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Heart of Asia 2016- An Opportunity: What India Should Make Out of It?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] F [/yt_dropcap] or the given of many foreign invasions throughout the recorded history, Afghanistan has been known as the ‘Graveyards of the Empires. The external attacks started from the Alexander the Great (336–323 BC) to NATO under the US/UN stewardship (2001-14). However, indomitable Afghanistan had been able to maintain its independent identity despite these horrendous invasions.

Sometimes, it is argued that the current crisis of Afghanistan has been due to its ethnic composition and partly geopolitical interests of the external powers. For the given of geostrategic, geopolitical dynamics, geographical contiguity, viable option for connectivity, historical and geo-cultural ties, have made Afghanistan as a lynchpin for the Indian foreign policy

Afghanistan’s Ailment

Afghanistan is a country of multi-culture and nationalities. Out of these ethnic groups, the Pashtun has remained one of the most dominant ones. Most of the rulers, bureaucrats, various officials have been coming from the Pashtun ethnic group. The second place goes to the Tajik (25%), and the rest of the communities such as Hindu, Sikh, and Jewish communities are considerably in very smaller percentages. Geopolitics has become the curse for Afghanistan, and the old Great Game was once again was revived when Soviet intervened and established a pro-communist government (1979) in Afghanistan. Due to the Cold War geopolitics, Afghanistan had become a battlefield between Russia and the US. To extricate the Russians from Afghanistan, many countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan had supported the Afghan Mujahidin. In the post 9/11, Afghanistan had been put under the control of the NATO forces (2001-2014) under the stewardship of the US, which further worsened the Afghan crisis.

Terrorism in Afghanistan: Curse of Geopolitics

Afghanistan has been highly infested with terrorism. The trace of Taliban could be traced to the Cold War geopolitics in general and Soviet–Afghan War (1979-89) in particular. For Afghanistan terrorism, Singh (2016), has argued that, in addition to geopolitics, the others like religious fanaticism, internal fighting, poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment factors have been responsible for terrorism in Afghanistan. Apart from Taliban, the Hezb-e-Islami was another group, founded and led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1977), in Afghanistan. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), has been a small Pakistani group, based in Afghanistan, used to oppose the Indian control of Kashmir. Lashkar-i-Janghvi, a small terrorist group, is oftenly been accused of conducting attacks on Afghanistan’s Hazara community (Katzman 2013). The Haqqani Network, led by Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, is one more terror group operating in Afghanistan.

Peacemaking Efforts: A Distant Dream

Since the Civil War in Afghanistan in 1979, the several efforts have been made for achieving peace and stability. The Geneva Accords (1988), was the first step in this direction which made a substantial contribution in the peace-making in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai held a National Consultative Peace Jirga (NCPJ) for the ending the ongoing Taliban insurgency to promote peace and stability. However, Taliban had been called it as a phony reconciliation process, only meeting the interests of external powers. In the post-2014, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprised of four countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US have been consistently holding a talk to find the solution to the Afghanistan crisis.

The first HoA was launched in November 2011 with the Istanbul Declaration focusing on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan among the member countries. The second HoA’s ministerial conference was called on June 14, 2012, in Kabul. The participating countries had reiterated and reaffirmed with Afghanistan to curb terrorism, production, trade and trafficking of the drug to establish peace. The third HoA has been taken place on April 26, 2013, in Almaty (Republic of Kazakhstan), mainly focusing on terrorism, separatism, and fundamentalism as significant challenges for Afghanistan. The promotion of peace and cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours was the primary focus of the 4th Beijing Conference (October 2014). The 5th meeting took place in Islamabad (Pakistan), jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan, in December 2015 and adopted a forward-looking Islamabad Declaration to promote peace, security, economic development and connectivity in the region. The latest 6th meeting took place in New Delhi (April 2016), began with the objective of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.

India’s Interests in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has been called as the ‘Heart of Asia.’ Despite not sharing a direct border with India, but for the given geostrategic and geopolitical environment, Afghanistan’s political stability and security, directly and indirectly, affect the former’s myriad interests. It is a bridge link between India and energy-rich Central Asia and Eurasia. It shares long borders with Iran small border with China across the narrow Wakhan corridor. It is a permanent member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), observer of the SCO and the member of Asian Development Bank‘s CAREC (Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation) programme. India could get connectivity to energy-rich Central Asia through the Afghanistan. For the development of Afghanistan, India has not been only the largest fifth donor to Afghanistan; rather it has invested about US$ 2 billion in various sectors. India has been helping in the development of infrastructure such as parliament building, roads, power grids, schools, hospitals, etc. Moreover, Afghanistan is very rich in mineral. India and Afghan interests are converging on many fronts and thus, keeping the Taliban at bay in Afghanistan is paramount for India.

The 7th HoA Conference Amritsar: What India Should Do?

For the given of geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic interests in Afghanistan, persisting terrorism, peace, stability, and security of Afghanistan have been the major challenges for Indian foreign policy. The 7th HoA is going to be held in Amritsar (India) on 3-4 December 2016. Thus, it is major opportunity for India. Highly terrorism infested, volatile, turbulent, poor, and plagued by stability and security Afghanistan has not been in the interests of India. The 7th HoA conference has been going to take place in Amritsar (India). It will be a good opportunity for India to use this platform to discuss the major being faced by Afghanistan as well as their viable solutions. The roadmap should be conceived here to make stable and peaceful Afghanistan. Many civilians and soldiers on both sides have been dying. First of all, using this forum, the issue of the ceasefire, shelling on the border, infiltration, aiding and abetting terrorism should be discussed with Pakistan to instill the sense of security not only among the border people rather the neighboring countries as well. At last, the platform of the 7th HoA should be used in such a way, so that solution of regional peace, pacification of Indo-Pak LoC, stability and security of Afghanistan should come out.    

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions

Uzge A. Saleem

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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.

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Behind Indo-Pacific Vision

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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.

Conclusion

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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Chimeras and Realities of the Indo-Pacific Partnership

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The new American initiative for the creation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership (IPP) has grabbed the spotlight in many political discussions of late. Although the idea to set up such a forum was proposed at the end of 2017 and to this day has been no more than a general slogan, now the Trump administration seems set to stake on it. Why?

As a reminder I would like to point out that on May 30 the US Secretary of Defense announced the renaming of the Pacific Command into the Indo-Pacific Command (although the Command’s responsibility zone a priori included the Indian Ocean waters).

A few days later, at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) conference in Singapore, the idea of IPP was spelled out by the American side, with an emphasis on the aspects of regional security. When commenting on the change of the name of the American command, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that for India the unification of the Indian and Pacific oceans into a single geographic array looked “natural”.

The practical implementation of the IPP strategy will most likely be carried out both through the strengthening of US bilateral relations with countries of the region and through the creation of multilateral cooperation formats. The most important of these cooperation initiatives is the so-called. “Quadro”, which is designed to bring together the four “democracies” of the Indo-Pacific region – the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

It is believed that the United States, Australia, Japan and India, united in the Quadro, will consider the two oceans a single strategic space. Since 2016, the United States, India and Japan have been conducting joint naval exercises “Malabar”. Washington is clearly giving New Delhi ever more attention, counting on India as one of the future regional security poles, along with Japan, Australia and its other allies.

The feasibility evaluation of IPP was proposed in the concept of “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”, FOIP). And the recent report of the US National Security Strategy states that “in the Indo-Pacific region, there is a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of the world order.”

Apparently, this is about China. Therefore, the idea of IPP, which is motivated by the value and geostrategic approach, did not cause immediate enthusiasm from the American allies in the region.

Assessing the US initiative to establish IPP, Japanese experts, for example, say that Japan has no objections in principle to such an initiative as long as it is “transparent and inclusive”. To this, they add that this initiative can play a role in the development of interregional relations involving East Asia, South Asia, Africa and Eurasia; the main thing is that it should not be directed against China, since Japan is interested in China’s sustained development and Japan-China relations.

In response, South Korea argues that it is too early to suggest a full approval for the IPP as this initiative has been put forward in the form of a general slogan. Seoul has yet to understand what it is and needs more time to examine it in more detail. If it turns out that the initiative aims to deter China, participation in it of the Republic of Korea will be a “difficult choice” to make.

According to experts of the US Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Indo-Pacific region may account for half of the global economy within decades, but this requires investments of almost $ 26 trillion. Now it is obvious that from the point of view of trade and economic cooperation, the IPP is set to replace the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which Donald Trump chose to reject, and offer an alternative. US Secretary of Commerce William Ross explains in this respect that TPP agreements require too much effort to conclude and too complicated: “With such major geopolitical phenomena as the TPP, it is impossible to carry out a controlled experiment.”

Verbally, Washington welcomes China’s contribution to regional development, emphasizing that IPP will not be aimed at containing China or opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the emphasis is put on the need to adhere to “international standards of transparency, the rule of law and sustainable financing”.

However, in practice, the main reason underlying IPP is the attempt to conduct a “controlled” geostrategic and geoeconomic experiment, by constructing a partnership framework artificially, in the American interests, without taking into account the interests of potential partners who are not interested in political or economic deterrence of China

Supporters of conventional geopolitical approaches say that the creation of IPP means the advance of the US into Eurasia still further from the east to the west by strengthening ties with predominantly “naval” powers in the eastern and southern peripheries of the Eurasian continent (from South Korea to countries of the Arabian Peninsula) and with island states of the Pacific (from Japan to New Zealand). The main purpose of the IPP is the political and military-strategic deterrence of China, the creation of a rigid “framework” that would prevent Beijing from assuming a dominant position in the region.

Whatever the case, American attempts to artificially “patch together” the IPP “from the material at hand” indicate the need for the Russian diplomacy to boost efforts to cement the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership by developing security mechanisms and fostering cooperation in the land areas of the Eurasian “heartland”.

In the first place, such mechanisms involve the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), measures towards linking the Eurasian integration and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the consistent implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP).

India’s participation in these organizations and initiatives is a matter of special concern, while the three-party consultative arrangement Russia-India-China needs further strengthening as well.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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