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A new political turn in Sri Lankan politics with Sirisena-Rajapaksa alliance

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In the last couple of months, the South Asian region has seen a trend of uncertain political changes. Since the end of July, Pakistan followed by Maldives, have seen a transformation in their political leadership with new policy directions towards this region. On the 26th of October, India’s southern island neighbor, Sri Lanka, also experienced a sudden shift of governance with the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by the President Maithripala Sirisena. The President had claimed that “the name of a high profile Minister had surfaced during investigations of the assassination plot by the Criminal Investigation Department, which had been suppressed due to political interference.” (Sunday Times) This had been justified by the President as being the main reason for the removal of the Premier Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet. Unfolding this event, the unity government comprising of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and United National Front (UNF), the historically opposing ideological party alliances had collapsed with the UPFA pulling out of the national government.

Just after a few hours, the President Sirisena had appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister and declared it constitutional under the 19th amendment. The President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka had also stated that “When a coalition partner left the unity government, the Cabinet automatically stood dissolved. Accordingly, the Prime Minister, too, ceased to hold office. In such a situation, the President is empowered to appoint a new Prime Minister who, in his opinion, commands the support of a majority of members in Parliament.”

However, the outgoing Prime Minister has challenged this move as being unconstitutional since he has a parliamentary majority of 106 members as compared to Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Paramuna (SLPP) and Sirisena’s UPFA combined coalition comprising of 95 members. Hence, now to form a government both Mahinda and Wickremesinghe need to prove a parliamentary majority of 113 in a 225-member parliament.

Currently, the Parliament has been postponed for three weeks by the Sri Lankan President and it has been anticipated that this could be a move by Sirisena-Mahinda alliance to gain time to consolidate members from the smaller parties for the required majority in the coming days.

There are several challenges that the Sirisena-Rajapaksa government might face after coming to power. One being the presence of a strong opposition mainly from the parties dominated by Tamil and Muslim communities. Also, the current coalition that Rajapaksa is building will be dominated by cross over parliamentary members with different ideologies. Furthermore, the new former President as a Prime Minister now would not enjoy the same privileges as before and Sirisena as the head of all the three forces would be enjoying absolute powers. Rajapaksa on assuming office, would also face the challenge of foreign debts mainly borrowed from China along with the rising oil prices. There will also be a need to find a reasonable settlement of gaining a greater Sri Lankan stakeholdership over the leased out vital nerve centres. Lastly, it would be important for the government to settle the minority issues by pursuing accommodative political settlements.

Meanwhile, the Western world is asking the new Sri Lankan government to act as per the constitution. On similar lines, the closest friendly neighbor India is closely observing the unfolding events in Sri Lanka. As an academician, one can argue that Rajapaksa’s current foreign policy approach could be more favorable towards India as compared to his previous policy position from 2005 to 2015. This reasoning is justifiable as just a month back, Mahinda Rajapaksa had visited India to deliver a lecture on Indo-Sri Lanka relations and during this visit Rajapaksa had simultaneously met the Indian Prime Minister.

With this background, India might have an advantage with Sirisena-Rajapaksa government to implement stronger foreign relations with the neighboring island country. In the recent past, India’s more neutral approach and non-interference policy has also made it succeed in the Maldives scenario, where India was able to reconcile its foreign policy with Ibrahim Solih’s victory. It is clear that there is a chance for India and the international community to engage more proactively with the Sirisena-Rajapaksa government such that a conducive environment can be created for the South Asian region.

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

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South Asia

Is Nepal an Indian colony?

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photo: Wikipedia

In yet another dictation, India has told Nepal that nationals of other countries will not be allowed to use the new 35-km rail link between Jaynagar in Bihar and Kurtha in Nepal, due to “security reasons” (The Print, November 25, 2021). The 34.9-km narrow gauge section was converted into broad gauge by India and handed over to Nepal in October this year.  Nepal protested India’s dictation resulting in operational delay. Ultimately India softened its “order” to the extent that “third country nationals can travel on the railway within Nepal, but they won’t be allowed to cross over to India,”

Nepal is perhaps the only country where the head of India’s premier intelligence, Research and Analysis wing is accorded a red carpet welcome as he calls on the Nepalese prime minister (amid popular protests). Not only the RAW’s chief but also the external affairs minister and army chief often visit Nepal with a handy list of  les choses a faire (things to be done). For instance when the Indian army chief visited Nepal, he reminded the PM that there are 136,000 pensioners in Nepal whose pension bill is disbursed by India. The army chief freely intermingled with pensioners as if Nepal was a colony and he was viceroy.

There are about 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas currently serving in the Indian Army’s seven Gorkha Rifle regiments (1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th), each of which has five to six battalions (around 800 soldiers each).

Nepal resents its image as a contributor of mercenary soldiers to India and Britain. So it wanted to stop sending Gurkhas for recruitment to the two countries by amending the tripartite In 1962, Sino Indian conflict, the Gorkhas stayed loyal to India though  the Chinese used loudspeakers daily against the company of Major Dhan Singh Thapa, PVC,  to withdraw as they were from Nepal. The Nepalese troops returning to their native villages were pooh-poohed on their journey back home.

The total pension bill for the 1, 27,000 pensioners (90,000 defence and 37,000 Central and State Government as well as paramilitary), and serving soldiers remitting home money is around Rs 4,600 crore. It works out to Nepalese Rs.  6400, which is larger than the NR 3601.80 crore defence budget of Nepal.

The Nepalese still resent India’s hand in assassinating Nepal’s king Birendra and his family (‘Indian hand in Nepal massacre’. The Statesman January 11, 2010).

Nepal’s predicament

Nepal is a landlocked country dependent on India in many ways. In the past India blocked supplies to Nepal at least four times forcing it to capitulate to India’s diktat to stave off starvation.

Nepal is contiguous to Tibet. So it has to balance its relation with both India and China. As China has influence on Nepalese communists so India can’t dare subdue Nepal fully. India always regarded Nepalese prime minister Oli a hard nut to crack. It was Oly who amended national map to re- exhibit areas annexed by India within Nepalese territory. India heaved a sigh of relief when Nepalese Supreme Court ousted Oli and appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as the prime minister until the next general elections.   Deuba remained listless to popular protests against the Supreme Court’s decision.

Conspiracies to oust Oli

To topple Oli’s government, the Indian embassy in Nepal had been bankrolling corrupt politicians and other members of Nepalese society. Aware of India’s underhand machinations,  Oli

debunked India’s conspiracies during a ceremony to commemorate the sixty-ninth anniversary of the Party’s popular leader Madan Bandari. Oli “accused India of trying to destabilize his government” and alleged “Indian embassy in Nepal was conspiring about the same” He claimed, `Conspiracies were being plotted against him since the constitutional Nepali map amendment’.  He further added, `There is an open race to remove me from the post. No-one thought that a prime minister would be removed from office for printing a map’.

Be it observed that Nepal amended its map when its objections fell flat on India. India’s defense minister Rajnath Singh, went ahead to inaugurate an 80-kilometer-long road connecting the Lipulekh Pass in Nepal with Darchula in Uttarkhand (India). The Indian army chief insinuated that Oli was being prodded by China against India.

India’s ongoing annexation

Besides annexing the three new territories, India had already annexed 14000 hectares (140 km square) of territories in Susta, Tribeni Susta, Lumbini Zone, near Nichlaul (Uttar Pradesh).

Nepal being no match for India could not stop India by the use of force. But, to express its dissatisfaction, it printed 4000 copies of the updated version of the new map and distributed it to India, United Nations, and also Google. Additional 25,000 copies of the map were distributed throughout Nepal.

Concluding remarks

Gorkhas fought well in India’s post-independence wars (Indo-Pak 1965, 1971 and 1999 Kargil War, besides 1962 Sino-Indian War and peace keeping mission in Sri Lanka. Their battle cry is jai maha kali, ayo gorkhali. Three Indian army chiefs (SHEJ Manekshaw, Dilbri Singh and Bipin Rawat) served with Gorkha Rifles.

Nepali citizens have a right to apply for recruitment in Indian armed forces or civil services. Yet, they hate India and find more comfort with China as an ally. Whenever India blockades transit trade to Nepal, the latter fall back upon China for its economic needs. India also forced Nepal to grant citizenship to Indians illegally residing in Nepal.

Despite its economic woes, Nepal is ferociously independent minded. When Oli enacted a new map of Nepal, he was vehemently supported by most politicians including the present prime minister. India is unlikely to compel Nepal to toe its dictates fully. 

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US and India in the Indo Pacific: Advancing a shared vision

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PM Narendra Modi and US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a press statement. (Photo: Twitter/@MEAIndia)

The changing geopolitical dynamics with China’s emergence as a key player and the declining role of the US as a superpower have all shifted the focus towards the Asia Pacific region. This region has become home to numerous flashpoints as China is seeking to tilt the balance of power in its favor and the US being distrustful of Chinese intentions. Nevertheless, to mitigate this threat, the US under the Obama administration has already turned the foreign policy focus from the Middle Eastern region to the Asia Pacific with the policy of “Pivot to Asia”. 

Along with this, former president of the US, Donald Trump came with a newfangled strategy of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” in 2017, thus having the Indian Ocean part of the great game. Yet, this has largely been subject to multiple interpretations. Especially, China is perceiving it as a strategy by the US to contain China’s growing power in the region since the US has clearly stated in its National Security Strategy that China is a “strategic competitor”, and the US won’t let any single state dominate the whole region. Therefore, this policy is going to have multiple implications in terms of how the countries will approach and recce China’s rise in the region. 

Apparently, the US stated its vision for Indo Pacific is to ensure peace, prosperity, security, and stability, yet if we analyze deeply then US intentions primarily is to counter the influence of China and to increase its footings in the region. That is why it has focused on projecting the harder image of its competitor China in the region and worldwide, while convincing others for taking the US as their well-wisher whose intention is to constructively engage economically, politically, and socially with regional states. Nevertheless, in reality, the US is trying to achieve its underlying objectives in the region and that is to increase its presence and relevance in the region while using the sugar-coated approach of presenting itself as a marvel for the development of other regional states.

If we go a little back into history then the US has always shown great interest in the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary of the state, Hilary Clinton used the term while defining the “Asia pacific rebalancing strategy” and the relationship of the US with India. Even Obama during a historic visit to India in January 2015 endorsed this concept to show how the two states have been cooperating to promote peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. Moreover, “Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor”, an initiative by John Kerry was introduced for the first time at the US-India Strategic Dialogue in June 2013. However, it is only now that the term is officially part of the US defense paper and the National Security Strategy documents. 

As with the changing geopolitical realities, the US has to look beyond the Middle Eastern region and must ensure its presence in the Indo-Pacific region which in future is going to define the world politics. Therefore, the US is engaging with regional powers and is trying to build them militarily and economically so that they can be used effectively as a “Threat multiplier” against China in the present and future. Besides, the Chinese actions including its extensive military modernization, the assertive pursuit of maritime territorial claims, artificial islands, and efforts to control international or disputed waters including the South China Sea, coercive diplomacy or economic measures, and its expanding global presence, including the military base at Djibouti, has all generated alarms for the US. 

Apart from this, China is working on its far seas policy which is focused on extending Chinese naval capabilities and protection of its far Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). Henceforth, China’s presence in the Gulf of Aden, its investment in the Hambantota port, and the patrolling of its nuclear-powered submarines in the Indian Ocean in 2013, all shows China’s intention to dominate the region. That is why India has started using its satellites, P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft and surface ships to eye the “unusual surge” in Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean,

Thus, keeping in view such dependence and importance of the Indo-pacific region for China and especially of the Indian Ocean. Trump came with the Indo pacific strategy which aims at regaining US lost hegemony and presence in the region. The department of defense also stated that the Indo-Pacific is “the single most consequential region for America’s future”. That is why the US is investing heavily in the region. Former secretary of the state, Mike Pompeo announced $113 million in funds allocation to expand economic engagement in the region and another $300 million for security cooperation. Former US president, Donald Trump signed the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development Act (BUILD Act), and Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA act) which doubles US development finance capacity to US$60 billion

For trade, the US is investing around $1.9 trillion and is participating actively in regional platforms like ASEAN, QUAD, and APEC. It has lent $153 million to Mekong states and is working on 11 renewable projects. Moreover, it has given around $250 million for the security of sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific region. Today there are 375,000 U.S. military person in Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM). Henceforth, Indo-Pacific could be a game-changer for the US considering the potential region has in terms of the population, resources, top militaries, economic powers, and most importantly the 60% sea trade. For the US, unhindered access to the region means accomplishing its broader strategic goals. 

Nevertheless, in all of this, the role of India is significant as both states are in an attempt to advance the same vision. The US military developments, Pacific involvement, the stationing of 200 aircraft in the region, etc. are all targeted at enhancing its power position in the region. Nonetheless, being geographically apart from the region, the whole strategic bedrock for the US are the partners that give it an advantage over competitors. As far as India is concerned, it is a key strategic partner of the US as both states have signed numerous defense agreements. Importantly, US is fully aligned with India’s “Look East Policy” and as India is closer to the Indian Ocean that is why having stronger ties with India would help it gain control in the Indian Ocean which has 80% of trade passing through it. 

For that reason, the US always calls India central to its Asian policy. Especially, with China’s emergence as a competitor, its increasing influence in the Indian Ocean region, and the South China Sea, the US deems it’s important to partner up with India which also looks at China as an aggressor state. The recent Ladakh incident which on one side has increased tensions between India and China has on the other side brought India and USA closer into the arms of each other. More importantly, India’s ambition to become a leading power while providing security to the Indian Ocean Region is in line with the US Indo-Pacific strategy. This is why Trump too has renamed the pacific command to Indo-Pacific command which includes India with which the USA has a $16 billion defense agreement. Likewise, India is stepping for an increasing influence in the Strait of Malacca and has deployed eight warships in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, today the increasing US-India partnership, logistic exchange, 2+2 deal, $50 billion arms sale, intelligence sharing, etc. are all pointing towards the importance India has for the US in its Indo Pacific strategy. 

To cape it all, the US has long called itself a pacific state, and all its policies and strategies vis-à-vis Indo-Pacific are fashioned seeing itself as a major balancer in the region. But even if the US today appears peaceful in its pursuit it could take a 360-degree shift tomorrow as its history speaks. And in all of this, India like always will hold a key position in the US strategy to accomplish all underlying objectives in the region as cooperation exist where interests syndicate. 

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India wanted to divert public attention from domestic issues by accusing Pakistan

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NarendraModi

India and Pakistan were former British colonies and got independence in 1947. The areas with a Muslim majority became Pakistan, and areas with a Hindu majority became India. Before the British colonialization, the sub-continent was ruled by Muslims for almost 800 years. Overall, Muslims were in minority and they have accepted the smaller areas as Pakistan, which is almost one-sixth of India. Being self-content, Pakistan was satisfied and had no ill-feeling against India.

But, India, since the beginning has not accepted the partition and was keeping ill feelings for Pakistan. Just after one year, in 1948, the Indian army entered into Kashmir and seized two-thirds of Kashmir, as occupied Kashmir. There have been four wars between the two rivals and outnumbered border clashes of various magnitudes. India planned several conspiracies to finish Pakistan but failed to do so for the last seven decades. But have not accepted the existence of Pakistan, from the core of heart and always trying to harm it.

India is using ugly media to defame Pakistan, and spreading fake news, fabricated narratives, and distorting Pakistan’s image. India leadership is in habit of giving irresponsible statements against Pakistan.

In response to a recent statement by the Indian defense minister, Pakistan expressed that it is “fully prepared” to respond to Indian aggression, but will continue to act responsibly and work to promote peace. Pakistani leadership is visionary and understands the consequences. Genetically Pakistan is a peace-loving nation, but very vigilant to safeguard its national security.

“While fully prepared to respond to India’s provocations and irresponsible behavior, Pakistan will continue to act responsibly and contribute to all efforts for promoting peace,” read a statement issued by the Foreign Office.

It said that Pakistan “strongly rejects highly irresponsible, provocative and gratuitous remarks by the Indian Defense Minister threatening Pakistan”. On Saturday Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said: “Pakistan makes all efforts to destabilize peace in India but we have sent a clear message to them that we will hit back.” “This is a new and powerful India,” Singh added while addressing a public gathering in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh.

The Foreign Office, in its statement, said that his unfounded remarks “are delusional on the one hand, and reflective of India’s characteristic hostility towards its neighbors on the other”.

“India’s smear campaign against Pakistan has been exposed and discredited. It has no takers in the international community,” said the statement.

The Foreign Office said that it is no secret that Indian leaders “engage in falsehoods and fantasies while pointing fingers at neighbors including Pakistan”.

It is not the first time that India is giving such sarcastic remarks about Pakistan. In past, whenever India is facing internal pressures, they use similar tactics to divert the public attention. This time, India wants to divert the attention of the international community from the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by Indian occupation forces in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir.

“Indian occupation forces have been committing egregious human rights violations and grave crimes against innocent Kashmiris in India-occupied Jammu Kashmir including extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, torture, arbitrary detentions, using people including innocent children as a human shield, and collective punishment by demolishing homes,” the statement underscored.

It went on to state that the Dossier presented by Pakistan to the international community in September 2021 “contains incontrovertible evidence of the gross and systematic human rights violations and crimes against humanity by Indian occupation forces in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir”.

The Foreign Office said that the Indian government’s frustration is evident from the fact that despite its unabated state-terrorism in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, it has “utterly failed to silence the peaceful voices of Kashmiris” demanding their right to self-determination promised to them by the United Nations Security Council in its various resolutions.

Tellingly, tensions in Kashmir remained on a knife-edge Saturday after a shootout by the Indian authorities this week left four people dead, with families alleging the gunfight was staged and that police used innocent civilians as a “human shield”.

Police initially described the incident, which took place last Monday when officers raided a shopping complex, as a counter-insurgency operation in which two ‘militants’ and their associates had been killed in a shootout.

The families of three of the men, however, have accused Indian forces of cold-blooded murder and the case has sent ripples of outrage across Kashmir, a region scarred by familiar allegations of extrajudicial killings. India’s top regional official has called an inquiry into the deaths.

Thousands of people, including civilians, have been killed in the violence. Human rights groups have accused Indian forces, which operate with legal impunity, of abuses including rape, torture, and staging gunfights.

Citizens and rights activists have also decried an increasing denial of civil liberties in Kashmir since the region was stripped of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019, taken under the full control of the central government, and divided into federally controlled territories of India.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of sponsoring or facilitating armed groups operating on the other’s soil. Such accusations have increased in frequency and tenor since 2014 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to power.

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