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The Congress Party should stand boldly with their Foreign Policy to advise the BJP Government

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During the 2009 summit in Sharm-el Sheikh in a Joint Statement with Pakistan, Prime Minister Gilani stated that Pakistan had some information concerning threats in Baluchistan (mea.gov.in). In my perception, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh would allow this with the fully intention and make Pakistan aware that (India’s eye on Baluchistan).

The high level criticism came from the BJP against the Congress Party and Dr Singh government. Former minister of external affairs and finance Mr Yeswanth Sinha speaking in the parliament debate lashed out Dr Singh’s administration and said, “All the waters of seven seas will not wash the shame at Sharm-el-Sheikh” (news18.com).

Now Prime Minister Narandera Modi speaks about Baluchistan’s human rights during his independence address. What makes Modi copy Dr Singh’s idea of dealing with Pakistan by mentioning Baluchistan’s human rights issues? After the August 2016 Independence Day speech by Modi, the BJP ministers are still searching for more diplomatic words. In particular, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Law and Justice & Information Technology, has been compelled to give an explanation about Modi’s perception on Baluchistan. The issue remains that they are trying to defend what exactly Modi had said, rather than trying to differentiate the speech with Dr Singh’s joint statement in 2009. My point is that whether Dr Singh had clearance to add the ‘B’ word in the joint statement or if Modi’s speech did on Independence Day, it is clear that Modi had taken the idea from Dr Singh. Instead of shying away from the scene, the Congress Party should boldly stand by their policy and address to the public that the BJP is replicating and repeating their ideas.

I think former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is aware of this issue and has politely yielded to the joint statement. This informs Pakistan that if interference continues within Kashmir then the threat level for Baluchistan will increase. Dr Manmohan Singh is not a realist. However, by allowing the addition of the word “Baluchistan” to the joint statement, he demonstrated that if required, India could change its tone from defensive to offensive retaliation. Silently, Dr Manmohan Singh exercised a realist approach to our neighbour in his own humble way. At the time, Dr Singh’s perception was not directly recognised by the BJP opposition.

The BJP claims that including the ‘B’ word in the joint statement draws more attention to India’s involvement. Along with opposed Dr Singh’s approach, the BJP also failed to cooperate with the government in handling Pakistan with a more realist grasp and accusing them of giving Pakistan the ability to raise the issue across international forums.

Voicing the ‘B’ word in the joint statement demonstrates India’s capacity, capability and sacrifice, an important move that the BJP opposition has failed to recognize. However, Dr Singh knows that India will never compromise any of India’s interests, in any forums. But the fears of the BJP’s domestic politics do not burden Dr Singh. Dialogue is the only option to resolve the outstanding issue with Pakistan at this point. However, in the prism of realism, tackling Pakistan should not be an outdated policy. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi considered this approach during the East Pakistan crisis and it lead to the 1971 war. India had no other choice but to allow the flow of refugees from the former East Pakistan, which forced India to engage in the war with Pakistan, and subsequently the liberation and birth of Bangladesh.

Articulating the ‘B’ word in 2009 and 2016 really reflects on our large neighbour China. China’s military officials may not have fully considered this, but the diplomatic circles in Beijing are definitely heavily involved in the element of backup, extending interests and researching the region further. The reason China has spent huge sums of money on the Gwadar Port in particular corresponds with Beijing’s ‘one China one belt policy’, and this is considerably concentrated within the province of Baluchistan.

Foreign policy in India has never been considered seriously by national parties for internal policy discussion. These issues are only discussed with select senior leaders. Many in the party, including senior leaders and cadres refuse to discuss these issues because they are dispassionate, indifferent or show an apathetic attitude. Well, in democracy any move of the ruling party policy would be questionable by the opposition and disused in the social media. However, refusing to address certain issues and opposing policies to gain cheap political victory is never advisable. The BJP, have taken this a step further, particularly with their actions toward prime ministerial candidate Modi and opposing any initiative taken by Dr Singh during 2013-14.Now the BJP is struggling to handle the opposition because they are blindly against the Congress Party’s noble notions under the Dr Singh administration. And, thanks to social media, the youth go this country find it easier than ever to compare and enjoying the dramas of the ruling elite.

What should the Congress Party do? They should not feel that they are the ‘B’ team of the BJP government on foreign policy articulation. First, the Congress Party stands strongly with their ideas and that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Congress Party should take pride in knowing that their ideas were replicated and reproduced by the Modi government. The best example would be GST or Adhar card. Baluchistan’s struggle was really felt by the Congress Party during the Dr Manmohan Singh administration, but failed to take off because the BJP’s stiff opposition.

Second, apart from Dr Singh’s doctrine to add the ‘B’ word in the joint statement, Modi has spoken about Baluchistans influence from National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval.

“You do one more Mumbai, you lose Baluchistan” said by Ajit Doval.

Can Modi accomplish what Indira Gandhi did in 1971 with Pakistan? The Congress Party should be able to comfortably and directly ask this to Modi. The BJP government under Modi looks like a paper tiger. The Congress Party should not shy away from its responsibility in suggesting policy directions to the government. As the principle opposition, the Congress Party shoulders more responsibility, and further, i regards to foreign policy may be able to offer more to the Modi government.

Third, the action and direction taken by Dr Singh in 2009 must now by followed by the Modi government in order for the Congress Party to catch up, push forward and be victorious. There is no time like the present, and this applies to the Congress Party taking the issue to the media. This is the time to celebrate not to oppose the government. What Modi has done for Baluchistan’s human rights, was originally the idea of Dr Singh. The Congress Party should not make the same mistakes as the BJP in 2009 with opposing the ruling party. Media reports suggest that there is much confusion surrounding the Congress Party leaders about the issue of Baluchistan. The Congress Party should speak in one voice, particularly about the foreign policy matters with the government. The reason would be when they form the next government, the Congress Party would be in a very comfortable position to continue policies advocated by them now as the opposition.

Fourth, the external affairs ministry under Prime Minister Modi is only exercising the return of stranded Indians from the Middle East, with no policy making work given to the Cabinet Minister Susma Suraj, one of the senior leaders of the BJP.   As Modi’s own strategy for dealing with Pakistan was tried, tested and failed, instead of admitting his policy mistakes Prime Minister Modi said; “we should be careful while dealing with Pakistan”. In handling Pakistan since 2014, the BJP government had not only failed but now searches for new policy guidance, a step taken on the road paved by Dr Singh in 2009.

And finally, if Modi pronounces Baluchistan again in a statement, that is not wrong. But, Congress Party officials should remind the BJP that this was their policy. What and how the Modi government will raise the human rights issue of Baluchistan and further, how Pakistan would respond, will be developments that to be patiently waited for and watched carefully. In addition, the Congress Party will be closely monitored by the public. Advising and suggesting the government on sensitivity issue scores better reactions and votes from the public. Shy away from these, and the Congress Party will not receive any positive results or rewards at this juncture.

Antony Clement is a Senior Editor (Indo-Pacific), Modern Diplomacy, an online journal. He is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He is currently working on two books - “The Best Teacher” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times”. His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia. His recent book is “Discover your talents.”

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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