaying the stand off as ‘competition’ only, “China and India straddle a common geopolitical space across the Himalayas and South and Southeast Asia. This makes for strategic and geopolitical competition.”[3] The remarks, from the point of view of International Relations are simply in the domain of liberalism, but the followers of ‘Realist’ approaches would side line such comments in the light of ground realities. The ensuing dilemma from these realities has forced a compulsion on the Indian hierarchy to maintain a potent military system to react to or eliminate these threats, which the war evaluations prove, it cannot. It sounds like war mongering. However, it is very heartening that powers to the disputes have come to recognize the base line wisdom and that is, wars alone cannot resolve the conflicts[4] though the ‘guns’ have been branded as the final argument of the kings historically. David Scott concludes in his essay, “Finally… some competition between India and China is likely to continue within regional organizations, in the diplomatic arena, within their military and economic strategies; and with it their elements of mutual balancing, and above all hedging. However, neither state will want to antagonize the other too much, both will want to maintain their own long term grand strategies of peaceful rise and economic modernization…”.[5] Nevertheless, Indian forces have to maintain a superb state of readiness to cater for the worst contingencies but that unfortunately means sinking billions of taxpayers’ dollars every year that could be well spent productively elsewhere instead of rattling the sabers. Any attempt to lower the guards by sliding back from the build up of war arsenals may be even more risky within the riddle of maintaining a ‘balance of power’, and the resultant encroachment upon India’s luster as a huge customer of the modern weaponry with its ability to pay in dollars instantly.

The sound and burgeoning economy tends to intensify the territorial lust of any state, if also cajoled by its civil society, to adopt a role that transcends the geographical borders. In other words, the virus of lebensraum, catching up with the appetite for seeking expansion or recognition of their influence among the comity of nations can afflict any prosperous nation. India, in a bid to survive the crunch of fading oil and gas reserves is likely to be vulnerable to committing military adventurism by mid 21st Century, what Japan did against Pearl Harbor, to sustain its military as well as economic might. This is particularly worrisome and the possibilities, if not probabilities, heighten when some leading powers are already showing the symptom of morality collapse under such desire and have come to deal with certain theaters in Eurasia in a manner that is not finding due legitimacy despite their ardent desire to paint them as such.

India now is a regional power but its markers on the world map reach far and wide. The role it yearns as a world power, particularly on the high seas and in the space does not find adequate means but even the pipe dreams can materialize if the leadership perseveres in attaining the objectives. Knowing the ambitious sides of Indian build up, other than its traditional rivals, China and Pakistan, two powers, Australia and Indonesia can throw their tentacles up as a preemption strategy. Gary Smith visibly circumvents Australia’s Indian fears through the entire length of his essay but he puts across indirectly, which some times sounds more valid than direct. He comments, “The uranium trade plays directly into two of the major regional and global problems: the traditional concern of military security/insecurity…”[6]. About Australia, it is not only the war of caricatures now. Australia has Herculean tasks ahead to keep engaged not only China and India simultaneously but also China and America as well when the ‘national interests’ pull is divergent between them. Some of their taught syllabi advocate, “Australia’s strategic relationship with America has always been fundamentally different from the old strategic relationship with Britain, in that the British relationship was a matter of identity, and the US relationship was based on interests.”[7] More the Australian relationship would deepen with US and India, more ominous strain it would cast on China and other subsystems that are well poised to meet the challenge, thus making it a complex tangle.

From the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum), however, India has managed an effective image profile, obfuscating that she focuses on the development of trade relations and fostering peace though it also implicates power game as well as its power projection. Staging a counter deception perhaps, Australia and Indonesia particularly, have pretended to look the other way but not remaining lax about her naval and nuclear expansion. Should India be stuck across the waterways by drawing their disapproval if not full-blown rivalry, it would make Indian tasks insurmountable. In other words, India would be a victim of backlash of its own build up. Seeing Europe somewhat critical of US ‘go alone’ ventures and cis-trans-Atlantic alliance’s ride becoming bumpy, certain quarters are already advocating a new axis between India, America, Israel and Australia (IAIA).[8] Japan and New Zealand could be fifth and sixth candidates but it would be hard to keep Japan in America’s fold if at any stage its relations smoothen out with China or Russia over the disputed ocean spaces. New Zealand would be better advised by its friends to stay away from the conundrum. Briefly said, India has the wherewithal to emerge as a power with global role but not without heavy baggage of severe frustrations. Conversely, Indian diplomacy, an important instrument of foreign policy, in regional setting, more so about Pakistan and Iran, is vibrant from Indian perspective but within the globalize environments, it has some severe critics, even at home who rate it a victim of sheer ambivalence. Harsh V. Pant (not as harsh as Sikri is towards Pakistan) and Rajiv Sikri belong to realists and traditionalists school of thought respectively. The former laments India’s ambivalence towards US, advocating to take bold leaps in foreign policy conduct, the latter bitterly criticizes such mode of falling in the lap of US, perhaps at the expense of not clearing mine fields for its diplomacy in ‘near abroad’. Ian Hall comments about Sikri, “The region, he thinks, displays remarkable commonality of cultural practices; its divisions, in other words, stem not so much from cultural distinction but political decision.”[9] Here the hint appears to division of the Subcontinent in August 1947 that became the bedrock of disputes and hostilities. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had observed over six decades ago (1946), “The factors that laid the foundation of Islam in Indian society and created a powerful following have become victim of politics of partition.”[10] Thus, according to such generalizations, territorial disputes between India and Pakistan and to a certain extent include China as well; are of lesser consequences than the psychological barriers of hearts and minds among them, gaining height with the lapse of each year. Muslims have endured a level of genocide at the time of partition and its horror still lurks on the horizon. Concluding a chapter on ‘Black Death’ that devastated Europe in mid fourteenth century, Cathie Carmichael comments, “Every Jew, Muslim, atheist or Christian who died at this time as a result of being targeted for his or her faith or ethnicity was an individual with his or her own unique martyrdom”[11]. One would expect from the leaders who steer the destinies of the masses to obviate such tragedies, occurring to the minorities in the Subcontinent, though history is witness that states seldom learn from past determinants of genocide. In fact, the most enduring bond, a sage said, among the brothers has been the ‘sword’.

Iran with its potent hydrocarbon reserves has significant weight in the domain of geopolitics. It maintains a long coastal line on Arabian Sea as well as Persian Gulf that act as trade lanes for huge stocks of oil and gas and thus gain geo-strategic significance. It is essentially a Middle Eastern country, but at the same time, a Caspian littoral and also contiguous to Central as well as South Asia. Before Soviets ‘phantasmagoria’, it shared borders with the Soviet Union.[12] India and Iran have had the history of looking in opposite directions. During the royal era when Iran was embedded deep in the Western, read American, alliance, it leaned more towards Pakistan because of similarities in their geo-strategic priorities. India, on the other hand, inclined towards Soviet Union and pursuing course of non-aligned bloc at the same time, was not Iran’s choice obviously, when India’s energy thirst had also not exacerbated yet.

On the fall of Shah of Iran, the succeeding theocracy attempted to grasp the ‘leadership’ role among Muslim ‘Ummah’ and hence India-Iran relations remained cool. Iranian support for Kashmir cause was an impediment. The growth of US-Iran polarization and ensuing sanctions through ‘Iran, Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA 1996)’ forced Iran to break American cordon by looking towards China, India and Russia for its strategic assets safeguards and to parry off Israeli and Western wrath that she feared by implications. Neutral observers blame Iran for some self-inflicted wounds in the international arena. “While right to tap nuclear energy as a source and shrewd option to explore alternatives for her enormous but fast dwindling oil and gas reserves can not be denied, it is also encumbered as a responsible member to allay international fears and move along the wind rather than flexing muscles in confrontational manner.”[13] For Iran, India was yet another lucrative window for breaking the US noose, which now imports 14% of its energy needs from Iran. In return, India-Iran sounded comfortable with each other when Iran ebbed down its Kashmir rhetoric. Their relations could plummet on conclusion of US-India and Indo-Israel dialogues of strategic collusion but the mutual fears were downplayed by Iran as a geopolitical expediency. However, Indian reluctance to render her support on nuclear issue at IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)  to Iran and by abstaining from the November 2010 UN vote that condemned Iran on question of Human Rights, have made the job of diplomats of both the countries too perplexing to mend the fences.

As if, it was not enough. Indian ambivalence to join in contemplated Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project has also exposed vulnerabilities of their souring relations. The Iranian leadership has come to see India clearly fixated by US and Israel, an assumption perhaps not very valid to stand the test of expert scrutiny. Indian rejection of US tenders worth $11 Billions equipment deal[14] last April proves that India generally could not be spoon fed by her allies and would jealously guard its ability to steer foreign policy course without strings, compatible to its national interests. Here, the likes of Rajiv Sikri have won. The decision must have taken wind out of US incentives of the times while granting India concessions on acquiring advanced nuclear technology and fuel from the nuclear club. US might have been relishing ever since the scenario of launching India as a counterweight to China in the Indian Ocean as well as Pacific and the potentials of India being a huge modern weaponry market that US would love to secure. The shock’s apparent casualty was the US ambassador to New Delhi; Mr. Timothy Roemer who resigned for ‘personal’ as well as ‘professional’ reasons. Yet another surprise is that India is turning to Europe and not even to its traditional supplier, Russia though Russia protested discreetly, as some reports suggest, by withdrawing its bid for supply of weapons to India. The shift aspect, relevant to the topic, would have far-reaching consequences by lending India an added maneuver space to keep Iran engaged successfully and perhaps Pakistan also, including on Kashmir issue. Iran and Pakistan are glued together by the sort that dries up in a day and revitalizes the next day when Indo-centric concerns are always dominant factors to count. The two countries interact frankly and informally. Iran has some grievances against Pakistan; the main perhaps its tilt to Middle Eastern actors and US with whom Iran has direct or indirect territorial or ideological stand off but finds hard to ditch Pakistan at the same time. Iranian President, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s recent claim (08 June 2011) to have known a US plot that aims at denuclearization of Pakistan is a sincere revelation that validates such a predominant conviction, already prevailing among the entire Muslim ‘Ummah’. In the regional context, US mean now a full team, comprising US, India, Israel, Russia and NATO collaborators versus Pakistan as their thrust lines converge in strategic dimension, a paradigm hard to admit by them but a reality nevertheless. India has the ability to nourish its Middle Eastern diplomacy by driving a wedge among Iran and others further deep to conduct chicanery of its exterior maneuvers.

There may be another twist in the Indian perception that Iran is failing to register and that is its impending demographic explosion and corresponding aggravating energy thirst. Robert Kaplan comments, “India — soon to become the world’s fourth-largest energy consumer, after the United States, China, and Japan — is dependent on oil for roughly 33 percent of its energy needs, 65 percent of which it imports. And 90 percent of its oil imports could soon come from the Persian Gulf. India must satisfy a population that will, by 2030, be the largest of any country in the world.”[15] Indian energy imports from other Middle East countries, measure up to about 45% of its total needs as compared to 14% from Iran (some sources figures vary). When Iran’s nuclear venture is suspected among the Middle East countries and its role seen clearly as a force trying to unhinge the ruling hierarchies of its neighbors in the wake of recent uprising in North Africa and Middle East, India has the option to weigh gains and losses. By playing cool, India reaps the advantage of ensuring that its energy lifeline remains green and large numbers of its expatriates’ remittances from the Middle East fill her coffers.

For Sudha Ramachandran, however, India needs to focus still at Iran when she writes, “With Pakistan refusing India overland access to Afghanistan, Iran is key to India’s land access to there and beyond to Central Asia…. Besides, at times Delhi is concerned over the resurgence of Taliban; can India afford to lose an important ally in Iran on Afghan issue?”[16] The statement clearly affords an insight to possible magnitude of ‘cooperation’ between India and some Taliban faction(s) through Iranian influence in Afghanistan. It also reveals the level of advocacy to accord, alternative access route through Iran to Afghanistan and Central Asia, a high priority tag as compared to remaining warmed up with Middle East for the sake of energy and expatriates’ remittances even though they are sizeable. However, Sudha Ramachandran prescription has limited scope as she envisions the immediate crucial spaces and ignores the global obligations India has to meet. Indian’s Iran embrace could resist US as well as Israel with whom it collaborates strategically, but for the Middle Eastern countries and Europe combined, she would find dent to her image unmanageable because of Iran once its own nuclear posturing and refusal to sign Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is yet not out of the woods. Her arguments would have been even weightier, had she not, wittingly or unwittingly, downplayed Indo-Iranian forces operational level collusion. “Some experts see this as part of broad strategic cooperation between two powers in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea…India had reportedly hoped the Declaration (Indo-Iran of January 2003) would pave the way for Indian sales to Iran of upgrades of Iran’s  Russian-made conventional weapons systems”. The same report further dilates at another place, “It is perhaps because of Indo-Iranian cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan that Tajikistan—a Persian speaking Central Asian state bordering Afghanistan — allows Indian combat aircrafts to use its Farkhor air base.  There are reports that India will soon also be allowed to use Tajikistan’s Aini air base as well.”[17] Iranian influence made the difference for India.

Pakistan and perhaps China as well as Central Asians view Indo-Iranian collaboration in Afghanistan as unnatural or rather too lavish in full view of their antagonists, if not hostile neighbors. Iran has to understand that India needs Iran and it would gravitate on its energy bait relentlessly, giving Iran an impression at the same time that she stands by it despite US disapproval. IAIA axis, when allies would maintain forces preponderance for the Gulf energy security against Iranian wish in the Gulf by force if necessary, shall rupture Indo-Iranian ‘close’ relationship mirage in a nasty way. “But for a non-Jew to challenge that American and Israeli interests are identical is to invite the charge of anti-Semitism, which has been the kiss of death politically since the holocaust.”[18] India is safely in the same bracket now. Iran would not gulp down Israeli threat behind Indian smoke screen on its borders with Afghanistan. Under these circumstances when US-Israel-India draw more closer because of their wider convergence of global priorities, Iran would have no option but to restrict Indian access to its seaport of Chah Bahar that India is helping it to develop, cutting at the same time Indian roots in Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan. Pakistan would remain comfortable anyway, because of its loyal ‘Pathan’ belt on its western borders with Afghanistan that could not be subverted ever since partition. However, some powers with heavy stakes are keen to ignite this strategic asset called ethnic ‘pukhtoons’ against Pakistan by bribing and equipping an odd tribal segment in adjoining Afghan border areas through moles that portray perfect ‘turban and beard’ combination. Such a degree of ‘loyalty’ consolation for Pakistan through historic incidence however, has to be nurtured and sustained laboriously for which Pakistan is putting little effort and eroding its own reservoir of strength under aliens’ pressure.

It is an interesting paradox, when India did incessant finger pointing to Pakistan for indulging in illegal nuclear proliferation (Dr. A Q Khan episode), Indian scientists were helping Iran on possible enrichment techniques. According to Wall Street Journal, in September 2004 determination, two Indian nuclear scientists were sanctioned against under the INA (Iran Non-proliferation Act), Dr.Chaudhary Surendar and Dr. Y.S.R. Prasad.  The two formerly headed the Nuclear Power Corp of India and allegedly passed to Iran heavy-water nuclear technology.[19] At least four or five other Indian chemical and engineering companies faced sanctions or threat of sanctions in 2005 by US on similar transfer violations to Iran in nuclear and missile technology field under INA. Grant Pakistan that when it faced an avalanche of Indian propaganda, hardly any one in Pakistan blew trumpet of Indian complicity with Iran, out of sheer laziness of its diplomatic corps or its urge to build bridges of understanding with India!

It remains clear that Pakistani leadership, embroiled in survival war with opposing political parties has not been able to cash on such/similar profitable themes to gain a diplomacy edge internationally as does India, whenever situation presents her an opportunity. Killing of Osama bin Laden was still wrapped in a mystery but India clinched Pakistan by throat to label it as the harbinger of global terrorism on the same day, 02 May 2011. The allegation came like a bolt from India and even US who are very weak in simple arithmetic and are not impressed by five times more Pakistani forces personnel and civilians falling martyrs than theirs all combined, spilling blood for US war on terror.  Such an ill timed and possibly, a deliberate barrage, if spared for a while, could permit the two countries moving closer for chalking out an agenda of reconciliation. The cool of cricket diplomacy, which Indian Prime Minister achieved so assiduously, vanished overnight. Demolishing the bridges among the states has been the easiest narrative historically than building ones. Ephemeral gestures of reconciliation India makes occasionally have fast become the fuel for added fury, which, India and Pakistan can ill afford to suffer for a long time. Recent inconclusive talks on Sir Creek and Siachen issues in May 2011 were least followed by the Pakistani public, with foregone assumption that it was a mere gimmickry, aimed at securing credibility reservoir from ‘peace-seeking-Western world’ and a ploy to further isolate Pakistan.

 

On Pakistan domestic front, mega corruption scandal breaks cover almost every fortnight, forcing its top leadership to go out of breath to defend it. Within weeks when judiciary comes in to play its role, instead of recovering from the shame, they embark on the monstrous campaign to defy the highest courts because the corruption tales in Pakistan explored by the media are more or less always true. It is not the bad governance only but some opposition parties are also corrupt to the roots and ‘cooperate’ with the Government after securing big share in  the deals. In all probability, while Pakistan Army, Judiciary and Media are reassuring icons, the country has the potentials to wriggle out of the crises.

Indo-Iranian collaboration on trade and military cooperation in the presence of serious Indo-Pak territorial irritants and perceptional gulf would remain a concern, not only for Pakistan but for China as well. Coupled with it, Indian image as a factor for inducing instability in Pakistan from its Eastern as well as Western borders, perhaps as counter stroke to ‘Jihadis’ operations in Kashmir is extremely disturbing, when the pointers also prove US nod to India if not active support from Afghan territory. Tiff between US-Pakistan on the magnitude of war on terror and ‘do more’ syndrome haunts every Pakistani because it is unrealistic as well as impracticable. Intelligentsia in Pakistan clearly perceives that prolongation of the war on terror in Afghanistan is a mere farce to defile it or at least force Pakistan to give up its nuclear arsenals that it possesses as a solitary Muslim power. The scenario is horrible to conceive but there is graceful diplomatic maneuver space available if both the countries heed to the reason rather than making recourse to the ruses contrived by some war mongering think-tank, known for their prejudice and bias.

For India, to assume the status of 21st Century economic giant, its energy thirst would not satiate unless it resolves its dispute with Pakistan. Its strategic significance far exceeds than that of Iran when it would need every drop of oil and gas, possibly from Iran as well as Central Asia. Until Pakistan acts as an energy bridge and Damocles sword of internal and external threats are not taken off Pakistan, Indian economic boom would face severe eclipse. India may well argue that Pakistan’s internal problems are of its own making or their resolution at least its own prerogative but the fact remains that there is so much of arms twisting and intrusion in its internal affairs that even US officials had the tongue in cheeks to openly admit, yes, our operators are there  in Pakistan. Raymond Davis saga renders all speculations on the contrary to rest. Within the wider game, India needs to reassess its ambitions by recalling that as a poor but relatively ethics based country, it enjoyed far more respect even in bipolar world of Cold War era. With economic boom and lager stocks of guns, missiles and munitions, logically, its reach and recognition would have taken longer strides but it has not. All its direct neighbors except Bhutan, a protectorate, maintain uneasy relationship with India, is a coincidence worth reckoning. Is it the lack of will to mend fences with the neighbors or too much of a flare for courting distant actors who would see India supplementing their own designs at the cost of wreaking miseries to Indian masses?

The technology that is pushing globalization to the zenith, is also making the inter states relations transparent. Cloak and dagger policies, no matter who the executioners are, would seldom remain covert in the coming years; wikileaks may be a small demonstration only. The dichotomy in acts and facts, when the big powers in 21st Century were to be more benign towards the planet if not the humanity, is exaggerating. The irony is that the most powerful states that have grown beyond measures in annihilating capabilities are showing strong tendencies of eliminating the reconciliatory approaches, whatever the pretexts, in reverse ratio that bodes catastrophic for breathing space of the developing countries. China, Iran, India and Pakistan are high on the graph periphery that could be sucked in by the centripetal character of the tornado of violence in pursuit of ‘narrow or aliens’ objectives. While India and China have history of recovering from the brink, Pakistan and Iran are more vulnerable and would need to stand guard to preempt such follies.

Some conclusions are pertinent to draw:

  • India as a power in military spectrum has immense emerging influence not only in the Subcontinent but also as far as China and Australia to the East and to Gulf of Aden to the West. While India would welcome seamless cooperation from the countries within this space, they would need equal, if not more, Indian cooperation as well in the process of its improved power potentials from regional to extra regional capability. Iran, Indonesia, Australia, China and Pakistan, if not on board with India, can inflict severe dent to the perceived Indian hegemony.
  • India-Iran relations figure out prominently in the sphere of trade and at forces operational levels. Conceiving any military alliance with Iran as of today, does not fit in the Indian wider considerations. However, its cordial relations with Iran might prevent Iran to be studded on, as some Pentagon officials call it, the ‘string of pearls’ or ‘pearls necklace’ but ‘noose for India’, engineered by China. In other words, the Iranian seaports in Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, being vital for energy security, shall emerge as a subject from covert to overt diplomacy when China and India would bid for their naval use or lien in the event of any collapse of energy security environments. Iran in this context would not oblige India but China instead, not because India does not mean any importance to her but in energy security setting, Iran would see India more as a US ally and China, its all weathers choice. To woo Iranian favor for energy supplies, India has to walk on the tight rope and maintain balance with US, Israel and other Middle Eastern countries that would turn it as suspect if diplomacy cards were not played judiciously.
  • Kashmir is the mother of all disputes and mistrust between India and Pakistan. After having fought three short wars and Kargil misadventure, Pakistan has to remain committed to its viable resolution, according to the wishes of People of Kashmir. Lingering Kashmir dispute is dangerous more for India than for Pakistan, particularly when the Subcontinent, Middle East, Central Asia, Caucasus, Russia and at some stage China as well, can integrate on European Union (EU) pattern that would herald tremendous peace, tranquility and hence prosperity. After India-Pakistan possible patch up, no reason remains in the fold why Pakistan should not become Energy Bridge for India as well as South East Asia. Iran, Caspian littorals and other Central Asians would be in the line by choice.
  • Indian Government needs to ensure effective public awareness so that the ruling as well as opposition parties support India-Pakistan reconciliatory overtures and ditching the dialogue does not become electioneering agenda. It fuels anti Pakistan sentiments and India has it in abundance. Too much of vitriol is pumped into masses to demonize Pakistan that is usually resorted to hype the war phobia before launching full-fledged offensives. India has the prerogative to do so if she foresees hostilities in short term. If not, she should commit herself to douse the flames.
  • Tension with Iran developed because of extra regional considerations and Indian obligation to support its allies. The alliances surfaced because India was not comfortable with neighbors including China. Chinese conduct in the international arena has remained pragmatic, fostering peace. Indo-China disputes are there but not so complicated that these cannot be resolved. After all they have been, ‘Hindi-Cheanee bhai bhai’ that translates ‘people of India and China are brothers to each other’. It only needs a stock of pragmatism from Indian side and well-intentioned diplomacy away from the distant alliances specter while on Chinese side India would find it in plenty. Friendly dance together is possible. Any side that makes the first move would enjoy moral ascendancy. It thus becomes imperative that India takes wind out of international meddling in this part of the world that is thriving on Indo-China ‘competition’. Inward coalescing of Russia, China, Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, further on to Australia makes a fantastic dream for free trading space. History has it that some grand accomplishments were perceived as dreams to start with. All actors need to take cue from EU, which has amongst them, not only brute memories but some lingered on as well.
  • Iran has to adopt a flexible approach toward the regional as well as world issues. Its anti US and anti Israel jargons hit no one else but Iran. Obliteration of Israel is her fantasy, far removed from reality. She must reconcile with impracticable ideal by sponsoring peace and harmony. Reconciled Iran would not only be more prosperous and ardently sought for power but also the one that makes its friends’ task much easier in give and take deals. “Discreet pragmatism would enable her to prove an assumption wrong, what Fred Halliday said about Iran, ‘condemned to react, unable to influence’.”[20] Conversely, Israel has emerged as a trusted ally of the US and now of India as well. Instead of setting up snares for the surrounding as well as distant countries including Iran and Pakistan, Israel is best advised to knock out two issues. It must grant Palestine a statehood that is ultimately to the benefit of Israel and return the 1967-captured territories to its neighbors. Instead of taking pleasure in demeaning US President, Barak Obama on Palestinians issue, it must regret its obstinacy for not picking up the advice of its most trusted benefactor, America. On the other hand, one sees a remarkable change that Muslims are prepared to work with Israel if these two obstacles were removed. India, as an allied country should exert its influence on Israel for helping Palestinians whose supporter, India remained for long time during Cold War era. Any success in this direction would render its standing tall with Arabs.
  • Pakistan has tremendous heap of homework to accomplish and there is light/hope on the long end side. It needs to reassess the circumstances that have pushed it to the precipice of internal turmoil and portrayed it as the subject of international conspiracies despite its rich dossier of decades’ long loyalties against the utopian ideology. It must pursue a policy within the ambit of recognized international relations, free of the gridlocks clamped by the powers that embrace it today and kick it out the next day. Resolution of imminent conflict scenarios by applying soft power while maintaining impeccable military deterrence would be the best option. Spare no effort that fosters honorable peace with the immediate neighbors, cordial relations with Muslim countries and equitable ties with all major powers.



[1] . Tony Judt, “ Post War: A History of Europe Since 1945”,  (Vintage Books London, 2010) p. 197

[2] . BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

[3] . Sujit Dutta, “China’s Emerging Power and Military Role: Implications for South Asia’, in Jonathan Pollack and Richard Yang, eds., “In China’s Shadow: Regional Perspectives on Chinese Foreign Policy and Military Development”, (Santa Monica: RAND, 1998), p. 92.

[4]. Indian Minister of Home Affairs, Shri P. Chidambaram appears inclined however, to support ‘war’ option to resolve issues with Pakistan as he hurled an open threat on June 8, 2011. Being an optimist, I still see lesser graveside of his thunder that aimed possibly at an opposition BJP leader who had expressed shock a day earlier over the scale of Indian forces atrocities committed in Kashmir.

[5] . David Scott ‘Sino-Indian Security Predicaments for the Twenty-First Century’,  ‘Asian Security’ (Journal), 2008, 4:3, p.265

[6] . Gary Smith ‘Australia and the rise of India’, Australian Journal of International Affairs,2010, 64: 5,  p.570

[7] .  ‘Graduate Studies in Strategy and Defence’ (a Course Guide-2011), School of International, Political and Strategic Studies, ANU College, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre of Asia & the Pacific,  http://ips.cap.anu.edu.au/sdsc/gssd, (accessed on 10 May 2011).

[8] .  The alphabets (IAIA), if pronounced one by one, sound Urdu, meaning incidentally as, ‘welcome, welcome’.

[9].  Ian Hall, “The other exception? India as a rising power”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2010, 64: 5, p. 606

[10].  Shorish Kashmiri, ‘Richness and Depth of Vision’, an interview with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in “Chattan”, (Matbooaat-e Chattan Lahore n.d. April 1946).

[11].   Cathie Carmichael, “Genocide before the Holocaust”,  (New Haven & London: Yale University

Press, 2009) p.160

[12] . If one sees Iranian northern boundaries and its claim over the Caspian Sea status as unresolved, Iran is well within its right to claim sharing Caspian borders with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, as well as Azerbaijan.

[13]. Brig (Retired) Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi (Makni), “The New Great Game: Oil and Gas Politics in Central Eurasia”, (Raider Publishing International, New York. London and Swansea, 2008), p.192.

[14] .  “India rejects U.S. tender”, ‘The News International’, Pakistan, 28 April 2011.

[15] . Robert Kaplan, ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century: Rivalry in the Indian Ocean, ‘Foreign Affairs’, April 2009(accessed at RealClearPolitics website on 22 April 2011.

[16] . Sudha Ramachandran, “India-Iran relations at nadir”, Asia Times ( www.atimes.com) , December 4, 2010.

[17] . K. Alan Kronstadt and Kenneth Katzma, “India-Iran Relations and U.S. Interests”, ‘CRS Report for Congress’, Order Code RS 22486, August 2, 2006, ( http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/70294.pdf, (accessed on 18 May 2011)  p. 6

[18] . Theodore P. Wright, “ Indo-Israel Relations and the Concept of National Interest in Multi Ethnic/Religious States” in ‘FPRC Journal-5’, (accessed at Foreign Policy Research Centre, New Delhi website on 20 April, 2011)

[19].  John Larkin and Jay Solomon, “India’s Ties With Iran Pose Challenge for U.S.,” ‘Wall Street Journal’, March 28, 2005

[20] . Dr. Makni,  op cit,  p. 193

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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Pakistan, Quo Vadis?

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Pakistan’s place in a new world order is anybody’s guess. Recent policy moves suggest options that run the gamut from a state that emphasizes religion above all else to a country that forges a more balanced relationship with China and the United States.

The options need not be mutually exclusive but a populous, nuclear-armed country whose education system is partially anchored in rote learning and memorization of the Qur’an rather than science is likely to raise eyebrows in Washington and Beijing.

Pakistan has long viewed its ties to China as an unassailable friendship and strategic partnership China but has recently been exploring ways of charting a more independent course.

Relations between Islamabad and Beijing were bolstered by an up to US$60 billion Chinese investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a cornerstone of the People’s Republic’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Deeply indebted to China as a result of the Belt and Road that has significantly contributed to electricity supply and transportation infrastructure, Pakistan will have to tread cautiously as it explores the margins of its manoeuvrability.

Nevertheless, suggesting that CPEC may not live up to its promise to significantly boost the country’s position as a key Belt and Road maritime and land transportation hub, Pakistan recently agreed with Saudi Arabia to shy away from building a US$10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex in the port of Gwadar, long viewed as a Belt and Road crown jewel. The two countries are looking at the port city of Karachi as an alternative.

Gwadar port has been troubled for years. Completion of the port has been repeatedly delayed amid mounting resentment among the ethnic Baloch population of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, one of the country’s least developed regions. Work on a fence around the port halted late last year when local residents protested.

Building the refinery in Karachi would dent Chinese hopes of Gwadar emerging as a competitive hub at the top of the Arabian Sea. Doubts about Gwadar’s future are one reason why landlocked Tajikistan, as well as Afghanistan, are looking at Iranian ports as alternatives.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan initially agreed on building the refinery in Gwadar in 2019 during a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A Saudi-funded feasibility study has since suggested that Gwadar lacks the pipeline and transportation infrastructure to justify a refinery. The refinery would be cut off from Karachi, Pakistan’s oil supply hub.

In a similar vein, Pakistan has been discussing a possible military base in the country from which US forces could support the government in Kabul once the Americans leave Afghanistan in September under an agreement with the Taliban.

Washington and Islamabad appear to be nowhere close to an agreement on the terms that would govern a US military presence in Pakistan but the fact that Pakistan is willing to entertain the notion will not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.

Pakistan borders on China’s troubled province of Xinjiang, home to Turkic Muslims who face a brutal Chinese attempt to squash their religious and ethnic identity.

China fears that Pakistan, one of the few countries to have witnessed protests against the crackdown in the early days of the repression, could be used by Turkic Muslim militants, including fighters that escaped Syria, as a launching pad for attacks on Chinese targets in the South Asian country or in Xinjiang itself.

The notion of Pakistan re-emerging as a breeding ground for militants is likely to gain traction in Beijing as well as Washington as Pakistan implements educational reform that would Islamicize syllabi across the board from primary schools to universities. Critics charge that religion would account for up to 30 per cent of the syllabus.

Islamization of Pakistani education rooted in conservative religious concepts contrasts starkly with moves by countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to de-emphasize religious education and ensure that it is more pluralistic. The two Gulf states have positioned themselves as proponents of moderate forms of Islam that highlight religious tolerance while supporting autocratic rule.

“Pakistan is an ideological Islamic state and we need religious education. I feel that even now our syllabus is not completely Islamized, and we need to do more Islamization of the syllabus, teaching more religious content for the moral and ideological training of our citizens,” asserted Muhammad Bashir Khan, a member of parliament for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling party.

By implication, Mr. Khan, the parliamentarian, was suggesting that Pakistan was angling for a conservative leadership role in the Muslim world as various forces, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Iran and Indonesia compete for religious soft power in what amounts to a battle for the soul of Islam.

The educational reform boosts Prime Minister Khan’s effort to be the spokesman for Muslim causes. The prime minister has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of peddling Islamophobia and demanded that Facebook ban expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment.

Critics warn that the curriculum will produce anything but a society that is tolerant and pluralistic.

Said education expert Rubina Saigol: “When the state aligns itself with one sect or a singular interpretation of religion, it opens the doors to sectarian conflict, which can turn violent… There is lip service to the ideas of diversity, inclusion and mutuality but, in reality, an SNC that is gender-biased, sectarian and class-based, will sharpen social differences, undermine minority religions and sects, and violate the principles of federalism.” Ms. Saigol was referring to Prime Minister Khan’s Single National Curriculum project by its initials.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar warned that “The SNC…opens the door for… (religious) seminary teachers to enter mainstream educational institutions… It is well known that a majority of the education of seminary students is grounded in sectarianism. Imagine the consequences of…seminary teachers trained and educated in sectarian education entering the present educational institutions.”

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Why successful mediation efforts could not be employed to resolve the Kashmir conflict?

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

Mediation is a process in which a dispute between two parties is resolved effectively with the help of a third party. It helps to resolve international conflicts peacefully because in mediation the third-party mostly has no direct gains from it and cannot have coercive policies, rather it discusses win-win situation for both parties and helps them resolve the issue. Unfortunately, Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan for almost 74 years, and yet all mediation efforts have failed.

Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan in the South Asian region. The issue dates back to 1947 during the partition of the sub-continent when India and Pakistan were formed and were liberated from the British colonialism. At the time of partition, there were more than 500 princely states and they either had to accede to India or Pakistan or choose to stay independent.  Moreover, they had to keep their geographical and religious contiguity in mind before acceding to any of the state. Many states made quick decisions but the Maharajah of Kashmir delayed the decision because he was a Hindu and wanted to join India but the majority of population was Muslim and they wanted to be a part of Pakistan. During his contemplation, the Indian forces entered into the state of Jammu and Kashmir to illegally occupy the state. As a result, tribal groups from Pakistan entered into the state to help their Muslim brothers and Pakistan also backed them actively. Realizing the sensitivity of the matter, India took this issue to the United Nations. The UN helped in establishing a ceasefire line that divided the state into two parts, one controlled by Pakistan called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) while the other is under Indian occupation and is called Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

Since then, the UN has passed several different resolutions to resolve the Kashmir conflict for good but India is not willing to accept the propositions of UNSC and other mediators. Kashmir still remains an issue to this day and the people of Kashmir are still waiting to get their right to self-determination and accession to Pakistan. India on the other hand has heavily militarized the territory and is trying to change the demography of Kashmir to reduce the Muslim majority.

Efforts of Mediation in the Kashmir Conflict

United Nations formed a special commission for the resolution of the Kashmir conflict known as the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). UNCIP and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have passed a number of resolutions after the 1947-48 war for Kashmir, one of the principal resolutions being the one of 21st April, 1948 by the UNSC that stated: “Both India and Pakistan desire that the question of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan should be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite”. This resolution focused on the basic human right of Kashmiri people to choose to live with whoever they want and they have the right to form an independent state.

The UNSC resolutions that came after that also focused on the point of plebiscite and the principles for the conduct of plebiscite. The UNCIP focused on the conduct of free and fair plebiscite for Kashmiri people in both parts of Kashmir and let the people vote for either India or Pakistan. UNCIP also passed some resolutions in this regard. The resolutions passed by UNCIP on 13th August, 1948 and 5th January, 1949 also reinforced the self-determination and plebiscite resolutions of UNSC. In July 1949, India and Pakistan established a ceasefire line through the Karachi agreement that was to be supervised by the military observers. The military adviser had the command of these observers and they all made the main group of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). 

After the termination of UNCIP, the United Nations Security Council further passed a resolution no. 91 on 30th March, 1951 affirming that the constituent assembly and any action taken by it for the future of Kashmir would not constitute a disposition of the state and that the future would be decided through a plebiscite. It also decided to continue the working of UNMOGIP and continue the supervision of ceasefire in Kashmir. The other functions of the UNMOGIP were to observe the condition of ceasefire and report it to the UNSC. They were also supposed to investigate the complaints of ceasefire violations and give a written report of findings to each party and the Secretary General.

On 24th January, 1957 UNSC passed the resolution no. 122 regarding the determination of future of the part of state. It reaffirmed that the actions taken by constituent assembly would not satisfy its earlier resolutions and again called for a plebiscite. Later during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan, the UNSC asked both states to cease fire and follow the UN resolutions for Kashmir dispute. It maintained that the Kashmir dispute should be resolved by free and fair plebiscite and not to be taken militarily.

All the efforts made by the United Nations in order to resolve the Kashmir conflict have failed because of India’s assertiveness in the state of J&K. India never agreed to taking out her forces from Kashmir and neither to hold a free and fair plebiscite that could help in determining the future of Kashmir. Mediations cannot be forced and both parties need to consent on a given solution by the mediators but India has never agreed upon the stance of the mediating body and keeps adding military in the region.

Some examples of arbitration tried by the United Nations that failed are as follows:

  • The first effort made in March 1949, where UNCIP convinced both parties to withdraw forces and asked for submission of their plans for the withdrawal, Pakistan submitted the plan but India refused.
  • Then in August 1949, another effort was made by President Truman and PM Attlee where they asked both parties to submit to the arbitration of Admiral Nimitz, Pakistan accepted this proposal but India rejected it again.
  • Then in December 1949, the president of UNSC General McNaughton proposed that the withdrawal should be in a such way that it does not impose fear in any party, Pakistan again accepted the Proposal while India rejected it.
  • In July 1950, Sir Owen Dixon’s proposal about the exact sequence of withdrawals from Jammu and Kashmir territory were accepted by Pakistan but India rejected them.
  • In January 1951, the Prime Ministers of common wealth suggested that Indian and Pakistani troops in Kashmir should be replaced by neutral troops from Australia and New Zealand, Pakistan agreed to this; India did not.
  • In December 1952, the security council defined the number and character of the forces on both sides of ceasefire line present in Kashmir before the plebiscite, the rest were to be withdrawn. Pakistan accepted this resolution but India rejected it.
  • In early 1958, the UNSC again deputed Dr. Frank Graham on a mission of mediation between India and Pakistan for the solution of dispute. Frank Graham made five recommendations all of which were accepted by Pakistan and rejected by India.
  • The ceasefire violations by India time to time also show how India does not care about International Law and Human rights and keeps the torture going without holding a plebiscite do decide the future of the state.

The US supported the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan which came to an end after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and since then every time US hints at mediation, Delhi reacts with hostility. The reason is that Kashmir issue is not merely about a piece of land, rather it is more about nationality and political ideology. The Modi government stands tough on militancy in the Kashmir territory in order to enhance its claim and use it as a tool to instigate the notion of Nationalism in the Indian population to give legitimacy to his actions.

One of the major reasons for the failure of UNSC in bringing a peaceful and permanent solution for the Kashmir conflict is that it views the conflict as a political issue rather than a legal one. The Indian aggression and occupation should be seen as an issue of humanitarian intervention and should be dealt according to the international law in the International Court of Justice rather than an issue of political differences between India and Pakistan. The instrument of accession by India is the core issue which the UNSC consistently failed to point out in its resolutions.

Conclusion:

Many efforts of mediation have been made in the earlier days of the conflict by the United Nations in order to convince both India and Pakistan for a solution of the Kashmir crisis. Although UN has passed several resolutions in order to mediate between India and Pakistan but the drawback of mediation is that it is not coercive, it needs the consent of the parties in conflict upon a certain point. In case of Kashmir, India’s assertiveness and extremist policies is a major reason why mediations have failed in resolving the Kashmir conflict. The international community needs to realize that this is not an issue of political differences rather an issue of violation of the international law.

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India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present

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rouhani-iran

In the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the personal predilections of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his protégé VK Krishna Menon, both influenced by British socialism. Nehru himself handled the external affairs portfolio until his death in 1964.

The policy of ‘non-alignment’ which the duo initiated in India’s foreign policy gained world-wide attention since early 1950s, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (NAM) that consisted of developing and newly decolonised nations from different parts of the world, primarily from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But, the policy never meant isolationism or neutrality; rather it was conceived as a positive and constructive policy in the backdrop of the US-USSR Cold War, enabling freedom of action in foreign and security policies, even though many of the individual NAM member states had a tilt towards the Soviet Union, including India.

However, the lofty Nehruvian idealism of India’s foreign policy in its initial decades was not successful enough in integrating well into India’s security interests and needs, as it lost territories to both China and Pakistan during the period, spanning 1947 to 1964.

However, when Indira Gandhi assumed premiership, realism had strongly gained ground in India’s political, diplomatic and military circles, as evident in India’s successful intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Even at that point of time, India still sticked on to the policy of non-alignment until it was no longer feasible in a changed international system that took shape following the end of the Cold War, which is where the origins of a new orientation in India’s foreign policy decision-making termed as ‘multi-alignment’ lies.

Today, India skilfully manoeuvres between China-led or Russia-led groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with its involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad), in which Japan and Australia are also members.

Militarily though, India is still not part of any formal treaty alliance, and is simultaneously part of a diverse network of loose and issue-specific coalitions and regional groupings, led by adversarial powers, with varying founding objectives and strategic imperatives.

Today, non-alignment alone can no longer explain the fact that recently India took part in a US-chaired virtual summit meeting of the Quad in March 2021 and three months later attended a BRICS ministerial meet, where China and Russia were also present.

So, how did India progress from its yesteryear policy of remaining equidistant from both the US-led and Soviet-led military blocs (non-alignment) and how did it begin to align with multiple blocs or centres of power (multi-alignment)? Answer to this question stretches three decades back.

World order witness a change, India adapts to new realities

1992 was a watershed year for Indian diplomacy. A year back, the Soviet Union, a key source of economic and military support for India till then, disappeared in the pages of history, bringing the Cold War to its inevitable end.

This brought a huge vacuum for India’s strategic calculations. Combined with a global oil shock induced by the First Gulf War of 1990 triggered a balance of payment crisis in India, which eventually forced the Indian government to liberalise and open up its economy for foreign investments and face competition.

India elected a pragmatic new prime minister in 1991 – PV Narasimha Rao. The vision he had in mind for India’s standing in the world was quite different from his predecessors. Then finance minister and later PM, Dr Manmohan Singh announced in the Indian Parliament, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

This was during his 1991 budget speech and it marked the beginning of building a new India where excessive control of the state on economic and business affairs seemed no longer a viable option.

At a time when Japan’s economy was experiencing stagnation, China was ‘peacefully rising’, both economically and industrially. The United States remained as the most influential power and security provider in Asia with its far-reaching military alliance network.

As the unipolar world dawned proclaiming the supremacy of the United States, PM Rao steered Indian foreign policy through newer pastures, going beyond traditional friends and partners like Russia.

In another instance, 42 years after India recognised Israel as an independent nation in 1950, both countries established formal diplomatic ties in 1992. Indian diplomats accomplished a task long overdue without affecting the existing amicable ties with Palestine.

In the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it is worth noting that India took a more balanced stance at the United Nations, which was different from its previous stances that reflected an open and outright pro-Palestine narrative.

Today, India values its ties with Israel on a higher pedestal, even in areas beyond defence and counter-terrorism, such as agriculture, water conservation, IT and cyber security.

Breaking the ice with the giant across the Himalayas

China is a huge neighbour of India with which its shares a 3,488-km long un-demarcated border. Skirmishes and flare-ups resulting from difference in perception of the border and overlapping patrolling areas are a regular occurrence in this part of the world.

For the first time after the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a daunting defeat for India, diplomatic talks for confidence-building in the India-China border areas were initiated by the Rao government in 1993, resulting in the landmark Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the defacto border between India and China.

The agreement also provided a framework for ensuring security along the LAC between both sides until a final agreement on clear demarcation of the border is reached out. The 1993 agreement created an expert group consisting of diplomats and military personnel to advise the governments on the resolution of differences in perception and alignment of the LAC. The pact was signed in Beijing in September 1993, during PM Rao’s visit to China.

Former top diplomat of India Shivshankar Menon noted in one of his books that the 1993 agreement was “the first of any kind relating specifically to the border between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China … It formalized in an international treaty a bilateral commitment by India and China to maintain the status quo on the border. In effect, the two countries promised not to seek to impose or enforce their versions of the boundary except at the negotiating table.”

The 1993 pact was followed by another one in 1996, the Agreement on Military Confidence-Building Measures. The following two decades saw a number of agreements being signed and new working mechanisms being formalized, even though two major standoffs occurred in the Ladakh sector in 2013 and 2020 respectively and one in between in the Sikkim sector in 2017.

The agreements served as the basis upon which robust economic ties flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, before turning cold as a result of Chinese aggression of 2020 in Ladakh. However, the 1993 agreement still was a landmark deal as we consider the need for peace in today’s increasingly adversarial ties between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Integrates with Asia’s regional architecture

Before the early 1990s, India’s regional involvements to its east remained limited to its socio-cultural ties, even though the region falls under India’s extended neighbourhood, particularly Southeast Asia. But, since 1992, when the Look East Policy (LEP) was formulated under the Rao government, India has been venturing into the region to improve its abysmal record of economic and trade ties with countries the region.

New Delhi began reaching out to the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1992 and was made a Sectoral Partner of the association in the same year. Thus, India kicked-off the process of its integration into the broader Asian regional architecture.

In 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a key platform for talks on issues of security in the wider Indo-Pacific region. India became ASEAN’s summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012.

A free trade agreement (FTA) was agreed between ASEAN and India in 2010. And in 2014, the erstwhile LEP was upgraded into the Act East Policy (AEP). Today, the ASEAN region remains at the centre of India’s evolving Indo-Pacific policy.

Bonhomie with the superpower across the oceans, the United States

1998 was an important year, not just for India, but for the world. Until May that year, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council possessed nuclear capabilities. That year, ‘Buddha smiled again’ in the deserts of India’s Rajasthan state, as India under PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee successfully conducted a series of underground nuclear bomb tests, declaring itself a nuclear state, 24 years after its first nuclear test in 1974 code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’.

The move surprised even the US intelligence agencies, as India managed to go nuclear by bypassing keen US satellite eyes that were overlooking the testing site. Shortly after this, Pakistan also declared itself a nuclear state.

India’s nuclear tests invited severe international condemnation for New Delhi and badly affected its relationship with Washington, resulting in a recalling of its Ambassador to India and imposed economic sanctions, which was a big blow for India’s newly liberalised economy.

But, a bonhomie was reached between India and the US in a matter of two years and then US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, the first presidential visit since 1978. The Indo-US Science and technology Forum was established during this visit and all the sanctions were revoked by following year.

Bharat Karnad, a noted Indian strategic affairs expert, notes in one his books that, “Vajpayee’s regime conceived of ‘strategic autonomy’ to mask its cultivating the US, which resulted in the NSSP”.

The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the US and India was launched in January 2004 that covered wide ranging areas of cooperation such as nuclear energy, space, defence and trade. This newfound warmth in Indo-US relations was taken to newer heights with the conclusion of the landmark civil nuclear deal between 2005 and 2008.

Today, India is a key defence partner of the United States, having signed all the four key foundational pacts for military-to-military cooperation, the latest being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation, signed in October 2020. The two countries are key partners in the Quad grouping and share similar concerns about an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to cultivate this special relationship with the United States, reinforced by cooperation in the Quad grouping and also by constantly engaging a 4.8-million strong Indian diaspora in the United States.

The leaders of both countries, from Vajpayee to Modi and from Clinton to Trump have reciprocated bilateral visits to each other’s countries. And, India looks forward to the Biden-Harris administration for new areas of cooperation.

But, a recent military manoeuvre in April, this year, by a US Navy ship (which it calls a FONOP or Freedom of Navigation Operation) in India’s exclusive economic zone, off Lakshadweep coast, casted a shadow over this relations.

The US openly stated in social media that it entered the area without seeking India’s prior consent and asserted its navigational rights. This invited mixed reactions, as it was highly uncalled for. While some analysts consider it humiliating, others think that the incident occurred due to the difference of perceptions about international maritime law in both countries.

Today, along with the US, India skilfully manages its ‘historical and time-tested’ ties with Russia, a strategic foe of the US, and moves forward to purchase Russian-made weapon systems, such as the S-400 missile defence system, even after a threat of sanctions. But, in the past several years, India has been trying to diversify its defence procurements from other countries such as France and Israel and has been also promoting indigenisation of defence production.

A BRICS formula for responsible multilateralism

India is a founding member of the BRICS grouping, formalised in 2006, now consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – the emerging economies of that time with a potential to drive global economic growth and act as an alternate centre of power along with other groupings of rich countries such as the G-7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

India always stood for a responsible global multilateral system and rules-based order. Indian leaders have attended all summit-level meetings of BRICS since 2009 unfailingly. Last year, the summit took place in the backdrop of India-China border standoff in Ladakh, under Russia’s chair, a common friend of both countries, where the leaders of India and China came face-to-face for the first time, although in virtual format.

The primary focus of BRICS remains economic in nature, but it also takes independent stances on events occurring in different parts of the world. The grouping also established a bank to offer financial assistance for development projects known as the New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, China, in 2014, with an Indian as its first elected president.

BRICS also became the first multilateral grouping in the world to endorse the much-needed TRIPS waiver proposal jointly put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid vaccine-making during the duration of the pandemic to provide developing countries that lack adequate technologies with means to battle the virus.

As India gears up to host this year’s upcoming BRICS summit, there is no doubt that being part of the grouping has served the country’s interests well.

Manoeuvring the SCO, along the shores of the Indo-Pacific

The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a regional organisation consisting of eight Eurasian powers, largest in the world both in terms of land area and population covered. It stands for promoting mutual cooperation and stability, where security issues can be freely discussed and conflicts are attempted to be resolved.

India is not a founding member of the SCO, which was created in 2001. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members in 2017. The grouping’s members also include Russia, China and four Central Asian countries, excluding Turkmenistan.

Sharing a common platform with Pakistan and China and the presence of a long-term friend, Russia, has helped India diplomatically in key occasions. Using the SCO platform, the existing differences between member states can be discussed and prevented from escalating into major conflicts.

This was evident most recently visible in 2020 when the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on a plan for the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops from the LAC, as a major step in the diffusion of tensions in Ladakh that had erupted since May that year.

But, Russia and China collectively oppose the usage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, something that surfaced into political discourse with the famous speech delivered by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 in the Parliament of India, calling for “the confluence of two seas” and hinting at a new maritime continuum of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

It is in this context that the grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States gained prominence. The four Quad countries came together to offer humanitarian assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ambit of the grouping’s co-operation ranges from maritime security to cooperation in Covid vaccine production and distribution.

After a decade since the first joint naval exercise of the four Quad countries took place in 2007, the ASEAN’s Manila summit in 2017 provided a platform for the four countries to connect with each other and enhance consultations to revive the four-nation grouping.

The Quad has been raised to the summit level now with the March 2021 virtual summit, and has also conducted two joint naval exercises so far, one in 2007 and the other in 2020. This loose coalition is widely perceived as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land border with China. At the same time, India is also the only country that is not a formal security ally of the United States, meaning if India quits, the Quad ceases to exist, while the other three countries can still remain as treaty allies. However, setting the US aside, cooperation among the other three Quad partners has also been witnessing a boom since the last year.

India and Japan have expanded co-operation in third countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region and offer an alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is perceived as having implications of a potential debt-trap aimed at fetching strategic gains.

Amid the pandemic, both the countries have joined hands with Australia to launch a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify key supply chains away from China.

However, India doesn’t perceive a free and open Indo-Pacific as an exclusionary strategy targeted at containing some country, rather as an inclusive geographic concept, where co-operation over conflict is possible. This was articulated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.

Various additions were made to this view in later stages, as the concept evolved into a coherent form, representing New Delhi’s expanding neighbourhood. This vision aligns well with related initiatives such the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), aimed at improving maritime security, trade, connectivity and management of shared resources.

The future

For India, this is an era of complex multi-alignment, different from the Cold War-era international system, where multiple centres of power exist. At different time periods in the past, India has adapted well to the changing circumstances and power dynamics in the international system.

India’s strategic posture today, despite being aspirational, is to have good relations with all its neighbours, regional players, and the major powers, to promote rules-based order, and in the due process to find its own deserving place in the world.

In July, last year, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India ‘will never be part of an alliance system’, even though a tilt towards the US is increasingly getting visible, taking the China factor into account. Jaishankar also stated that global power shifts are opening up spaces for middle powers like India.

As the world tries to avoid another Cold War, this time between the United States and China, the competing geopolitics of the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime region is poised to add up to New Delhi’s many dilemmas in the coming years.

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