Burhan-the prominent face of young, revived and local militancy in Kashmir valley, is no more today! Killed on July 8, by forces, which resulted in an unforeseen law and order problem and violent social unrest. For the majority of native Kashmiris’ he was an icon of unsuppressed youth demanding justice and adherence to freedom sentiment! Like the previous bloody uprisings of 2008 and 2010, the loss is, once again, huge as over fifty civilian killings resulted in the gory aftermath and hundreds of injured lie groaning in hospitals!
Burhan Muzaffar Wani – merely 22 years old – was in the prime of his youth and much more popular, especially in the southern belt of Kashmir, purely due to his being tech-savvy and having a wider popular support than many lesser known militant commanders in the past. The young boy was called the face of new and young militancy in Kashmir valley and became quite famous due to his liberal use of social media. Security apparatus and media called this social media using militant, the poster-boy of young militancy in Kashmir as he was considered the main recruiter and an attraction to lure young boys to militancy in the valley. The threat of increase in the local militancy still continues even after his death given the unrest, civilians killings, injures and a new wave of uprising in the valley, reacting violently to his death!
Situation from the Ground Zero
The situation on the ground is pathetic and mostly described as war like. While I had gone to the valley for a study on the Amarnath pilgrimage, I got stranded there due to the violent situation that constituted the explosive aftermath of Burhan’s killing. Being a local I interacted with friends and acquaintances around regarding the prevailing situation of uncertainty following the killing. I was learning a new lesson with each uninhibited response; I was getting from ground zero. The highest state of mass alienation, routine killings, deep pessimism about the system and hopelessness with the government and political institution has become a reality. Also the sheer frustration of the masses and anger over the violent and unpredictable situation prevailing is alarming. Most importantly, the legitimising of the all-pervasive culture of violence in the valley is becoming a dangerous trend.
“If twenty more civilians die, Kashmir issue will reach some solution”, said an elderly man. Such thinking reflects that there is a section of society in Kashmir who thinks only violence can solve their issues and more the killings of civilians, more will be the impact. People perceive so because they have been witnessing only violence since the onset of the armed conflict since 1989.A culture of violence has inadvertently shaped up to the core and is being legitimised even by the common masses, for they feel only violence is the way to change the system. They know the history and failure of all other means.
Youth are seeing this as yet another big uprising after the 2010 violent agitation, as both significant and different given the different pattern of violence, intensity of civilian killings, people’s rebellion and violent protests, an undying commitment to resist the brute power and above all, the scale of unmanageable violence and senseless loss of lives and injures.
“I am thirty three years old who has witnessed 2008 unrest and then 2010 unrest and all the other such big and small incidents since 1990s, but this time the situation is different and more dangerous. The valley is burning.” says an Engineering student. The rampant killing spree by forces and oft repeated crisis mishandling and failure of crowed control management has added fuel to the fire. The separatist camp keeps extending the shut down duration and people keep following. Militants keep dying and people gather in thousands for their funerals.
Mass Alienation and No Lessons Learnt by Security Apparatus & State
Undoubtedly, the inevitable fall-out of Burhan’s killing is the huge unrest in itself after the 2008 and 2010 uprisings. How it led to such a violent turn, couldn’t even the establishment guess in time? Why they couldn’t foresee the consequences given past instances is, in itself, quite shocking! Is it again a mere case of crisis mishandling in terms of the lack of following SOPs by security apparatus or the design of the peoples’ protest itself that has made it so violent? Now there are also debates on the ill-equipped and ill-trained forces which brave such protests with least protection available. Why this incident resulted in so many civilian deaths, even time will not tell because even the previous unrests are yet to be probed properly and nothing tangible has come out so far. The masses maintain that hardly anybody has been persecuted for civilian killings till date, be it any uprising in the past. Was killing the Hizb Commander a mistake or a pre-mediated/mature and well thought out strategy that proved too expensive? Perhaps yes. Could he have been captured alive to avoid the crisis or was it really so impossible? Why such an outpouring of mass anger and why so much of growing popular support for militancy in the valley even today? Is this so called movement or anger against the nation growing and why is the reach out to the vulnerable, not being made? Why Kashmiris support militancy and why so much of mass participation and sloganeering on militants’ funerals, are also significant issues that remain to be pondered over?
While the Centre maintains that such kind of reality is because of the vested interests that motivate youth, fuel anger or radicalise them, but the story from the ground seems altogether different! No one is fuelling anger as everyone is already angry and those who could have fuelled it further, are already under house arrest. People are forced to starve inside their homes due to curfew, communication blockade continues without any break and pellets and bullets have wreaked havoc everywhere. Are such acts the sign of the mass alienation that has increased multifold due to bad governance, which New Delhi denies outright or is it again the sentiment of secession from India that never dies down, the stories on the ground are a mixed bag of all this ? New Delhi cannot and should not brush aside every such situation as merely a law and order problem and as a solution announce economic packages or treat unemployment as responsible for the mess but approach youth with a political discourse. Where will it lead us to and where will it end, nobody knows! Why nobody knows because nobody not even the State government is clear about the methods of peace building on the ground but feels the pain only when it reaches the optimum. Are Kashmiri youth really so radically alienated that even death is not a big deal now? Perhaps yes. Because they continue their protests even when they know they may die. The situation that prevails is the writing on the wall and must be taken seriously by the power corridors.
The Sentiment and the Peoples’ Resistance
A local told me that there is a sentiment which can never die down in the valley. There are even youths who want their sisters to marry a boy who is nothing but ‘Tehreek Pasand’ (Movement sympathiser).What has actually shaped such a mentality and mass perception, is a question surely worth pondering over, is it not? Who is doing such perception management in the valley? Analysts only call it Islamic radicalisation but I think it is beyond that. The problem is political and cannot be treated with such labelling time and again. A complete political alienation exists on the ground and no readiness to listen to such angry voices remains a reality.
“The shocking thing to see is the stone versus bullet again and the same civilian causalities. Does it mean people have lost the fear of death and prefer honour and dignity?” questions a businessman. The question that still remains to be answered satisfactorily, is the success of stone pelting as a practice among youth and what leads to such anger time and again, crisis mishandling, use of much force or what? Why hasn’t been stone pelting been curbed so far? Who has failed and who will take responsibility for such a mess time and again? Are stones still the weapon of the weak and pellets/bullets the answer to such anger?
“Even rifles are snatched and to the worst police personnel are kidnapped by protesters. The situation has crossed all limits. People hate local police even a cop was pushed in Jhelum along with his vehicle resulting in his death. It cannot be worst than this. Has police failed local aspirations or is it facing the wrath of past mistakes?” asks a young chap musingly.
“The police feels caught between the devil and the deep sea, masses hate them and bosses push them against us”, emphatically maintains a protester.
Why is the local police, that too highly ill equipped, pitted against the angry mobs every day? Are they really trained to face such situations? I think no.
“The new wave of anger against the system is on its full flair”, says a medical student. Everyone is angry as everyone feels caged, frustrated due to shut downs and blockades, etc.
“The future of Kashmir whatever it may be, but this uprising (he calls it Ragda-3) is the severe one and may turn decisive” says a history student”. Will the state learn some lessons out of such repeated violence? Nobody is sure. There is a sentiment, a secessionist sentiment and an enemy perception that is not going to die down without a proper reach out and a political solution.
Burhan Backlash and the Culture of Violence
Burhans’s death led to many more deaths (over forty five and thousands injured) for his death is treated as a major setback to militancy in Kashmir and a big success for the forces. But the question as much debated in media now is that whether the new recruitment will increase or decrease due to this killing. If the poster boy was killed who will recruit now, some say, the dead Burhan will recruit, for emotion and inspiration may motivate the youth now. Sloganeering is everywhere, some raise pro-freedom slogans, some eulogise Pakistan while some attach religion via religious slogans to the Kashmir’s political issue. Amid this all, killings are routine these days and the people’s sympathy seems to be increasing and violence permanently becoming a part of culture as rightly guessed by eminent sociologist Prof. Dipankar Gupta in one of his recent articles on Kashmir.
“State has power and absolute power this time which is being used against us, we are still not afraid.” preaches a sloganeer defiantly during a protest. The question remains why is the power not used wisely and under control?
As a social analyst and being an insider, one can see a different turn now. People, especially those well educated, feel such killings are a mistake on the part of security forces as far as the bloody fallouts are concerned and therefore calling such killings a big breakthrough or major success, is a folly. State is not enough, public is sensitive and killings are still not replaced with arrests leading to such expensive fallouts. Should forces prefer arrests to encounters, remains a significant debate for the future.
The situation in the valley is obviously tense and everyone is scared. People don’t necessarily fear the security forces but fellow people for everyone has turned a rebel and violence against each other is almost legitimised due to sentiment, emotions and anger. I myself had to rush to the airport for the national capital at 2 am in the night just to escape agitating masses and stone pelting during the day time.
Of Pellets, Bullets and Political Appeals of Peace
Despite the appeals of maintaining peace by Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister and the CM, peace is yet to return to the valley that always keeps waiting for a tipping point to burn. Will only peace appeals do when so much needs to be done on the ground in every perspective be they Human Rights concern, political space, dialogue and consultation with youth, development and empowerment, etc, remains a big question? Frankly speaking, youth in Kashmir today don’t expect any such initiative from the State that can address the real problem on the ground. The State reacts with pellets, bullets and later with some appeals. The conundrum continues and bloodshed is the routine.
The Way Forward
For a perpetual peace building in Kashmir, even before engaging with the angry masses, State primarily needs to engage with those who know and understand Kashmir well from a strategy, administration and security perspective. State needs consultations with those who understand Kashmir well from its economic, security, social, political and crisis perspective. First and foremost the Centre should withdraw AFSPA at least on experimental basis in less vulnerable regions to make forces more accountable and give a sense of justice to the alienated people.
What will and who will stop this routine bloodshed in the valley, should be the concern of the central government at the moment as the State government, like the past governments, has failed to deliver so far? Therefore, who will speak to seething masses and build peace in the valley, I think the Centre should leave this job to the charismatic and worthy Governor of the State? The man who addressed thousands of people’s problems, that too in a shorter span of time during governor’s rule in the state and reached out to the flood affected Srinagar masses without any publicity and complications besides scores of other people, friendly and developmental works. Who has the capacity to bridge the hateful gap between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, I think only Mr Vohra is capable of that given his governance style and expertise. Who will restore peace and justice by delivering on the Human Rights abuse of the past, I think the Centre should form an expert commission on the subject so that the alienated masses feel that justice will be done and culprits will be brought to book eventually! Who will value peoples’ lives and who will stop this killing spree, I think the Centre needs the consultation of those who have served in Kashmir in uniform and those who understand the reality on the ground. The Centre should assign this job to the eminent defence stalwarts like Gen Syed Ata Hasnain, who introduced the ‘Hearts Doctrine’ in the valley and achieved much on goodwill and peace building front during his short tenure as Corps Commander in the valley. For his people friendly soldering he began to be called as the ‘Peoples General’ and therefore his recommendations should be valued and practiced on the ground to avoid such a massive collateral damage time and again.
The Centre has to ponder over it and think of a credible administration in Kashmir after all for how long will the reality be distorted or painted as a mere proxy war by Pakistan, law and order problem, unemployment as the only culprit, paid stone throwing, denying leadership of Hurriyat sections, Islamic radicalisation, etc,. Also Healing Touch theory should be practised on the ground not by those who only preach it but by the Centre itself and I am quite sure that the eminent Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, is quite capable of that.
After Wani’s killing, the Hizb (PoK based Militant outfit) appointed a new commander to continue what was being done. What does it indicate? Simply that this is not the end of the show, also reflected by the Pakistani PM’s statement on Kashmir. May be tomorrow the new Commander dies and the state will be back square one. Is the State ready for the future now or learning any lessons from the mess the state is in at the moment? I guess no. Given the magnititude of chaos and violence in the valley, I think making peace has fewer stakeholders than those producing more and more violence. We urgently need a permanent peace building strategy and solutions for Kashmir, not just some statements of sorrow and some appeals on television when Kashmir boils time and again.
The death of the poster boy after all does not mean the end of the violent story and it has already affected the fragile normalcy of the valley. The need of the hour is to address the issue politically for long lasting peace in the region and reaching out to the angry and alienated public, besides the separatist and mainstream leadership to build some peace on the ground. Let us see if Home Minister’s July 23 Kashmir visit makes some difference when separatists and other key stake holders are not meeting him and described his visit as a time buying act.
The article first appeared in Kashmir Times
The problem of pellet guns in Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.
The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.
Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.
Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.
Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.
Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.
The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.
Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir
Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.
The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.
In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.
Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.
Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions
Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.
There are a lot of ambiguities surrounding Pakistan’s nuclear program which are there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.
There have been news in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified as Pakistan’s growing arsenal and other similar reasons which have always been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.
However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.
Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.
Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat. The program is not for the state to pick and choose enemies and start non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its nuclear era.
Behind Indo-Pacific Vision
Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia. Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).
The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.
An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:
While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert
It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”
While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).
Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).
Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:
US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.
Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous. Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.
In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’
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