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India, Pakistan and Hope for the Future

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Recent developments along the India-Pakistan border have grabbed the attention of the world have caused a steady build up of fear and uncertainty in both countries. The 18 September attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir and subsequent unravelling of diplomatic and military tension between the two nation has the caused a steady build up of tension and fear in the corridors of power in New Delhi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

With Pakistan denying the surgical strikes and India refusing to prove them wrong and providing proof, the conflict has been kept controlled. If there is any hope to keep the conflict controlled, and prevent it from full-scale war, Nawaz Sharif must be able to a fine line between coaxing India and satisfying his military. Pakistan must realize the futility and irrationality of protecting militants and terrorist groups, and for its betterment seek to dismantle its traditional, use of militants to conducting its foreign policy.

In the aftermath of the attack on the Indian army base by Pakistan-backed militants, India has adopted a multi-pronged retaliatory response by unleashing diplomatic hell on Pakistan at United Nations and by conducting surgical strikes on terrorist camps along the border. At the UN, asking it to abandon its dreams on Kashmir and ‘introspect on Balochistan’ instead. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, lead the tirade against Pakistan stating that the world knew where terrorism and it was time for the world to isolate those nations which nurture, peddle and export terrorism. Not surprisingly, Pakistan responded to Swaraj’s ‘litany of lies’ and accused India of diverting attention from its ‘atrocities in Kashmir’.

By reaching out to fellow SAARC nation countries, New Delhi has successfully ensured the postponement of the summit in Islamabad by withdrawing from the summit and having Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka follow suit. All countries have stated their inability to attend the summit given the security environment that is not conducive to regional cooperation. On a bilateral front, India has had discussions over withdrawing Pakistan’s Most Favoured Nation Status (MFN) status and changing its stance on the Indus Water Treaty. While it has chosen not to act on those aspects of the relationship as of now, it has sent Pakistan a strong message: it will not hesitate in enforcing all forms of pressure in the future.

Ten days after the attack, India launched pre-emptive surgical strikes against terror camps along the LoC that had “positioned themselves at launch pads” ready to infiltrate and carry out attacks in Kashmir. By stating the pre-emptive nature of the strike and the fact that it does not plan to conduct any more such strikes, India ensured that the strike was not seen as an offensive attack on Pakistan territory, a move which may have escalated the conflict rapidly. Pakistan has denied the strike and has flown in foreign and domestic journalists to the LoC to prove their point. What does this mean? With India saying it conducted strikes and Pakistan saying it didn’t, where does it leave the two countries and what are the repercussions?

First, it allows the Pakistan narrative to flourish domestically. It has caused Pakistanis to further doubt India’s integrity and has raised questions as to why the Indian government has not provided greater details of the nature of the strikes and/or evidence that they happened. This suits Islamabad and Rawalpindi as they are no longer forced to respond to something ‘India made up’. Second, it allows the conflict to remain as is, and avoid further escalation of military confrontation. The truth about the strikes is known only to a select few in each country and by not providing proof of the strikes, both countries have jointly kept the conflict in control for the time being.

As the calls for providing evidence of the strikes in India gets louder, the government may be pushed into a tighter corner and forced to provide irrefutable evidence. While any evidence India provides will be refuted by Islamabad, it may provoke the sleeping dragon in Rawalpindi. The army may be forced to react to save face, if it is proved that the Indian army entered Pakistan territory. Any sort of military retaliation from Pakistan will force the right-wing nationalistic, ‘tough-on-Pakistan’ Narendra Modi government into a retaliatory war.

However, in an unprecedented move, the Nawaz Sharif government has warned the military about Pakistan’s increasing isolation. In a report by DAWN, the civilian government has sought agreement with the military on certain matters of the state, including non-interference of the military in law-enforcement cases against militant groups. Nawaz Sharif has also directed for fresh attempts to be made to wrap up the Pathankot and the Mumbai 26/11 cases and has also made a case for cracking down on the Haqqani Network, highlighting the increasing United States pressure that has already caused a deterioration in relations.

This is a silver lining on what has been a grey, foreboding cloud. While it remains unlikely that the military will buckle down it is vital for Pakistan’s civilian government to make an attempt to loosen the military’s grip on certain conditions laid down by India and the US. Cracking on terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network will not only demonstrate the power of the civilian government, but it will earn Raheel Sharif and his men, new found respect amongst the people of Pakistan. The military’s counterinsurgency operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has been in effect since 2013 has been in full swing cracking down on terror camps in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. While the military’s communicating wing, has played a highly successful campaign in highlight the Pakistan military’s determination and resolve to root out militants and terrorists that threaten the country, the absence of any action against the Haqqani Network and JeM is jarring and obvious. Although Pakistan cannot overtly demonstrate that it is listening to what India is saying, showing India and the world, some goodwill will help Pakistan redeem itself in the world’s eyes. Not to mention, it will do Pakistan a whole of good domestically.

Both India and Pakistan would do well to remember that their problems will be far better resolved, if they are able to work in tandem, seeking solely diplomatic solutions. India must remind itself of its ultimate goal vis-à-vis Pakistan. New Delhi’s aim is not the military destruction of Pakistan, but to exert enough pressure that it abandons its use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. It must humbly recognize that surgical strikes are not strategic game changers in the conflict, but psychological maneuvers that are directed to coerce Pakistan to give up its policy of supporting militants. If history has taught us anything it is that, Pakistan is so quintessentially bipolar in his governance that it is highly optimistic to assume that the military will let civilian government dictate terms to it. It is therefore unlikely that given the present situation, Pakistan will bow down and ‘give in’. Pakistan military intelligence agencies have been providing militant groups with support for many, many years. Their alliances with militant leaders such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed have been sacrosanct. If the military allows civilian law enforcement agencies to act against such militant groups, the backlash will brutal and dangerous on their part.

That being said, in the spirit of discussing an optimal and ideal situation to get out of the current mess, if the civilian government in Pakistan is able to put enough pressure on the military to give into certain demands, Nawaz Sharif will be relieved having saved the country from conflict and diplomatic humiliation, however the credit will go to Raheel Sharif. The army chief will end his tenure on a high, his popularity soaring having been true to his word of rooting out militancy in Pakistan and saving the country from international isolation. In India while the army will continue to be praised for its heroism, all our aware od the political bidding behind the strikes. The Narendra Modi government will be able to pat itself on the back for successfully exercised strategic restraint against Pakistan and having shed any sort of domestic doubt that they are a government that are “too soft” on Pakistan.

Pakistan must realize that it cannot draw out and postpone the inevitable. It must seriously take down all terror and militant infrastructure in the country and disregard terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. For far too long, the military has propagated the belief that it is doing everything it can to take down terror infrastructure in the country. While the United States has pressurized it to do more, by blocking subsidized sale of military equipment and repeatedly reminding it of its promises, Pakistan must give up its game for its own good. Irrespective of what it wants from India vis-à-vis Kashmir, it must realize that only by sincerely committing to absolving terror from its territory can it find its redemption.

Then and only then, can both India and Pakistan begin to rehash their problems.

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South Asia

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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