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The threat to national security: Emergency clamped in Maldives

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The president of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen’s has declared a state of emergency, citing a threat to citizens’ safety and national security, following widespread international condemnation and concerns about its impact on the country’s crucial tourism industry, the government said. Maldives has declared State of Emergency for 30 days as per Article 253 of the Constitution citing threat to national security. The government said a curfew would not be imposed.

The state of emergency was limited to 30 days only and Abdulla Yameen’s decree, which came into effect at midday local time (0700 GMT), suspends all basic rights and gives the security forces sweeping powers to arrest suspects before a major anti-government rally planned later this week. Seven articles of the constitution have been suspended, including those guaranteeing citizens of the Indian Ocean island nation the rights of assembly, free expression, freedom from arbitrary detention and freedom of movement.

Under the emergency regulations, police are allowed to enter and search homes without a warrant, and the rights to assemble peacefully and travel between the many islands of the archipelago nation were suspended. Soldiers in riot gear surrounded the parliament building in the capital Male on Sunday soon after the opposition petitioned parliament to remove the South Asian island’s attorney-general and its chief prosecutor.

The Maldives has suffered acute political instability for several years, but a new cycle of chaos and unrest appears to be intensifying.  “President Yameen has declared state of emergency to ensure the safety and security of every citizen,” his spokesman Muaz Ali tweeted. In a statement to the nation, Yameen, who took power in a contested election in 2013, said there were groups planning to use weapons and explosives.  “My beloved citizens, I assure you, that in enforcing this decree, the rights and freedoms stated in the constitution will only be restricted within the limits of … the constitution, and only to the extent strictly required by the situation,” Yameen said.

The move comes at a time of heightened tensions following an explosion on Yameen’s speedboat on 28 September that wounded his wife and two others. Yameen was unharmed in the blast, and the FBI has said there is no evidence it was caused by a bomb. But the authorities say it was an attempt on his life. Yameen arrested the vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, on 24 October after accusing him of “high treason” and linking him to the boat blast.

Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor made the emergency announcement on Monday on state television, and a statement attributed to President Abdulla Yameen was posted on the ministry of foreign affairs website. “The government of Maldives wishes to also assure all Maldivians and the international community that the safety of all Maldivians and foreigners living in and visiting the Maldives will be ensured,” the statement said.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it had found a remote-controlled bomb near the president’s official residence and safely defused it. Officials on Wednesday said several discoveries of arms and explosives had been made, though the whereabouts of other weapons and ammunition missing from state armouries remained unknown.

Further searches were under way on Wednesday evening, with local media reporting that at least one suspected explosive device had been found. “The purpose of today’s announcement is to send a clear message. Those who seek to cause harm and unrest through violence – whether their aims are political, religious or otherwise – have no place in our country. We are a young, vibrant democracy and will do all we can to uphold those values,” said Maumoon.

The Maldives plunged into political turmoil last week after the country’s top court threw out a “terrorism” conviction against its former president Mohamed Nasheed, and ordered the release of other jailed opposition politicians. The ruling dealt a blow to Yameen with critics accusing him of corruption, misrule, and rights abuses. He denies the allegations. The government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced

The government declared the state emergency after refusing on Monday to implement a ruling that has led to a wave of protests in the capital, Malé, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. The president, Abdulla Yameen, has responded by dispatching soldiers to surround the parliament building, preventing MPs from meeting. He also called a noisy rally of his supporters.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said declaring the state of emergency in the first place was political, designed to stop a rally planned for last Friday demanding the release of the party’s leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed. “It appears that Yameen is willing to make up threats about the nation’s security in order to settle political scores,” the party said in a statement, referring to the president. “Yameen’s increasingly erratic, paranoid and dangerous behavior is damaging the country and proves he is unfit to be president. He has failed and should step down.”

The Supreme Court ordered Yameen on Thursday to free nine dissidents, ruling that their trials were politically motivated and flawed. The court also called on the president to reinstate opposition MPs. But the government refused to implement it and declared the emergency.

The Maldives Supreme Court has hit back at President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to free his jailed opponents amid an escalating crisis that saw security forces seal off the country’s parliament and arrest two opposition lawmakers on Sunday.   Judges of the top court said there should be “no legal barrier” to releasing the nine people, including the island nation’s exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, whose terrorism and corruption convictions it overturned last week.

Their statement came after Attorney-General Mohamed Anil raised concerns about freeing people convicted of “terrorism, bomb attacks, corruption, embezzlement and fraud”.

The top court’s ruling last week has plunged the Maldives into political turmoil and dealt a major blow to Yameen, who critics accuse of corruption, misrule and rights abuses.

Yameen denies the allegations.

The sudden about face by the Supreme Court, which sided with Yameen in the past, and the widespread international support for its verdict puts unprecedented pressure on the president to free his opponents ahead of a presidential election later this year.

The government accused the Supreme Court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges did not respond to in their statement late on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the attorney general, in a televised appearance flanked by the chiefs of the army and the police, said the government has received news of an imminent order by the Supreme Court to impeach Yameen. “I have informed all law enforcement agencies they must not obey such an illegal order,” Mohamed Anil said.  Ahmed Shiyam, the army chief, said the security forces would follow the attorney-general’s advice and “will not wait and watch as the Maldives descends into crisis”.

The opposition called Anil’s order to the security forces “unconstitutional, highly illegal, and dangerous” and petitioned parliament to oust Anil, as well as the country’s chief prosecutor. Shortly afterwards, soldiers surrounded the parliament building and sealed it off.

The island nation emerged a decade ago from a long spell of 30 years of authoritarian rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His successor Mohamed Nasheed, elected in 2008, presided over a brief flourishing of multiparty democracy before being controversially ousted five years later.

Since then Yameen has stifled dissent and imprisoned members of the opposition. Rights groups have accused Yameen of using new laws and criminal cases to silence critics and to neutralise his opponents.  On Monday the government made clear it had no intention of respecting the supreme court’s decision. The legal affairs minister, Azima Shakoor, said the ruling was not enforceable, adding that there were numerous challenges to freeing prisoners.

Yameen’s main rival, Nasheed, described events taking place in the country as “tantamount to a coup”. He tweeted that Yameen should resign and said the security services “must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people”.

Nasheed is in Sri Lanka. He has been living in the UK since 2016 after being given asylum when he travelled there on medical leave from prison.

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the Supreme Court also reinstated 12 MPs who switched allegiance to the opposition. When they return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which could result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president. On Friday Nasheed said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted under Maldives’ anti-terror laws. The trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups

Dunya Maumoon, the foreign minister, described the measures as “precautionary action by the government in light of several security threats that have emerged in the last week”. “As a government we have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure they can go about their daily lives in peace and security. We are determined to root out a small minority who seem intent on causing damage to people and property,” she said. On Wednesday the streets of Malé, the capital, were quiet, but soldiers had cordoned off water and power plants. Residents said raids were continuing.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), whose leader Mohamed Nasheed is in jail following his conviction earlier this year under anti-terror laws, has organised the protest. Nasheed left power in 2012 amid protests, forced out by what his supporters claim was a coup. Nasheed called on the international community to consider introducing sanctions against the current government. He also appealed to tourists travelling to the Maldives to reconsider their views on the popular holiday destination. “It is good and necessary to have a relaxing holiday but important they understand what is happening here too,” he said.

The incarceration of Nasheed, who was convicted on charges of using the military to arrest a senior judge when in office, has been severely criticised by the UN and international rights groups.

The British high commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, James Dauris, said he was “most concerned by restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms in the Maldives from today”. Thoriq Hamid, from the NGO Transparency Maldives, said his organisation was “extremely … concerned that the situation has escalated to this point”. The Australian government last week told its citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution” while travelling to Malé, “due to the possibility of civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attacks”.

The MDP rally was aimed at pressuring Yameen to release Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the country and an internationally recognised climate change campaigner. Eva Abdulla, an MDP member of parliament, said the rally would proceed as planned. “We saw this coming. Everything has been leading up to this. This is the last straw – the only straw – left for Yameen. He has totally lost grip on governance. He doesn’t have the public with him and any control is based on fear and intimidation,” she said.

There are growing fears of Islamic extremism in the Maldives, fuelled in part by the political instability since the departure from power of autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.The government has put him under house arrest. The government has warned media outlets their licences will be suspended “if broadcasts threaten national security”.

The justification for the state of emergency on the basis of a security threat could be dangerous, Abdulla, the MDP parliamentarian, said. “My worry is we are a hotbed for jihadi recruitment at the moment so to use this to get at political opponents is irresponsible in the extreme. They could be turning a blind eye to the real problem and endangering us all as a result.”

Junayd Mohamed, a journalist with the Maldives Independent, told Al Jazeera he also heard reports that riot police and military officials were inside the court. He said they set up barricades to block off the area, but protesters were rallying outside.  “Hundreds of people [are] gathered outside who are calling on the security forces to arrest President Yameen and protect the Supreme Court,” Mohamed said.

Opposition members of parliament urged foreign intervention after the government ignored the Supreme Court ruling. The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile.

In a resolution signed in the capital Male on Sunday, opposition MPs called on the international community “to impress upon the government of Maldives the need to respect the rule of law, and implement last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling that ordered the release of political leaders and the reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs”.  They also called for “all necessary measures … to hold government officials accountable for violations of national and international law”.  Tensions “could escalate to civil unrest and incite violence across the country”, they warned.

The United Nations, European Union, and several foreign governments – including India, the USA and UK – have urged Yameen to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.   The government has accused the court of trying to oust the president, a claim judges have not responded to. The United States urged government restraint on Monday. “The Maldivian government and military must respect the rule of law, freedom of expression, and democratic institutions. The world is watching,” the White House National Security Council said in a Twitter post.

Rights group Amnesty International denounced the government’s “appalling track-record of suppressing freedom of expression and any form of opposition”. “This emergency cannot become a licence for further repression,” Omar Waraich, the group’s deputy South Asia director, said on Twitter.

The opposition now has a majority in the 85-member house as the Supreme Court ruling also reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year. But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport on Sunday, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after spending months in exile. Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were detained on charges of bribery, a police spokesman told Al Jazeera.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an opposition parliamentarian, condemned their arrest in a statement.  “We call on the police to release the MPs immediately, and to stop following unlawful orders, to stop obstructing the lawful mandate of parliamentarians,” Solih said.  “In a desperate attempt to cling onto power, President Yameen has illegally overrun the state. His attorney-general has illegally assumed the powers of the apex court, while the military has overrun the legislature,” he added.

On Sunday night, hundreds of flag-waving opposition supporters took to the streets of the capital Male calling on the government to abide by the court ruling.

Meanwhile, the official who heads the parliament’s secretariat resigned after the speaker, a Yameen ally, cancelled the opening of the parliament, scheduled for Tuesday, over unspecified “security concerns”.  “I have stepped down,” Ahmed Mohamed told Al Jazeera on Sunday, without offering further details. The heads of the Maldives’ main high-security prison and the elections commission have also quit in recent days.

Nasheed, speaking to a private television channel from neighbouring Sri Lanka on Sunday, called for protests and urged rank-and-file members of the security forces to arrest the attorney-general as well as the chiefs of the army and police.

Observation

Maldives is a tourist’s paradise. It is not clear how much of an impact the state of emergency has had on the tourism industry in the Maldives, which is best known for its luxury tourist resorts.

The US State Department on Tuesday also welcomed the lifting of the state of emergency. Washington had been critical of its imposition, and has called for an end to politically motivated prosecutions and detentions.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, Maldives has suffered from weak government institutions and a divided political system dominated. Yameen is the half-brother of Gayoom. The former president is now a vocal critic of Yameen. Over the weekend, Gayoom tweeted: “A band of thugs armed with knives drove by my residence several times after midnight last night shouting abuse at the top of their voice.” He added: “I wonder who would have sent these unruly thugs?”

The Maldives has had a difficult transition to democracy since holding its first multiparty election in 2008. The state of emergency has been declared in Maldives amid a deepening political crisis sparked by a Supreme Court ruling that called for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians.

President Yameen has been in office since 2013. He had been set to run for re-election this year almost unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled. Lawmakers voted Vice President Ahmed Adeeb out of office using the regulations. Authorities suspect that Adeeb was behind the alleged attempts on Gayoom’s life, and he has been arrested and detained. Gayoom was not hurt in the September 28 blast aboard his boat, but his wife, an aide and a bodyguard was injured.

The Maldives’ economy has faltered in recent years and the country suffers from overcrowding, high unemployment rates and substance abuse. The declaration of a state of emergency comes amid a bitter power struggle between the president and Adeeb, with factions within the police and army supporting different political players. The dispute has weakened the government at a time of growing popular anger over the continuing detention of Nasheed and economic problems.

Police has started investigations into Supreme Court judges and officials since the ruling, and have said that they now plan to question Gayoom in a separate case. On Monday, the health minister, Hussain Rasheed Ahmed, quit in protest against the government’s attitude towards its highest court.

The continuing political instability in the Maldives is likely to damage its vital tourist trade, a key employer and earner of foreign exchange. Every year more than a million tourists visit the Maldives, an almost exclusively Sunni Muslim nation composed of 1,192 small coral islands, with a population of 340,000.

White sandy beaches, turquoise waters, shallow lagoons and secluded islets draw holidaymakers from all over the developed world as well as celebrities seeking privacy. Officials said there was no threat to resort security and the Maldives remained a safe destination for international visitors.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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