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Strategic Alignments at SCO: Prospects for India-Pakistan bilateral Relations

Nasurullah Brohi

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, initially, the Shanghai Five was created by China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in 1996 with the aim to resolve the border disputes among its member states. Later on, Uzbekistan was also granted full membership in 2001 and the Organization was named as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The Organization promotes and beholds the objectives for creating an environment of mutual respect, trust and friendly ties with neighboring and member states based on enhanced support for the progressive cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, education, scientific technology, power, communication, energy and environmental protection issues.

The collapse of the Soviet Union gave birth to a new world order based on a unipolar system under the U.S supremacy influencing almost all the major fields of the international affairs. During the Cold War era, the world was mainly divided into two major blocs having their respective military alliance frameworks where each side had a number of allied states under their command; these military alliances were based on the commitments and arrangements for the collective security of all the member states and the defensive and offensive modes by all the member states even for the attainment of respective national interest goals of any single member state. Similarly, the member states of the U.S led NATO collectively struggled to check the further expansion of the Communism to Europe and other parts of the world.

Polarity is a theoretical construct; real international systems only approximate ideal types. The concept of unipolarity implies a threshold value in the distribution of capabilities among states. How do we know whether a system has passed the threshold, becoming unipolar? It happens when a unipolar international system contains one state whose share of capabilities places it in a class by itself compared to all other states. This definition reflects the fact that a state’s capabilities are measured not on an absolute scale but relative to those of other states. In keeping with this definition, a unipolar state is preponderant in all relevant categories of capability. In a narrow but also frequently used, criterion, a system is unipolar if it has only one state capable of organizing major politico-military action anywhere in the system. After the dismemberment of Soviet led WARSAW PACT, the challenging of the US supremacy was a natural factor due to the US designs to dominate the former parts of Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States of Central Asia (CIS) by granting them membership of NATO. Hence unable to counter the threat alone, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was created as a power balancer to prevent the US dominance over the Russian sphere of influence. Still it was insufficient on its part because the members of the CSTO were not that militarily or politically strong, to counter balance the NATO States.

During the Cold War era, the collective security alliances like Warsaw Pact under the Soviet and the U.S led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were the organizations which aimed to collectively respond the other side in case of any aggression. The basic principle behind the creation of organizations was to prevent the other side from any kind of military, political, diplomatic and economic hegemony which may turn the other side to dominate the global affairs single handedly and by that way, the concept of balance of power flourished where each side tried to maximize its power through the means of maximum number of allied states committed to collectively check the growth of other side to their sphere of influence and respond accordingly. Even in recent time, the great power seek option to further enhance their spheres of influence and such moves close to the theories of neo-colonialism have urged the global political system to gradually keep moving towards a new Cold War. Such stereotype thinking resulted in an ever growth in the number of Organization like the NATO, EU, SCO, ASEAN, CIS, BRICS, etc.

SCO as a major player in the region

The increasing engagement of the US and allies in the Asian region are perceived as serious threats to Russia and China. Particularly, the recent development in the aftermath of Crimea crisis between Russia and the West and the prevalent perception of encirclement of China by the NATO forces are some of the pushing forces to look beyond the economic gains and counter the challenges existing next door. This situation of competition is created among the states when they found their interests on stake each challenging the other to gain the national policy objectives on each other’s expanse. In some cases when the states find it difficult to pursue the policy objectives individually, due to intensity competition among states. In such a scenario, the states’ immediate approach becomes to align themselves with the other states to form a common alliance. These alliances can be of different kinds i.e.; economic alliances like E.U., ASEAN, OIC and, military alliances like as NATO, WARSAW PACT and regional alliances like SAARC etc. The member states of these alliances thus share some common interests which binds them for collective effort; ultimately all aimed at balancing the power equilibrium against other competing powers so that no single country becomes able to dominate the global or regional military and political scenario

In global political system states generally create a balance against each others’ powers, when two great powers equally maintain the equilibrium called bipolarity where both exercise equal status of power in international affairs and when many states succeed to maintain the status-quo it is called a multi-polarity where each posses a particular sphere of influence and in general sense at the international level as well. The bipolarity or multi-polarity is not only limited within the concepts of competition for between two states but all the member states of an alliance as a whole maintain the balance of power equilibrium against the opposite side.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organization also faces some challenges side by side to the opportunities. Russia envisions several dimensions to the future of SCO; these include strengthening the major functional areas of the cooperation along with expansion of the organization in the form of new partnerships. Although Russian hopes to enlarge the scope of SCO organization by expanding its membership list yet the prospective of potential candidate states agreeing to the offer does not seem much positive. Members of the SCO had agreed on the fact that there is a need to pause the process of enlargement of the SCO but some Russian experts having completely opposite views voted against it. Anatoly Torkunov, rector Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) stated that SCO would be more effective if it if it was identified as a representative of the whole Asian Pacific Region rather than being isolated to the representation of Central Asia alone. This could be accomplished by including new stated in SCO. However, the full membership of Pakistan and India raised two issues for Russia and the SCO. Firstly, both the countries in spite of being nuclear weapon states are non-signatories of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) which is a clear contradiction of the primary requirements for the being a member state of SCO.

Prospects of India-Pakistan Relations as permanent members of SCO

For Pakistan and India, the period after its inception was the marker of the direction of its foreign policy. The society under the rule British Raj was greatly influence by the Western thoughts and the way of conducting state affairs in the likely style. The unlucky movement after one year of their partition, the India and Pakistan fought a war in 1948 involved the both states in an unending arms race and their involvement with various regional and international alliances and forums in order to meet their economic and military needs.

During the initial period of their status of observer states at the SCO, the main concern for about the full membership of India and Pakistan was that it would cause further trouble to the organization due to their prolonged hostility that is existent right from their inception, despite the SCO powers Russia supported the Indian membership so the China to Pakistan but their entrance in SCO as permanent members was always a gloomy reality that it would create a de-fragmentation within the organization and a divide as two different groups one led by the China and the other by Russia and ultimately it would become an impression of an organization within organization that yield in a weak institutionalized organization diverted from its main agenda to counter-weight the extra-regional powers and ultimately the SCO would become a less effective organization having very low significance and benefits for the member states.

Moreover, the closely observing analysts of the SCO believed that the acceptance of India and Pakistan as permanent members would disrupt the current internal political arena and will also affect the relations of other members with the rest of the world particularly, the countries that are being urged by the international community to abide by the regulations of the NPT. Secondly, the main cause of tension and a bone of the contention, the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan would always remain a direct variant to affect the consensus of the member on any particular issue related to bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, which is not the kind of message SCO wants to portray in front of the outside world.

Similarly, the case of Iran for the grant of permanent membership has always remained a controversial topic. Iran is viewed a potential nuclear state by the international community and hence would provoke the USA to further obstruct the organization’s work. This is why the Iranian membership in the SCO being considered controversial although, Russia is already linked with Tehran for trade purposes and the SCO members can also largely benefit from Iran’s huge energy resources but ultimately the acceptance of Iran as a member state of SCO would only involve severe risk of inviting diplomatic isolation of the organization. Moreover, such controversy at this point would not be benign for the further development of organization into a real balancing power bloc for SCO still needs certain improvement in various grounds. In case of Iran’s full membership of SCO in near future despite of its ambiguous nuclear program which is a pinching point between US and Iran relations, but it would also pose e direct threat other non- member states of NATO.

China’s growing ties or energy trade with Iran and Pakistan is one of the other reasons that Russia does not want Iran and Pakistan to join the SCO group. China is in the process of exploring the opportunity of importing gas through pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan, with Iran. According to China’s view, this gas would be delivered across Pakistan and Afghanistan via a pipeline. Therefore, it is very much clear that Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, would most certainly oppose any such route plan. Russia would definitely try to restrict the   options of China of buying gas from Turkmenistan or increase its pipeline capabilities to gain access of gas resources in Central Asia. These concerns are the basis of Russia’s negativity towards full membership of Iran and Pakistan with the SCO and according to many analysts cooperation over energy supplies is precisely the reason why China wants these two states to be members of the SCO.

SCO and the Implications of bilateral Relationship of India and Pakistan

Although the SCO’s Council of the Heads of States has accepted the proposal for the grant of full membership to Pakistan and India in the Organization and it is also hoped that by the start of 2016 these two states would gain permanent membership after completing certain documentary requirements. The two states were observer states of the SCO since 2004 and had been trying to get the permanent membership but the main hurdle between the grant of membership always remained the concern about Pakistan and India’s hostility towards each other. Despite of the fact, the hostility will definitely prevail after becoming permanent members but the thing which is being perceived as a ray of hope that both the states will get a platform to resolve their bilateral issues effectively.

The basic tenets of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization abide its members to refrain from the interference in other’s internal matters and preserve their self-respect, sovereignty and to encourage the creation of an environment based on cooperation in their region and neighborhood. The Organization is further ambitious in promoting the enhanced support for the economic, cultural, scientific, environmental, communication and educational cooperation. Despite of all these factors, the Organization has never came out of its ambiguous nature that whether it’s going to become a permanent military alliance to counter the Western bloc or it will only remain a regional economic forum. The ambiguity is because of the creation of Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) that has a remarkable number of quick response forces and the members of SCO often conduct collective military and naval drills and demonstrate the military and naval power effectively.

Moreover, it is strongly going to become a time of test of the significance of the SCO as an effective player to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan through a series of diplomatic moves that would urge both parties to bring an end to the historical disputes and hostility between the two neighboring states. Such success at the part of SCO would be historical landmark on its credit and would encourage many others to consult the Organization for their issues and this will ultimately make the SCO an ever effective player next to the UNO in the international political arena.

Apart from the issues of discord between India and Pakistan, the Organization will bring immense economic and trade opportunities for the both as the dominant powers of the SCO i.e. China and Russia are huge industrial and economic hubs and at the other hand the other Central Asian members are immensely rich with their oil and natural gas resources that are more than enough for energy starved nations like China, India and Pakistan.

Role of dominant SCO powers in bringing-up peace and progress in the region

SCO has not only helped in establishing regional calm and stability but has also been successful in controlling conflicts from spreading to other regions. Central Asia, Balkans and the Middle East share a history of complex conflict ranging from religious to ethnic nature. But the formation of SCO in Central Asia portrayed a much better image of it as compared to the Balkans and the Middle East. The presence of SCO played an important role in preventing the Afghan civil war from spreading into Central Asia. By doing so SCO managed to develop a successful example for the rest of the international community struggling with post Cold war conditions. It would not be wrong to say that had ‘Shanghai Five-SCO’ not been present in Central Asia the Afghan war would have most certainly spread to its neighboring countries. This depicts how the SCO is acting to maintain the security and stability.

In the light of these achievements, it can be said that SCO has played an integral part in maintaining the regional calm and stability of its member states. Addressing the Afghanistan which is also one the urgent defence and foreign policy issue faced by the Obama administration, the SCO’s claims of the failure of US strategy and their growing demands to new government for setting-up a final time frame to call back NATO troops from Afghanistan. The current situation is completely against the US and its allies’ troops that are badly stuck in Afghanistan and the further announcement of sending more troops to the country has raised many questions for the SCO members and other world as well.

In a very short period of less than a decade, the SCO has established itself as a global security mechanism. Successfully being able to marginalize the Western and American influence in the Central Asian region therefore, most of times the SCO has been termed as NATO of the East and a counter-weight by Russia and China to challenge the United States and allies presence in the region. It is also believed, that the Sino- Russian interests will shape the future of whole region and more especially of oil and natural gas rich Central Asia.

Future Perspectives: challenges and opportunities for the Region

The phenomenon of continuous shift in power among the major players of the world, the face of international relations keeps changing respectively. Given that, it is important that our understanding of the world we live in should also evolve accordingly, and we are not stuck with a worldview that has no relevance with the evolving realities of a world in transition. Global politics is always characterized with three tendencies; namely, cooperation, competition and conflict.

The world affairs are integrative and disintegrative processes are always at continued development where there are factors contributing to peace and issues leading to war. There is always hectic competition going on among major players of the world. Sometime, this competition causes conflict. Some time, it leads to peace. All depending mainly upon the great powers relations with one another, the present state of relations cause any shift or smoothness of inter-state relations. In international relations the future of any state-to-state relations is completely unpredictable, but the present course of any activity can at least reflect the possible outcome of their possible action. Thus, certain degree of caution needs to be taken while comparing the SCO with any of the organizations in the West for economic and security cooperation in the near future. It is believed when two for the coming future time. It is believed when two friendly states having interest in the same thing, it naturally creates a sense of competition and to some extent makes them hostile to one another. Especially while looking into the history of international relations, most of times it has been seen when ever two states have been struggling to pursue a common thing as a issue of their vital national interests they ultimately became rivals, as it was in the case of Soviet Union and US in the post world war II era their vital interests, turned their alliance into confrontation and hostility and finally resulted a prolonged Cold War involving the whole world. The current state of SCO and NATO relations is alarming for a change of global political system with a forecast of a new emerging global bipolar political structure. The SCO’s demand for a new world order not merely based on the US dominance over world affairs and other institutions, the economic one is not an exception which brings a growing clash of interests between the SCO and NATO member states. The SCO poses serious challenges to other organizations in various grounds that are not only for NATO but also for the European Union; the SCO’s economic strength is also one of turning factor in the present global structure.

Conclusion

The grant of permanent membership to India and Pakistan by SCO’s Council of Heads of States would give an impetus and a distinguished role of these two states in the international affairs. These two states would also get access to enormous economic, political, military and other opportunities. Though the membership in the SCO brings opportunities at one hand but at the other it will open a new Pandora’s Box for the India and Pakistan due to the fact that the SCO is believed to be a counterweighted to the NATO and sometimes it is also called a NATO of the East because of its military designs and the drills that would pave the way for the transformation into a permanent military alliance, will generate the sense of competition and an opposition towards the most of European nation and the American.

For Pakistan and India, there already exists a regional forum like SAARC that has hardly effectively managed the crises between the two states. The less effective role of the SAAR is because the India and Pakistan are never accommodated any accord of the regional organization. Apart from the fact that SCO has immense economic and development opportunities but a futuristic role that is not more than the SAARC would hardly extend SCO’s importance in the regional and international affairs. Even after becoming permanent members of the Organization, the upshot cannot be expected that positive but definitely it would only affect the current prevalent status of the Organization and would only drag it towards an unending divide.

Nasurullah Brohi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and can be reached at nasurullahsvi(at)outlook.com

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South Asia

Justifying a Pakistani Response to India’s Hybrid Warfare Campaign

Haris Bilal Malik

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Hybrid warfare has irreversibly changed the dynamics of war in the contemporary era. In a way, it can be perceived as forming a ‘new normal’ that has also transformed the nature of warfare in South Asia, one of the most volatile regions of the world. There is no doubt in claiming that Pakistan has been a victim of ‘hybrid warfare’ widely perceived to be launched and sponsored by India. This has remained evident even in the region’s history where the situation in East Pakistan in 1971 involving the promotion of Mujib’s six-point plan, and the training and support offered to the Mukti Bahini’s violent separatist movement were all led by India. In the same vein, the current extent of hybrid warfare against Pakistan can also be analyzed from the fact that India is still waging a Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC), through the employment of its proxies in the region.  These are further bolstered by its Anti-Pakistan psychological operations, mainstream and social media campaigns, information operations, false flag operations, and undermining Pakistani interests economically, politically and diplomatically at various international forums. As a result, Pakistan is being forced to counter this hybrid warfare campaign through greater preparedness and a concerted strategy as this ‘new normal continues to threaten Pakistan’s national security.

These hybrid threats to the national security of Pakistan have resultantly become a major concern for its politico-strategic outlook. In view of this, the unrest in Baluchistan, which is all the more pertinent because of CPEC, is not acceptable to Indian interests at the present. Hence, this forms one of the primary reasons behind its sustained campaign against Pakistan. This is evident for instance in how Kulbhushan Jadhav, a serving Indian military officer was convicted for spying inside Pakistan and supporting terrorism in Baluchistan. Furthermore, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a terrorist group that has been known for decades as being backed by India was also reportedly involved in an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi back in November 2018. Similarly, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) movement which is evidently involved in anti-state activities is also widely understood as being sponsored by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS). has All the above have thus carried all the hallmarks of both the NDS’s and RAW’s past activities and nefarious motives with regard to destabilizing Pakistan.

In addition to this, Pakistan has been the target of multiple Indian sponsored ‘hybrid’ campaigns at the international diplomatic level specifically when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear program. In this regard, India has been working for quite some time to project Pakistan as a country involved in nuclear proliferation. As a result, significant lobbying at various multilateral forums has been carried out by India to paint Pakistan as an irresponsible or even ‘rogue’ nuclear weapons state. Whereas, in fact, the irony is that it is Mr. Modi’s BJP led Hindu Nationalist and Extremist government that is willfully acting the role of the irresponsible near unhinged nuclear weapons state through his consistent and deliberate negative nuclear signaling against Pakistan. Thus, it is instead India which coupled with its sustained hybrid warfare campaign against Pakistan manifests a very real danger in terms of the present situation escalating towards the nuclear realm. This, for instance, is further evident in how Mr. Modi has repeatedly threatened Pakistan with the use of nuclear weapons – such as thermonuclear weapons – solely for the sake of political and electoral goals. As such, India has actively aimed to portray Pakistan’s nuclear posture and doctrines as a ‘Nuclear Bluff’, blaming Pakistan for ‘Nuclear Blackmailing’. All while the Indian Nuclear Arsenal, which unfortunately still remains under the control of Hindu Extremists, and presents a more pressing and immediate danger.

The fact, however, remains that within the current scenario in India; conditions are ripe for Pakistan to wage its own campaign to bolster its stance at the international as well as the domestic level within India by launching its own hybrid warfare campaign. For instance, the Indian government’s unilateral revocation of the special status of the Kashmir region that had been previously granted under Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution has played a key role in bringing to surface deep-seeded and pre-existing communal tensions. In the same way, the discriminatory decision by the Indian Supreme Court regarding the demolition of the Babri Mosque which the court has ironically based on preserving the balance between Hindus and Muslims has also inflamed tensions even further. Similarly, the recent controversy surrounding the ‘Citizen Amendment Bill’ (CAB)has also come to represent India’s failed attempts at justifying its Anti-Muslim agenda. In view of all these challenges being posed to Indian Muslims, Pakistan can opt for a more offensive stance in helping further accelerate the widely foreseen demise of the ruling BJP government, which in itself is primarily of its own making. At the very least Pakistan can provide moral and logistical support to some of India’s most marginalized groups to help lay bare the injustices and wickedness of the ruling BJP. Thus, appealing to a more principled stance aimed at a domestic Indian as well as a wider international audience.

Hence while Pakistan is facing a variety of threats from India, it has not yet undertaken a similar campaign of its own to counter and respond to such threats in kind. Despite the Indian government’s continued atrocities, the fact remains that Pakistan still holds a highly principled stance vis-à-vis the tactics currently being employed byIndia. The difference remains that based on this scenario, any action taken by Pakistan would be based on championing a purely more inclusive and pluralist approach promoting human rights in the face of a violent extremist ideology. The recent opening of the Kartarpur Corridor stands as a valid case in point. As such Pakistan’s stance remains miles apart from India’s deliberate, deep-seeded and destabilizing divisions fueled by hate and indifference. In essence, championing ‘A New Normal’ that is worth fighting for.

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Pakistan Seeks Peace in the Region as well as Globally

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Pakistani narrative is gaining momentum worldwide. Pakistan’s peace efforts in the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and any other part of the world are lauded and got well recognition. In fact, Pakistan was the victim of Afghan-War for 4 decades and suffered huge economic, political, and social losses. Pakistan is willing to share its bitter experiences and trying its best to promote Peace globally.

PM Imran Khan, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), said “Then there is Afghanistan. Pakistan is doing its best to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is a country that has suffered so much in the past 40 years. We pray that the Taliban, the Americans, and the Afghan government achieve peace”.

 “I think they are heading towards a ceasefire. We are hoping that the US-Taliban talks succeed, as we have a new government in power in Afghanistan with President Ashraf Ghani being re-elected,” PM Imran remarked when asked about the Afghan situation.

“Peace in Afghanistan would open up trading opportunities in Central Asia. It [Afghanistan] would also become an economic corridor for us. If there is peace in Afghanistan, our people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, will also benefit,” he said.

“Pakistan has played its part in peace talks. There was a hostage situation and with Pakistan’s efforts, two out of three Western hostages were released. So, we are doing our best with whatever influence we have,” he added.

Pakistan has emerged as a Peace-Loving nation and well matured, responsible state. The Visionary leadership in Pakistan has taken several initiatives for Peace and Stability. Our role in Afghanistan, to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table with The US is one of its big success. PM Imran Khan has visited Tehran and Riyadh, to diffuse tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan supports to diffuse US-Iran Tension. Foreign Minister of Pakistan has been traveled to Tehran, Riyadh, Oman, and the US for dissolving tension. Pakistan has such experience and influence in the region to mediate among stake-holders for Peace and overcoming the differences.

While India is the opposite case. PM Imran Khan, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), said that India had been taken over by an extremist ideology known as Hindutva which is inspired by the German Nazis, and its [Hindutva’s] founding fathers believed in racial supremacy. It is really a big tragedy for the region that India has been taken over by the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and warned the global community that the nuclear-armed country was being run by extremists.

PM Imran Khan said “It is a tragedy for India itself — and for all its neighbors — that the country has been taken over by RSS, an organization which also assassinated the great Mahatma Gandhi. A nuclear-armed country is being run by extremists, and Kashmir has been under siege for over five months”.

His remarks came in a response to questions, about tensions in South Asia and the occupation of Kashmir by Indian troops. “Just as the Nazi ideology was built on hatred for minorities, the RSS ideology is also based on hatred for Muslims and other minorities, including Christians.”  India is building detention camps in the same lines as Nazi in Germany. In fact, there exist similarities between RSS ideology and Nazi ideology. So one should expect a similar outcome, or even worse.  He further said that he was the first leader to warn the world about what is happening in India. India has been taken over by an extremist ideology known as Hindutva. India is no longer a Secular or democratic country. It is the ideology of RSS. The RSS, a political organization founded in 1925, inspired by the German Nazis, and following its steps in a much bigger and advanced manner.

It is worth mentioning that India and Pakistan, both are nuclear countries and possess enough compiles of weapons to destroy each other completely. If the international community keeps its role of spectators, it might lead to a big disaster not only for India itself but as well as for Pakistan, all neighboring states, whole region and global.

In response to a question about the disproportionate coverage accorded to protests in Hong Kong as opposed to the siege of occupied Kashmir, PM Imran said that the tragedy of Kashmir was much greater but commercial interests are more important for western countries. “Unfortunately, commercial interests are more important for Western countries. India is a big market and that is the reason behind the lukewarm response to what is happening to some eight million people in Kashmir, as well as to minorities in India,” he noted. Although the general public in such countries stands with the Peace and protests against India atrocities in Kashmir and against its minorities. The general public around the world condemned Indian record violations of Human Rights.

It is appealed to the UN, the International Community, All peace-loving nations and Individuals to approach India and take appropriate measures to defuse tension in the region.

Save Humanity! Avert Disaster!

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India: Domestic policy trends and development problems

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The impressive victory scored in last spring’s parliamentary elections in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspired numerous comments about the start of a new stage in the development of one of the largest countries around. However, the spate of dramatic events that have since happened in India has drawn attention to the negative trends in the world’s second most populous nation.

Since its coming to power in May 2014, the current Indian leadership has set itself ambitious and long-term goals aimed at strengthening both the country’s authority in the world, its status as a “serious global player” and creating new opportunities for its accelerated development and economic growth.

“Over the past five years, Modi has sought to regain India’s lost strategic position in South Asia and ensure its recognition as a regional leader according to the country’s de facto role in the region,” said Dattesh Parulekar, vice president of the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). In its effort to overcome the growing imbalances in development, the Modi government launched a number of large-scale economic administrative, financial and social reforms. Moreover, authorities still declare their intention to bring the national GDP to $5 trillion by 2024.

Another important goal being pursued by the government is centralization of the state and national consolidation, which it considers vital for the country’s further development and sway, including in international affairs. From the standpoint of domestic policies, it is primarily about encouraging the growth of Hindu national and religious identity. Hence, as many foreign observers believe, the elimination by the Modi government in August 2018 of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, then the country’s only predominantly Muslim administrative unit. The decision was fully in line with the ultimate goal pursued by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the forces supporting it, i.e. the proclamation of India as a Hindu nation. Playing to the sense of ethnic identity of most of the country’s inhabitants already brings political dividends with the BJP winning 37 percent of votes in the last  parliamentary elections, compared with 31 percent it had in the previous legislature. Narendra Modi’s party has also been quickly strengthening its hand in state power structures, including through “defections” from rival parties.

On the other hand, the government’s policy of centralization, above all consolidation of the state and society, is inevitably contributing to the radicalization of the country’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslims, whose number, according to recent estimates, now exceeds 200 million. Last year saw a spate of Muslim protests. In the summer of 2019, the BJP-led government of the northeastern state of Assam established, under the pretext of combating illegal immigration, a National Register of Citizens. Of the state’s 32 million residents, 2 million, mainly Muslims, were recognized as “non-citizens.” In August 2019, the central government revoked the status of limited autonomy granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with local media reports putting the number of protesters under lockdown at “thousands.”

Finally, a new version of the Indian Citizenship Act, which critics accused of discriminating against Muslims and of being an attempt to undermine the secular underpinnings of the Indian state, was adopted in December, 2019. The new-look Act raised a new wave of protests among the country’s Muslims. As a result, the ethno-religious issue can also become a convenient tool in the hands of Narendra Modi’s opponents.

Finally, with the government boosting the country’s national self-awareness, it becomes almost inevitable that it will take a tougher stand vis-à-vis India’s  traditional opponent, Pakistan, and its strong economic competitor, China. The escalation of military tensions with Pakistan that happened in February 2019, showed how quickly these two traditional foes can actually come to blows. Moreover, the dispute between Beijing and New Delhi over the ownership of the Aksai Chin Plateau, a region on the border with China, Pakistan and India, indirectly enmeshes Beijing in the territorial problems of Kashmir.

According to Indian observers, “unable to stand up to the inevitable large-scale industrial and infrastructure offensive by China through the Himalayas and the sea routes of South Asia, which are the traditional sphere of India’s influence,” New Delhi needs to implement “a counterbalance strategy.” However, despite its undoubted foreign policy and diplomatic achievements, which have contributed to Narendra Modi’s popularity inside the country, India has increasingly been lagging behind China in economic terms. Therefore, fundamental financial and economic problems threaten to become India’s Achilles heel.

The relatively slow pace of India’s socio-economic development remains the main obstacle to strengthening the country’s position in Asia and the world as a whole. The country is subject to all the standard “developmental diseases” that always come with accelerated economic and social transformations. The modernization of Indian society is also hampered by vestiges of traditionalism. Intense discussions continue “regarding the sustainability of the current models of socio-economic development.”

The Economist singles out environmental degradation, serious problems in the field of education and a crisis in public administration as the three main challenges to India’s development.

After he came to power in 2014, Narendra Modi had to tackle multiple problems that had remained unsolved for decades. His government is trying to combine federal programs to help the country’s poorest, who account for up to 22 percent of the country’s population, with initiatives such as “Make-in-India” and “Startup India” designed to stimulate economic and business development. Experts say that “although no special breakthroughs in these areas have yet occurred, the secret of Modi’s popularity is that he at least started these programs.”

They also point to the government’s traditional (and growing) appetite for playing a strong directive role in the economy.

In November 2016, the government took out a hefty 86 percent of all cash out of circulation as part of an experiment to root out corruption only to face a liquidity crisis. Combined with a campaign against “shadow economy,” the measure seriously undermined production and employment, slowed down the pace of economic growth, “and also reduced tax revenues.” A sweeping reform of the national tax system, undertaken in 2017, provoked a months-long “collapse” of the taxation sphere and sparked mass-scale protests.  According to HSBC, India’s GDP growth rate has been steadily declining since mid-2017. According to Bloomberg and the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the volume of new investment projects in India has also been declining since 2015. The downturn began a year after Modi came to power. Amid the continuous growth of the Asian countries’ role in the global economy, finance and trade, the current slide of the region’s second largest economy appears very contradictory and illogical.

Narendra Modi and his opponents are fiercely arguing whether the current economic downturn is cyclical or structural. Economists are also debating on this issue. “The government apparently believes the recession is cyclical.” Modi’s critics argue that despite “consistent cuts in interest rates” and a budget deficit “of 102 percent in 2019,” the economic slowdown has been going on for several years now, Asia Times wrote.  Mounting problems in the economy even forced New Delhi to withdraw from negotiations on the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) after seven years of talks, “literally just a step away from signing the agreement.” According to Indian business publications, RCEP, which was negotiated between ASEAN and the bloc’s six free trade agreement partners, “will now be dominated by China. India’s membership in RCEP would have been tantamount to a trade agreement with China; something Indian industry is unprepared for now.”

Leading Indian economists believe, however, that pulling out of the RCEP agreement will benefit the Indian economy only if the government “immediately” starts to reform the land, labor and capital markets. New Delhi should also focus on encouraging competition, deregulating the economy and facilitating market access if it doesn’t want to see its regional commodity circulation seriously falling behind China’s, and its capital and technology exports, as well as state financing of domestic companies’ overseas projects, remaining significantly inferior to Chinese.

Russia’s chances of playing an important role in the positive transformation of its long-standing strategic partner look pretty good. In geopolitical terms, we are talking about the dialogue between the leaders of Russia, India and China, which resumed in December 2018. All three parties consistently emphasize the partnership nature of their relations as well as their shared interests and goals “in the field of development.”

Economy-wise, the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs believes that Moscow can do a lot in terms of helping its Indian partners on issues ranging “from high technology and defense, to building modern infrastructure and poverty reduction.” This, however, requires a qualitative improvement in the existing model of interaction to bring it fully in line with the realities of 21st century global politics, all the more so amid attempts being made by a number of countries, primarily the US, France and Israel, to sidestep Russia on the Indian track.

Right now, it looks like India could be one of the first major world powers to solve a super-complex dilemma of successfully dovetailing the priorities of security and national development. Despite all the shortfalls of his first term in office, Narendra Modi and his team have managed to even expand their support base among voters from across the country’s political spectrum.  The government now has to prove its ability to kick start the country’s long-term internal development, while simultaneously move toward making India a system forming power in South Asia.

From our partner International Affairs

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