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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 researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He consults on academic development and he is currently working on two books - “Discover your Talents” 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.

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South Asia

What to do with Pakistani militant Hafez Saeed? Pakistan and China grope for ambiguity

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Recent remarks by several senior Pakistani officials suggest that Pakistan and China are groping with how to deal with globally designated Pakistani militant Hafez Saeed as the South Asian nation gears up for elections expected in July and risks being next month put on an international terrorism finance and money laundering watchlist.

The Pakistani-Chinese dilemma stems from a China-backed Pakistani refusal to fully implement designations of Hafez Saeed by the United Nations Security Council and the US Treasury.

The United States has put a $10 million bounty on the head of Mr. Saeed, who is believed to lead the outlawed militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as well as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an alleged LeT front, and is suspected of being the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed.

Pakistan has repeatedly put Mr. Saaed under house arrest, only to release him on court orders that asserted that there was insufficient evidence against him. The government has half-heartedly sought to seize Jamaat-ud-Dawa assets and prevent it from collecting donations through its charity arm, Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation.

Pakistan’s election commission has so far refused to register a political party established by Jamaat-ud-Dawa in advance of the elections. The refusal would not prevent party members from running as independents.

To reduce focus on Mr. Saaed, a senior aide to Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had asked Mr. Abbasi during a meeting on the side lines of last month’s Boao Forum to explore relocating Mr. Saaed to a Middle Eastern country.

“At a 35-minute meeting, at least 10 minutes of the discussion dealt with Saeed. The Chinese President was keen on pressing the Prime Minister to find an early solution to keep Saeed away from the limelight,” The Hindu quoted the aide as saying.

In separate remarks, Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for Pakistan’s intelligence service, Inter Services Intelligence, told Indian Express that “anything (Mr. Saeed) does, other than violence, is good. There is a process in Pakistan for anyone to participate in politics. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has its rules and laws. If he (Mr. Saeed) fulfils all those requirements that is for the ECP to decide.”

The divergent proposals to either remove Mr. Saeed from the limelight or mainstream him by integrating him into the political process are unlikely to satisfy either the United Nations or the United States.

They are also unlikely to prevent the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors the funding of political violence and money laundering, from next month putting Pakistan on its watchlist.

The FATF action could negatively affect the Pakistan economy. Pakistan risks downgrading by multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as well as by international credit rating agencies Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch.

Mr. Xi’s suggestion to Mr. Abbasi reflects Chinese ambivalence towards those Pakistani militants that both Islamabad and Beijing see as useful tools to keep India off balance. China protected Mr. Saeed from UN designation prior to the Mumbai attacks and has since prevented another Pakistani militant, Masood Azhar, from being designated by the Security Council.

At the same time, China refrained in February from shielding Pakistan from censorship by FATF.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson nonetheless argued at the time that “in recent years, Pakistan has made important progress in actively strengthening financial regulations to combat terror financing… China highly recognises that and hopes all relevant parties of the international community could arrive at an objective and fair conclusion on that.”

Implementing Mr. Xi’s proposal to remove Mr. Saeed from the limelight is easier said than done. Its hard to see what Middle Eastern nation would risk international criticism by granting Mr. Saeed asylum without tacit approval by the United States and/or the United Nations. By the same token, its unlikely that either would agree to the scheme.

Similarly, neither the UN nor the United States are likely to be persuaded by a belief within the Pakistani military that the best way of blunting militancy that has over the decades been woven into the fabric of significant segments of the armed forces, intelligence and society is by mainstreaming militants and integrating them into the political process.

Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked up a storm when he earlier this month appeared to confirm the pervasiveness of militancy by suggesting that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks had been supported by Pakistan.

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial? It’s unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it. We could have already been at seven per cent growth (in GDP), but we are not,” Mr. Sharif said.

The remarks by the Pakistani officials suggest that both Pakistan and China are attempting to square circles.

Pakistan needs to be seen as cracking down on militancy while considering the domestic influence of ultra-conservative religious groups as well as seemingly misguided beliefs that support for anti-Indian militants serves its purpose.

For its part, China’s justification of its hardhanded crackdown in the north-western province of Xinjiang as a bid to counter jihadism and nationalism among, Uighurs, a Turkic people, is weakened by its reluctance to be equally firm in countering militants in Pakistan.

The problem for both countries is that 1 + 1 = 2, whichever way one looks at it.

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How the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal affects India

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Sandeep Sachdeva*

While India was guarded in it’s response to the withdrawal of US from the Iran Nuclear Deal, it surely realizes the implications of the US withdrawal. Iran is India’s third largest source of crude oil (after Iraq and Saudi Arabia) . Between April 2017 and January 2018, New Delhi imported well over 18 million tonnes of crude oil.

New Delhi has also invested in the development of the Chabahar Port Project, which will provide India, access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This project is extremely important for India, since it will help in bypassing Pakistan, which has continuously kept India out of the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). During Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s Iran visit in May 2016, India had signed an agreement, committing 500 Million USD for the development of Chabahar. During Modi’s visit,  a trilateral transport and transit partnership was also signed between India, Afghanistan and Iran.

In February 2018, during Iranian President Rouhani’s visit  to India, a lease agreement was signed between India and Iran. The lease agreement gave operational control of Phase 1 of Chabahar Port (Shahid Beheshti port) to India. The Modi, Hassan Rouhani Joint statement mentioned the need for making Chabahar part of INSTC project and PM Modi further emphasised that “We will support the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link, so that Chabahar gateway’s potential could be fully utilised.”

Here it would be pertinent to point out, that to enhance connectivity with Afghanistan, India has also set up an India Afghan Air Corridor, two flights are currently operational; one connecting Mumbai with Kabul, and another which connects Delhi with Kabul.

Indian hopes

For the time being, New Delhi has rested its hopes on the fact, that European countries are trying to keep the deal intact, and US will also not impose sanctions on allies, including India, for engaging with Iran. Defence Secretary James Mattis in a Congressional hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had categorically stated,  that the US should be careful with regard to imposing sanctions against allies, under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Mattis said, that allies like India should be provided a national security waiver, against imposition of sanctions for the purchase of S-400 air defence missile system from Russia.

A number of US Congressmen and Senators too have echoed Mattis’ views saying that India is valuable ally and should be exempted from sanctions

What India needs to be cautious about

While India does have time to react to the sanctions re-imposed, and the fact that European countries are keen to keep the deal alive are important. Recent statements by the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton saying that Europe will not be immune from sanctions, and would ultimately fall in line needs to be closely watched.

Said Bolton in an interview with ABC’sThis Week:“Europeans are going to face the effective US sanctions — already are, really — because much of what they would like to sell to Iran involves US technology, for which the licenses will not be available.”

Bolton also stated, that these countries will ultimately realise that it is in their interest to go along with the US.

Earlier US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell advised Germany to re-consider business ties with Iran:‘German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately”.

New Delhi needs to strike a balancing act between Iran and US, but it also needs to have a clear plan of action to deal with US sanctions against Iran. In the past few years, India has successfully managed to balance relations between Iran and US, and Iran and Israel. Given the recent sanctions and the hawkish approach of the Trump Administration, it may be tough.

China factor

In the meanwhile, New Delhi would be well advised to follow closely China’s reaction to the withdrawal of US from JCPOA. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited three important countries Russia, China and Europe to save the JCPOA. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “it was hard-earned  deal, and China will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, keep communication and cooperation with all parties concerned, and continue to work to maintain the deal”.

The China factor doesn’t end here for India. Off late, ties between India and China have witnessed an improvement, during PM Modi’s recent China visit, it was decided. that both countries will undertake a joint project in Afghanistan. In recent months, there seem to be some indicators of lowering of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad as well.  Could, Beijing get New Delhi and Islamabad to discuss the issue of  transit trade to Afghanistan?  An opinion piece, ‘Pakistan’s military reaches out to India’, published in RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) discusses the willingness of Pakistan to discuss this issue, but India had turned down the offer in October 2017. Maybe New Delhi, could explore this option, and Beijing could support such an effort.

Conclusion

In conclusion, New Delhi will need to handle the current situation with great dexterity, while US is an important strategic partner, India has also got an opportunity to send an unequivocal message to Washington, that its own interests are paramount, and it will not blindly follow any one camp. In spite of all the challenges and upheavals likely to result from Trump’s decision, this also provides a golden opportunity for re-shaping the narrative within South Asia.

*Sandeep Sachdeva, Independent Foreign Policy Analyst

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Ex-Pakistani Prime Minister puts Pakistani military and China on the spot

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif kicked up a storm when he earlier this month seemingly admitted that Pakistan had supported militants who attacked multiple targets in Mumbai in 2008, killing 166 people.

Mr. Sharif’s admission, which he has since tried to walk back, put a finger on Pakistan’s controversial policy of selective support of militant groups at a sensitive time. Pakistan is gearing up for elections that would secure its third consecutive handover of civilian political power.

Mr. Sharif’s remarks, moreover, stirred up a hornet’s nest because Pakistan is likely to next month be put on a watch list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global financial watchdog that monitors the funding of political violence and money laundering worldwide.

The remarks also put China in a difficult position. China has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on militants, particularly in the troubled province of Balochistan, the crown jewel in its Belt and Road-related $50 billion plus infrastructure investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Yet, at the same time, China has at Pakistan’s behest prevented the United Nations Security Council from declaring Masood Azhar, believed to have been responsible for an attack in 2016 on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station, as a globally designated terrorist.

The militants, dressed in Indian military uniforms fought a 14-hour battle against Indian security forces that only ended when the last attacker was killed. Mr. Azhar was briefly detained after the attack and has since gone underground.

Mr. Sharif’s made his remarks as China was building up its military infrastructure in Pakistan. The build-up is occurring against the backdrop of Pakistan risking being involuntarily sucked into potential attempts to destabilize Iran if Saudi Arabia/and or the United States were to use Balochistan as a staging ground.

In line with a standard practice in Pakistan that has repeatedly seen groups that are outlawed resurrecting themselves under new names, Lashkar-e-Taibe (LeT), the banned group believed to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be an LeT front, are  rebranding under a new name and as a political party, Milli Muslim League, that would compete in the forthcoming election.

The League is headed by Hafez Saaed, a former LeT leader, who was last year released from house arrest despite having been declared a designated global terrorist by the Security Council and the US Treasury, which put a $10 billion bounty on his head. China vetoed Mr. Saeed’s designation by the UN prior to the Mumbai attacks.

Activists, even though the party was last month designated by the US Treasury, are likely to run as independents in the election if the government maintains its rejection of the party’s registration.

So are operatives of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, a front for Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a banned, virulently anti-Shiite group that long enjoyed support from Saudi Arabia and operates multiple militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that have witnessed an injection of funds from the kingdom in the last two years.

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial? It’s absolutely unacceptable. This is exactly what we are struggling for. President Putin has said it. President Xi has said it. We could have already been at seven per cent growth (in GDP), but we are not,” Mr. Sharif said, referring to stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court.

Taking Mr. Sharif’s comments a step further, prominent journalist and author Ahmed Rashid asserted that “the deep state of Pakistan is supporting the banned outfits as it has done in the past. This game should be stopped, and the government should show its commitment and sincerity in disarming these groups and not to allow them to enter into politics.”

Former Pakistani strongman General Pervez Musharraf, in an apparent manifestation of links between the circles close to the military and hardliners, said prior to the designation by the US announced that he was discussing an alliance with Mr. Saeed’s league.

Speaking on Pakistani television, Mr. Musharraf pronounced himself “the greatest supporter of LeT… Because I have always been in favour of action in Kashmir and I have always been in favour of pressuring the Indian army in Kashmir,” Mr. Musharraf said.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence service are believed to favour integration of militants into the political process as a way of reducing violence and militancy in a country in which religious ultra-conservatism and intolerance has been woven into the fabric of branches of the state and significant segments of society.

Critics charge that integration is likely to fail in Pakistan. “Incorporating radical Islamist movements into formal political systems may have some benefits in theory… But the structural limitations in some Muslim countries with prominent radical groups make it unlikely that these groups will adopt such reforms, at least not anytime soon… While Islamabad wants to combat jihadist insurgents in Pakistan, it also wants to maintain influence over groups that are engaged in India and Afghanistan,” said Kamran Bokhari, a well-known scholar of violent extremism.

Citing the example of a militant Egyptian group that formed a political party to participate in elections, Mr. Bokhari argued that “though such groups remain opposed to democracy in theory, they are willing to participate in electoral politics to enhance their influence over the state. Extremist groups thus become incorporated into existing institutions and try to push radical changes from within the system.”

Chinese ambiguity about Pakistani policy goes beyond shielding Mr. Azhar from being designated. A Chinese-Pakistani draft plan last year identified as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

Security has since improved substantially in significant parts of Pakistan. The question, however, is whether integration of militants into the political process would stabilize Pakistani politics in the absence of a concerted effort to counter mounting ultra-conservative religious fervour in the country. It may be too early to judge, but so far the answer has to be no.

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