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South Asia

Human Rights Discourse in South Asia

Dr. Nafees Ahmad



The South Asia has been metamorphosing, transforming and transiting in desire and discourse, grace and guidance, purpose and practicality, pace and propensity, terrorism and transcendentalism, unity and ubiquity, and its regimental ruthlessness is mawkish with modernity, primordial with present and furtive with future that is devitalized to the proliferation of prognostications.

The propensity of the planet earth transcended its limits of growth, wealth of nations and industrialization of civility in an unprecedented fashion marked with producing rich out of rich, poor out of poor since the baseline of parochial peace inaugurated on October 24, 1945 as United Nations Organization whereunder human nature has become most conspicuous, covetous and cataclysmic in the present age needed by the ever-growing exemplary shift in its dialectics, dimensions, and delineation in terms of understanding, interpretation, and resolutions of human care and crises in its existentialism.

Idea of Human Rights

The idea of human right has had a long and diverse history that has given multiple meanings, hues and tones dependent on the context, condition and the objective of those conceptualizing this idea but, unfortunately, this idea has been predominantly understood in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic political priorities since time immemorial by the national and international jurisdictions at the level of nation-states and by the individuals, institutions and groups at the communitarian level. But to fit human right into any definition has not been met with intellectual and juridical consensus since the inception of the critters and creatures of reason who coddled human rights in a fashion acceptable to all but in vain. The concept of human rights, which was developed during the Enlightenment, re-emerged following the II-World War, and since then has repeatedly been utilized in the international and local realms. The hundreds of dedicated people around the globe have been working incessantly over the past 70 years to frame human rights protocols, covenants, and treaties, and in the process have produced an inspiring discourse.

Therefore, I have also attempted to clinch an understanding of human rights in the expositions henceforth that the human rights are natural rights whereto every man is the heir apparent without being deprived except according to the procedure, principles, and pursuits duly codified in law. Human rights are the perennial pursuits provided and protected by the state for the overall development of its citizens devoid of denial, deprivation and demonization owing to the grounds contrary to natural justice, the rule of law and good conscience. Human rights are the rights of human beings because of their status as human beings for sustenance and survival with human dignity wedded to state protection and societal sanctions deviant to geo-politico-cultural dichotomies. Human rights are the classical and contemporary civil liberties preserved, promoted and protected by the oriental and occidental societies alike within the confines of the law. Human rights are the human spirits emanating from a confluence of equality, fraternity, and liberty founded upon pluralism, secularism, and universalism guaranteed by the state and its laws. Human rights are pre-political and pre-social conditions blessed by nature upon human beings by virtue of their being human beings protected under the principles of natural law. Human rights are peremptory norms wherefrom no derogation or deviation or otherwise is contemplated, conceptualized and camouflaged contrary to dignity, decency and development of human personality under a just order founded upon democracy of judicial remedies, the majesty of the rule of law and supremacy of humanity. Human rights are conditions of peace, security and development of state and its citizens alike alien to avarice, corruption, deprivation, exploitation, fear, genocide, hate, inequality, jingoism, nepotism, oppression, persecution, repression, subjugation, totalitarianism, vengeance and xenophobia, etc.

What is South Asia

South Asia is the home to 22 percent of the world population and also a home of 43 percent poor people of the world. Despite the promising microeconomic growth, South Asia is the most impoverished region looked from human development indicators, such as health and education. The South Asian region inhabits 47 percent of the world’s illiterate population aged 15 years and above (up to 59 years). Over 71 percent of the South Asians live in rural areas mostly unemployed. Estimated 437 million people live below 1.25 US dollar a day and 237 million live at risk of dying before the age of 40 years. 867 million have no access to basic sanitation and more than 300 million undernourished. Therefore, South Asian discourse on human rights must take care of these people. The human rights discourse has transformed international and humanitarian laws, has helped reshape the relations between international organizations, governments and citizens and has become an active political and legal tool used by the politicians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements to advance their objectives. The human rights discourse is not some panacea for all social ills, and at times it can produce unanticipated detrimental results. The rights language can be and has been co-opted by people who promote oppressive policies. The leaders often cynically invoke rights discourse to enhance the realpolitik concerns and not because they care about the rights of individuals living in other countries or even the rights of their citizens. The once decreed as a norm or as a preferred goal, groups, and individuals can utilize this discourse to demand the enforcement and implementation of more ethical policies while marshaling internal forces and external support.

Human Rights Implementation

The implementation of human rights is in crisis worldwide. The annual reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations continue to reveal widespread gross violations of human rights in numerous countries the world over and South Asia region is not an exception. Democracy is non-existent or a sham in many countries in our part of the world. National resources are squandered by despotic rulers instead of being used to satisfy the basic economic and social needs of their people. Corruption is rife. The judiciary lacks the strength, the means, or the will to protect human rights in many places. The national human rights institutions are non-existent or non-performing in some cases in South Asia and elsewhere. In South Asia, many countries ratify human rights treaties without making the slightest attempt to give effect to them. The self-righteous representatives gather in the halls of the United Nations and use their majorities to insist that countries are grossly violating human rights be treated with kid gloves through dialogue and cooperation, instead of through forthright condemnation of atrocities. The UN Human Rights Council does little for the actual protection of human rights, and its Universal Periodic Reporting Process, for the time being, lacks teeth. The situation is dire.

The issue of human rights is frequently discussed in international and regional discourse, among the world leaders, and in the international media. There are international conferences and speeches on human rights, from Presidents, Prime Ministers and Popes alike about the importance of tolerance and respect for human rights, and media outlets broadcasting one program after another on the human miseries like poverty, ill-health and poor living conditions around the world. But what exactly is meant by human rights remains controversial and ambiguous, it is increasingly clear that there is some universal concept of human rights. In societies where citizens are free to participate in the political process and express opposition to their government, where they do not simply disappear in the blink of an eye and are free from starvation and poverty, human rights may never be a chief consideration or concern. But this only describes the condition of a minority of the global population.

Global Grimes and Crimes

Thus, identification and acceptance of human rights as an international issue by the world community has led to the establishment of a vast system of laws, treaties, and international organizations. Most states today recognize some limits to their sovereignty and, at least ostensibly, acquiesce to agreements and covenants designed to protect those rights. Before World War II, such a concept would have been deemed untenable, as state sovereignty remained the norm of international relations. The states were the final arbiter in the treatment of their citizens, and other countries should refrain from intervening in their affairs. The Holocaust and atrocities associated with the Nazi regime catalyzed the human rights movement, propelling the issue into the international arena. While South Asian discourse on the importance of human rights has incessantly swelled since the end of World War II, many states continue to violate a broad range of human rights. In fact, some of the worst human rights violations have occurred in modern times: the atrocities committed and perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the slaughter in Rwanda, the genocide in the Darfur region of United Sudan, persecution of Minorities in South Asia. The food insecurity, lack of clean water, and lack of primary health care continue to be everyday realities in many parts of the world including South Asia. Whereas slavery is on the rise today: in Eastern Europe and South Asia women trafficking as sex slaves; in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), children are being forced to fight in wars; and in most of the SAARC region particularly in India and Nepal, children are being compelled to work as child labour or in sweat-shops for subsistence wages instead of attending school. For many people, the lack of human rights is a daily reality, and this suggests that while citizens in parts of the South Asia have been experiencing greater respect for human rights, the majority have yet to realize and enjoy the full spectrum of human rights. The disjuncture between the South Asian discourse in human rights and the attainment of human rights is one of the pivotal paradoxes of the human life.

Sustainable Democracy

Therefore, the quest for sustainability of democratic values and institutions is unceasing in South Asia and all members of SAARC have constitutionally endorsed the liberal democracy, the rule of law and human rights. All the SAARC members have written constitutions based on the constitutionalism of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The principle of independence of the judiciary and its activist role to ensure implementation of pro-people and pro-democratic policies is manifestly higher in South Asia. The most top courts in the region have played crucial roles in shaping the people’s human rights. The recognition of the Justiciability of the economic, social and cultural rights in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh is spectacular. The grammar of modern South Asia determines the structure and limits of essential components of contemporary human rights discourse. The idea of South Asia constitutes an important part of our human rights discourse and imagination that determines what questions we ask about our law, polities and policy as well as the range of possible answers to these issues.

The idea of Human Rights Discourse in South Asia comprises of a synthesis of rules and principles about the suitable use of concepts like people, self-government, citizen, rights, equality, autonomy, nation and popular sovereignty. That quest about the normative relationship between nation-states and the cultural diversity as the criteria that should be employed to determine the legitimacy of the State, the individuals that can be regarded partners of the polity, the distinctions and limits between the private and the public spheres, and the dichotomies between autonomous and heteronomous political communities makes sense to us because they emerge from the rules and principles of human rights discourse. Different traditions of interpretation in human rights discourse in South Asia—constitutionalism, liberalism, communitarianism, and nationalism, among others–compete to control the way these concepts are understood and put into practice. However, it was difficult to deny that South Asian constitutionalism and western legal traditions in human rights have exerted a strong influence on most of the South Asian legal systems.

South Asian Legal Systems

Hence, this influence has been constrained or structured by many factors, with particular influences explaining the actual impact of eastern legal traditions on the various Asian legal systems.  Each particular South Asian legal system remains unique in many ways, the result being a mixture or a “blend” of these numerous factors. However, it is worth attempting to classify the major South Asian legal systems in the light of these many different influences. That history, religion, culture and political regime constitute the major criteria that can be used to differentiate the various South Asian legal systems and better measure the influence exerted on them by South Asian constitutionalism and Western traditions of human rights. Though every South Asian state has consistently espoused the constitutional values and principles of human rights and no government, no matter how authoritarian, claims to be anything other than a constitutional government. But, of late, vibrant constitutional democracies have taken hold in the South Asian soil. However, scant attention has been placed upon the ways that human rights have been brought into being and developed into distinctive forms in South Asia. By studying the South Asian jurisdictions together, some standard features communicated by the constitutional advancements in them, which include contributory democratic state-building, textual and institutional continuity, reactive judicial review and a wide range of human rights in tune with social and political progress, have emerged.

Human Rights Desiderata

However, there are desiderata like what is a right in South Asia? What are human rights in South Asia? Why do we have them or should we have them? Who is counted as a human and on what grounds? Is Dignity the Foundation of Human Rights? Are human rights truly universal, global or regional in South Asia? Does the disagreement about the meaning of human rights undermine it as a political project in South Asia? What kinds of human rights problems do the South Asia and the world face today? What role do South Asian judicial institutions play in addressing the human rights issues? Do the South Asian governments care about human rights? How did a South Asian discourse on human rights come to shape the regional consciousness imperatives in post-1985? What do human rights treaties require South Asian states to do? Why do countries sign up to human rights treaties? Do they ever respect human rights obligations and commitments? How do citizens and NGO’s exert pressure on states? Is human rights politics just ‘Selectivism’ in South Asia? Why does the US promote human rights and refuse to sign on to major human rights treaties? Are human rights just window-dressing for national interests in South Asia? What is the political economy of human rights discourse in South Asia? To attend and appreciate the contours of human rights discourse in South Asia and obligations and options available to the region with South Asian values, approaches to human rights, human rights of minorities in South Asia, place of gender in South Asia and how to go about exploring the feasibility of South Asian Charter of Human Rights

Deviant to the causes whatsoever of human displacement regarding normativity, performativity, and empiricism, there are many nemeses, but two are important and coterminous in their cascading impact, i.e., human displacement and consumerism. The biggest agony in life is a situation of being displaced from his/her country of the homeland in a fashion that is fallible, fallacious and fatal? To uproot anybody from his land of habitual residence amounts to deny and deprive him of his/her right to perpetual live, right to immemorial neighbourhood, right to historical culture, right to classic climate, right to perennial socialization, right to geopolitical predilections, right to socio-economic development, right to be consulted in economic modules, right to take part in community development, right to good governance, right to rule of law, and right to leave and return. Thus, these are not only rights but go beyond the systems of rights known as basic bonds, fundamental freedoms, inalienable entitlements, natural claims, and rudimental human rights. Whereas consumerism has become a catalyst likey to be employed as the last resort of elitism and propelling the priorities of political, social and cultural dispensations in every geo-strategic entity. Consumerism has been cribbed, crabbed and cabined in an envelope of gory globalization wherefrom no escape is possible for the men ordinaire and it is taking its toll to the hilt in a knowledge society which, unfortunately, does not have any knowledge about the society wedded with consumerism. Consumerism of contemporary class has smothered the colossal canvas of human bonds wherefrom oozes emotions, care, concerns and camaraderie well-founded upon the human spirit of co-existence, respect for diversity and civilizational dialogue.

South Asia Ahead

Therefore, the denuded downslide and pejorative permutations in the societal structures across the South Asia are nothing but offshoots of consumerism casting poverty, ecological degradation, environmental hazards, lopsided development, tectonic technologies, hexicological imbalances, deconstruction of a priori norms of normative sciences in research and development, etc. Thus, vicious vicissitudes of global change have presented a scene of development that is murky, mawkish and maneuvered by the political powers that are around the chess board of common heritage of gene-kind in and around national and supranational jurisdictions whereat humanity is at war within the humanity. Consequently, there is an supercilious ambience of peace, progress and prosperity that is exclusive, elite and alienated with a tinge of aggression, arrogance and attitude of above the board while not learning the lessons from economic melt-downs and fiscal drubbings in USA and Eurozone and elsewhere which has made the humanity to move, move and move in addition to the humanitarian crises and climate-induced displacement.

In this conspectus, I envision a concept of South Asian Government (SAG) or Regional Government well-founded upon a duly agreed South Asian Constitution (SAC) wedded with the Constitutionalization of South Asian Constitutionalism, South Asian Rule of Law (SAROL), Borderless South Asian Sovereignty (SAS), South Asian Common Natural Resources (SACONAR), South Asian Ethno-Cultural Synthesization (SAECS), South Asian Accountability Regime (SAAR), and South Asian Constitutional Law (SACOL) based on the regional institutionalization of equitable demography, federalization of humanity, bicameralization of governance, Parliamentarization of Regional Accountability as Parliament of Gene kind consisting of House of Nations (Upper House) and House of People (Lower House) whereunder South Asian Nations have been contemplated as units.

These features developed in the South Asian discourse on human rights do not merely mirror western standard nor are under the shadow of South Asian Values or merely in tandem with transitional understandings of rights jurisprudence. The full blossom of South Asian discourse on human rights will shed a new light and move from periphery to the center of regional engagement. The South Asian nations have had some difficulty in maintaining their independence of constitutional human rights and fundamental freedoms. The human rights discourse in South Asia has swept the world by the end of the last twentieth century. More than two-thirds of global populations observe to a certain extent human rights protection and the rule of law. The human rights discourse in South Asia has moved beyond traditional nation-state borders and developed into regional constitutionalism on rights. The efforts at making South Asian discourse in Human Rights the evolutionary process by which traditional South Asian states have moved closer to one another in a human rights sense illustrates this trend well. At the same time, North American countries including Canada, the United States, and Mexico have gradually been becoming a human rights block by sharing common regulatory powers in a constitutional sense.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at],drnafeesahmad[at]

South Asia

Hurdles in Pakistan’s Quest for Reaching Space



Space exploration is an expensive national objective for the state to pursue. In addition, if a state is a developing country facing much pressing traditional and non-traditional threats, space exploration has a tendency to end up an optional objective.

Every state has a right to prioritize which ever national objective it wants to achieve first. When it has issues like poverty, corruption, unemployment and terrorism etc. at hand, aiming for the space becomes a herculean task. Same happened in case of Pakistan.

However, a question arises that in the age of globalization, telecommunication and information technology is it plausible for a state to achieve its national objectives without investing into space technology? Space technology is becoming an essential as dependency on modern technology is increasing. Developing state cannot stand with developed nations of the world without investing into space technology. Space satellites are becoming a necessary technology to not only ensure state’s progress in information technology but they are vital for military interests of state as well. Space satellites are dual use technologies that are equally effective for military usage. These satellites enable the states in intelligence gathering, navigation and military communication, high resolution imagery and most importantly in developing early warning systems. With the help of early warning systems, states could detect the flight paths of incoming ballistic and cruise missile from enemy as well.

Though Pakistan is a developing state but it never shied away from pursuing ambitious technological pursuits. Pakistan’s space program “Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO)” established in 1961, is an example that as a nation importance of space exploration is not lost on state. Pakistan was the first country among its regional neighbors to pursue space program. However, these glittering generalities are part of the past that Pakistan witnessed regarding space satellites. Currently Pakistan is lagging in space program. In this day and age Pakistan has yet to launch remote sensing satellite in space which is essential in monitoring, recording change and in intelligence gathering as well.

Contrary to Pakistan its neighbor India which initiated its space program 8 years later, is now a record holder of sending more than 100 commercial and national satellites in one go. Furthermore, India has so far launched more than 100 satellites and establishes its network of satellites not only for commercial purposes but for military purposes as well. At the moment, India is using its 13 satellites for military purposes including Cartosat 1 and 2, Risat 1 and 2 and GSAT-7 or INSAT-4F for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over enemy areas.

The fact that India is also a developing country where the population is increasing and resources are becoming scarce by the day, is thought compelling. It is evident that by being mindful of military and economic benefits of space exploration India never gave up on its progress in arena of space technology. Significant contribution to India’s space program came from the development of strategic ties with the US and consequently its accession to MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement. It’s beyond any reasonable doubt that India’s space program achieved its glorious heights after making strategic ties with the US.

International support received by India is one of the significant reasons behind robust success of its space program but the same is not the reason behind slow pace of Pakistan’s space program.

There are several contributing factors behind inactive space program that Pakistan is running. One of the biggest technical short comings Pakistan is still facing in its space satellite program is the dearth of launching vehicle for space satellite. The satellite launch vehicle enables a state to enter its payload into an outer orbit from earth’s surface through the help of carrier rocket. Recent telecommunication and digital satellite launched by Pakistan utilized China’s assistance. So, the biggest short coming in technical sphere is absence of satellite launch vehicle. Pakistan is a state with sufficient man power but needs financial sources to build satellite launch vehicles.

To reserve finances for space program it is essential that government builds state narrative on importance of space exploration as satellites are not only essential for military purposes but is also a growing industry. In a time where super power is governing international system through the help of information technology and globalization has massive effects on state affairs, space satellites are becoming economic opportunity to be seized. So far in South Asia only country which is tapping space is India and thus seizing all the economic benefits along with military benefits. Economic benefits of the space exploration are undeniable; states providing launch facilities to the host space satellites earn huge revenue for providing the launch facilities. At the moment, India is only South Asian regional player which is hosting commercial satellite and is even providing services to companies like Google.

Another concerning matter is smart spending of budget when it comes to technological innovation. This concern should be considered as the need of the hour for Pakistan. Lamentably, it is evident from the political history of Pakistan that the leadership in its particular residency was more concerned with spending on items that helped their political cause rather than for the matters of national interest.

Therefore, along with economic resources, public support and technical innovations to develop a space program at its full potential is mandatory. A democratic government should show staunch political resolve in favor of space exploration. This will not only enable Pakistan to have an eye in the sky but it can put money in state reserves by providing commercial services to international/national actors and take nation to glorious technological highlights. Moreover such initiatives are essential for making Pakistan self-sufficient state and will endorse the political resolve to alleviate unemployment by creating jobs in the new avenues for the generations to come.

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South Asia

NAM, NaMo- NATO? Indian Foreign Policy in Transition

Akshat Upadhyay



Trajectory of a nation’s growth rests on its past, and looks towards a better future with the present middling its way, improving upon the former and consequently attempting to improve the latter. India has had the dubious distinction of being just stable and detached enough to warrant a cold shoulder, sometimes self inflicted, from the major powers at their heights of confrontation. It has never been a ‘frontline’ state in any ideological or grand struggle, be it the Second World War, the Cold War or the War on Terror. The country was led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru for almost 17 years, the statesman also donning the role of External Affairs Minister and for a brief period of time, Defence Minister. These years were crucial as they shaped the way Indian strategic thinking would evolve. While its western neighbour Pakistan has milked its sponsor since 1947 by first presenting itself as an ally in the war against communism and later creating and charging to destroy a Frankenstein monster of terrorism, its huge eastern neighbour has thrived under a unique combination of communist authoritarianism and state sponsored capitalism, creating the perfect dialectic. However, India today has been accorded an opportunity to help usher in a more liberal international order or at least maintain the status quo, in face of an ambitious and belligerent China, state sponsored terrorism, non-state actors, migrant crisis, ethnic cleansing, an increasingly hostile nuclear environment and climate change.

What do I mean when I say India has an opportunity of a lifetime? Who or what presents this? Why only India? To answer this, lets take a broad look at the current international scenario, region wise. US, the borderline global superpower finds itself oscillating between an isolationist (withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP and Paris Climate Deal) and interventionist stance (Expanding presence in Africa, continuing interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, pressurising Iran and sanctions on North Korea). From an overt nuclear posture to assisting the Taliban and colluding with Pakistan, Iran and China, Russia presents a broad spectrum of challenge (subconventional to nuclear) to the US and its allies. The entire West Asia/ North Africa (WANA) region is in disarray. Turkey has initiated its own war with the Syrian Kurds, post military rout of ISIS, with battles raging in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Iran may suffer a renewed round of sanctions. Most of South and South East Asia has been charmed, coerced or compelled to be part of China’s or more specifically Xi Jinping’s mega project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The future of EU is uncertain. A migrant crisis, coupled with Brexit, lone wolf attacks and rise of xenophobia has forced cracks in the supra-state. India, due to its current stability and especially its past stands on the cusp. An opportunity has been created due to a diametrically opposite combination of India’s past and present resulting in a transitional foreign policy whose future is still uncertain.

India has followed a policy of strategic restraint since its independence. Its leaders saw the armed forces as wasteful expenditure and contributors to imperialism. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) was created by Nehru, in conjunction with prominent leaders of the Third World, out of a need to stay away from the two heavily militarised Cold War camps. India’s posture of non alignment had benefits for Jawaharlal Nehru’s image as an internationalist. It also created India’s image as a non-aggressive, peace loving nation and a chaotic yet stable democracy which believed in the rule of law. However, as an incipient nation state, flanked on two sides by hostile neighbours, India found it difficult to carve out a strategy to either contain, suppress or rationalise relations with Pakistan or China. Fears of an omnipotent military, exacerbated by coups and dictatorship in Pakistan and China distanced the political class further from the armed forces. As a result, India was able to generate military force but never military power, an important component of any state’s foreign policy. After all, a country’s success in its foreign affairs, whether one may admit it or not, rests to a great extent on its country’s coercive strength, whether latent or overt. Non alignment also meant missing out on security umbrellas, technical knowhow and state of the art weaponry. What non alignment did allow was for India to attempt to chart an independent course for itself. By taking part in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) in the aftermath of the Korean war, it established itself as an impartial mediator in conflict resolution. It undertook a genuine humanitarian intervention by stopping the genocide in then East Pakistan in 1971. However, shackled by Nehruvian restraint, India, whether under the Congress or the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), still tried to act and behave under a moral shroud, unmindful of the dangers of indirectly appeasing a country like Pakistan which kept on pushing India’s non-existent red lines.

India, on the eve of national elections of 2014 was on shaky ground, in terms of international prestige and national security. BJP’s election manifesto of 2014 promised a sea change in India’s foreign policy and national security apparatus including an overhaul and review of India’s strategic nuclear programme. Instead of treaties and deals based out of fear or dependence, this manifesto aimed at leveraging India’s advantages in constructing a web of interlocking relationships that would be favourable to all parties involved. Instead of behaving as an arrogant power or regional hegemon, India invited all the countries in its neighbourhood to interact with it on an egalitarian basis. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi (NaMo) embarked on an ambitious tour of countries (56 and counting) in his three years since coming to power on a landslide victory. Following an aggressive stance and creating personal rapports with heads of states, NaMo revitalised India’s foreign policy. From heavily focusing on the economic and strategic parameters of its relations with ASEAN and beyond in a revamped Act East Policy to strengthening ties to the US to connecting with West Asia and Iran, NaMo has prioritised India’s national interests above everything else. Some of the foreign policy benefits that have accrued to India due to NaMo are:

Conversion of Look East into Act East

Given that around half of India’s foreign trade is dependent on the economies of South and South East Asia, it was just a matter of time when India had to focus on the region. Actuation of the Act East Policy (AEP) is an acceptance of the same. AEP heavily focuses on increasing connectivity between India’s still-neglected North East and the East Asian countries. A number of connectivity projects have been initiated, both single mode and multi-modal, to give impetus to people-to-people and economic links. AEP has graduated from a solely economic and cultural policy to a more strategic one, with the Indian Navy playing an important role in ensuring safe passage of merchant traffic and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), apart from conducting multinational exercises and humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operations. The Indian Navy’s primary area now extends from the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Southwest Indian ocean, Indian Ocean Region (IOR) island nations and East African littoral states, while the secondary area for the first time addresses South China Sea (SCS) as well as Western Pacific and East China Sea. Indian warships will start patrolling the Malacca Straits for protecting the SLOCs. This is a signal that India aims to act as a Net Security Provider for the SLOCs passing through the greater Indo-Pacific region. Signing of an agreement giving Indian ships logistics rights at Changi, Singapore is a step in that direction. India has also agreed to take part with Japan, Australia and the US in a grouping of democracies called the Quadrilateral (Quad). This has been ostensibly to coordinate in the fields of ensuring Freedom of navigation (FoN) in international waters, a free and open region and adherence to rule of law but considered as a counter to rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Many analysts consider it as the beginning of an ‘Asian NATO’ though its feasibility still remains to be tested.

Neighbourhood First Policy

NaMo has focused on improving relations with its neighbours, although that seems to be floundering at the moment. From HADR missions to Maldives, indirect financing of weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through Russia, negotiations over Teesta waters and exchange of enclaves, concluding a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka and attempting dialogue with Pakistan, NaMo government has made connecting with the neighbourhood his priority. NaMo has understood that for India to flourish economically, militarily and culturally, its neighbourhood has to offer a conducive environment. This can only with an active policy of shaping events and policies as per its national interests. India has offered SAARC nations benefits of telecommunications and e-medicines through the use of SAARC satellite, sacrificed real estate on its eastern border for better relations with Bangladesh and come to Bhutan’s aid when defending its territorial integrity in face of Chinese aggression. India has however sent tough signals to Pakistan that its benevolence cannot be taken for granted by conducting surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads post the Uri attacks of September 2016.

Entries into Strategic Clubs

Modi’s presentation of India as an emerging power and his personal style of diplomacy has ensured entry of India into various ‘untouchable’ clubs and groupings such as the Australia Group, Wassenaar Agreement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This has helped India in inching close to the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which will help in it gaining access to unprecedented nuclear material, technology and equipment, without acceding to signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) may help it in gaining access to the Central Asian Republics (CAR), alternatives to India’s dependence on the Middle East for energy sources.

Closing in with the US

With an unprecedented five trips to the US, Modi has indicated a definite change in its non aligned mode towards coordinating with the US on a number of converging issues. India’s entry into important clubs and groups has been facilitated by the US, its status has been upgraded to being a Major Defense Partner of the US, it has been feted as a pivot for countering China through the Quad and President Trump in his newly unveiled Afghanistan strategy has admitted to India’s stabilising role in the war-torn country. Major defence deals such as acquisition of M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers, C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Guardian drones for the Airforce have resulted in the further diversification of India’s arsenal, long dependent on Russia. The US has designated Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an old pro Pakistan terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) along with placing its chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist. An India-specific Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has been signed based on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). However the rest two foundational agreements also need to be agreed upon and signed in order to provide a platform for future collaboration with the US forces in countering common foes and sharing of sophisticated technology with India. There however needs to be a note of caution for India for not hugging the American coast too closely, as it still needs to find its feet.

Under NaMo’s leadership, India is currently transitioning from a strategic self restraint phase to a more assertive one. But this can easily be set aside as an aberration rather than the accepted norm considering India’s past policy of under-influencing events. The momentum that has been gained will suffer setbacks as happened in Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka but India has to push on. India has to accept the rise and ascendance of China on the world stage. It has to accept that it cannot match China’s financial investments in its neighbourhood that have led to China leaning governments in Nepal and Maldives, re-encroachment on Doklam in Bhutan and fructifying of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India’s tryst with realism is still in its infantile stage due to a number of reasons. The way forward is to leave the past of non alignment behind, and engage the world based on its priorities. This will lead to situations where policy decisions affecting one country may be a hindrance to another. A classic example is India’s relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). On one hand, India has a major strategic relationship with Israel especially in arms deals, on the other India trains the officers of PA’s small military in its academies. These discrepancies will arise and will have to be dealt with in a diplomatic and mature manner. Instead of Non Alignment, India needs to follow National Alignment, facets of which can be summarised below:-

Improving Diplomatic Footprint

Though NaMo leads from the front when engaging nations, this personal touch must be seen as a superimposition over India’s diplomatic prowess and not as a standalone setup. India’s pool of 3000 diplomats compares poorly with countries such as Japan (5700), South Korea (4500) and the US (20000). Change of government may reduce the personal nature of diplomacy currently being followed and dedicated and expanded cadre of officers will be able to handle the political fluctuations.

Countering China

China has arrived on the global stage. This is a fact. States have to learn to live with this. Despite the US egging on India to take on China and Japan clamouring for giving the Quad more teeth, India needs to realise its present strengths and limitations. It needs to deal with China more diplomatically and needs to give dialogue more opportunity to work. It has to realise that the US and Japan each have their own motives to counter China and those motives may not resonate with India. India needs to focus on reducing its trade deficit with China, upgradation of its border infrastructure and engaging in dialogue but ceding no space on Doklam. Despite India’s stance on CPEC crossing India’s sovereign territory, a pragmatic decision can be made on agreeing to be part of BRI as India’s projects in South East Asia will invariably clash with it, and a collaboration outlook should be more constructive for the countries involved. Indian armed forcesneed to be upgraded in its eastern sector to deter Chinese aggression.

Keeping Promises

India needs to slow down future investments and step up completion of already promised projects in various countries. The much heralded Trilateral Highway connecting India’s North East to Myanmar and Thailand, a crucial link in India’s AEP still remains incomplete with the earliest completion date now being pushed to 2020. India’s soft loans of around $24.2 billion in the form of ‘lines of credit’ to various countries in Central America and Africa also needs constant monitoring.

Stop Moralising, Start Realpolitiking

It is not important that two countries’ national interests align perfectly. Although US expects its allies and major strategic partners to follow its foreign policy, India needs to chart its own course as per National Alignment. As an example, post pullout of the US from the Paris climate agreement, India must coordinate more deeply with China with regards to climate change. Despite voting against shift of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, India can still expect to consummate an extensive arms deal with the country. India also needs to take on board the US, Russia and China in terms of countering terror. As of now, India seems to be the only country that seems to straddle many boats and in the process, promote a horizontal bonhomie amongst nations.

The days of the strategic alliances are all but over. NATO may have got a second chance at survival with the resurgence of Russia but whether Article Five of collective defence will be sustained by the Europeans is not as clear as it states. The current US administration’s self professed isolationism in major issues has put the efficacy of security umbrellas in question. India, unlike the US, understands that all international problems do not have a military solution. It needs to step away from contemplating a NATO like model, even with like minded democracies (Quad) and focus on diversification that helps its national interests. But it should also shed its inhibitions regarding establishment of overseas bases, basing of ships and troops of other countries and conducting joint exercises with the Quad on ground and air. The idea of two mutually destructive superpowers sitting on an arsenal of nuclear weapons can be replaced with that of society of states with economic, cultural and technical linkages but with adequate coercive power to deter a challenge. What lies in India’s destiny? Part of a NATO like entity or an independent yet interconnected foreign policy? Its the latter that would benefit the entire world.

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South Asia

India’s Military Spending and South Asian Security



Over the past several years, unprecedented military modernization in Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, India, has worsened South Asia’s security environment. India’s heavy military spending and its unstoppable quest for the acquisition of sophisticated weapons have threatened regional stability. Indian desire to acquire global power status through military means has further been intensified as a result of US assistance particularly in former’s defence sector. Within quick span of time, defence trade between India and the US has shot from $1 billion to over $15 billion leaving other regional powers in the state of security consciousness.

India’s obsession with its military build-up doesn’t end here. According to the Stockholm International peace Research Institute (SIPRI) a prestigious international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, India, once again tops the list as world’s largest weapons importer. This is not a new development as previously, India also topped the list for the same reason.

As per SIPRI estimates, Russia remains top arms supplier to India. However, surprisingly arms deliveries from the US increased more than six-fold in the five-year period to the India. This trend in long run will definitely reduce market space for Russian arms and ammunition to India.

Despite the fact that, India’s unbridled military modernization is the primary impetus behind South Asian instability, global power’s economic expediencies in South Asia also undermines delicate conventional parity between India and Pakistan. For instance, Indo-US strategic partnership, which apparently touted as US’ China containment policy, seems more of a Pakistan containment policy. Much of the US provided weapon-tech to India is more useful against Pakistan in a conventional warfare. Almost 70% of Indian military troops and weapon system are deployed against Line of Control, (LOC). Interestingly, peaceful settlement of Docklam issue between China and India as well as sky-rocketing bilateral trade between both countries, which has reached to $84.44 billion last year, makes prospects of conflict almost impossible.

However, in contrast to aforementioned facts, the influx of massive military hardware from western capitals to India continues and in certain cases the flow of arms has gained momentum. There are two primary motives behind India’s overwhelming spending in defence industry.

First, India aspires for greater role in global environment and in certain ways it has been demonstrating its will and capability to influence global dynamics. India’s successful test of Agni-5, a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear weapons with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles, is a practical demonstration of its military capabilities to influence other powers around the globe. For hawkish policy makers in New Delhi, a strong military power can extend India’s global influence.

Secondly, India is following a policy of coercion at regional level primarily, against Pakistan which shares history of hostility and violence due to longstanding territorial disputes such as Kashmir. There is growing perception in New Delhi that militarily strong India can dictate South Asian affairs. That’s why India has been consistently opposing diplomacy and dialogue for peaceful resolution of disputes. Therefore, to meet its foreign policy goals, which are based on coercion and usage of hard power, India spends massive in military build-up.

Ironically, South Asia is called as nuclear flashpoint due to history of animosity and violent conflicts between India and Pakistan. With its mighty military power, India has emerged as the most potent threat for not just Pakistan but also a security challenge for other powers in the region.

Given the advantage it has in terms of nuclear missiles, military hardware and submarine fleet, India has been trying to create an environment conducive to wage limited war against Pakistan. For that, India has not just developed its military doctrine, Cold Start Doctrine, but also initiated and sponsored sub conventional war in Pakistan’s chaotic province, Balochistan.

In such circumstances, Pakistan needs to maintain delicate conventional military balance vis-à-vis India. Despite the fact, Pakistan has been facing number of issues at national, regional and international levels which include on-going military operation in tribal areas to hostile border skirmishes; a robust military modernization plan has become inevitable. A militarily strong Pakistan will be able to maintain its territorial integrity against aggressive yet militarily mighty India.

It’s an open fact that Pakistan has consistently called for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes and it has offered to resume diplomacy and dialogue over Kashmir dispute. Unfortunately, India’s cold response has not only restricted Pakistan’s peaceful overtures but also refused to accept third-party mediation in peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue. This clearly shows that, current ruling regime in India is not serious for peaceful settlement, rather more inclined to use of force and coercion. Under such circumstances, Pakistan needs to strengthen its force posture to pre-empt any kind of misadventure from its adversary. However, Pakistan, as it has done in past, must embrace peaceful overtures to bring stability in the region.

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