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Carving its Own ASEAN Path: India in between America and China

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Maithili Parikh

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] ndia has invested immensely to strengthen its economic and strategic ties with South East Asia, over the past decade Japan and South Korea specifically but not exclusively, and the current government under Narendra Modi has sought to only further consolidate relations with the countries of South East Asia.

In general, Washington has supported India’s greater role in the Indo-Pacific. Before commencing his India visit in April 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter categorically stated, “India is already a very influential and powerful force in the whole Indo-Asia-Pacific region, starting with the Indian Ocean.” In meetings between the US President and Indian PM Modi, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region has been accorded high priority. In fact, President Obama, who was accused of neglecting India in his first term, has invested significant capital in strengthening the strategic partnership with India and seems to have found common ground with India’s Act East Policy.

India has responded by joining the Malabar Exercises with Japan and the US. India’s maritime diplomacy has been quite pro-active recently, with almost 50 visits and bilateral exercises conducted in the past year alone. New Delhi did not shy away from signing LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), which has been criticized by some strategic analysts for favoring the US too heavily. The agreement was first proposed by the previous Manmohan Singh government, but due to opposition from within the Congress Party it was scuttled. It would be important to point out that Washington has supported a greater role for India in the India-Pacific region, not only in the strategic sphere, but also in terms of enhancing connectivity between India and South East Asia through the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor which will run through Myanmar and Bangladesh. India has finally embraced the relevance of stronger connectivity with ASEAN countries, beginning with Myanmar. During Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw’s visit to New Delhi in August 2016, expediting the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway (which marked the upgrading of 69 bridges and the Kalewa-Yargi road) was one of the most important issues. Indian PM Modi also spoke for the need of setting up of a joint task force to extend this corridor to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Considering all of this, New Delhi, while strengthening its strategic ties with the US, should closely watch recent events across ASEAN countries as they may have reduced Washington’s leverage and strengthened China’s position. Economically speaking, Beijing has always been heavily invested in the region. But certain developments have given it much more leeway and leverage in the strategic sphere.

First, one must consider the anti-US posturing of Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte. The President recently stated that military exercises conducted on October 4th would be the last. “You [the United States] are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now, this will be the last military exercise.” Perfecto Yasay, Duterte’s foreign secretary denied this, of course, but subsequent engagements and comments coming out of Manila do not contradict this strategic shift perception. Many believe that Duterte is just playing the US against China and is using this as a means to encourage greater Chinese investment in Philippines. Regardless, these events have significance for Indian foreign policy and must not be ignored.

Second, while Vietnam and China have had recent tensions, India has sought to strengthen strategic ties with Vietnam. The latest iteration being the 500 million USD defense credit offered during the Indian PM’s visit to the country in the first week of September 2016. Out of this amount, 100 million USD will be used for building patrol boats. It was also decided that India would further increase assistance to Vietnam in the sphere of military training. Not coincidentally, less than 2 weeks after the successful visit by Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Vietnam and spoke about the importance of their bilateral relationship. Interestingly, in spite of the tensions between both countries, bilateral trade is estimated to be increasing to over 65 billion USD.

Third, President Obama has not been able to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership back in the United States, a cherished project of the administration. President Obama acknowledged the opposition to TPP during a joint press conference on August 2, 2016, conducted during Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit. Said Obama:

“There’s a real problem but the answer is not cutting off globalization. The answer is how do we make sure that globalization, technology, automation—those things work for us, not against us. TPP is designed to do precisely that.”

The Singapore PM, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in March 2016, alluded to the possible lowering of US influence in ASEAN if the agreement does not go through. Said the Singaporean PM, ‘I think it is important you do ratify this and not either let it stand for years unsettled or, worse, at some point, say “We are not satisfied, let us come back. I am asking for an even better deal,” because that would considerably undermine American credibility and seriousness of purpose, and confidence in America all over the region.’

So the chief question that remains is rather simple: if Washington’s leverage continues to reduce in the region, then what does New Delhi do?

First, India should continue to woo CMLV countries in ASEAN which have been on the margins for far too long. Today these countries are the drivers of growth and true economic motors for the region. This is why India must continue to strengthen economic and strategic ties with both Vietnam and Myanmar. Apart from India’s pro-active outreach to these countries, both in the economic and strategic sphere, it is important that India focuses on strengthening construction projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway, which needs to be expedited and extended all the way to Cambodia and Vietnam. This will help the long-term influence of India’s Act East Policy. Bolstering projects like the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor falls into this same category.

Second, while India may be no match for China in terms of investment and bilateral trade for the time being, India should build on its own strengths in areas like capacity-building and promoting a more transparent and efficient private sector. While India has been assisting CMLV countries in IT, English-language training, and agriculture, it should increase the number of scholarships for students from these countries. There is also a need to further enhance people-to-people contact and reestablish long-dormant historical links.

In conclusion, India has its own unique strengths and opportunities in ASEAN. And while finding common ground with the US in the Indo-Pacific is an important aspect of India’s Act East Policy, it needs to create its own niche and play to its own strengths without being unduly obsessed by the China factor or by the American alliance.


Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat. One of his areas of interest is India’s Act East Policy.

Maithili Parikh is a student at The Government Law College Mumbai.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

South Asia

Major Challenges for Pakistan in 2022

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Pakistan has been facing sever challenges since 1980s, after the former USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The history is full of challenges, but, being a most resilient nation, Pakistan has faced some of them bravely and overcome successfully. Yet, few are rather too big for Pakistan and still struggling to overcome in the near future.

Some of the challenges are domestic or internal, which can be addressed conveniently. But, some of them are part of geopolitics and rather beyond control of Pakistan itself. Such challenges need to pay more attention and need to be smarter and address them wisely.

Few key areas will be the main focus of Pakistan in the year ahead. Relations with China and the US while navigating the Sino-US confrontation, dealing with Afghanistan’s uncertainties, managing the adversarial relationship with India and balancing ties between strategic ally Saudi Arabia and neighbor Iran.

Pakistan has to pursue its diplomatic goals in an unsettled global and regional environment marked by several key features. They include rising East-West tensions, increasing preoccupation of big powers with domestic challenges, ongoing trade and technology wars overlying the strategic competition between China and the US, a fraying rules-based international order and attempts by regional and other powers to reshape the rules of the game in their neighborhood.

Understanding the dynamics of an unpredictable world is important especially as unilateral actions by big powers and populist leaders, which mark their foreign policy, have implications for Pakistan’s diplomacy. In evolving its foreign policy strategy Pakistan has to match its goals to its diplomatic resources and capital. No strategy is effective unless ends and means are aligned.

Pakistan’s relations with China will remain its overriding priority. While a solid economic dimension has been added to long-standing strategic ties, it needs sustained high-level engagement and consultation to keep relations on a positive trajectory. CPEC is on track, timely and smoothly progress is crucial to reinforce Beijing’s interest in strengthening Pakistan, economically and strategically. Close coordination with Beijing on key issues remains important.

Pakistan wants to improve ties with the US. But relations will inevitably be affected by Washington’s ongoing confrontation with Beijing, which American officials declare has an adversarial dimension while China attributes a cold war mindset to the US. Islamabad seeks to avoid being sucked into this big power rivalry. But this is easier said than done. So long as US-China relations remain unsteady it will have a direct bearing on Pakistan’s effort to reset ties with the US especially as containing China is a top American priority. Pakistan desires to keep good relations with the US, but, not at the cost of China. In past, Pakistan was keeping excellent relations with US, while simultaneously very close with China. When the US imposed economic blockade against China and launched anti-communism drive during the cold war, Pakistan was close ally with the US and yet, keeping excellent relations with China. Pakistan played vital role in bring China and the US to establish diplomatic relations in 1970s. Yet, Pakistan possesses the capability to narrow down the hostility between China and the US.

Pakistan was close ally with the US during cold war, anti-communism threat, war against USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s, and war on terror, etc. Pakistan might be a small country, but, possesses strategic importance. As long as, the US was cooperating with Pakistan, Pakistan looked after the US interest in the whole region. In fact, Pakistan ensured that the US has achieved its all strategic goals in the region. Since, the US kept distance from Pakistan, is facing failure after another failure consecutively. The importance of Pakistan is well recognized by the deep state in the US.

US thinks that withdrawal from Afghanistan has diminished Pakistan’s importance for now. For almost two decades Afghanistan was the principal basis for engagement in their frequently turbulent ties, marked by both cooperation and mistrust. As Pakistan tries to turn a new page with the US the challenge is to find a new basis for a relationship largely shorn of substantive bilateral content. Islamabad’s desire to expand trade ties is in any case contingent on building a stronger export base.

Complicating this is Washington’s growing strategic and economic relations with India, its partner of choice in the region in its strategy to project India as a counterweight to China. The implications for Pakistan of US-India entente are more than evident from Washington turning a blind eye to the grim situation in occupied Kashmir and its strengthening of India’s military and strategic capabilities. Closer US-India ties will intensify the strategic imbalance in the region magnifying Pakistan’s security challenge.

Multiple dimensions of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will preoccupy Islamabad, which spent much of 2021 engaged with tumultuous developments there. While Pakistan will continue to help Afghanistan avert a humanitarian and economic collapse it should not underestimate the problems that may arise with an erstwhile ally. For one, the TTP continues to be based in Afghanistan and conduct attacks from there. The border fencing issue is another source of unsettled discord. Careful calibration of ties will be needed — assisting Afghanistan but avoiding overstretch, and acknowledging that the interests of the Taliban and Pakistan are far from identical. Moreover, in efforts to mobilize international help for Afghanistan, Islamabad must not exhaust its diplomatic capital, which is finite and Pakistan has other foreign policy goals to pursue.

Managing relations with India will be a difficult challenge especially as the Modi government is continuing its repressive policy in occupied Kashmir and pressing ahead with demographic changes there, rejecting Pakistan’s protests. The hope in establishment circles that last year’s backchannel between the two countries would yield a thaw or even rapprochement, turned to disappointment when no headway was made on any front beyond the re-commitment by both neighbors to observe a ceasefire on the Line of Control.

Working level diplomatic engagement will continue on practical issues such as release of civilian prisoners. But prospects of formal dialogue resuming are slim in view of Delhi’s refusal to discuss Kashmir. This is unlikely to change unless Islamabad raises the diplomatic costs for Delhi of its intransigent policy. Islamabad’s focus on Afghanistan last year meant its diplomatic campaign on Kashmir sagged and was limited to issuing tough statements. Unless Islamabad renews and sustains its international efforts with commitment and imagination, India will feel no pressure on an issue that remains among Pakistan’s core foreign policy goals.

With normalization of ties a remote possibility, quiet diplomacy by the two countries is expected to focus on managing tensions to prevent them from spinning out of control. Given the impasse on Kashmir, an uneasy state of no war, no peace is likely to continue warranting Pakistan’s sustained attention.

In balancing ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan should consider how to leverage possible easing of tensions between the long-standing rivals — of which there are some tentative signs. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keen to use economic power to expand his country’s diplomatic clout by making strategic overseas investments, Pakistan should use its political ties with Riyadh to attract Saudi investment through a coherent strategy. Relations with Iran too should be strengthened with close consultation on regional issues especially Afghanistan. The recent barter agreement is a step in the right direction.

In an increasingly multipolar world, Pakistan also needs to raise its diplomatic efforts by vigorous outreach to other key countries and actors beyond governments to secure its national interests and goals.

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South Asia

Afghanistan: UN launches largest single country aid appeal ever

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Displaced families collect water during a harsh winter in Kabul, Afghanistan. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

The UN and partners launched a more than $5 billion funding appeal for Afghanistan on Tuesday, in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there, which have left 22 million in need of assistance inside the country, and 5.7 million people requiring help beyond its borders.

Speaking in Geneva, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that $4.4 billion was needed for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan alone, “to pay direct” to health workers and others, not the de facto authorities.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for $623 million, to support refugees and host communities in five neighbouring countries, for the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan.

“Today we are launching an appeal for $4.4 billion for Afghanistan itself for 2022,” said Mr. Griffiths. “This is the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021.”

Needs could double

The scale of need is already enormous, both UN officials stressed, warning that if insufficient action is taken now to support the Afghanistan and regional response plans, “next year we’ll be asking for $10 billion”.

Mr. Griffiths added: “This is a stop-gap, an absolutely essential stop-gap measure that we are putting in front of the international community today. Without this being funded, there won’t be a future, we need this to be done, otherwise there will be outflow, there will be suffering.”

Rejecting questions that the funding would be used to support the Taliban’s grip on de facto government, Mr. Griffiths insisted that it would go directly into the pockets of “nurses and health officials in the field” so that these services can continue, not as support for State structures.

UN aid agencies describe Afghanistan’s plight as one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises.

According to UN humanitarian coordination office OCHA, half the population now faces acute hunger, over nine million people have been displaced and millions of children are out of school.

Youngsters’ plight

Asked to describe what might happen if sufficient support was not forthcoming, the UN emergency relief chief replied that he was particularly concerned for one million children now facing severe acute malnutrition. “A million children – figures are so hard so grasp when they’re this kind of size – but a million children at risk of that kind of malnutrition if these things don’t happen, is a shocking one.”

But humanitarian agencies and their partners who will receive the requested funding directly can only do so much, Mr. Griffiths explained, before reiterating his support for the 22 December UN Security Council resolution that cleared the way for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban.

“Humanitarian agencies inside Afghanistan can only operate if there’s cash in the economy which can be used to pay officials, salaries, costs, fuel and so-forth,” he said. “So, liquidity in its first phase is a humanitarian issue, it’s not just a bigger economic issue.”

Stave off disease, hunger

He added: “My message is urgent: don’t shut the door on the people of Afghanistan. Humanitarian partners are on the ground, and they are delivering, despite the challenges. Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition and ultimately death by supporting the humanitarian plans we are launching today.”

Highlighting the need to avoid a wider regional crisis emanating from Afghanistan, UNHCR chief Grandi, insisted that what was needed most, was “to stabilize the situation inside Afghanistan, including that of displaced people who are displaced inside their country. Also, to prevent a larger refugee crisis, a larger crisis of external displacement.”

Nonetheless, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours had sheltered vulnerable Afghans for decades, Mr. Grandi explained, as he appealed for $623 million in funding for 40 organizations working in protection, health and nutrition, food security, shelter and non-food items, water and sanitation, livelihoods and resilience, education, and logistics and telecoms.

Decades of shelter

No-one should forget “that there is a regional dimension to this crisis, represented by the Afghan refugees but also Afghans with many other ‘stay’ arrangements in neighbouring countries in particular,” Mr. Grandi said, “especially in Pakistan and Iran that have hosted Afghans for more than 40 years, but also Central Asian States.”

Since the Taliban takeover last August, women’s and girls’ rights have continued to come under attack, OCHA noted in a statement, “while farmers and herders are struggling amid the worst drought in decades and the economy is in freefall”.

Rights reminder

On the issue of protecting fundamental rights, Mr. Griffiths underlined the fact that UN humanitarians were continuing to hold “conversations” with Afghanistan’s de facto authorities at a national and sub-national level, on issues such as aid and education access for all.

Echoing that message, UN refugee chief Mr. Grandi noted that humanitarians on the ground were well aware of the importance of stressing the need to protect the rights of minorities and other vulnerable Afghans.

“Our colleagues are there every day, and that’s what they talk about every day; they certainly talk about access, and delivery and needs, but they also talk about women at work, women in school – girls in school – rights of minorities, but it’s that space that we need to preserve.”

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South Asia

Hinduisation of India

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India’s constitution calls upon its citizens to imbibe the spirit of “scientific inquiry” and humanism”. Oblivious of their constitutional duty, India is still wedded to dogmas. This fact is obvious from the recent calendar “invented’ by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. The calendar is intended to play to the tune of Hindutva ideologues, Bharatiya Janata party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

This calendar claims that the invasion of the Aryan race is a myth. They were a “race indigenous to India”.

The BJP and RSS consider the Aryans to have been indigenous to India and long opposed the dominant ‘Aryan invasion’ theory. The calendar disbelieves that the Aryans came along with the Vedic culture from the Central Asia. That they introduced this culture to the   aboriginals, predominantly the dark -skinned Dravidian race. That the Harappa-Mohenjo-daro civilisations did not predate the Vedic era. Vedic Culture and the Indus Valley Civilisation (7000 BCE – 1500 BCE) were synonymous.

The BJP-led Union government is trying to rewrite India’s history textbooks and “saffronise” education. Hindu right wing claims that the creators of the Vedas always belonged to India. Muslims and Christians are ‘invader’ races with respect to India, as opposed to the supposedly indigenous Aryans.

Similar myths

Museum renamed after Shiva

Yogi Adityanath often showed abhorrence to Moghul icons. He mocks the expenditure of such monuments. He vowed not to spend a penny on even Muslim  graveyards, and by corollary, even mosques. India’s Supreme Court y ruled that a mosque is not necessary for the Muslim mode of worship.  He  renamed the upcoming “Mughal Museum” in Agra after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Yogi believes that he himself is a scion of the Maratha warriors.

Yogi says “how can Mughal be our heroes?” Thus he is up against 396 of its 1 lakh-plus villages and towns bearing the names of the Mughals. What about   

Bihar with 97, Maharashtra 50, and Haryana 39 villages named after the Moghul? 

About 50 percent of the villages bear standalone names such as Akbarpur, Aurangabad, Humayunpur and Babarpur.  In addition, there are also syncretic names such as Akbar Nivas Khandrika and Damodarpur Shahjahan.

The most common name is Akbarpur of which there are nearly 70 across the country, followed by Aurangabad, which is the name of 63 places.

Since coming to power in 2017, Yogi has renamed several places in the state including  railway junction Mughalsarai renamed as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Nagar, Allahabad as Prayagraj, and Faizabad as Ayodhya. The renaming falls  in line with the Sangh Parivar’s ideological commitment to reclaiming the “original” lost glory of India in pre-Islamic times.*

Hyderabad or Bhagyanagar

Hindutva lobby, as led by Yogi, wants to rename Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar, Taj Mahal as “Ram Mahal, Krishna Mahal, or even Rashtrabhakt (patriot) Mahal”. They want to rename Delhi as ”Indraprastha”, Lucknow as ”Lakhanpur”, and Victoria Palace in Kolkata as Janaki Palace

Gyanvapi mosque

 A Varanasi court ordered Archeological Survey of India to  conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque compound adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple to find out whether it was a “superimposition, alteration or addition or there is structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure”.

The decision is preposterous as no evidence was produced before the court to infer that there was a prior existing temple at the site of the mosque.

Ayodhia

Even in the Ayodhya judgment, the ASI excavation was ultimately of no use. The ASI did not find proof that the Babri Masjid was built upon demolition of a temple. No evidence was produced before the court to suggest that there was a prior existing temple at the site of the mosque.

The Kashi Vishwanath Dam project

This dam is the biggest attempt at India’s civilisational restoration since the rebuilding of the Somnath temple.

Why emphasis on Arthashastra by the IIT, Kharagpur?

India  wants to promote teaching of Arthashastra (Chanakya) through prestigious institutes as Chanakya postulates unethical, no-holds barred wars. India trained mukti bahini so-called freedom fighters) and attacked erstwhile East Pakistan when Pakistan least expected it.

The Ramayanas and the Mahabharata wars elucidate various types of yuddha (wars). In ancient India there were three schools of war. Bhishma’s school of warfare belonged to dharma yuddha (ethical or just war). Two other schools, Brihaspati and Krishna’s school of warfare belonged to koota yuddha (all-out war) or maya yuddha (war by tricks or stratagems). There is too much of negative publicity about Islamic jihad (struggle). But, there is little limelight on koota yuddha in India’s history.

Bhishma stressed chivalry and ruled out surprise and deception. But Brihaspati recommended that the king should attack an enemy only if the enemy’s strength is one-third of his own (`Udyog Parva’). He suggested that the king should never trust the enemy or spare him, no matter how old or virtuous he may be.

Keynote of Krishna’s military philosophy was `end justifies the means.’ He laid great stress on deception. `Truth may often have to be sacrificed in pursuit of victory’ (Karma Parva). He advocated use of force to defeat the enemy if he was superior in strength or capability (Shalya Parva). Opportunity once wasted never returns (`Shanti Parva’).

Even the enlightened Hindu and the military writers believe that India’s prosperity during various periods of history, for example during the Maurya and the Gupta periods, rose or fell pari passu with rise or fall of military leadership.

Since partition, the Hindu leaders have put a tab on their innate desire to expose their urge for koota yuddha with Pakistan because of political expediency. India’s confidence-building measures did not contribute to the solution of the Kashmir, or Sir Creek issues. They were dilly-dallying tactics to evade a plebiscite in disputed Kashmir.

Pakistani leaders, including previous prime-ministers and prime-ministers-to-be should take off their blinkers and try to understand how India, through koota yuddha, with like minded countries, is trying to wreck Pakistan’s economy and country.

Concluding remarks

Obviously India wants to erase non-Hindu history. It wants to glorify Hindu warriors to prepare India for a war against its neighbours

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