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How Atal Bihari Vajpayee Shaped India’s Foreign Policy

Arunima Gupta

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About two decades ago, India entered an elite international club when it conducted nuclear tests for the second time in its history in 1998. The detonations in Pokhran, which were carried out with utmost discretion, shook the global order at the time. They attracted immediate and sharp criticism from the international community at first, but eventually the world acknowledged the reality of India’s rise as a geopolitical power. All of this happened under the leadership of none other than the former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

A stalwart statesman, Vajpayee’s vision for India and his worldview was characterized by realism on one hand and idealism on the other, both prefixed with a pragmatic approach that was used to further India’s interests at the global stage.

As a realist, he justified India’s nuclear tests of 1998 as a means of safeguarding security interests amidst increasing geopolitical instability in South Asia coupled with the rise of China. New Delhi’s decision to stay firm on its ground, of possessing nukes as well as agreeing to a “No First Use” policy, eliminated India’s nuclear ambiguity that existed in the earlier regimes of Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. But this challenge to the global status quo by India, met with widespread criticism from the international community. The most serious repercussions of all were on relations between India and the US, wherein the latter imposed economic and military sanctions on the former.

It took astute diplomacy from both sides to diffuse these tensions. India’s foreign minister Jaswant Singh and the US deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott engaged in a series of back channel meetings, which in hindsight laid the foundation for the future upswing in bilateral relations. Vajpayee’s conviction that a strong India will have to be respected by all, was indeed proved right. India had received genuine and respectful attention from the world, particularly the US, of the kind never seen before.

The nuclear tests were indeed a response to potential threats rising from India’s two neighbours, China and Pakistan. While Vajpayee realized this as a geopolitical reality, he also rendered the efforts to strengthen Indo-China relations as a strategic necessity. The first Prime Minister to visit China, a decade after his predecessor Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee’s optimism led to various confidence-building measures. As India and China affirmed their commitment to revive Panchsheel, Vajpayee’s initiative of a dialogue between diplomats of both countries as Special Representatives was seen as a remarkable step towards resolving the long-standing Indo-China border disputes. The most prominent outcome of this was the recognition of Sikkim as an Indian state by China. The borders between India and Pakistan were also opened for passenger movement by the Vajpayee government, when the Prime Minister inaugurated the Delhi-Lahore Bus Yatra in 1999 and went on to sign the Lahore Declaration to strengthen India-Pakistan relations.

The Lahore Declaration, an unprecedented peace-building measure, was soon followed by the misadventure by Pakistan in Kargil.  Even as the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan were welcoming peace initiatives, Pakistan’s army led by General Pervez Musharraf made illegal intrusions into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, thus sparking off the Kargil War of 1999. India, under the leadership of Vajpayee, promptly responded by mobilizing its army and air force.

Despite operational challenges, particularly owing to the difficult geographic terrain, Vajpayee was firm to not allow Indian forces, especially fighter planes to cross the Line of Control (LoC). At the same time, he was clear about not withdrawing Indian forces or accepting a ceasefire without pushing back the Pakistani intruders. The war, which lasted for two months, caused heavier casualties to the Pakistani army than the Indian forces. It brought considerable international pressure upon Pakistan, which eventually resulted in Islamabad to give up its position in Kargil. Vajpayee and his close aides Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra played a pivotal role in convincing the international community, particularly the US, to back India’s case.

The success of Kargil is the best example of Vajpayee’s pragmatism that allowed him to navigate India through the turbulence of peace and war alike. Vajpayee’s diplomatic finesse and unfettered approach to deal with situation averted a hostile international intervention in Kargil as well as garnered support for India’s position worldwide. On the other hand, his optimism in the ability of his security forces translated India’s intervention “Operation Vijay” into a decisive victory. It is notable that the Lahore bus service was not halted during the Kargil war. Even after the conflict ended, Vajpayee soon invited Musharraf for a peace dialogue in 2001 and then again in 2004. Even as he put India’s security interests first, Vajpayee also realized peace cannot be achieved only through military prowess alone, but by also investing in the establishment of strong people-to-people relations and institutional frameworks.

As Vajpayee sought to reaffirm relations with China and Pakistan, his vision was not limited to the neighborhood but extended both east and west. It was with West Asia, that Vajpayee’s diplomatic approach led to forging new relations, realizing the strategic importance of this region to India. Vajpayee’s visit to Iran in 2001 led to the ideation of a gas pipeline between the two countries via Pakistan. Though this never fructified, Indo-Iran diplomatic relations gained a new dimension when the former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami visited India as the Chief Guest of Republic Day celebrations in 2002. Vajpayee, being a strategist that he was, also strengthened relations with Israel. In 2003, Ariel Sharon became the first Prime Minister of Israel to visit India. Indo-Israel strategic partnership has been significantly strengthened ever since.

The first non-congress External Affairs Minister and later as a Prime Minister, Vajpayee’s strategic vision and his worldview balanced out the idealism of his predecessors and the realism of strengthening India’s military and economic clout for his successors to follow. Indeed, the foreign policy legacy that Vajpayee left behind, has served as foundational pillars in India’s rise as a responsible and influential global power.

Arunima Gupta is the Manager of Foreign and Strategic Relations at Delhi based think-tank Vision India Foundation.

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South Asia

Justifying a Pakistani Response to India’s Hybrid Warfare Campaign

Haris Bilal Malik

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Hybrid warfare has irreversibly changed the dynamics of war in the contemporary era. In a way, it can be perceived as forming a ‘new normal’ that has also transformed the nature of warfare in South Asia, one of the most volatile regions of the world. There is no doubt in claiming that Pakistan has been a victim of ‘hybrid warfare’ widely perceived to be launched and sponsored by India. This has remained evident even in the region’s history where the situation in East Pakistan in 1971 involving the promotion of Mujib’s six-point plan, and the training and support offered to the Mukti Bahini’s violent separatist movement were all led by India. In the same vein, the current extent of hybrid warfare against Pakistan can also be analyzed from the fact that India is still waging a Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC), through the employment of its proxies in the region.  These are further bolstered by its Anti-Pakistan psychological operations, mainstream and social media campaigns, information operations, false flag operations, and undermining Pakistani interests economically, politically and diplomatically at various international forums. As a result, Pakistan is being forced to counter this hybrid warfare campaign through greater preparedness and a concerted strategy as this ‘new normal continues to threaten Pakistan’s national security.

These hybrid threats to the national security of Pakistan have resultantly become a major concern for its politico-strategic outlook. In view of this, the unrest in Baluchistan, which is all the more pertinent because of CPEC, is not acceptable to Indian interests at the present. Hence, this forms one of the primary reasons behind its sustained campaign against Pakistan. This is evident for instance in how Kulbhushan Jadhav, a serving Indian military officer was convicted for spying inside Pakistan and supporting terrorism in Baluchistan. Furthermore, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), a terrorist group that has been known for decades as being backed by India was also reportedly involved in an attack on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi back in November 2018. Similarly, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) movement which is evidently involved in anti-state activities is also widely understood as being sponsored by India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS). has All the above have thus carried all the hallmarks of both the NDS’s and RAW’s past activities and nefarious motives with regard to destabilizing Pakistan.

In addition to this, Pakistan has been the target of multiple Indian sponsored ‘hybrid’ campaigns at the international diplomatic level specifically when it comes to Pakistan’s nuclear program. In this regard, India has been working for quite some time to project Pakistan as a country involved in nuclear proliferation. As a result, significant lobbying at various multilateral forums has been carried out by India to paint Pakistan as an irresponsible or even ‘rogue’ nuclear weapons state. Whereas, in fact, the irony is that it is Mr. Modi’s BJP led Hindu Nationalist and Extremist government that is willfully acting the role of the irresponsible near unhinged nuclear weapons state through his consistent and deliberate negative nuclear signaling against Pakistan. Thus, it is instead India which coupled with its sustained hybrid warfare campaign against Pakistan manifests a very real danger in terms of the present situation escalating towards the nuclear realm. This, for instance, is further evident in how Mr. Modi has repeatedly threatened Pakistan with the use of nuclear weapons – such as thermonuclear weapons – solely for the sake of political and electoral goals. As such, India has actively aimed to portray Pakistan’s nuclear posture and doctrines as a ‘Nuclear Bluff’, blaming Pakistan for ‘Nuclear Blackmailing’. All while the Indian Nuclear Arsenal, which unfortunately still remains under the control of Hindu Extremists, and presents a more pressing and immediate danger.

The fact, however, remains that within the current scenario in India; conditions are ripe for Pakistan to wage its own campaign to bolster its stance at the international as well as the domestic level within India by launching its own hybrid warfare campaign. For instance, the Indian government’s unilateral revocation of the special status of the Kashmir region that had been previously granted under Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution has played a key role in bringing to surface deep-seeded and pre-existing communal tensions. In the same way, the discriminatory decision by the Indian Supreme Court regarding the demolition of the Babri Mosque which the court has ironically based on preserving the balance between Hindus and Muslims has also inflamed tensions even further. Similarly, the recent controversy surrounding the ‘Citizen Amendment Bill’ (CAB)has also come to represent India’s failed attempts at justifying its Anti-Muslim agenda. In view of all these challenges being posed to Indian Muslims, Pakistan can opt for a more offensive stance in helping further accelerate the widely foreseen demise of the ruling BJP government, which in itself is primarily of its own making. At the very least Pakistan can provide moral and logistical support to some of India’s most marginalized groups to help lay bare the injustices and wickedness of the ruling BJP. Thus, appealing to a more principled stance aimed at a domestic Indian as well as a wider international audience.

Hence while Pakistan is facing a variety of threats from India, it has not yet undertaken a similar campaign of its own to counter and respond to such threats in kind. Despite the Indian government’s continued atrocities, the fact remains that Pakistan still holds a highly principled stance vis-à-vis the tactics currently being employed byIndia. The difference remains that based on this scenario, any action taken by Pakistan would be based on championing a purely more inclusive and pluralist approach promoting human rights in the face of a violent extremist ideology. The recent opening of the Kartarpur Corridor stands as a valid case in point. As such Pakistan’s stance remains miles apart from India’s deliberate, deep-seeded and destabilizing divisions fueled by hate and indifference. In essence, championing ‘A New Normal’ that is worth fighting for.

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Pakistan Seeks Peace in the Region as well as Globally

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Pakistani narrative is gaining momentum worldwide. Pakistan’s peace efforts in the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and any other part of the world are lauded and got well recognition. In fact, Pakistan was the victim of Afghan-War for 4 decades and suffered huge economic, political, and social losses. Pakistan is willing to share its bitter experiences and trying its best to promote Peace globally.

PM Imran Khan, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), said “Then there is Afghanistan. Pakistan is doing its best to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is a country that has suffered so much in the past 40 years. We pray that the Taliban, the Americans, and the Afghan government achieve peace”.

 “I think they are heading towards a ceasefire. We are hoping that the US-Taliban talks succeed, as we have a new government in power in Afghanistan with President Ashraf Ghani being re-elected,” PM Imran remarked when asked about the Afghan situation.

“Peace in Afghanistan would open up trading opportunities in Central Asia. It [Afghanistan] would also become an economic corridor for us. If there is peace in Afghanistan, our people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, will also benefit,” he said.

“Pakistan has played its part in peace talks. There was a hostage situation and with Pakistan’s efforts, two out of three Western hostages were released. So, we are doing our best with whatever influence we have,” he added.

Pakistan has emerged as a Peace-Loving nation and well matured, responsible state. The Visionary leadership in Pakistan has taken several initiatives for Peace and Stability. Our role in Afghanistan, to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table with The US is one of its big success. PM Imran Khan has visited Tehran and Riyadh, to diffuse tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan supports to diffuse US-Iran Tension. Foreign Minister of Pakistan has been traveled to Tehran, Riyadh, Oman, and the US for dissolving tension. Pakistan has such experience and influence in the region to mediate among stake-holders for Peace and overcoming the differences.

While India is the opposite case. PM Imran Khan, in an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), said that India had been taken over by an extremist ideology known as Hindutva which is inspired by the German Nazis, and its [Hindutva’s] founding fathers believed in racial supremacy. It is really a big tragedy for the region that India has been taken over by the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and warned the global community that the nuclear-armed country was being run by extremists.

PM Imran Khan said “It is a tragedy for India itself — and for all its neighbors — that the country has been taken over by RSS, an organization which also assassinated the great Mahatma Gandhi. A nuclear-armed country is being run by extremists, and Kashmir has been under siege for over five months”.

His remarks came in a response to questions, about tensions in South Asia and the occupation of Kashmir by Indian troops. “Just as the Nazi ideology was built on hatred for minorities, the RSS ideology is also based on hatred for Muslims and other minorities, including Christians.”  India is building detention camps in the same lines as Nazi in Germany. In fact, there exist similarities between RSS ideology and Nazi ideology. So one should expect a similar outcome, or even worse.  He further said that he was the first leader to warn the world about what is happening in India. India has been taken over by an extremist ideology known as Hindutva. India is no longer a Secular or democratic country. It is the ideology of RSS. The RSS, a political organization founded in 1925, inspired by the German Nazis, and following its steps in a much bigger and advanced manner.

It is worth mentioning that India and Pakistan, both are nuclear countries and possess enough compiles of weapons to destroy each other completely. If the international community keeps its role of spectators, it might lead to a big disaster not only for India itself but as well as for Pakistan, all neighboring states, whole region and global.

In response to a question about the disproportionate coverage accorded to protests in Hong Kong as opposed to the siege of occupied Kashmir, PM Imran said that the tragedy of Kashmir was much greater but commercial interests are more important for western countries. “Unfortunately, commercial interests are more important for Western countries. India is a big market and that is the reason behind the lukewarm response to what is happening to some eight million people in Kashmir, as well as to minorities in India,” he noted. Although the general public in such countries stands with the Peace and protests against India atrocities in Kashmir and against its minorities. The general public around the world condemned Indian record violations of Human Rights.

It is appealed to the UN, the International Community, All peace-loving nations and Individuals to approach India and take appropriate measures to defuse tension in the region.

Save Humanity! Avert Disaster!

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India: Domestic policy trends and development problems

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The impressive victory scored in last spring’s parliamentary elections in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspired numerous comments about the start of a new stage in the development of one of the largest countries around. However, the spate of dramatic events that have since happened in India has drawn attention to the negative trends in the world’s second most populous nation.

Since its coming to power in May 2014, the current Indian leadership has set itself ambitious and long-term goals aimed at strengthening both the country’s authority in the world, its status as a “serious global player” and creating new opportunities for its accelerated development and economic growth.

“Over the past five years, Modi has sought to regain India’s lost strategic position in South Asia and ensure its recognition as a regional leader according to the country’s de facto role in the region,” said Dattesh Parulekar, vice president of the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). In its effort to overcome the growing imbalances in development, the Modi government launched a number of large-scale economic administrative, financial and social reforms. Moreover, authorities still declare their intention to bring the national GDP to $5 trillion by 2024.

Another important goal being pursued by the government is centralization of the state and national consolidation, which it considers vital for the country’s further development and sway, including in international affairs. From the standpoint of domestic policies, it is primarily about encouraging the growth of Hindu national and religious identity. Hence, as many foreign observers believe, the elimination by the Modi government in August 2018 of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, then the country’s only predominantly Muslim administrative unit. The decision was fully in line with the ultimate goal pursued by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the forces supporting it, i.e. the proclamation of India as a Hindu nation. Playing to the sense of ethnic identity of most of the country’s inhabitants already brings political dividends with the BJP winning 37 percent of votes in the last  parliamentary elections, compared with 31 percent it had in the previous legislature. Narendra Modi’s party has also been quickly strengthening its hand in state power structures, including through “defections” from rival parties.

On the other hand, the government’s policy of centralization, above all consolidation of the state and society, is inevitably contributing to the radicalization of the country’s ethnic minorities, primarily Muslims, whose number, according to recent estimates, now exceeds 200 million. Last year saw a spate of Muslim protests. In the summer of 2019, the BJP-led government of the northeastern state of Assam established, under the pretext of combating illegal immigration, a National Register of Citizens. Of the state’s 32 million residents, 2 million, mainly Muslims, were recognized as “non-citizens.” In August 2019, the central government revoked the status of limited autonomy granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with local media reports putting the number of protesters under lockdown at “thousands.”

Finally, a new version of the Indian Citizenship Act, which critics accused of discriminating against Muslims and of being an attempt to undermine the secular underpinnings of the Indian state, was adopted in December, 2019. The new-look Act raised a new wave of protests among the country’s Muslims. As a result, the ethno-religious issue can also become a convenient tool in the hands of Narendra Modi’s opponents.

Finally, with the government boosting the country’s national self-awareness, it becomes almost inevitable that it will take a tougher stand vis-à-vis India’s  traditional opponent, Pakistan, and its strong economic competitor, China. The escalation of military tensions with Pakistan that happened in February 2019, showed how quickly these two traditional foes can actually come to blows. Moreover, the dispute between Beijing and New Delhi over the ownership of the Aksai Chin Plateau, a region on the border with China, Pakistan and India, indirectly enmeshes Beijing in the territorial problems of Kashmir.

According to Indian observers, “unable to stand up to the inevitable large-scale industrial and infrastructure offensive by China through the Himalayas and the sea routes of South Asia, which are the traditional sphere of India’s influence,” New Delhi needs to implement “a counterbalance strategy.” However, despite its undoubted foreign policy and diplomatic achievements, which have contributed to Narendra Modi’s popularity inside the country, India has increasingly been lagging behind China in economic terms. Therefore, fundamental financial and economic problems threaten to become India’s Achilles heel.

The relatively slow pace of India’s socio-economic development remains the main obstacle to strengthening the country’s position in Asia and the world as a whole. The country is subject to all the standard “developmental diseases” that always come with accelerated economic and social transformations. The modernization of Indian society is also hampered by vestiges of traditionalism. Intense discussions continue “regarding the sustainability of the current models of socio-economic development.”

The Economist singles out environmental degradation, serious problems in the field of education and a crisis in public administration as the three main challenges to India’s development.

After he came to power in 2014, Narendra Modi had to tackle multiple problems that had remained unsolved for decades. His government is trying to combine federal programs to help the country’s poorest, who account for up to 22 percent of the country’s population, with initiatives such as “Make-in-India” and “Startup India” designed to stimulate economic and business development. Experts say that “although no special breakthroughs in these areas have yet occurred, the secret of Modi’s popularity is that he at least started these programs.”

They also point to the government’s traditional (and growing) appetite for playing a strong directive role in the economy.

In November 2016, the government took out a hefty 86 percent of all cash out of circulation as part of an experiment to root out corruption only to face a liquidity crisis. Combined with a campaign against “shadow economy,” the measure seriously undermined production and employment, slowed down the pace of economic growth, “and also reduced tax revenues.” A sweeping reform of the national tax system, undertaken in 2017, provoked a months-long “collapse” of the taxation sphere and sparked mass-scale protests.  According to HSBC, India’s GDP growth rate has been steadily declining since mid-2017. According to Bloomberg and the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the volume of new investment projects in India has also been declining since 2015. The downturn began a year after Modi came to power. Amid the continuous growth of the Asian countries’ role in the global economy, finance and trade, the current slide of the region’s second largest economy appears very contradictory and illogical.

Narendra Modi and his opponents are fiercely arguing whether the current economic downturn is cyclical or structural. Economists are also debating on this issue. “The government apparently believes the recession is cyclical.” Modi’s critics argue that despite “consistent cuts in interest rates” and a budget deficit “of 102 percent in 2019,” the economic slowdown has been going on for several years now, Asia Times wrote.  Mounting problems in the economy even forced New Delhi to withdraw from negotiations on the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) after seven years of talks, “literally just a step away from signing the agreement.” According to Indian business publications, RCEP, which was negotiated between ASEAN and the bloc’s six free trade agreement partners, “will now be dominated by China. India’s membership in RCEP would have been tantamount to a trade agreement with China; something Indian industry is unprepared for now.”

Leading Indian economists believe, however, that pulling out of the RCEP agreement will benefit the Indian economy only if the government “immediately” starts to reform the land, labor and capital markets. New Delhi should also focus on encouraging competition, deregulating the economy and facilitating market access if it doesn’t want to see its regional commodity circulation seriously falling behind China’s, and its capital and technology exports, as well as state financing of domestic companies’ overseas projects, remaining significantly inferior to Chinese.

Russia’s chances of playing an important role in the positive transformation of its long-standing strategic partner look pretty good. In geopolitical terms, we are talking about the dialogue between the leaders of Russia, India and China, which resumed in December 2018. All three parties consistently emphasize the partnership nature of their relations as well as their shared interests and goals “in the field of development.”

Economy-wise, the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs believes that Moscow can do a lot in terms of helping its Indian partners on issues ranging “from high technology and defense, to building modern infrastructure and poverty reduction.” This, however, requires a qualitative improvement in the existing model of interaction to bring it fully in line with the realities of 21st century global politics, all the more so amid attempts being made by a number of countries, primarily the US, France and Israel, to sidestep Russia on the Indian track.

Right now, it looks like India could be one of the first major world powers to solve a super-complex dilemma of successfully dovetailing the priorities of security and national development. Despite all the shortfalls of his first term in office, Narendra Modi and his team have managed to even expand their support base among voters from across the country’s political spectrum.  The government now has to prove its ability to kick start the country’s long-term internal development, while simultaneously move toward making India a system forming power in South Asia.

From our partner International Affairs

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