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Time to Reset Foreign Relations between South African and South Asian Countries

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Southern African and South Asian countries have realized that one of the most important means of achieving greater economic independence is through regional integration of economies. Fostering economic diplomacy between the eight member nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and  fifteen member nation  Southern African Development Community (SADC)     is  one of  the key   foreign  policy  objectives  both  regional blocs can work together at least in the  next decade .  South Africa and India can thus exercise quite a influential foreign policy focus in linking these two regions from the government’s side the basic questions revolve around the effectiveness of its current strategies. Whatever the nature and scope of Southern African and South Asian economic difficulties and whatever the degree of success may be expected in coping with them, certain factors stand out. The fact that South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC ) has articulated   a common  economic policy objective is a step towards  more effective  regional  and continental  interaction First and foremost, the Southern African   region is a rich mixture of 15 sovereign nations.

South Asia accounts to be one of the largest consumer markets with over 1.5 billion people living in eight nations covering a wide range of  products in the  eight member nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)   regional bloc. Like South Africa is now a model for other African nations, similarly. India has helped South  Asian  nations  to turn  their  attention  in ward to the African and  Asian continent. South Africa’s strategic   position at the Southern end of Africa makes it unique, overlooking the route around cape to the Far East and thus adjacent to one of the world’s busiest trade routes, especially for   oil trade. This  is also the case with  its almost un-parelled mineral wealth  and advanced  industrial commercial  and financial economy  which has tremendous American and European vested interests .  Although    South Africa   is generally   regarded   as an industrialised state its modern sector   remains   limited. South Africa’s position has further strengthened with Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is the formation of 15 member nations. In that context the   Intra-regional trade among the SAARC countries, namely India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives is about 5 percent and is  far below  its potential.

For this reason, the SARRC has taken a more neutral approach in its regional initiatives and the national interests and policies have influenced the external policies of the member states. Therefore, the responsibility of SAARC regional grouping is to facilitate a conducive political environment among member nations to deepen trade ties with key economic partners. Since the member states launched its Agreement on South Asian Free Trade (SAFTA) in 2006 the region has witnessed many dramatic changes in trade and economic cooperation at various levels. The road map for implementation of SAFTA was both politically and economically ill adopted to fully operate within member states   and scholars were beginning to question some fundamental aspects of the regional trade agreement framework.   The fact that the SAARC has articulated common economic policy objectives is a step towards more effective regional continental integration.

Over the past few years India’s foreign policy initiatives have strengthened its focus on   Southern Africa’s geopolitics. The other Fifteen South African countries, particularly South Africa, have been one of the top priorities of India. In the past four years, bilateral trade between India and South Africa   has crossed the  USD 10 billion. This has had a direct impact on the domestic markets of Southern Africa and South Asia.The African countries have been able to use this window of opportunity in their favour due to South Africa’s leading role in the continent. South Africa has had a strong interest in maintaining a more stable balance of power within the continent. The underlying fact of transformation was due to the solid political and economic achievements that the nation underwent. South Africa has maintained good relations with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), South African Development Cooperation (SADC), and Brazil Russia India China and South Africa (BRICS) member states on a number of key issues. The integration agenda of SADC has also been strengthened through the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan which is a comprehensive 15-year strategic roadmap. This plan not only boosts regional economic integration but also leads to the addressing of the socio-economic issues in this region. South Africa, as chair, provides policy direction and suitable programmes to the other member states of SADC with the aim of boosting regional trade, creating jobs and enhancing skills among the member states.

South Asia offers unique travel   products that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. When travelling to India, Sri Lanka or the Maldives it is important    to find trusted high quality travel agents that provide personalized services to the clients visiting these countries among the newly emerging markets. Since India’s economy is growing swiftly, with around 300 million middle class, the tourism sector of South Africa is seeing improved prospects with an increasing number of Indian tourists. India still continues to be as one of the  top tourist spot for South Africans with about 60,000 South Africans visiting India in 2017. South Africa is popular among Indian travelers. South Africa has enjoyed double-digit growth from the Indian market for the last five years with the numbers increasing substantially each year. Port and shipping are other areas, which benefit both nations mutually. Durban, Colombo and Mumbai have some of the busiest handling ports in Asia. Hence, a surge in the Indian and South African economy will lead to an increase in the volume of cargo cash transactions and services related to it between these regions thereby creating more jobs for the locals and expatriates of these countries.

In the sphere of transportation, vehicles imported from India are comparatively more affordable for African middle class consumers than importing them from elsewhere. Ashok Leyland, Tata and Mahindra vehicles are widely used in Sri Lanka, especially in rural areas. Setting up vehicle assembly plants in Africa or joint venture enterprises could further reduce the cost of the vehicles. Over the past few years, Indian and Sri Lankan companies have established various business ventures together to promote prosperity and to create sustainability. Indians have set up factories in Southern Africa, providing jobs in both countries. Change by nature comes from the past as well as moving towards the future.   Never the less many countries of South Africa know that they must begin to make sacrifices now for their long run survival.  Different    analysts    have interpreted    the two regions development in different ways.  Numerous countries in South Asia and in Southern Africa have grappled with economic dilemmas of how best to deal with debts left behind by previous governments. One of the most visible and most powerful trends in Southern Africa and South Asia today is the thriving Small and Medium Businesses.

As these two regions    look to the future of these member nations .It is clear that everything depends on how thoroughly the Southern African and the South Asian nations learn from the mistakes. This is a daunting task but the SADC and  SAARC  nations  must find satisfactory solutions. They must establish a mutually beneficial relationship between the two sovereign partners or continents.  This will go a long way in opening up the doors of a bright new future for South African and South Asian nations. The crucial question is how to secure such integration.  SAARC and SADC   nations have a powerful  influence on the way forward.  India    and South Africa might   take on   the future   architecture   of SAARC and SADC   in the wake of an free trade agreements (FTAs) . India or South Africa   is thus    an unlikely   saviour   of   regional   Free   trade. The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) is a crucial   entry point for   Southern African   nations into economically   dynamic    area of the world    that has   been integrating   among them. .There is this further question of India’s   influence in SAARC itself?  SAARC and the South African Development Cooperation (SADC), nations have a powerful influence on the way forward. It is clear from these discussions that there is consensus among   the main players here on the need to pin down trade and cooperation. Being among the closest   prosperous economies, it is time for South Asian and South African policy makers to think beyond and make trade transactions smoother and more business friendly for both these regions.

Research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa

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South Asia

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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South Asia

Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East

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India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.

With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West.  It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.

Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.

In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.

However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.

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