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Modifying India’s South Asia Policy: Needs to Focus on Neighbours

Dr. Bawa Singh

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The objective of the Modi’s foreign policy is to improve and enhance bilateral ties with the South Asian countries. PM Modi had also held talks with all the heads individually on the second day of swearing-in-ceremony. During these meetings, he had strongly advocated for trade, connectivity, infrastructure, transit facility cooperation among the South Asian countries.

On the eve of 18th SAARC Summit, Kathmandu (2014, November 26-27), he also exhorted his counterparts to give greater focus on the people to people contacts, better connectivity, commercial linkages among the South Asian countries.

India has been following good neighbourly policy even before its independence. This argument could be substantiated by the argument of Rajkumar (1952: 46), who quoted Jawaharlal Nehru’s first speech delivered in December 1927, wherein he said, “The people of India have no quarrel with their neighbours and desire to live at peace with them.” The Nehruvian foreign policy had been consistently followed by the successive governments of India. In the post-Cold War era, India has emerged as a global player not only in terms of politics rather economically as well. The former Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao (2009-2011), has argued and accepted that, ‘peaceful neighbourhood is mandatory for the realization of India’s vision of economic growth.’ Realizing the geopolitical and geostrategic imperatives, India has invoked all the neighbouring countries to be partners and contribute to the regional growth and prosperity (MEA, Annual Report 2005: 1).

Conceptualization of India’s South Asia Policy

Michael (2013) has argued that the inspiration and philosophy of Indian foreign policy has been derived from Kautilya’s Arthashastra, that is believed to be as a manual of statecraft. In this manual, the incumbent or the potential king has been guided, how to rule a state or what rules are supposed to be followed to gain geopolitical and geostrategic space in terms of power in the neighbourhood. Some of the scholars have argued that the Indian foreign policy’s has been based on the philosophy of Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Modifying the South Asian Policy

India has been pursing good neighbourly policy vis-à-vis South Asian countries, however, it is failed to convince them of the same. The leadership of these countries are of the firm opinion that India has always been pursuing hegemonic policy. Moreover, the relations with almost all the countries have been remained off the keel. Since India has been emerging as one of the economic powers, thus, it realized that peaceful neighbourhood is a prerequisite of its economic development and prosperity in general and for the region in particular.

Even before the formation of his government, designated prime ministerial candidate Modi had outlined foreign policy priorities during a Network 18 TV Programme: ‘Think India, Dialogue Forum,’ in 2013 as:

•Improving relations with immediate neighbours.

•Introduction of para diplomacy.

•Enhance of bilateral trade with all the countries.

In order to show his priority and interests towards South Asia, PM Modi has taken the fist and unique step by inviting all the heads of the South Asian countries during the swearing-in-ceremony. Moreover, it was believed that it would also undo the criticism of his being hardliner. The policy pursued by PM Modi was christened as the Neighbourhood First Policy, which was formalized and concretized by the first speech of Indian President Pranab Mukherji (2014, June 9) and PM Address to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. By highlighted the place of neighbours in Indian foreign policy PM Modi said, “A nation’s destiny is linked to its neighbourhood. That is why my government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with its neighbours.”

PM Modi had visited almost all the South Asian countries in order to enhance multifaceted engagements with these countries. Bhutan was the maiden foreign visit of PM Modi. He had emphasized on building economic ties between both the countries. The other areas of cooperation included hydro-electric deal, the inauguration of the India-funded Supreme Court of Bhutan building. The bilateral relations was termed as “unique and special relationship.” Nepal was visited by PM after the long hiatus of 17 years. This visit has created an unprecedented enthusiasm among the Nepali public and politicians. He became the first foreign leader to address the constituent assembly of Nepal. PM Modi has also declared a long list of gifts to Nepal. He advocated that borders must be bridges not barriers,” between both the countries. The bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh has also improved a lot under the Neighbourhood First Policy of the Modi government. The controversial issues between both the countries have been sorted out like boundary issue through the land boundary agreement (LBA) and the Teesta Water Sharing Pact. Bangladesh has also been cooperating in eliminating the extremist groups from North-East of India. Similarly, Afghanistan has been figuring very prominently in this policy. It is called as the first strategic partner of India. India became the fifth largest donor to Afghanistan. It has invested substantial FDI of US$ 2 billion in Afghanistan. Very recently, parliament building built by Indian assistance was handed over to Afghanistan. Afghan people holds India in a very high esteem. Good neighbourly relations have also been developed with Sri Lanka under the stewardship of PM Modi despite reservation about the Hambantota port and stationing of Chinese ship/submarines at the same port. Maldives is very important country for India’s maritime security architecture. Due to this, Maldives has been figuring very prominently in Indian neighbourhood policy.

Pakistan is a country which is difficult to deal with despite India’s Neghbourhood First Policy. The hardliner perception of PM Modi has substantially changed when PM Nawaz Sharif was invited during the swearing-in-ceremony of the former. During the talk between both the leaders, they looked forwarded to improve the relations by starting the dialogue at various levels which have been suspended even before taking over the governments by both the leaders. But despite India’s several efforts like visiting by PM Modi to Pakistan during the marriage of grand-daughter of PM Nawaz Sharif, conveying best wishes for birth day and surgery of PM Nawaz Sharif etc. The dialogues at all levels have been remained suspended. Intermittently, gun-firing on the line of control and international border distancing both the countries from each other. The Kashmir issue has been time and again raised in the international forum such as UNSC and GCC etc. which further frozen and enervated the bilateral relations. Notwithstanding of India’s good neighbourly policy, the bilateral relations have not shown any substantial improvements.

Conclusion

Since independence, India has been pursuing good neighbourly policy. This policy has been pursued consistently by the successive Indian governments. For the given of geography, demography, economy, good standing army, advance science and technology, the neighbouring countries have always been remained apprehensive of big brotherly and hegemonic attitude on part of India. Moreover, the controversial issues with India, further distanced these countries. For the given of such background, the peace and prosperity had been delusional in South Asia.

The incumbent government of India had realized that tranquility is the prerequisite of the economic development and prosperity of the region. Therefore, PM Modi launched neighbourhood first policy, focusing on good neighbourly relations encompassing economic, political, connectivity, energy, infrastructure, investment, science and technology and people to people contacts etc. In order to translate this rhetoric into reality, PM Modi did his best to realize it. But during the last two years, the relations with neighbouring countries have not shown concrete results, rather the relations with Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives have become bitter. Therefore, it is recommended that not only accommodation of the aspirations of neighbouring countries, rather their apprehension regarding its big brotherly and hegemonic attitude to be taken care of.    

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

Aftermath of US-Afghan Peace Talks

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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In Doha, the Capital of Qatar, an unprecedented meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. This meeting has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the Peace Talks meeting on the condition that the attendees will do so in a personal capacity. For the first time since the United States started negotiating with the Taliban last year, two Afghan government officials were face-to-face with Taliban representatives at US-Afghan Peace Talks. The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

The peace talks represents huge success keeping in view the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth. Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. Thus, it was a momentous development for Afghans as the Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. This indicated a remarkable shift in Taliban’s perspective towards women as they said that women would protect their rights within an Islamic framework. This change in perception had promoted a democratic framework in Afghanistan which resulted in a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Moreover, the participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another notable step. It was exceptional to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the threat of war and feared violence by the Taliban, discussed and consequently asked them for the violence to end and hope for a peaceful Afghan future. The Doha framework was conducive to discuss concerns that both sides felt comfortable to share and presented a satisfactory and excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could clearly raise their thoughts patiently and in a friendly manner.

With productive peace talks between Taliban and Afghan representatives, a remarkable conclusion was reached after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centres, schools, hospitals, educational centres, commercial markets, water dams, and workstations. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan. The recent non-binding agreement and continued peace talks with the Taliban are suggestive of a few points.

First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire as they stated that they also feel guilty for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans but they also said that they simply might not have an alternative strategy. Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan signify the group’s desire to build a new positive image. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was tumbled by the U.S. government for sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists.

To portray their positive image, the Taliban are currently involved in a public relations campaign to demonstrate they are not as unfathomable as the international media has represented them. Sitting openly with Muslims, non-Muslims, and female journalists, as well as dining with them, paints a convincing picture. This could be another tactic to have an influence on Afghans in order to achieve their goals, such as US NATO troop’s withdrawal and establishment of an Islamic State also. The Taliban will not easily abandon their goal of establishing an Islamic Emirate despite continued diplomatic efforts. But in case of a cease-fire, they will certainly function as a political party that might hold major offices in the Afghan government, will also mould the current criminal code of Afghanistan because they consider it as mixture of Roman-Germanic and Islamic sources which is not acceptable to them at all, hence they will work towards adamantly implementing what they view as Islamic Shariah law.

Keeping in view the above mentioned discussion, some hope of peace has been achieved despite corruption, poor internal situation and after 18 years of chaos and instability in Afghanistan. But a country which has undergone four decades of war needs time and space to restructure and overcome such differences. The present version of Afghanistan is altogether different from the pre-9/11 Afghanistan. From women empowerment and youth participating in different fields to technology in villages by which people share their concerns and happiness, via social media, the ideological transition in Afghanistan is incredible. Somehow violence has been switched by better systems through discussions and a positive comprehensive political approach. In an ideological governed nation like Afghanistan, which is predominately tribal, it is fundamental that its own people bring change through talks that concrete the path towards peace and prosperity. The peace in Afghanistan holds significant importance for the neighbouring countries also, but the path toward sustainable peace can be laid only once a cease-fire is agreed and adhered to by all the parties.

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South Asia

Pak-US Relations: The Way Forward

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Cooperation and Trust is the only way forward for Pakistan –US relations. Both countries have wasted a huge time experienced severe challenges since the relations become soars. Both nations have learned bitter lesson s during recent history and realized that both have suffered a lot due to the coldness of relations between the two countries. I believe it is never too late, always “There is a way if there is a will”. I think the time has reached to restore traditional trust and cooperation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to travel to the USA on 20 July. He will meet President Trump and senior administration during his stay in the USA. He is also accompanied by a powerful high-level delegation to make the decision at the spot instantly. However, Foreign Offices at Islamabad and State Department in Washington are working day and night to make this visit a turning point and historic success.  Expectations are high from both sides. The whole world has focused on this important visit and make their own opinion. Some of them are discussing the challenges, and others are focused on positive outcomes. I myself am very much optimistic.

It has been realized by the US administration that they cannot achieve strategic goals in this region without the instrumental role of Pakistan. And Pakistan has also suffered a lot, especially on the economic front without US support. It is in the best interests of the two nations to respect each other and cooperate with each other. The way out is trust and dialogue, but not the coercion and isolation.

Background

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a big supporter of the US and protected American interests in the region, including during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan was also a close ally in the “war on terror” after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Our history is full of success stories and excellent cooperation.

However, although Pakistan extends a cordial hand of friendship to the US whenever it needs support, the US always steps back when it no longer needs a Pakistani role on an issue, and relations decline. Pakistan has faced some of the toughest and strictest US-sanctions in history.

The two countries have always cooperated with each other on their common goals and interests, though the US has failed to value Pakistan’s interests and has kept on making demands. “Do more” has been the message of the US leadership in recent years, without understanding Pakistan’s capacity to comply, or its own interests. Our relations were transactional in nature and limited to assignment based. Once the project was completed, the relations were cooled down.

During the past few years, the US has blamed, coerced and threatened Pakistan. The US used all international forums to pressurize Pakistan like FATF, IMF, UNSC, etc. Extended hands of extreme friendship toward India, without considering the impact on Pakistan. The sacrifices of Pakistan being the ally of the US, especially casualties of 8000 Pakistani nations during the Afghan war and an estimated economic loss of US$ 250 billion, along with a gift of extremism, terrorism, gun culture, corruption, misgovernance, ethnic violence, and religious divide, etc. Of course, there exist some concerns on both sides, and some of these may be genuine, but some are based on misunderstandings only.

Afghan Situation

Currently, the major part of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Americans cannot walk freely and fearlessly in the streets of Kabul or any other big city. They are not safe except inside military camps. In practical terms, it is the Taliban who rule most of Afghanistan, not the US-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The US is the superpower, spent US$ trillions and used all possible lethal weapons along with best-trained troops, could not win the Afghan War. The US was fully supported by NATO and its allies, utilized their resources and involved India, but still failed to achieve any success.

A situation has been reached where the US administration has decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Whether they can withdraw easily? A big question mark? Afghanis bordered with China, Iran, Central Asia, and Pakistan. I think only Pakistan can help peaceful and honored the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

There is a convergence of interests in resolving the Afghan issue. Pakistan and the US may cooperate with each other in a very positive way. But, after the assignment is over, what will be the behavior of the US with Pakistan, past experience was never satisfactory.

But we are optimistic that the Visits of Imran Khan may bring a different outcome. We may cooperate on the Afghan issue and hope the US will respect Pakistan’s strategic interests with China, Russia and in the region. The US may not create hurdles in smooth execution of CPEC and acquisition of defense needs from any country including China and Russia. The US may not allow India to use American support against Pakistan, American weapons and technologies against Pakistan, American intelligence against Pakistan.

The way forward

However, Pakistan is a peace-loving country and our record in the UN peacekeeping force is admirable. Our sacrifices during the “war on terror” go beyond any other country.

We promote peace, stability, and prosperity all around the globe. Our role in this region is vital. Pakistan’s geostrategic importance is well known to the US. Think-tanks, civil and military leaders in the US also understand Pakistan’s importance.

Pakistan wants good relations with all countries and would like to extend all possible support and cooperation for achieving the common goal of “Peace, Stability, and Prosperity” throughout the world. We desire to work closely with all countries – including the US.

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South Asia

From Gujral doctrine to Modi doctrine

Punsara Amarasinghe

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardene*

The predictions made by larger number of academics based in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta about Indian General elections vouching that Narendra Modi would not get his second term as prime minister were shattered in reality as Modi could uphold his strong position better than the previous time resulting a steeping success of his Bharatiya Janatha Party which won 302 seats in Indian Lok Saba. The election result has palpably shown a shocking decline of India’s largest political party National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi as Congress could solely win only 52 seats in the legislature. The gob smacking results of the election seems to have given a clear picture of voters pulsation as the ground reality in the sub-continent albeit many pundits made pro congress predictions while accusing Modi’s poor economic policy and demonetization as two major factors behind the economic crisis India has been facing now.

However, the Himalayan image Indian premier has built up on himself among countries majority Hindu population has been mainly attributed to his stanch belief in Hindu ideology and his image seems to have depicted as a Hindu messiah who has come to regain the deserving place for nationalist forces. It is an important question to focus whether such ideological attitudes possessed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janatha Party would make impacts upon carving India’s foreign policy for next five years. Before reaching the position of Indian premier’s approach towards foreign affairs, particularly regarding South Asia, it becomes an interesting factor to trace how Indian foreign policy on South Asian states were shaped under Gujral Doctrine which happened to be a milestone in Indian foreign policy when it was rendered by minister of external affairs in Dev Gowda’s government in 1996. Basic mantra of Gujral doctrine affirmed India being the larger power in South Asia should not ask for reciprocity, but gives all that it could in good faith to the neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh. Notably Pakistan was excluded from this benefited category and it further elucidated that no country would allow to be used against the interest of another country in the region. One of another pivotal principle of Gujral doctrine was the noninterference of the internal affairs of the neighboring countries and resolving disputes through amicable bilateral negotiations.

This doctrine has been regarded as a strategy initiated by Mr. Gujral in reducing the influence of both Pakistan and China in a hostile manner while upholding a stable peace with other neighbors. In fact, this doctrine has played an indispensible role as a major principle for many prime ministers since 1996 though none of them had officially admitted the influence of Gujral doctrine over their foreign policy mechanism. Yet the changing winds of Indian foreign policy seems to be evident after the astonishing victory of Narendra  Modi and it would be an interesting task to assess how would Gujral doctrine prevail before the galactic persona of Modi as a leader who seeks much dominating authority in his foreign relations in South Asia. Since Modi became premier in India, its foreign policy was heavily affected by his personal aura and besides his troublesome past of his alleged involvement in the communal violence of Gujarat in 2002 during his tenure as its chief minister, many countries have received him with awe and Russia honored Modi by awarding him the highest state decoration called “Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle “in 2019.

In understanding his foreign policy for his second term, it becomes salient that his famous slogan “neighborhood first” is likely to continue, at least nominally. But the truth in reality is Narendra Modi’s sole personal image driven by his Hindutva ideology would make some lasting impacts in foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors and beyond it. The next notable factor appears to be stunning in Modi’s foreign policy is that contrary to India’s fervent position of defending secularism, the space for religious diplomacy has rapidly increased for past few years in India’s foreign policy. In the contest between China and India as rivals for decades, it is a question beyond doubt that Chinese political, militarily and economic powers are far ahead of India, yet in terms of soft power mechanism India has successfully forged ahead and Modi’s approach to his foreign relations too has taken a special interest in portraying India’s spiritual legacy to the world extensively as propaganda tool. For example during most of his foreign tours as premier, Modi paid frequent visits to major Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh sacred sites, also his active role in introducing June  21st as International Yoga Day shows his effort in propagating India’s ancient practice of meditation yoga as a soft power tool beyond the sub-continent.  The utmost veneration towards Indic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhismas an important feature in foreign policy had not been a principle practiced by previous Indian prime ministers since Nehru who was a doyen of secularism. On the other hand the notion of Hindutva stemming from Modi’s political party BJP and his personal ideology may confront with carving the foreign policy of India generally. The notion that Hindutva involves an obsession with national power needs to be placed in its historical context. V. D. Savarkar, M. S. Golwalkar, H. V. Sheshadri, and other stalwarts who developed its ideational foundations believed that the golden age of ancient Hindu civilization had been lost owing to material and moral weakness, which had brought it under the prolonged subjugation of Muslim and Christian/ British power. The great iconic personality he has been creating abroad as leader coming from a greater civilization and his ardor of using Hindi as the language of communication in his foreign state visits even though he is well versed in Hindi are the most notable examples showing the way of his foreign policy driven by Hidututva ideology.

Modi’s beginning of his first term was quite optimistic in terms of his attitude to India’s immediate neighbors in South Asia and this was visible as all South Asian leaders were invited to his inaugural ceremony in Delhi in 2014,but throughout his first term it was evident that Modi could not keep his grip over India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh where Chinese influence have appeared to be a predominant factor. For instance New Delhi was alleged to have some involvement in toppling former president Mahinda Rajapakse from power yet his successor Maithripala Sirisena and government of Sri Lankan premier Ranil Wickramasinghe have not been able to completely get rid of Chinese presence in Sri Lanka despite both personalities are known for their pro Indian policies. Modi” s last few months may have brought him a sudden success from the jingoistic voters from Hindu mainstream in India as last February India’s jet fighters crossed into Pakistan territory and engaged in aerial combat in first time in nearly 50 years. In India’s history since independence several prime ministers had confronted Pakistan militarily, yet the propaganda used by Modi convinced the people only he is able to keep India secure from Pakistan.

Cardinal approach likely to be adopted during Modi’s second term on Indian foreign policy has much idealistic feature to uphold Indian hegemony in South Asia and moreover Modi’s foreign policy would pay a much attention in using soft power as a greater strategy in India’s path to global governance. Rise of Xi Jinping as China’s powerful assertive president and his astute actions on expanding Belt and Road initiative across South Asia seems to have created a sneaking agitation in India for past few years. In such a situation Modi’s foreign policy for next four years five years would be decisive in terms of uplifting India’s image a key player.

*Eshan Jawardane is a Sri Lankan researcher currently lives in New Zealand. He holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and completed MA in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He served as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University for a short period. Eshan can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

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