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Amid Doklam standoff, Narendra Modi meets Xi Jinping in China briefly

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Even as the debate on who won the Doklam standoff still remains inconclusive, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to China to attend the BRICS in Xiamen and went up to Chinese President Xi Jinping to shake hands on the venue stage.

The Chinese and the Indian troops were engaged in a standoff since June 16 after the Indian side stopped the construction of a road by the Chinese Army. On August 28, India’s External Affairs Ministry announced that New Delhi and Beijing have decided on ‘expeditious disengagement’ of their border troops in the disputed Doklam area.

Notwithstanding the Doklam standoff, which had put ties between the two countries under strain, Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping held their first brief bilateral meeting on September 05.

Modi and Xi Jinping held their first bilateral meeting 73-day face-off between their troops in the Doklam area of the Sikkim sector.

Modi, who attended the BRICS Emerging Markets and Developing Countries Dialogue earlier in the day, met on prior arrangement President Xi on the sidelines of the 9th BRICS Summit in Xiamen.

During their meeting, Modi congratulated Xi on a ‘very successful’ BRICS Summit. “China is prepared to work with India to seek guidance from the five principles of Panchsheel,” XI Jinping told PM Modi. Xi added that India and China are each other’s major neighbours; we are also two of the world’s largest and emerging countries. The two leaders reaffirmed the understanding reached at Astana to not allow differences to become disputes.

PM Modi, accompanied by a large team including senior officials National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, met the Chinese leader just before his travel to Myanmar from this port city. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were forward looking and constructive.

Speaking to media, Jaishankar said, “The two leaders reaffirmed that it is in the interest of both India and China to have good relations and felt that there should be closer communication between the defence and security personnel of India and China… It was a forward-looking conversation and not a backward-looking one,” Jaishankar said when asked whether Doklam stand-off was left behind by the two sides. He also said that important point made during the meeting was peace and tranquility in the border area is a prerequisite for further development of a relationship.

India says there was a forward-looking and constructive approach taken by both sides.  “Counter terrorism’ related issues were taken up during the course of BRICS, they were not discussed at this meeting.  An important point made during the meeting was peace and tranquility in the border area is a prerequisite for further development of a relationship.  There was a sense that if a relationship is to go forward then peace and tranquility on border areas must be maintained.

Interestingly, Modi and Xi kept on shaking their hands almost mutually for a long time as if they want to signal to restart the standoff left abruptly owing to the summit. .

The end of a standoff between India and China over a remote road on the Doklam plateau has prompted a vibrant discussion about the lessons learned. The emerging consensus in New Delhi is that India “won” and China “lost.” it remains unclear that India “won.” India’s strategic experts talked about India’s is willingness to challenge China and standoff is even viewed as providing a model that other states can use to counter Chinese coercion. If others stand up, China will back down.

Nevertheless, this consensus is misplaced. And the usual cricket analogy of winning and losing obscures much more than it reveals.

From India’s point of view, the status quo ante of June 2017 was restored, a victory. Yet from China’s perspective, Indian forces withdrew from Chinese territory (also claimed by Bhutan, but not by India). Moreover, on the ground at the site of the confrontation, Indian forces pulled back first. Meanwhile, Chinese forces still remain in Doklam, even if Beijing chose not to press ahead with the road extension that sparked the standoff.

There is also no indication from Chinese or Indian statements that China had to make any concessions to convince India to withdraw its troops. China’s claims and behavior will not change, noting that China would “continue with its exercise of sovereign rights” in the disputed area. In other words, China will still conduct patrols in Doklam and maintain the portions of road that had been built before the standoff started in early June.

Despite the triumphalism from some voices in New Delhi, India likely learned that Beijing does not back down immediately or without sustained effort. The disengagement at Doklam took more than ten weeks of diplomacy, much longer than previous confrontations along the China-India border in 2013 and 2014, which lasted only a few weeks.

China also had other reasons to seek de-escalation, none of which can be attributed to India’s intervention. An active confrontation would have cast a pall over the upcoming BRICS summit that China is hosting in Xiamen in early September. Russia, the leader of the BRICS, would have asked China not to escalate now and China obliged. And on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress, Xi Jinping likely wanted to avoid any risky escalation that could affect the significant transfer of power that will occur. Once these events pass, however, China may be less constrained and more willing to tolerate risk on the border with India.

The Indian intervention also does not offer a “model” that other states can apply elsewhere for countering China’s assertiveness. India enjoyed tactical superiority at the site of the standoff, leveraging its well-developed forward position at Doka La and reserves of much larger forces based permanently in Sikkim. These advantages likely played a role in limiting China’s response.

Moreover, even if India scored a tactical win by thwarting China’s road extension, it may have lost at the strategic level. Ironically perhaps, India’s actions underscored to China the importance of enhancing its military position in the Doklam bowl. Before the standoff in June, China’s permanent presence in the area had been quite limited. China had maintained a road in the area for several decades, but did not garrison any forces. In contrast, India has maintained and developed a forward post at Doka La adjacent to Doklam.

India justified its action based on its commitments to Bhutan under a 2007 treaty. India has chosen to confront China at Doklam and China may well seek to rectify this tactical imbalance of forces by bringing in forces. In fact, China began to station forces (zhushou), to troops deployed to Doklam after the standoff began. China would likely build facilities farther away from India’s position at Doka La, making it more challenging for India to intervene and block China next time. When India challenged China’s construction crews in June, it only had to move its forces a hundred meters from the existing border. But in the future, India may be faced with the uncomfortable choice of risking much more to deny China a greater presence farther inside Doklam or accepting it. So, even if India won this round, it may not win the next one.

China may have achieved some of its political objectives, whose importance overshadows the standoff over the road. Bhutan, always worried about being caught between its much larger neighbors, may become more reluctant to test China on territorial issues to avoid being drawn into a conflict between India and China.

If China seeks to address the tactical imbalance in Doklam in the future, India may be less successful using the same method to deter China again.

Take, for example,. The Doklam “model” would suggest that if China sought to build a permanent presence on the reef Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the USA could stop Chinese land reclamation by intervening on behalf of the Philippines to block Chinese dredgers. Yet unlike India’s open support of Bhutan’s claim to sovereignty over Doklam, the USA maintains a position of neutrality on the sovereignty of the contested land features in the South China Sea and around the world. Indo-US strategic partnership is not reliable.

Faced with finances for all its terror wars, USA is cautious about intervening in China’s territorial disputes directly, especially if states opposing China in territorial disputes actively seek greater material support from Washington. China would view such a change in US policy as a significant challenge to all its territorial disputes with neighbors and react harshly to probe U.S. resolve, perhaps even taking limited military action to deter the USA from carrying out its new policy.

The narrow definition of the issue permitted troops to disengage without letting the more complicated problems prevent de-escalation. China and India – two nuclear-armed powers – avoided letting a small confrontation escalate into a much wider and more dangerous conflict. So the frame of winning and losing is misplaced.

The genius of the Doklam disengagement is that diplomats defined it in narrow and specific terms, focusing only on the forces at the “face-off site.” Larger issues, such as the location of the tri-junction between China, India and Bhutan, along with China and Bhutan’s competing claims to Doklam, were left off the table. By not disclosing the terms under which the standoff ended, diplomats also allowed each other to save face.

Given that China will continue to press its territorial claims against India and Bhutan, as well as in the East and South China Seas, policymakers should be wary of learning the wrong lessons from the disengagement at Doklam.

The focus should now shift to how diplomacy can be employed to avoid military confrontations and reduce opportunities for conflict.

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South Asia

Is Indian Democracy Dying?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The prominent journalist and editor, Shujaat Bukhari was leaving work when he and his two bodyguards were shot and killed.  Suffice to say newspapers are the lifeblood of democracy and Indian administered Kashmir under the decades-long grip of a half-million strong security force has a questionable claim.  Yet brave journalists, unafraid, write and sometimes pay the consequences.

Following Mr. Bukhari’s murder and the thousands attending his funeral, the security services have raided presses shutting down newspapers.  The internet is not quite as easily controlled, so some have been busy updating their sites.

Since Gauari Lankesh was brutally murdered at her doorstep in September 2017, another four journalists have lost their lives.  She, too, espoused views contrary to the ruling party’s current philosophy of an India aligned only with the mores of upper-caste Hindus.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, the principal Indian leaders who fought many decades for independence would have been appalled.  Gandhi protected low caste untouchables referring to them as the ‘children of god’; they are now known as Dalits.  Nehru, a Brahmin by birth, was a socialist in belief.  His dream was of a secular, socialist India.  The latter is long over, the former under vicious attack as Muslim and Christian minorities are marginalized.  In addition to journalists, three heavyweight intellectuals have been killed.  All were rationalists, the Indian word for atheists.

Gandhi was assassinated less than six months after independence by a right-wing Hindu nationalist who was angry at Gandhi’s moderate attitude toward Muslims.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the extreme-right Hindu Mahasabha political party, and had his roots in the paramilitary, Hindutva-promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).  Its militancy has led to its being banned three times:  after the Gandhi assassination, during the Indira Gandhi emergency rule in the mid-1970s, and for its role in the Babri Mosque demolition.  The British also found its beliefs beyond the pale and banned it during their rule.

Not only is the RSS flourishing now but it serves openly as the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  Together they continue to push their agenda for a Hindu India tolerating only Hindu culture or beliefs, in other words, Hindutva or Hindu hegemony.

Hindutva scholar Shridhar D. Damle confirms what is quite well known, that the RSS is now exerting its influence in academia, government and cultural organizations.  The laws restricting cow slaughter are not a Narendra Modi whim.  Mr. Modi joined the RSS at the age of eight, was nurtured and nourished by it, the philosophy seeping into his bones like mother’s milk; any moderation necessitated only by political considerations.

The RSS infiltration of academia is pervasive.  Last year, its think tank, Prajnah Pravah, summoned 700 academics including 51 university vice-chancellors (presidents) to Delhi to attend a workshop on the importance of a Hindu narrative in higher education; just one example of influencing what can be taught.  A gradual loss of academic freedom has been the frightening consequence of constant interference backed up by its militancy — frightening because dying with intellectual freedom, journalists, writers and thinkers is also Indian democracy … slowly but surely, unless the voters stand up to the RSS sharkhas (volunteers) at the next election.

Nobody knows who killed Mr. Bukhari.  But when the standards have been set and a certain climate prevails, does it mean much?

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US- North Korea talks: A role model for Pakistan and India?

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Shahbaz Sharif — Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, current PML-N President, Former CM of Punjab (Pakistan) and the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general election — while reacting to the meeting between US President, Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, stated that India and Pakistan should seek to emulate both countries, and explore the possibility of resuming dialogue.

Tweeted Shahbaz Sharif: ‘The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,’

Shahbaz, an astute politician and a capable administrator has generally refrained from commenting on India. More so, after his elder brother, had got into trouble after his remarks on the Mumbai attacks In an interview to Dawn, the former PM had said:

‘Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai”.. Why can’t we complete the trial?’

Nawaz Sharif drew flak not just from the National Security Committee (which includes top civil servants and defense officials). NSC issued a statement, saying:

‘The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.

Some parliamentarians of the PML-N, also said that Sharif’s remarks were ‘inappropriate’. They had to be assuaged by Shahbaz

What are the precise implications of Shahbaz’s statements at this time?

Shahbaz Sharif’s statement is significant because the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has sought to extend an olive branch to India via his statements — though the ground situation across the LoC has not witnessed a significant change .

Shahbaz Sharif on his part is seeking to send the signal, that he is all for a better relationship with India, and this will go down well with large sections of the population in Punjab (this includes not just members of Civil Society, but the business community as well). As Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), he had visited India (December 2013), and met with then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, while also visiting his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in (Punjab, India). Shahbaz had also attended the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Attari in April 2012. Shahbaz has sought to strengthen people to people as well as economic ties with Indian Punjab.

In 2017, when both Punjab’s and North India was engulfed in smog, Shahbaz had also written to his counterpart in Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh,  seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue of smog, as well as environmental pollution.  Said Sharif, ‘..Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,”

At the same time, in his recent tweet, Shahbaz also raised the Kashmir issue, and does not want to appear excessively soft or a ‘sell-out’. Especially, vis-à-vis the hardliners and the military. Shahbaz Sharif had tweeted:

‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same, beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation.

In April 2018, at a rally Shahbaz had raised the Kashmir issue, saying ‘..we will make Kashmir part of Pakistan,”

Fourth, Shahbaz wants to ensure, that the PML-N sets the agenda of the election campaign with this statement he has also ensured, that PTI will need to make its stance on ties with India clear

Mixed signals from Imran Khan

Imran Khan has so far given mixed signals, on many issues including ties with India. Khan has attacked Sharif’s for being soft on the Kashmir issue, and stated that he will be far more vocal and raise the issue on International Forums. At a rally in 2016, the  Pakistan-Tehreek-E-Insaaf PTI Chief and former cricketer stated:

“Human rights are being trampled in Kashmir…And no matter what, we will support Kashmiris morally and politically.

Imran Khan also accused Sharif of having a close rapport with Modi and bartering away Pakistan’s interests in the process. The PTI Chief has also sought an enquiry into Nawaz Sharif’s ‘business interests’ in India on more than one occasion.

On the other hand on occasions, Khan has spoken about the need for improving India-Pakistan ties. Interestingly, during a visit to India in December 2015, Imran had called on Modi, and claimed to have had a constructive conversation on bilateral issues.

Conclusion

What is clearly evident is that Shahbaz, a consummate politician, will essentially follow his brother’s approach of wanting to improve ties with India, while not ruffling feathers with the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, also wants to send a message to both the opposition (especially the PTI) and the establishment (Pakistan military and ISI). While the message to the PTI, is that he will not allow it to set the agenda for the election.  To the establishment, Shahbaz Sharif’s message is that he is ready to work with them, but will not play second fiddle.

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South Asia

Pakistan & India’s NSG membership: Challenges and prospects

Uzge A. Saleem

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Both the front runners of South Asia have found a new interest in becoming a part of the international non-proliferation regime. This desire was made public when both the states applied for membership in May 2016. So far both have faced disappointment and as the NSG 28th plenary meeting approaches the debate of whether there will be one winner, two winners or no winner at all, rekindles. The decision is crucial for both because they have their own set of concerns riding on this membership. Indian Prime Minister Modi has made the NSG membership the single most important foreign policy agenda for his regime while Pakistan does not want to be blocked out of the trade group by India if it becomes a member.

With the waiver India gained from NSG somehow got stuck in an illusion that this special treatment will apply to all the aspects of Indo-NSG understanding. The hope was killed when no decision was made in the 2016 plenary meeting. However India being India, did not register this clear signal. Part of its lobbying tactics was to become a part of MTCR. The agenda here was two fold: a)it wanted the support of the 34 MTCR members in NSG and; b). it wanted to help China become a part of MTCR (which it was previously rejected) so that China softens its stance on India’s NSG membership. The latter goal has not been met yet. The real problem is not India’s membership into NSG but its vision of itself as the driving force for the region, and as soon as it is able to get  NSG membership, this agenda will be on top of its ‘to do list’ to block Pakistan out. If India was to play on fair lines it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Its desire of blocking Pakistan out is clear by its insistence on a merit based approach through which it assumes Pakistan will be left out for not fulfilling the merit. What it doesn’t realize is that even to set a merit there needs to be a certain criteria for that.

Coming towards the second candidate for the membership i.e. Pakistan, it has maintained a principle stance over the membership of the trade group. If Pakistan cannot become a part of the NSG because the state is not party to NPT then the same applies to India as well and any special treatment would be nothing more than discrimination. What the international community needs to be communicated is that they it cannot have a biased approach for the state of Pakistan solely for the US and India’s strategic interests. The membership needs to be granted to both the South Asian states otherwise the asymmetry will further increase which will destabilize the peace and security of the South Asian region. Furthermore it needs to be brought into consideration that by granting membership to Pakistan, its nuclear program can be streamlined along with the rest of the recognized nuclear weapon states which will bring it under the rules and regulations of NSG. This is something the international community would want for Pakistan because apparently it has reservations regarding the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear program so why not bring it at par with the rest of the programs where the skepticism regarding illegal proliferation can be eradicated once and for all?

Considering the case of both the states the only rational solution which China advocates in the NSG openly is that first of all the factor of states being NPT members must not be ignored since it is an important cornerstone for NSG however if it is to be overlooked then it must be overlooked for all aspirants alike and country specific approach should not be an option. Joining NSG can solve many issues for Pakistan including its problem of energy shortage as well as financial backwardness. Such an opportunity can prove to be beneficial for Pakistan as well as to the other states of NSG because the forum can also be used for confidence building and mutual understanding of each other’s circumstances. However India would not like this to happen so easily because that means compromising the leverage it gets by becoming the front runner in South Asian politics.

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