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China’s New Silk Road project: Focus on South Asia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] C [/yt_dropcap]hina, the only veto power of Asia and major global power, is seen trying to take a larger role in global affairs by promoting its economic ventures across continents of Asia, Africa and Europe by joint efforts. Obviously, besides making joint ventures with wiling partners, China may be trying to put an end to US monopoly in world affairs, Beijing would like to share domination with USA.

China has come out with a fast forward idea of working together for greater benefits for all nations involved. The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road or One Belt, One Road (OBOR) is a development strategy, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily between the People’s Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia, which consists of two main components, the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and oceangoing “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR).

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor are officially classified as “closely related to the Belt and Road Initiative”.

The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need for priority capacity cooperation in collective economic affairs in areas such as steel manufacturing.

The One Belt One Road initiative is geographically structured along 6 corridors, and the maritime Silk Road. New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia; China – Mongolia – Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia; China – Central Asia – West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey; China – Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore; China – Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan; Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar Corridor, running from Southern China to India; Maritime Silk Road, running from the Chinese Coast over Singapore and India to the Mediterranean.

Essentially, the ‘Belt’ includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. It goes through Central Asia, Russia to Europe.

One Belt, One Road has been contrasted with the two US-centric trading arrangements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative offers enormous opportunities for all the countries involved and Greek business community warmly supports all the efforts to deepen the two countries’ cooperation under this context, President of the Greek-Chinese Economic Council Fotis Provatas said recently.

OBOR Summit 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres before the Leaders’ Roundtable Summit at the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation at Yanqi Lake International Convention Center in Beijing, capital of China, May 14-15, 2017. Around 30 state and government heads as well as delegates from more than 100 countries – including the USA and North Korea – discussed the Belt and Road initiative, one of the world’s biggest economic diplomacy programs led by China.

In a keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the two day Initiative called Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing on May 14 President Xi Jinping said that China would launch Belt and Road cooperation initiative on trade connectivity together with some 60 countries and international organizations. Xi said that the Belt and Road Initiative embodies the aspiration for inter-civilization exchanges, the yearning for peace and stability, the pursuit of common development and the shared dream for a better life. President Jinping called for renewing the Silk Road spirit. Noting that “we are at a fresh starting point, ready to embark on a new journey together,” Xi said, “so long as we press ahead with a common vision without backpedaling or standing still, we will achieve greater connectivity and benefit from each other’s development.” Before the banquet, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan greeted the guests at the Great Hall of the People.

Apart from this zone, which is largely analogous to the historical Silk Road, another area that is said to be included in the extension of this ‘belt’ is South Asia and Southeast Asia. Many of the countries that are part of this belt are also members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). North, central and south belts are proposed. The Central belt goes through Central Asia, West Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The South belt starts from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan. The Chinese One Belt strategy will integrate with Central Asia through Kazakhstan’s Nurly Zhol infrastructure program. The coverage area of the initiative, however, is primarily Asia and Europe, encompassing around 60 countries. Oceania and East Africa are also included.

The summit was aimed to map out China’s ambitious new Silk Road project, of which the OBOR is an integral part. The scheme was proposed in 2013 by Xi to promote a vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe. China has earmarked US$40 billion for a special fund for the scheme, on top of the US$100 billion capitalization for the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, many of whose projects will likely be part of the initiative. The OBOR’s wingspan is expected to include 68 nations from China through Southeast and South Asia to Africa and Europe.

The conspicuous absence of the heads of state from the major Western economic powers and Japan at the belt and road summit this month in Beijing is a big mistake and a missed opportunity for enhancing dynamic and cooperative globalization. India, also seeking wide stage to promote its own interests, chose to ignore the China initiate.

Cost and Benefits

The initiative, unveiled in September 2013 by President Xi Jinping, aims to connect China by a network of overland corridors and sea routes to the rest of Asia, Africa and beyond, linking the dozens of countries through infrastructure and financial and trade ties. The economies along the routes account for about 63 per cent of the world’s population and 29 per cent of global GDP.

Anticipated cumulative investment over an indefinite timescale is variously put at US$4 trillion or US$8 trillion. President Xi said in his speech at the opening of the forum that China will contribute an additional 100 billion yuan (about 14.5 billion US dollars) to the Silk Road Fund. Xi certainly looked keen to begin exercising a leadership role, offering to help tackle the economic and security problems faced by Greece and Turkey, issues the EU has struggled to deal with.

The Belt and Road Initiative is expected to bridge the ‘infrastructure gap’ and thus accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area and Central and Eastern Europe: World Pensions Council (WPC) experts estimate that “Asia alone (excluding China) will need up to $900 billion in infrastructure investments annually in the next 10 years, mostly in debt instruments. This means there’s a 50 percent shortfall in infra spending on the continent.” The gaping need for long term capital explains why many Asian and Eastern European heads of state “gladly expressed their interest to join this new Chinese-led initiative focusing solely on ‘real assets’ and infrastructure-driven economic growth.

Xi told his audience that he had proposed an additional RMB780 billion (approximately US$113 billion) to be disbursed through multiple sources. These include the Silk Road Fund; the China Development Bank; the Export and Import Bank of China and also overseas capital provided by Chinese banks. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is not part – at least not yet – of this proposed package.

Out of this amount, RMB250 billion will be provided in loans from China Development Bank, and RMB130 billion from Export-Import Bank of China. This funding is not direct investment but loans, as in the case of China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor, which the Chinese sources will provide to the participant countries. That would put Beijing in a position to steer the course of each country’s development to a direction it deems fit for its own interests. China, as the primary financer of loans, therefore stands to gain the most and it stands atop the list of potential beneficiaries.

The whopping trade imbalance that China has vis-à-vis almost all the OBOR countries and the way the OBOR initiative is solidifying, through various agreements, worries New Delhi.

Less-developed countries along the new Silk Road stand are among the big winners of investment as China revives ancient land and maritime trade routes, according to estimates by a top bank. The potential benefits of the belt and road, if the dream were even only partly realized, could be enormous. The inclusion of the Middle East and Central Asia could contribute to peace and prosperity in these currently dramatically turbulent regions.

Credit Suisse forecasts that China’s massive inflow of investment over the next five years as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” could amount to as much as US$502 billion, or equivalent to 4 per cent of the total gross domestic product of the 62 countries along the routes in 2015. Credit Suisse estimates that China’s overseas investment in the initiative over the next five years will range between US$313 billion to US$502 billion, depending on how much investment the countries need and how much China is willing to put in.

According to an HSBC estimate, the “Belt and Road Initiative” will generate roughly 300 billion yuan to 500 billion yuan in railway investment, financing more than 15,000km in high-speed rail links along the route. The Credit Suisse report said the initiative could become even more promising as a more “isolationist” administration in the United States created windows of opportunity. “With the new US government pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is unavoidably sending a message to the world that US government policy is turning more ‘isolationist’,” the report said. At the same, China was striving for greater global influence, it said. Chinese investment could also help make up for any capital outflows in the region. If the dollar strengthens, especially as the US moves along the path of rate normalization, emerging market countries also have to face the risks of capital outflow.

The biggest recipients of the investment dollars were expected to be India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran and Egypt, the bank said in a report released earlier this month. India stands to be the biggest gainer overall, according to the report, with China putting in ¬between US$84 billion and US$126 billion. Russia is next with US$53 billion to US$80 billion; ¬Indonesia third on US$35 billion-US$52 billion; Iran fourth attracting US$17 billion-US$26 billion; and Egypt fifth with US$13 billion to US$20 billion. The report also says China could invest between US$52 billion and US$79 billion in 13 African countries. “Africa is rich in resources, and an important destination for Chinese investment over the past decade,” it said.

A successful, inclusive, globally collective effort to make the belt and road a reality could be a harbinger of peace and prosperity. It is a pity that myopia and prejudice prevent Western and Japanese leaders from being present at this potentially seminal event.

South India’s take

President Xi’s project was intended to present the world with a view of statecraft different from what the West espoused. But so far Beijing had failed to find a rhetoric that would appeal to Westerners. China invites the world to join its “project of the century. The president’s vision, however, is winning supporters from across the globe. Xi told the conference: “Swan geese are able to fly far and safely through winds and storms because they move in flocks and help each other as a team,” The message is: the best way to meet challenges and achieve better development is through cooperation.”

Pakistan

Pakistan where the Sino-Pakistani joint projects succeeded is the corner stone of China’s economic project. India is opposed to it.

The project OBOR was first unveiled in September and October when Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and Southeast Asia in September and October 2013 he raised the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and announced two major projects revealing the SREB and MSR, respectively. It was also promoted by Premier Li Keqiang during the State visit in Asia and Europe. The initiative calls for the integration of the region into a cohesive economic area through building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges, and broadening trade.

China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (also known by the acronym CPEC) is a collection of infrastructure projects currently under construction throughout CPEC is intended to rapidly modernize Pakistani infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction. On 13 November 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia. The CPEC in particular is often regarded as the link between China’s maritime and overland Silk Road, with the port of Gwadar forming the crux of the CPEC project.

The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China provides opportunities for the whole world to promote peace and prosperity, experts in Bangladesh said China’s peaceful development is a blessing and opportunity for countries which face extreme difficulties given the rising protectionism in some countries. Bangladeshi experts highly lauded China’s contribution to socioeconomic development of the world and said the initiative of reviving the ancient Silk Road through a network of roads and maritime waterways will surely be a boon for cooperation between China and the rest of the world.

According to the experts, countries on the Belt and Road, especially those with underdeveloped infrastructure, low investment rates and per-capita income, could experience a boost in trade flow and benefit from infrastructure development.

Pakistan foreign affairs expert Muhammad Mehdi says that the trade plan is not solely a Chinese enterprise. “China sees annual trade volume with Silk Road countries from US$1 trillion to US$2.5 trillion within a decade. It reflects 9.6 per cent of annual growth. If South Asia taps this opportunity, it can change the fate of its poor people,” he says. An example of convergence of interests is clearly visible in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a multilateral development bank which India joined as the second largest shareholder after China. Similarly, the New Development Bank, where Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS) are equal partners, is headquartered in Shanghai, and is not envisaged as a Belt and Road initiative by them.

South Asia

The OBOR project, designed to span 65 countries covering 65 percent of the world population, would enable China to not only champion as the primary engine of one third of global economic output, but also accumulate vast amounts of capital as repayments, and through its own direct trade from Central Asia to Europe. The project would obviously impact on the South Asian region.

Plagued by territorial conflicts, poor governance and limping economies, the SA region has drawn inspiration from China’s plan and unleashed an effort to join a shared destiny. South Asia is marred by corruption that is undermining its growth trajectory. The World Economic Forum, in its 2015 Global Competitiveness Index, pointed to corruption as the primary reason for the region’s poor global competitiveness. As China puts conditions on every beneficiary of the trade plan to get rid of corruption, Pakistan and other South Asian countries must gear up to liberate themselves from vicious chains of corruption.

Unemployment is a daunting challenge for South Asia. In order to increase socio-economic viability, it has to create one million jobs every month till 2020. According to the International Labour Organisation, global unemployment will go up by 3.4 million in 2017. With the belt plan a catalyst for transformational change in the economic profile of South Asia, CPEC has started showing its productivity by opening up thousands of jobs for local people. China’s ambassador to Islamabad, Sun Weidong, told reporters that so far the initiative has generated 13,000 local jobs. Experts claim that CPEC projects are likely to create more than one million jobs in various sectors of Pakistan by 2030.

South Asia’s emergence as a leading economic power is in the making, and credit goes to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”. The grand plan has set into motion game-changing strategies that will lead to free trade agreements, economic integration, physical infrastructure plans, shared growth and structural reforms, all in tune with future demands.

Since this epic plan was announced, South Asia – weighed down by a reputation for regional conflicts, security threats, bad governance, impaired transparency, an energy crisis, poor infrastructure, fragile institutions and limping economies – has unleashed its effort to be part of a shared destiny.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a critical regional alliance in South Asia accounting for 21 per cent of the world’s population and 7 per cent of its economy, will receive a new lease of life after staying dysfunctional due to a long decade of differences among member countries, especially Pakistan and India. To help SAARC benefit from regional connectivity, China has already stepped up its endeavor to become a full member of the association.

India and China are part of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC), a sub-regional economic cooperation initiative involving the four countries which are engaged in talks for developing cooperation through a joint study group. This group had its latest meeting in Kolkata, India in late April. The BCIM-EC is now being projected as a component of the BRI by China. However, this initiative was conceived well before the Belt and Road Initiative was formulated, and it should not be subsumed within that strategy but instead pursued as a separate grouping for sub-regional cooperation. It involves full and equal ownership of all four countries involved, rather than a subsidiary position as a loop of the Belt and Road.

Like China, India has its own agenda of connectivity and cooperation within Asia and beyond. For instance, India’s “Act East” strategy is aimed at developing close economic synergies with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia. Two great nations and civilizations such as India and China need not endorse or sign on to each other’s strategies. A more pragmatic approach will be to explore synergies and look at projects they can work on together, without insisting on artificial labeling.

In the view of MP Lohani, former Nepalese ambassador to Bangladesh, China’s ambitious plan for regional connectivity will revitalize SAARC. So China’s induction into the regional body on the basis of its geographical, historical, cultural and economic features will be a breath of fresh air.

The trade plan’s impacts will make China’s free trade agreements with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and India more lucrative, triggering an economic boost. Though Pakistan and China are yet to finalize the second phase of a free trade deal, trade between the countries was valued at US$4 billion in 2006-07 and reached US$13.77 billion in 2015-16.

The potential benefits of the belt and road, if the dream were even only partly realized, could be enormous. The inclusion of the Middle East and Central Asia could contribute to peace and prosperity in these currently dramatically turbulent regions. The trade plan undoubtedly will have a deep impact in alleviating poverty plaguing South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people. As per the World Bank’s latest poverty calculation, about 570 million people in South Asia still survive on less than US$1.25 a day.

Peace is another dividend that will come to fruition with the new Silk Road initiative. India, with a fast-growing economy, has many disputes with China and Pakistan. It opposes the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of the trade initiative, due to its route passing through Gilgit Baltistan, which India considers a disputed area between Pakistan and India. However, Indian lobbyists in collaboration with their Chinese counterparts have been brainstorming to build a peaceful neighborhood for relishing joint economic benefits.

India’s worry

Nukes, Pakistan, Kashmir and cricket are the major concerns of India as it wants to control them at accost, including bribing big powers. All these domains, effectively managed by Indian lobbyist and agents, gave its economy strong footing.

Sandwiched between China and Pakistan and facing a strong freedom movement in occupied Jammu Kashmir, India took an uncharacteristically bold foreign policy stance by turning down China’s invite. India’s objections are rooted on the fundamental issue of its own sovereignty and territorial integrity, which it says have been violated due to the project. India feels the OBOR will basically further interests of Chinese banks and Chinese companies while ignoring Indian sensitivities. It appears to be a rapacious penetration of Pakistan’s economy and territory, including that of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to which India lays claim, by Chinese enterprises and agencies.

Whenever India, ignoring the freedom struggle being waged by Kashmiris who have been fighting for their lost sovereignty, has lobbied at international forums for entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, permanent membership of the UN Security Council and push for UN sanctions against Pakistan, Beijing has always opposed i. Beijing thus offers New Delhi little incentive to be ebullient about bolstering its own causes and crusades especially at the international level

India is keen not to lose out Jammu Kashmir under any new project in South Asia. India opposes and ignores the OBOR. China’s relations with India are not as smooth as its Pakistani ties, although all these nations occupy parts of Jammu Kashmir. India is suspicious of Chinese moves. Plans are being hammered out for a free trade agreement between India and China. That effort comes amid India-China trade volume hitting US$70 billion in 2016 as India sought to increase exports to US$30 billion. Meanwhile, joint feasibility studies for a FTA linking Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are on the fast track.

There is room for closer consultations between China and India on the objectives, contours and future directions of the Belt and Road. However, India has considered synergy-based cooperation on a case-by-case basis, where its interests for regional development converge with that of other countries, including China. This pragmatic approach is formulated on India’s stance that as the two major powers in Asia, there is bound to be common understanding on many global and regional issues between India and China. They have cooperated on international platforms with similar positions on climate change and global trade, for instance.

Linked to this is the compulsion of protecting Chinese maritime commerce, particularly oil, in the IOR. India risks being systematically frozen out of business opportunities in an enlarging area that is integrating with the Chinese economy around the world.

Chinese scholars have been issuing dire warnings on how India would be isolated as most Asian nations as well as the USA and Russia are on board. India’s non-cooperation is also being linked to Sino-Indian ties, which have hit a new low lately. The unresolved decades-old border dispute, Chinese support for India’s arch-rival Pakistan and New Delhi’s backing of the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama which rankles China, have affected bilateral relations.

Critics also feel that India’s underwhelming response to China’s grand scheme stems in part from the latter consistently squashing its neighbor’s ambitions to augment its influence at the global high table.

It is difficult to say whether India hated more China or Pakistan. India has repeatedly conveyed its strong objections regarding the CPEC to China. A flagship program and the most advanced component of the initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region that is under the control of Pakistan and India now claims to be its own as a ploy to force Pakistan to stop fighting for India occupied Kashmir. As a country acutely conscious of its own sovereignty-related claims, it wants China to appreciate India’s “sensitivities” in this regard.

Besides Indian objections, a document acquired by leading Pakistani daily Dawn lays out Beijing’s plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes installing 24-hour surveillance in major cities and the dissemination of Chinese culture. Such designs could give fuel to those who frame OBOR as 21st-century Chinese colonialism.

Problems and Prospects

The Belt and Road plan, according to Beijing, is a practical economic strategy for China’s objectives to connect the region, seek new growth engines for its slowing economy, utilize its surplus capacity, and develop and stabilize its western regions. It would also bring benefits to partner countries.

The Belt and Road plan is a Chinese initiative rather than a multilateral enterprise undertaken after prior consultation with potential partner countries, and India has not endorsed it. It is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programs ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and expanded presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has been presented as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. But for India seeking not to lose out Kashmir by any developmental projects in the region, the connotations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” for New Delhi are somewhat different. By joining, India could benefit from Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, and fast-track its economic development through trade connectivity.

The origin of the belt and road idea is to open up China’s landlocked western provinces towards Central Asia in a sense it is exporting China’s internal needs to find external solutions.

It is however wrong today to presume that the One Belt-One Road in Beijing is fundamentally the elaboration of a Chinese dream wherein participant countries appear only as facilitators and fade away China would make maximum out of it. India opposes China to be on top of the hierarchy of the states participating in it and it does not approve Chinese leadership and seeks USA to contain China. .

Enthusiasm for Chinese money, however, does not equate to enthusiasm for Chinese leadership. OBOR revealed eye-catching figures including the Chinese government’s pledge to invest $124 billion into the scheme and provide $78 billion of financing for OBOR projects.

Both the Belt and Road are clearly intended to enhance connectivity not just across Eurasia but between China and Europe. However, the EU, which holds reservations over OBOR, can put the brakes on China’s plans, demonstrated by its ongoing investigation into the Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail funded by Beijing.

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South Asia

Proxy War and the Line of Control in Kashmir

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Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.Thomas Moore

The Backdrop

Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).

The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle. 

With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.

Proxy War and Kashmir

Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).

 As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.

In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).

Line of Control and Kashmir

In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.

Proxy War and Line of Control

 In Juxtaposition

Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.

In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.   

 In Search of a Settlement

Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.

Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been  unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.

Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018).  Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.

Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.

Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.

 India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.

Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being  used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan,   India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil.  Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.

In Conclusion

Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”

Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir  is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).

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Increasing Need for Global Cooperation and Solidarity- Interview with Dr. Tandi Dorji

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Covid-19 has invoked challenges worldwide that require us to formulate innovative solutions. Dr.Tandi Dorji , the foreign minister of Bhutan talks about the need to foster and increase transnational cooperation during these trying times.

Dr. Tandi Dorji has played a significant role in fostering Indo-Bhutan relations, and in the interview, he discussed future areas of collaboration, cultural understanding, and international engagement among the youth of the two countries. Having been a public health researcher before, Dr. Dorji reflects that the pandemic has rendered the population of Bhutan really vulnerable, and thinks that a challenge of such nature and scale can be surmounted only with global solidarity, cooperation and diligent efforts.

Some nations have a lot of financial, technical and human resources to tackle the pandemic, but others with weak public health systems and constrained by lack of resources cannot be sustained by sole efforts. There is a need to recognize this disparity and acknowledge that a weak link could jeopardize efforts aimed at global collaboration. Governments, health organizations, private sectors, scientists and researchers need to work with a common aim.

Countries that have research and financial capabilities need to come forward and support organizations like WHO that are responding to the current crisis through vaccine research. The collaborations in vaccine research need to be speeded up, and in order to make them more accessible and affordable for all countries, there needs to be a proper regulatory framework put in place.

This calls for a renewal in diplomatic efforts and increased funding programs by nations that already possess resources to tackle the crisis.

As someone who studied and lived in India for more than 15 years of his life, Dr. Dorji really appreciates the cultural richness and diversity present across states in India. He says that cultural understanding can play a very vital part in creating empathy within a population for the other side’s paradigm and mindsets. Being informed of a person’s or a culture’s peculiarities enables us to comprehend them better.

Cultural differences, according to him, have not prevented people from working together. Rather, the fact that different countries in the past have come together under the purview of common international frameworks has provided opportunities to different cultures to reach out to one another, and to understand as well as accept the differences among them.

Dr. Dorji also believes that the principles and values that construct out society play a crucial role in informing our education system, so the need of the hour is to collectively create an environment that would make the youth feel more involved and develop the ability in them to engage in constructive discussion and exercise other forms of proactive citizenship, including in the areas of foreign affairs and international relations.

From politics to economics to health, the world has become a lot more interconnected than before, and to succeed in this global age it is very important to instil in students the ability to think globally, communicate across cultures, and act on issues of global significance; and while school education could play a role by incorporating foreign affairs and international relations in the curriculum, to foster greater awareness and intercultural empathy among nations we would also need to enable young minds to understand how the foreign policy objectives constructed by a nation affects their daily lives and the society at large.

More exchange programs between the schools and colleges of India and Bhutan in the fields of sports, culture and science and more youth-focused programs is one way to enhance the probability of intercultural understanding.

Dr. Dorji also says that India being one of the largest economies of the world, and predicted to become the second largest by 2050, there is much scope for collaboration between India and Bhutan within sectors such as Science, technology, tourism, Information technology, space and satellites, and pharmaceuticals. Indian investments in such sectors could be explored in the near future.

His Majesty the King of Bhutan (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk) has particularly stressed the importance of STEM in harnessing technological advances, which can only happen by investing in these subjects. Economies are progressing and the world is gradually becoming more digital, so the national labour market is also going to require skills with an added emphasis on technical abilities, and it is highly important that our children are prepared to participate in discoveries and technologies that would unfold in future. One of them is space, and although Bhutan lacks resources and is a small country, it is important for more Bhutanese young people to realise the value of, and take up space studies.

The government, as per Dr. Dorji, shall be ready to encourage and promote the same.

Dr. Tandi Dorji concluded by saying that he appreciates the strong cultural heritage of India and how the country has managed to preserve and promote it.

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Reimagining Pakistan Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State- Book Review

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Pakistan:  A Lost Cause?

In his book, ‘Reimagining Pakistan’, Husain Haqqani discusses the origins of Pakistan as a state while laying bare the genesis of the state it has evolved into, ultimately culminating with his formula, for a reimagined Pakistan. As he rightly points out, Jinnah, when calling for a separate state of Pakistan, invoked religion as a way of giving a semblance of unity and solidity to his divided (by ethnicity, language, geography) Muslim constituents. Consequently, his demand for Pakistan was perforce “specifically ambiguous and imprecise” (p.7) (Jalal)so as to command general support. This base of religious nationalism also became the country’s foundation for successive governments.

Then, taking a look behind the scenes, Haqqani says, even as the new state of Pakistan, was formed disadvantageously, with no functioning capital city, government or financial resources, its ill prepared founders unlike their Congress counterparts had no plans for the smooth functioning of a new country. Even, the concept of a common Governor General with India was rejected and Jinnah became the first head of state thereby losing for Pakistan all advantages financial and otherwise of having a moderating influence of a common governor general. Delineating the chemistry of Pakistani politics since independence, Husain with absolute clarity tells us that almost from the beginning part of the state apparatus used religion and religious groups for political ends. This unleashed a rampaging genie of religious–political chaos from time to time with the army stepping in to return the rampaging genie to its proverbial bottle. In this context Haqqani tells us that it was Zia’s US backed “religious militancy” (p.100)in the form of jihad which Pakistan is dealing with till this day.

The author succinctly says Pakistan has thus become home to the world’s “angriest Muslims” (p.112), with successive civilian and military governments choosing to appease “dial-a-riot” (ibid)Islamist hardliners, rather than confronting them. Drawing upon Shuja Nawaz’s telling comment that “Pakistan’s history is one of conflict between an under developed political system and a well – organized army”(Nawaz), Husain invokes this argument to point to consistent authoritarianism in the history of Pakistan when he refers to its four key military dictators.

The author also invokes Bengali leader Suharwardy’s prophetic commentary on possible economic chaos in Pakistan, wherein he had warned that there would be no commerce, business or trade if Pakistan were to keep “raising the bogey of attacks” (p.58), and engage in constant “friction with India” (ibid). Husain in his book, ‘India vs Pakistan – Why can’t we just be Friends’ talks of this pathological obsession with India and the consequent pressure points in their relationship. Ignoring, Jinnah’s vision of two countries, with porous borders, “like the United States and Canada” (Jinnah, p.58).Unfortunately, with policy making playing second fiddle to national pride and morale, the narrative in Pakistan has become that of a victim not only of conspiratorial enemies but also an army which expands the magnitude of threats to match its size.

Hence, as the author points out most Pakistani leaders, except Ayub Khan have shown little interest in economic matters. Ignoring fundamentals of economics, aid gathered internationally by Pakistan as rentier to the western world, was frittered away in building military capacity just as it sank ever lower in terms of human development indices. With the culture being one of extolling the “warrior nation” (p.62) over the “trader nation” (ibid), Pakistan then fell into a state of “ideological dysfunction” (p.63). Like Husain says, Justice Munir of the Munir Commission in 1953 was prescient when he said that, “you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense”(p.83). The author quickly links this up to “Islamist Rage” (p.96), with jihad as a panacea for all the ills that befell the nation. Before long, the self-proclaimed Pakistani upholders of the honour of Islam and its prophet re-wrote their history with falsehoods to fit a fictional narrative born from an inherent insecurity which even acquisition of nuclear weapons could not assuage.

Ultimately, in his quest to offer a roadmap for a reimagined Pakistan, the most telling suggestion that comes from Haqqani is his exhortation that Pakistan should embrace its “multi-ethnic” (p.274) and “multi lingual reality” (ibid)just like Belgium did many years back and forever rid itself of the spectre of disintegration. He would thus, like his country to draw away from its focus on survival and resilience, a concept partially imparted by its military moorings and truly reimagine itself as a non- confessional state where the “individual can be pious and the society can be religious”(p.120). Going further, to him Pakistan has to have a national identity other than its self -obsessive and ever draining competition with India and not forever depend on God alone to ensure its survival.

Thus, wanting Pakistan to stop its “march of folly”(Tuchman), by creating a national identity which bypasses the nexus between power and bigotry, quoting Ayesha Jalal he talks of the damaging lack of territorial nationalism in the definition of Pakistan as an Islamic State. In this context he traces the breaking away of East Pakistan and possible future disintegration of Pakistan along ethnic lines just as it happened in say, Russia. Undeniably, Haqqani exhibits great courage when he says that if Pakistan has to have a future different from its past, it must identify the various confabulations of its leaders so as to not fulfill Barbara Tuchman’s “march of folly”, due to “governmental folly and obstinacy” (p.244).

All this notwithstanding, in this book Husain has laid bare the origins and development of Pakistan, in to what it is today. As an expert on radical Islamic movements, he traces the stranglehold that the jihadists and Islamic movements have on the state players and also tells us that it is the army which acts as a check and balance whatever else the other negatives might be in allowing the army to play such a pivotal role in the formation of the Pakistan nation and creation of jihadist movements. Quoting extensively from primary and secondary sources, he shows the proverbial mirror to the collective psyche of his nation. Jinnah’s speeches and Munir Commission’s findings are excellent primary sources in this regard, while among others Ayesha Jalal and Shuja Nawaz add credibility and meaningful insights to Husain’s process of reasoning. At the same time research and data is indeed exhaustive and the research team not lacking in extending support to his rubric, while Haqqani himself does not draw away from some uncomfortable truths that Pakistan must face. Even though, Husain has done a remarkable and honest job in analysing the dysfunctional aspects of the state of Pakistan, where the book lacks is that though the title suggests we are going to read about a roadmap to reimagine Pakistan, the emphasis is more on how the state was formed, its ideological moorings, and the role of the various players as it evolved over time. The suggestions for reimagining obviously need more reimagining as the suggestions provided by the author are not in the form of a coherent roadmap and his suggestions are few and far between besides being scattered randomly at times, through the course of the book. Also, to my mind, the author does not face the real tough questions as to how the cat (army) is to be belled, the monolithic behemoth that it has become. Over here, G Parthasarthy’s comment, “Every country has an army but in Pakistan, an army has a country”(G.Parthasarthy), comes to mind, something which its leaders would do well to remember. Besides this Husain does not seem to hold the western powers to account as they were probably just as much to blame for the current state of affairs when they played the renewed “great game”(Hopkirk)in this part of the world. From his unique perspective as an advisor to four ex-prime-ministers and the ambassadorship to U.S.A at a time when there was a global war on terrorism(Haqqani, Hudson Institute ), Haqqani should have dwelt as much on reimagining as he did on cautioning his homeland from its precipitous “march to folly” (p.264)(.Tuchman). Perhaps a second volume could take up this slack wherein the excellent foundational analysis of the state of Pakistan is the launch pad for a futuristic road map for reimagining.

Reimagining Pakistan Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State by Husain Haqqani, Harper Collins ,2018

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