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India’s Central Asia Policy: Needs Substance Not Style

Dr. Bawa Singh

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India and Central Asia Republics (CARs), had been enjoying civilizational and geo-cultural relations since the recorded history. In the 21st century, these geo-cultural ties were further cemented when India became one among the first countries to engage diplomatically with the newly independent region.

In the meantime, India has signed a number of agreements and exchanged high level visits. Thus, the Indian foreign policy has been characterized by the cordial relationship which is based on robust political, economic and cultural, technical partnership with the region.

The Central Asia region is holding geostrategic location. The CARs has been sandwiched between the two nuclear powers, China and Russia. It is a major link between Asia and Europe. It has been sharing borders with the turbulent regions and countries like the Middle East Asia, Turkey, Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang province. Several challenges like terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking etc. are some of the problems where both the regions are at stake. Along with rich energy resources, Central Asia is also comprised of about 75 million people. Thus, from the geostrategic and geo-economic point of view, it is embedded in the Indian calculus.

Since 1990s, the India’s economy is on the higher trajectory and on account of this, it is world’s fastest growing energy market. It is also expected that India would become the second-largest importer of energy by 2035, leading to 18% of the rise in global energy consumption. The major part of its energy demand was met from the Middle East Asia. Coincidently, the Middle East Asia has become the ‘Arc of Turbulent’ with the end of the Cold War. In view of this, India has to diversify its energy sources. The Central Asia contains gigantic resources like Kazakhstan is having the world’s largest offshore oilfield. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are one of the world’s top gas fields.

Indian Policy Towards Central Asia

In order to heighten the political, economic and cultural ties with the Central Asian republics, India has launched several policies and official frameworks such as “Extended Neighbourhood”, “Immediate and Strategic Neighbourhood” and “Look North Policy” and the latest ‘Connect Central Asia’ to redesign its foreign policy vis-à-vis the region. These policies sound very good, but if India is compared vis-à-vis other ‘New Great Game’ powers like the China, the US and Russia, it is at the lowest ebb in terms of trade and investment.

Modifying India’s Central Asia Policy

In the year 2015, the Indian PM Modi visited the all the countries of the region. Several agreements have been with Central Asian countries. Between Kazakhstan and India, the signed agreements included nuclear deal, uranium supply agreement, defense cooperation, coordination on counterterrorism and economic and business cooperation. Between India and Tajikistan, agreements included cultural cooperation for the years 2016-18 and Exchange of Note Verbale (NV) to set up Computer Labs in 37 schools. With Uzbekistan, India has identified areas of cooperation like atomic energy, defense and trade. With Kyrgyzstan, India signed agreement like combating international terrorism and other crimes. And lastly, with Turkmenistan seven agreements have been signed like the terrorism, organized crime and illegal drug trafficking.

PM Modi’s economic diplomacy is mainly focused on energy as India’s energy needs has been growing on account of its rapid economic expansion. Indian total imports of oil and petroleum has increased from 11.68 MTs (1970-71) to 171.73 MTs (2011-12). This import is expected to grow from the current levels of 72% to 83% by 2030. The Indian Express (2015, July 11), reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for the early implementation of the $ 10 billion TAPI gas pipeline project.

India-Central Asia: Missing Economic Link          

Trade is always taken as major criteria for determing the intensity of the relations between the two countries or the region. The trade between India and CARs during the last four years has been remained at the lowest ebb. On the contrary, the trade of the CARs vis-a-vis China, Russia and US have exponentially grown, which is stood at $50.27 billion, $31.24 billion & $33.42 billion respectively in the year of 2013 (UNCOMTRADE, 2013). Whereas on the other hand, India’s total trade in the same period is stood at US$ 1.24 billion which is comparatively smaller in size. This clearly indicates that economically, India is missing in the region.

Trade Trends of Central Asia with US, China, Russia and India ($ billions)

Years China Russia US India
2010 24.98 21.43 23.44 0.49
2011 39.60 28.34 30.35 0.68
2012 45.94 31.98 34.00 0.74
2013 50.27 31.41 34.2 1.24

Source: UNCOMTRADE 2015

Challenges for Indian Foreign Policy

The lack of land connectivity between both the sides is the major challenges for Indian economic diplomacy. In order to overcome this challenge, connectivity has remained the main focus of the PM Modi. During his visit, PM Modi said,

“We can create a vast network of physical and digital connectivity that extends from Eurasia’s northern corner to Asia’s southern shores. The International North-South Transportation Corridor is a step in that direction.”

There are several other challenges being faced by the Indian foreign policy towards the Central Asia. These challenges include terrorism, small arms, drug trafficking, nuclearization, lack of land connectivity, different political regime, corruption etc. Having several policies and programs on board, the economic ties yet to take place.

Secondly, the major focus of Indian policy is to enhance energy cooperation with the region. India has been a partner of number of energy projects particularly like TAPI and IPI. The TAPI gas pipe line goes back to 1990, despite after a long time, it has not moved till date. Similarly, on account of geopolitical dynamics, IPI has also met the same fate. Despite the Iran government’s urgency of the Chabahar project, it has not been moving the speed, as it is desired by the hosting country. Similarly the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) signed way back in 2002, has not been initiated yet.

At last not the least, it can be concluded that despite have civilizational and geocultural ties, Indian foreign policy has not been remained successful in achieving its geo-economic and geostrategic goals in the region. Despite the economic diplomacy towards the region, the trade and investment are at the lowest ebb. The major projects like TAPI, IPI, Chabahar and INSTC are lingering on without any success till date. There are several areas, where both India and CARs having lot of potential to heighten their cooperation. Market is still untapped on both sides which is needed to be explored. Above and all, the delaying in execution of the projects of energy and connectivity, will outfox it form the ongoing the New Great Game. Thus, it is highly recommended that, India has to translate its policies and programs into reality.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Kashmiri Lives Matter

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Inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter” after the murder of George Floyd, on 25 May 2020. Many other movements are gaining momentum against discrimination around the world. Kashmiri movement for their legitimate right of self-determination, also gained momentum. Kashmiris are struggling for their rights for 72 years, but India not only denying their legitimate right but using accessive force to suppress them.

Starting from Times Square, New York, on the 5th of August 2020,  to almost all capitals of Europe and other parts of the world, Kashmiri people staged protests, agitations, demonstrations, to express their anger and dissatisfaction with the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. They were displaying banners with various slogans like Kashmir Lives Matters, Freedom for Kashmir, Condemned India atrocities, Respect for human lives, etc. Not only the Kashmiris, but local people also joined them in such protests. Mainstream Media, around the world, has covered their protests and published or broadcasted the Indian atrocities and brutalities in Kashmir. Seminars, Conferences, were held to address the Kashmir issue in many countries.

PM Narendra Modi, won the Elections based on anti-Muslim and Anti-Pakistan slogans and it was expected that his policies will be anti-Muslims and Anti-Pakistan. But PM Narendra Modi has not calculated well the consequences. Today, the Indian economy collapsed, society has been divided, law and order situation deteriorated, Government rit has weakened, insurgencies go momentum. Simply India as a country may not survive long and may disintegrate soon.  PM Modi is pushing India toward disaster. His Nazi thinking and extremist policies have ruined India already. India used to be known as a secular state, but today India is an extremist Hindu state, with no rights to minorities and low caste Hindus.

One year ago, on the same day, the 5th of August 2019, India revoked its own constitution Articles 370 and 35A and annexed Kashmir. The merger of Kashmir and Ladakh to Union territory ends the special autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, which is a disputed territory, recognized Internationally. The UNSC passed dozens of resolutions to resolve the Kashmir Issue. But India is not implementing the UNSC resolutions and became defaulter to the UN, which is a criminal act.  Kashmir is a disputed territory among China-Pakistan and India. The Unilateral actions taken by India angered the stakeholders and offended the international community.  It is a clear breach of international law and fair practices of the civilized world. It was Indian international commitment, the legal binding under Delhi agreement 1952, to implement the UNSC resolutions.

India is spoiling the peace of the whole region. It has initiated arms race in this region and procuring more and more lethal weapons. It should be known that the region is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. India, China, Pakistan, and Russia, al are nuclear countries. Any misadventure may cost the human lives of almost half of the world population.

Indian cross-border terrorism and aggressive acts are increasing and threatening the neighboring countries. India has disputes with all of the regional countries, like Nepal, China, Bhutan, Sikkim, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Almost nine hundred thousand troops of the Indian army, empowered with draconian laws,  have illegally occupied the territory and are keeping the 8 million people of Kashmir under siege while violating with impunity the International Humanitarian law and practices. Kashmir has become the largest jail. Indian troops are using lethal weapons, cluster bombs, pallet guns, and perpetrating Sexual offenses, destroying Muslim religious and private properties. Whereas the Kashmiri civilians are innocent and unarmed. They are protesting and agitating peacefully for their legitimate right of self-determination, sanctioned by UNSC in 1948. Although UNSC resolutions are legally binding on India, but, India is delaying and not implementing UNSC resolutions passed in 1948. 

Estimated killings so far are said to be 352, including 75 unarmed civilians, 196 freedom fighters, and also 81 from the occupational forces. 170000 persons have been arrested including old-aged, women, and under-aged children. The top political leadership has been arrested or house arrest. The activists and youth are arrested are shifted to detention camps. Children are separated from parents and messed in detention camps. It’s now a year since the curfew was clamped. There is a severe shortage of food, medicines, fuel, and electricity and the basic necessities of daily life. The phone and internet services are suspended. Travelling is restricted, especially media persons and foreigners.  Kashmir is totally cut-off from the rest of the world, and blacked-out, with no flow of information. Only state media is reporting the censored reports. Whatsoever is reported in the International media is only a fraction, as leaked information is always limited only. The actual situation on the ground is rather much more severe and dangerous. Kashmir is split into two Indian union territories as Kashmir and Ladakh.Against the wishes of the stakeholders. This is the worst type of tyranny being faced by the helpless people of Kashmir in the history of humankind.

For 72-years of Indian atrocities and brutalities, have forced Kashmiris to seek a merger with Pakistan. The more force India will use to suppress Kashmiris, the more hate will increase against India, and the more love for Pakistan will increase. The ultimate solution to Kashmir is the merger with Pakistan according to UNSC resolutions through holding a plebiscite. India is granting domicile to non-Kashmiris, especially Hindus from other parts of India, to change the demography of Kasmir. India wanted to change the Muslim majority of Kashmiris which stands 87% to the Hindu majority. India failed to control Kashmir for 72-years, and will never keep occupation forever. India has to leave Kashmir, the sooner, the better. The spirit of Kashmiris can not be suppressed by any means, they are determined to keep their struggle till victory. People of Kashmir are brave, bold, and committed. No one can suppress them.  Salute to the brave men and women from Kashmir, who are fighting with the huge Indian Army and yet not surrender. Their struggle will reach a logical end with Victory only.

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South Asia

Indian Imbalanced Balance

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A serious crisis is looming over journalism in India, which is increasingly vested in the hands of authority. On the one hand, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee asks for “discussion and dissension” for a vibrant democracy. “There should always be room for the argumentative Indian, and not the intolerant Indian. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public,” Mukherjee said while paying his regards to Ramnath Goenka – former press baron. On the other hand, Indian media has lost its credibility regionally as well as internationally owing to quality of Indian public discourse. According to criminal lawyer Rebecca Mammen, “The true test of a robust democracy is the independence of its media. Over the past few years our media has become the mouthpiece of the party in power. Coupled with the fact the corporate owners of media houses share close links with the government, the Indian media has tragically lost its voice.”

The mainstream media is vested in the hands of a selected few and refuses to question authorities.         The ‘Reporters Without Borders’ annual Press Freedom Index, which was released on April 20, has ranked India at 142 among 180 countries reflecting poor credibility due to pressures by government. According to the Report, the Indian media is reeling under a Hindu nationalist government, which has time and again tried to gag journalists. Moreover, India’s influential TV news channels function largely as government mouthpieces.A European non-governmental group “EU disinfo lab” had uncovered a network of 265 ‘fake’ news outlets sponsored by an Indian network to influence the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) with content against to Pakistan.

The crisis in the Indian media will have deeper impacts on Indian democracy. With a feeble opposition, weak institutions, and an inadequate media, Indians have no checks and balances. For instance, maligning Pakistan High Commission, Colombo(PAHIC) during a recent Indo-China conflict was an Indiangovernment instructed media strategy to divert public opinion from their failures in North. In other words, media strategy inadvertently defines poor political will of India to stand up to China while feel strong enough to bully the smaller neighbourhood.

The sane voices in Indian media have continuously shrinking space.Having almost 400 news channels, Indian media has failed to highlight serious matters, such as beef ban, human rights violations in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IoJK), and numerous discriminations against Indian Dalits. “Over the last few years – especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the general election of 2014 – the Indian mainstream media has allowed itself to be undermined by the transcendent political power that he represents,” said Pamela Philipose, The Wire. “A new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media,” says Philipose.

In a similar manner, a political scientist Giles Vernier argues that “a new note of muscular nationalism has crept into media discourse.  Also conspicuous is the curbing of dissent and the rise of the surveillance state – developments that bode ill for the independence of the Indian media.One reason why we don’t see much criticism in the media is that the government, in the person of the Prime Minister, has the ability to completely dominate the media’s agenda, by saturating the public and media sphere with the message, image, and his voice.”

Journalists should be critical of government’s handling of its internal and external matters to keep it on the right track. TV channels will call speakers of their choice, who would heavily lean to one side of discussion and pretend that it is balanced.

In the current atmosphere, with enraptured legislative issues and social perspectives, with populist political leadership, with developing bigotry against minorities and dissenters, the media can and ought to be an encouraging sign for liberal, mainstream and law based thoughts, yet additionally to guarantee that outrageous perspectives does not get into the papers or on TV. Rather, the media in India has become some portion of the issue, either excitedly partaking in preparing of contempt against the helpless, or carrying on in an insincere path by permitting the most exceedingly terrible components a free run of significant reality on their foundation. Whole ages of columnists are growing up with the possibility that they are playing out an important help; they have scarcely any good examples to gaze upward to, since their own managers, who should know better, are either sold out, ideologically dedicated to fanaticism or are indecisive, without firm feelings or just fearful. In any case, Indian reporting is in a profound emergency, all for the sake of ‘balance.’

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South Asia

This is Pakistan

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With an unprecedented progress in politico-socio-economic domains, Pakistan has a new face in the world. It has not only successfully corrected misplaced perceptions about it, but the internal and external circumstances around it have also changed, which has helped shaping Pakistan its renewed look according to changed regional and international environment. The successes at the security front has also led to the economic progress in Pakistan.

In result of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and anti-extremism operations, it lost tens of thousands of people, including soldiers and civilians. Pakistan’s strong resolve together with sustained military operations against terrorist elements, however, brough back peace and stability in the country. According to Security Report 2019 by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), “Pakistan witnessed a further decline in the number of terrorist incidents and consequent casualties… terrorist attacks this year decreased by around 13 percent as compared to 2018.” The report clearly depicted a gradual decrease in terrorist attacks and casualties since 2009. In this regard, Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) helped eliminating the menace of terrorism from the country. The improved security situation in the country resulted in the economic dividends in the shape of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan is also appreciated for its nuclear material safety. In its annual report, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) – a leading United States non-proliferation watchdogdivulged that “Pakistan’s improvements in the Security and Control Measures category are significant because strengthened laws and regulations result in durable boosts in Pakistan’s score as well as provide sustainable security benefits.” While appreciating Pakistan’s further improvement in nuclear materials’ safety, Laura Kennedy, a former United States diplomat, tweeted that “one welcome bit of news reported by #NTIindex is that #Pakistan ranked as most improved in security of those countries holding nuclear materials.”

Pakistan’s fight against Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) is used as a role model by developed countries of the world. The Government of Pakistan (GoP) revealed a PKR 1.13 trillion relief package to help to the powerless and securing industry and other organizations. The concept of ‘Smart Lockdown’ also reaped its dividends and Pakistan has come out from the dangers of this deadly virus.

On the socio-economic front, Pakistan is making progress as well. For instance, the current account deficit has reduced from US$ 20 billion to US$ 3 billion together with a significant decrease in trade and fiscal account deficits. The stalled construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam has also been approved, which will result in additional water supplies for better agricultural production. There has been increase in the rights activism i.e., Transgender Pride March, Aurat March, Climate March, and Student Solidarity March. Women sports stars of Pakistan won international medals and recognitions.For instance, 8-year-old Pakistani Taekwondo star Ayesha Ayaz won a bronze medal for Pakistan at the 7thFujairah Taekwondo Open Championship in United Arab Emirates (UAE); Hajra Khan won 3 Guinness World Records; Mahnoor Shahzad won the Annapurna International Badminton Tournament; Nida Dar became the first Pakistani woman to sign a deal with an international cricket league, Sydney Thunder; Shahida Abbasi from Hazara won one of the total two gold medals for Pakistan at the South Asian Games 2019; and Mallak Faisal Zafar won first position in the Basic Novice Girls II category at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck 2019. Test cricket also returned to Pakistan.

Culturally, Pakistan is projecting itself more prominently. Pakistani celebrities are mamking it to international fashion weeks – Mushk Kaleem and Alicia Khan walked the ramp for Milan Fashion Week 2019. Pakistani film Laal Kabootar won the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival for the Best Feature Film Award. ActressMahira Khan was appointed National Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, strengthening the bond between the people of Pakistan and the international community. Moreover, Mehwish Hayat was appointed ambassador to UK based international humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal.

On the entrepreneurial front, 9 Pakistanis made it to Forbes’ coveted 30 under 30 Asia list: Ahmed Rauf Essa: Founder, Telemart; Karishma Ali, President, Chitral Womens Sports Club; Laila Kasuri, Water Analyst, Global Green Growth Institute; Hanaa Lakhani, Hasan Usmani,Gia Farooqi and MoneebMian, Cofounders, Roshni Rides, Zain Ashraf, Founder, Seed Out; and Zainab Bibi, Founder, Pakistan Society for Green Energy (PSGE).

Regionally, Pakistan’s foreign policy is paying its dividends. Pakistan’s relations among Iran, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka, Russia, United States and others has improved significantly. Overall, there is many encouraging events happening in and around Pakistan.

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