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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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India lost Kashmir absolutely

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

The mainstream Indian media is circulation a statement from a former Chief Minister of Indian Occupied Kashmir “Kashmiris don’t feel they are Indian, would prefer being ruled by China: Farooq Abdullah 24 Sep 2020.”

Farooq Abdullah is a famous Indian politician and chairman of the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference. He has functioned as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on numerous times since 1982, and as the union minister for New & Renewable Energy during period of  2009 and 2014.  His statement is considered a significant change in the public mindset in Kashmir.

As a matter of fact, the longest-ruling political party in India,”Congress party,” used few Kashmiri-Muslims by rewarding lucrative posts and political & economic incentives to represent Kashmir Muslims. Congress was getting all political objectives through their front men for almost Six-Decades. But the current-ruling party in Indian “BJP” is an extremist Hindu party and even has not used such pro-Indian Kashmiri-Muslims. Contrarily, the Modi-led Government has suppressed even pro-Indian Kashmiri-Muslims and kept them under house arrest or detention like Farooq Abdullah and Mehboobah Mufti, etc., Whereas the Freedom fighters were either killed or tortured or jailed like Yasim Malik, Burhan Wani, Syed Gilani, etc.

The right of self-determination was granted to the people of Kashmir by the United Nationa, and UNSC has passed resolutions. It is their legitimate right and legal binding n India. But Indian extremists are using accessive force to suppress their struggle. It is worth stating that Kashmir is the only state with an absolute Muslim Majority of up to 87%. India has deployed 900,000 well trained, well-equipped troops to control 8 million Kashmiris. Since 5thAgust 2019, Kashmir is under siege, and 8 million human lives are at stake. Indian brutalities and atrocities surpassed all records, resulting in hate against India. The more use of force, the more hostility against India will grow. Because of accessive use of Military force and draconian law, the Kashmir people have come to a stage that a Kashmir-Muslim Leader, who used to be a tool of the Indian Government to suppress Kashmir freedom struggle, is saying that Kashmir “Kashmiris don’t feel they are Indian, would prefer being ruled by China: Farooq Abdullah 24 Sep 2020”. It is the summit of hate and frustration.

In fact, India has lost any support in Kashmir. Ultimately, India has to leave Kashmir and will never win against the will of the Kashmiri people. Despite the heavy deployment of troops, India could not suppress or win over Kashmiri people during the last Seven-Decades; it should be well understood that India will never win over Kashmiri people. It will be better for India to leave Kashmir; the sooner, the better.

Even the people of Kashmir are so desperate and frustrated with India that they prefer to be ruled by China. It is the height of hate against India and a powerful message to the ruling elite in India. India is hijacked by extremists Hindus, like RSS, and India is no longer a democracy or a secular country. RSS Hindutuva has changed India an extremist Hindu state, where all non-Hindus, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, etc., have no place.

India has turned Kashmir a police state and a permanent war-zone. And the people of Kashmir have determined to keep their struggle till victory. India has been a violation of Human Rights to the extent that Amnesty International has closed down its office in India as a protest.

The UN, International Community, and big powers may intervene and resolve the Kashmir issue according to UNSC resolutions. UN peace-keeping force may move into Kashmir and implement UNSC resolutions passed in 1948. India kept on denying UNSC resolutions and dishonoring the UN charter, but time has reached where World must keep supremacy of UN and International law.

The criminal silence of the International Community may cost human lives and holocaust. Respect Humanity and rescue human lives!

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An Indian perspective on Afghan peace-process

Ganesh Puthur

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image credit: UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

Afghanistan is staring at a massive political uncertainty with the United States preparing to exit the war-torn nation by 2021. America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could ultimately end up in the coronation of the Taliban in Kabul, hence returning to the despotic times of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan. Even though the ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks involving the nominees of the Afghanistan civilian government and the members of Taliban are pacing up in Doha, chances of materialising these assurances are slim. Due to the emergence of factions within the Taliban and other terrorist outfits trying to establish their bases in Afghanistan, there are possibilities of a prolonged civil war once the American forces are pulled out. The result of peace-process will have a massive impact on the region itself. Therefore the Taliban’s possible access to power in Afghanistan has worried New Delhi since Pakistan could make this an opportunity to create fresh troubles in the region to further expedite their doctrine of ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’.

The United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 to avenge the killings of 2,977 of its citizens by an Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre. Al-Qaeda had the patronage of the Taliban and was operating from Afghanistan. America’s military invasion had lead to the removal of the Taliban government. Later Hamid Karzai got appointed as the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the blessings of U.S. For the past two decades, U.S troops were in constant encounters with the Taliban terrorists and lost over 2,441 soldiers to the rebel onslaught. Even after the U.S indulging in fully-fledged warfare and spending billions, the Taliban still controlled around 20% of districts in Afghanistan. They were in constant fights with the allied forces for taking the procession of another 50% districts. The U.S was successful in exterminating the prominent terrorists of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), new leadership kept on popping up regularly. Hence, the ultimate motto of cleansing Afghanistan from the Jihadi elements was never met. 

President Obama was keen on exiting Afghanistan from the later part of his first presidency. Even though the number of troops decreased gradually, the process had to be stalled multiple times due to various terrorist attacks. But back home there was a rising rage among the public for spending their money in a far off land yielding nothing. At this juncture, the U.S government was quick to realise that that they had no military solution to put on the table. Thus through interlocutors, the American government reached out to the Taliban to formulate a respectable exit plan for the U.S. This plan reached a milestone when the Taliban and the United States signed an agreement on February 29, 2020 paving way for the Intra-Afghan talks beginning from September 12, 2020.

Afghan government released 5,000 Taliban rebels in exchange of 1,000 Afghan soldiers who were held as hostages by the Islamic radicals. With the peace talks gaining progress, there could be a demand for the release of more rebels. These people are trained in modern warfare and have the experience of combating U.S troops in strenuous mountainous terrain. Following the abrogation of Article 370, there has been a military crackdown on the terrorists and their affiliates in Kashmir. Many of the terrorist organisations operating in the valley face leadership vacuum since the Indian military is quick to identify prominent terrorists and then neutralises them. Pakistan, which is known for its proximity with the Taliban, might use them to create trouble in Kashmir. It was during the Taliban’s regime Indian Airlines flight 814 was hijacked by the terrorists and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. India had no option but to free terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in return of 160 passengers.  Also, Afghanistan is notorious for the production of Cannabis, Opium and other drugs. Taliban earns around $200 million a year selling Opium alone. Pakistan has been using narcoterrorism as an instrument to create social unrest in India. The Indian state of Punjab, which shares international borders with Pakistan, has been thoroughly affected by the drugs menace. Taliban’s total control over the drug production and its supply can be smuggled to India through ISI backed channels, further deteriorating the existing situation.   

Afghanistan is of immense strategic importance as far as India is concerned. This landlocked country is seen as India’s pavement to Central Asia since Pakistan cannot be a trusted ally for historical reasons. India has contributed more than $3 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan which includes their Parliament, Dams, Schools and many other projects. India had even allotted Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium as the home ground for the Afghanistan national cricket team. Bollywood movies are still popular in Afghanistan. What needs to be seen is the Taliban’s approach towards India. The Spokesperson of Taliban, Suhail Shaheen’s tweet read “The statement published in the media about Taliban joining Jihad in Kashmir is wrong…. The policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.” This tweet caught the diplomatic community by surprise. It is a known fact that the Taliban’s deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani operates the Haqqani network which has organic bonding with the Kashmiri separatist groups. 

Sirajuddin Haqqani, in a recent op-ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times shared the vision that the Taliban has for Afghanistan. He wrote “liberated from foreign domination and interference, we together will find a way to build an Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam.” What Taliban did to the minorities and women in Afghanistan during their 5 year rule was brutal and condemned by the global community. But Haqqani concluded this essay on a positive note by saying that “the new Afghanistan will be a responsible member of the international community”. But it needs to be seen whether the Taliban relinquishes its claim for strict Sharia laws and makes concessions on democracy which they consider as a western poison.

 For all these years, India was hesitant to deal directly with the Taliban. But an evolving approach towards the Taliban is on cards with the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar virtually attending the Intra-Afghan peace talks. He even gave India’s warning to the rebels that “Afghanistan’s soil shouldn’t be used for anti-India activities”. It will be interesting to see how China deals with the Taliban after wooing Iran with a $400 billion deal. With the possibility of enormous political changes after the signing of the agreement between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, its after-effects will be experienced in the entire South Asian region. India has no other choice but to engage with the about to be formed dispensation in the Kabul. 

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Rohingya repatriation: Has the world forgotten about the Rohingya crisis?

Shariful Islam

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Rohingya refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in Myanmar (file photo). IOM/Mohammed

In August 2017, the Myanmar army committed atrocities to the Rohingya people in Arakan state of Myanmar including rape, torture, burning the houses, killing. To escape from death, the Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis has been identified as one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.The United Nations (UN) has defined the crisis as the ‘textbook case’ of ethnic violence.

And considering the sufferings of the Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh opened doors for them from a humanitarian ground. Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, including the Rohingyas who came earlier (before August 2017) in the country. Notably, Bangladesh is providing shelter, food, medicare and other facilities/services to the Rohingyas for a long time. The local people of Cox’s Bazar also showed great sympathy to those refugees sacrificing their lands, forests and other resources. Bangladesh has made tremendous sacrifices, including the forests. Initially, the country made Rohingya camps in 6,500 acres of land. It is already three years passed. But a successful Rohingya repatriation seems a dream to many given the current contexts. In this article, I attempt to show why successful repatriation is essential, why it failed, and the role of the international community in this regard.

Why repatriation necessary?

First, Rohingyas are creating an extra burden for Bangladesh, given the socio-economic realities of the country. Notably, being one of the densely populated countries in the world with limited resources, it becomes a daunting task for Bangladesh to continue its wholehearted supports for the Rohingyas in the days to come.

Second, Rohingya refugees have clear security implications for Bangladesh and beyond. It is reported that Rohingya criminals are becoming involved in the deterioration of the law and order situation in Cox’s Bazar, which becomes a grave concern for the locals. The local people who showed wholehearted support to the Rohingyas are worried now due to the increased criminal activities by the Rohingya criminals. It is reported that there are instances of murders in the Rohingya camp. In addition, after the murder of Jubo League leader Farooq by the Rohingya criminal, there were tensions among the locals.

It is argued that the longer the refugees stay in the refugee camps, the more likely they become a threat to peace (cited in Bariagaber, 1999: 605). Thus, prolonging the Rohingya repatriation will be problematic for Bangladesh, which merits serious attention from the international community. In this context, successful repatriation of the Rohingyas becomes essential.

Third,one can also argue that there are regional and international security implications of the Rohingya crisis. The international community can also consider this factor and take significant steps to resolve the Rohingya crisis and provide a better and secure life to the Rohingyas.

Finally, as a human being, Rohingyas deserve a better and secured life with dignity and fundamental human rights. Thus, ensuring their basic human rights becomes a moral responsibility of the international community.

Why Rohingya repatriation failed?

Bangladesh-Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on November 23, 2017, though no progress has been observed in making repatriation successful. On July 29, 2019, Bangladesh handed over a list of 55, 000 Rohingyas for verification for repatriation. Myanmar only cleared 3,450 Rohingyas for beginning the repatriation. Notably, Rohingya refugee repatriation to Myanmar has been failed twice, one in November 2018 and another in August 2019. Against this backdrop, one can ask: What factors have accounted for to the failures of Rohingya refugee’s repatriation to Myanmar? To answer this question, one can identify the following factors.

First, the absence of conducive conditions/environment in Myanmar is the major hindrance to the successful repatriation of the Rohingyas. Myanmar government showed apathy towards repatriation. One can also argue that the Myanmar government did not show firm commitments in the repatriation process. Though in the declaratory postures they are showing the international community that they are interested in the repatriation, when it comes to operational policies, they are reluctant in the repatriation process through not creating favourable conditions/ conducive environment for the Rohingyas. Rohingyas are scared that if they are back, the Myanmar army will kill them.

Second, the failure of the international community to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar becomes another critical factor.It seems that international community has confined its role in providing reliefs, foods, healthcare services, money to the Rohingya refugees and sometimes made an occasional visit to the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar and took photographs and shared those (photos) in the social media and beyond. To a larger extent, the international community has bypassed their key responsibility to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland through pressurizing Myanmar. Thus, it will not be wrong to claim that the international community has totally failed to create a conducive environment in Myanmar which makes security concerns among the Rohingyas. Thus, those Rohingyas are not interested in to repatriate in Myanmar.

The most concerning is that it seems that the Rohingya issue is losing interest in the international community. There is already shrinkage of funds for the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. If the international community totally fails to repatriate the Rohingyas, it will create a disastrous situation for Bangladesh. It is well known that Bangladesh is a densely populated country in the world with limited resources, as noted earlier. Thus, the country cannot afford to continue its supports to the Rohingyas. In addition, there is a stronger possibility of conflicts between the Rohingyas and local people in the days to come given the socio-economic realities of the society.

One can argue that the United Nations has so far failed to pressurize Myanmar and create a conducive environment for the repatriation. Considering the narrowly defined self-interest, Russia, China, India whole-heartedly supports the Myanmar government. Though China and India bear dissimilarities in many issues, in the case of Rohingya issue, they maintain a similar stand, supporting the Myanmar government. Notably, Myanmar is a crucial state for China’s Belt and Road Initiative project, while the country is key to India’s act east policy. In addition, the UNHCR, ASEAN, EU, USA, Japan also failed to pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate the Rohingya repatriation.

Third, the political economy of the refugees/NGOs is also responsible for the failure of the repatriation process of the Rohingyas. Khaled Muhiuddin (2019) writes that foreign aid ‘is prolonging the crisis. It is common sense that if Rohingya refugees are having a better life in Bangladeshi camps than the one they experienced in Myanmar, they will see little reason for going back to Myanmar. That is why efforts to ensure safety for Rohingyas in Myanmar are more important than providing comfort to them in the Bangladeshi camps’. Thus, foreign aid is benefiting both the NGOs and the refugees.

Around 150 international and local NGOs are working in the 34 Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. It is claimed that the political economy of the NGOs also works as a major hindrance to the Rohingya repatriation process. A resident of Cox’s Bazar, Rafiqul Islam Rafiq claims that various NGOs, including the UN agencies, demotivate the Rohingyas to repatriate (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, president of BAPA and CAB, Cox’s Bazar contends that both international and local NGOs are telling the Rohingyas that this [Cox’s Bazar] is your place, it was once your place, a part of Arakan State. Since this is your place, you do not need to leave this place (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). A. N. M. Helal Uddin, president, civil society forum, Cox’s Bazar claims that if these Rohingyas leave, their (NGOs) business will be stopped. They are motivating the national crisis. The government should find out those NGOs and take actions against them (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019).

Fourth, the economic interest of some local people also works as a hindrance to the repatriation. A resident called Jasim Uddin points out that the Rohingya refugees have created a huge business for the hotel, restaurant, flat owners who do not want that Rohingyas leave Cox’s Bazar(Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). He claims that economic interest is the main factor of these owner classes, who devoid of patriotism. Notably, 1000 locally made weapons including knifes were seized from the NGO office SHED (Society for Health Extension and Development) who was working in the Rohingya camp (Osmany, 2019). Notably, SHED failed to provide any legal documents i.e. operating license to use these weapons (Aziz, 2019). Thus, it becomes important to monitor vigorously and ensure the accountability of the local and international NGOs who seek greater profits from prolonging the Rohingya crisis.

Fifth, one can also look at the role of the scholars and scholarship critically to resolve the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya refugee crisis did not receive serious attention from the intellectual community. Even the role of Bangladeshi scholars is minimal in producing serious scholarship on the issue. The scholars cannot avoid their responsibility to resolve the crisis.

Finally, international media also failed to internationalize the issue and influence the policy formulations regarding the crisis. In the initial days, though the mainstream global media provided enough attention to the issue, in the latter days, they totally forgot the crisis. I wonder, if the same thing happens in the developed world, would the global media response be the same?

To conclude, Bangladesh, alone cannot resolve the Rohingya crisis. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh strongly contends in addressing the 75thUnited Nations General Assembly that the Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar and thus has to resolve the crisis by Myanmar. In this case, since Myanmar is not interested in resolving the crisis, it is the international community that can pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. In fact, the role of the international community, including the major powers, international media becomes essential to encourage Rohingya repatriation. The role of the scholars and scholarship also becomes necessary. The bottom line is that for the greater cause of humanity, the international community must come forward to pressurize Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. The world needs to remember that Bangladesh has already done a lot to the Rohingya refugees. Now, it is the responsibility of the international community. Isn’t it?

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