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The Bitter Experience of Governmental Paramilitary Militias in Afghanistan

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Militiamen in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. © 2011 Ton Koene

Over the course of several decades, Afghans have been suffering from militias who have a wide range of uncontrolled armed forces. These militants include groups that engage tribal leaders, private security companies, groups of gangs, and insurgent groups. The most obvious term for the paramilitary militias in Afghanistan is the word “arbaki”. The term also includes non-responsible armed forces that have been created within the framework of official governmental military programs under Afghan Local Policy (ALP). The militias have been involved with any kind of group that has been involved in deadly tribal repressions, assassinations, smuggling, and extortion. Raping women, boys and girls is a common practice by the militants. Therefore, many of them have been accused of committing human rights violations.

After the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Taliban-led rebellion has been intensified in the country. To deal with along with the insurgency, the Afghan government and its international supporters expanded the Afghan National Police by creating paramilitary militias in the form of the Afghan Local Police. This policy led to the reactivation of various armed and non-responsible groups, especially in the north of the country. Moreover, this policy indirectly paved the way for powerful local elders to create their own small militia groups to counteract the deteriorating security situation in their communities.

The Afghan government approved the establishment of ALP in July 2010, and this force was established on August 16, 2010, by presidential decree. According to the US Army and the Afghan Government, the Afghan Local Police were set up throughout Afghanistan to defend those areas in rural communities where the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army are inadequate. In other words, paramilitary forces were established for short-term tactical needs, such as working with the counter-terrorism team at border areas. ALP was a major effort to correct strategic problems in the war against the Taliban. It was argued that Afghan security forces are sent to areas whose inhabitants view them as foreign because of their ethnicity and race. Thus, how the Afghan government with the support of the US founded ALP.

Initially, the Afghan government decided to recruit about 10,000 people as ALP, but the US Congress has approved funds for 30,000 ALPs. In August 2011, 7,000 were recruited as local police. They receive almost 60 percent of the National Police salary, which is 165 euros, and dress differently. They serve on the front lines of the violence.

One of the key hypotheses that have laid the foundation of the Afghan Local Police is that, despite the existence of weak command structure hierarchies, the Afghan National Police (ANP) will control ALP. The key point here is that the number of local police in the districts they operate is higher than the official police officer in that district. In addition, the local police are supported by separate and informal networks of powerful government officials and local authorities that do not allow them to be questioned.

Moreover, the instructions given to the local police are not clear on the competencies of ALP. Similarly, it is unclear whether ALP follows the internal regulations of the Afghan National Police framework on interrogations, detention, and the process of handing over detainees to the ANP. On the other hand, ALP units are trained for three weeks, while ANP officers have six weeks of elementary education. Apart from this, after the end of ALP’s mission, there are no clear guidelines on the process of integrating and consolidating the ALP units within the ANP.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group on the controversial issue of mobilizing village people in the form of Afghan Local Police to fight against the Taliban groups and ISIS echoes that in most cases the local police program has led to the empowerment of local militias who are not accountable to the Afghan government. The report says that the local police program did not reduce violence, and instead of improving security in Afghanistan where they operate, the security situation has been worsened.

The International Crisis Group adds that although the local police program was considered as a temporary solution to the recruitment and escape of the Afghan security forces, in 2014, the Afghan government decided to increase the number of ALP from 29,000 to 45,000.The report of the International Crisis Group refers to cases of harassment by local police and illicit tax evasion by them. In the report of the International Crisis Group, allegations of sexual assault, looting, and imprisonment of people in torture chambers in dry wells filled with snakes by non-militias are also mentioned, for instance, in Faryab Province.

Before the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Afghan people have experienced the establishment of similar paramilitary militias by the Afghan government, too. The first paramilitary forces refer to the ruling People’s Democratic Party – during the Soviet Union supported governments in Kabul in the late 1980s. The Kabul People’s Democratic Party backed by the Soviet Union founded its own paramilitary militias to fight against the Mujahidin and other rebels. Itwas one of the most terrible experiences that Afghan people tasted during in the late 1980s.

On the other hand, the US government also provided money and weapons to various groups of the Mujahidin to fight against the Soviet Union and its so-called governments. After the withdrawal of Soviet Union forces in 1990, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union took up the bloody Mujahideen wars. And left these militias to fight with each other for gaining the power. The US and Soviet Union backed governmental warlords and strongholds were lawless factions and ready for another armed conflict in Afghanistan.

The current paramilitary militias operating in Afghanistan are controlled by people who are called local power or warlords. These are the major warlords to former Mujahideen commanders who, at the time of the jihad against the Soviet Union, created a power base. And now their sources of power and support have expanded deep into the institutions of governance in the center and in the neighborhoods. Extremely inaccurate behavior of the militias has driven people from the national government and in some cases contributed to the expansion of the rebellion.

From its inception, the plan of arming local people against the Taliban was nothing but strengthening the local warlords on a wider scale. The Afghan government policymakers did not think that one day these warlords become uncontrollable powers that the government should enter into a bloody war to subjugate them later on. The US government is not at all worried about the fact that these ALPs are entering illicit drug trafficking and economic mafia and land usurpation because the US government only thinks about weakening the Taliban groups.

After the formation of the Karzai government in 2002, the Afghan government and its international supporters have pledged to disarm illegal armed groups and return them to civilian life. But such efforts have been largely demonstrative and ineffective. The personal interests of latent and powerful individuals in the Afghan government, as well as the financial, logistical and military support of the United States and other international forces from the militias, have undermined the process of disarmament.

Political experts argue that the Afghan Local Police and pro-government militias are dangerous, and the Kabul government should stop the call for their expansion. Instead, the Afghan government should take steps and measures to improve stewardship and supervision over ALP in areas that they operate. Additionally, the Afghan government should adopt serious measures to integrate ALP forces into Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that they can be held accountable to the Afghan government authorized entities. Now that the Trump Administration wants to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, the paramilitary forces can pose more serious threats to the stability of the Afghan central government if they are not disarmed and controlled.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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South Asia

The Taliban Are Back — And Its Fine

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The Taliban have recently conquered large portions of Afghanistan and seem poised to overrun the Afghan government in Kabul. Yet, contrary to what many commentators assume, the return to power of the Taliban is not necessarily a loss for the United States. The Taliban can indeed become an asset for great power competition with China and Russia.

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The Taliban movement scored significant territorial gains throughout the last months. It made large headways into the northern part of Afghanistan and is now surrounding several major cities, seemingly waiting for the departure of the last foreign troops before it seizes these locations. Yet, a potential takeover by the Taliban, although a hard-to-swallow pill, needs not turn into a net loss for U.S. foreign policy.

The primary — although now often forgotten — motive for NATO presence in Afghanistan was not to skirmish endlessly with the Taliban, but rather to eliminate the threat of devasting 9/11-scale attacks by Al-Qaeda and consorts. However, the current Al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan hardly justifies U.S. and allied military action there.

First, no massive attack has occurred on U.S. soil for the last twenty years and relevant American law enforcement agencies have taken extensive precautions to make sure it will not happen.

Second, Al-Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan is now estimated to be less than 1,000 by even pessimistic reports. Advocates of a continuous Western presence in Afghanistan have yet to show how a few hundred terrorists represent an existential threat to the United States or the Free World. It stretches the imagination that seven or eight hundred soldiers of fortune pose a vital and imminent peril for America, while China and Russia now field large and modern militaries well-positioned to overrun their neighbors and make a bid for regional hegemony in East Asia and Eastern Europe.

Third, many of Al-Qaeda’s recent attacks or attempts at attack on the West have little if nothing to do with Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda activities have been delocalized to other countries in turmoil. Those arguing that NATO needs to indefinitely garrison Afghanistan for the sake of a few hundred terrorists should thus logically also advocate for NATO to garrison Iraq, Libya, Mali, Niger, Syria, Yemen, and others.

Fourth, the Taliban never participated in the 9/11 attacks, and their current alliance with Al-Qaeda has a single main motive: surviving NATO presence. Once NATO is out, there is no obvious reason for them to keep working with Al-Qaeda, which may bring devastation once again upon the Taliban and Afghanistan by conducting reckless international attacks from Afghan soil. The Taliban did not fight for over twenty years to hand over the country to Al Qaeda or anyone else.

Therefore, no essential U.S. interest justifies keeping intervening into Afghan domestic politics. Furthermore, since the Trump administration, the U.S. government identifies China as its primary great power competitor and Russia as a secondary one. U.S. foreign policy is now mostly designed with Chinese power as a background. In a nutshell, Afghanistan, even under Taliban control, could become an asset for competing with China and Russia.

Beijing recently warned that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces poses a major threat to regional stability. The Chinese want America to remain in Afghanistan for as long as possible; that is the unmistakable clue that the United States should exit as fast as it can. If a ferocious civil war continues, Beijing will have to reinforce its western border.  Also, if the Taliban take over, Afghanistan may become more sympathetic to the plea of the Xinjiang Uyghurs and less receptive toward Chinese interests. In both cases, China will be forced to strengthen its defense in the areas bordering Afghanistan for fear of instability. Although this burden will likely remain light for China, it is still an easy and unexpansive gain for Washington, because a Chinese soldier busy garrisoning the Afghan border is a soldier unavailable for action towards Taiwan, Korea, or India.

Like the Chinese, the Russians will be forced to protect their southern borders and their Central Asian partners against a potential threat emerging from Afghanistan. To Moscow, this represents around 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of Afghan-Tajik, Afghan-Turkmen, and Afghan-Uzbek borders to guard; this will push Russia to reorient at least some military forces towards Central Asia and thus release some pressure from NATO in Eastern Europe.

A Taliban-led Afghanistan may also further U.S. interests towards Iran and Pakistan in more indirect ways. Indeed, if the United States keeps engaging with Iran, the uneasiness of living with a Taliban Afghanistan on its eastern borders will give further incentives for Tehran to accommodate the United States, and even Israel and Saudi Arabia. If, unfortunately, Washington fails to repair its relations with Iran, Afghanistan can then become a valuable partner to contain Tehran, regardless of who is in charge in Kabul.

As noticed by former CIA Bruce Riedel, without Western presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban will be less dependent on support from Pakistan, and Pakistani Taliban will be free to focus their fight against the government in Islamabad. Indeed, Prime Minister Imran Khan made clear that he did not welcome the Taliban back in power and would seal the border with Afghanistan if they were. Consequently, with the Taliban back in office and NATO out, Pakistan will be forced to reinforce its western border, thus diminishing its capability to compete with India. Therefore, New Delhi will be more able to focus on the Chinese threat to its northern and eastern borders. Trouble emanating from Afghanistan may even become an impetus for the Pakistanis to normalize their relations with the Indians.

Since the February 2020 peace agreement, the Taliban have kept their word to refrain from attacking NATO. They are not mindless fanatics yearning for planetary devastation, but rational actors who made clear that they were only interested in ruling Afghanistan and have proven open to negotiation and adjustments. Once in office, the Taliban will have no shortage of potential threats; they will have to navigate between China, a potential hegemon in Asia, a resurgent Russia, and mistrustful governments in Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Threatening or attacking Washington and its allies will be the last of their concerns. They agreed that Afghanistan should not turn into a safe haven for international terrorism again and have been busy fighting with the Afghan branch of the Islamic State. In a 2020 op-ed in The New York Times, the Taliban even touted the possibility ‘for cooperation — or even a partnership — in the future.’

Afghanistan is and will remain of secondary importance for U.S. foreign policy; yet, maintaining a working relationship with a future Taliban government can offer several benefits at virtually no cost to the U.S., while turning a military defeat into a political win.

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Examining the impacts of Globalization: A Case study of Afghanistan

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Globalization is often considered as one of the most important and transformative events in the 21st century. It has led to the creation of multiple influential actors, rise of the information revolution and the formation of various instruments enabling cooperation and interdependence. Of the key aspects in the concept of globalization is the creation of state institutions which have allowed for monitoring, control and economic investments thus enabling greater connectivity with the people across the globe. The information revolution which came as a result of increase in technological prowess and development of communication technologies has led to the creation of virtual communication spaces. Big technological cooperation’s were able to exercise influence in the social media space and enable a conducive environment of presentation of various discourses. Globalization has also had a significant influence in the manipulation, coordination and control of all manner of discourse directed at various prominent political figures. From state to non-state actors all have been impacted by globalization.

Globalization in 3rd world countries saw an interesting and significant transformation where nations sought to gain advantage of the political and economic expansion which came as a result of increased connectivity of markets and political institutions. For these 3rd World states where political and economic capital was deficient in terms of influencing regional and global dynamics, they sought to further their geo-political objectives through increased trade, cooperation, cultural diplomacy and providing their strategic assets for more influential states to utilize. Countries such as African and South Asian states utilized international institutions, communication technologies in order to further their social, political and economic interests (Hamidi, 2015 ). Afghanistan in this regard hasn’t been averse to the changes effectively induced by globalization. Being a pivotal state in terms of key foreign policy objectives of states such as United States and Soviet Union, Afghanistan has seen change due to globalization. Its influence, in the cultural, political, societal and economic spheres shall be further explored in the ensuing paragraphs of this essay.

The state of Afghanistan has seen consistent and prolonged conflicts throughout its history. It’s political and social landscape has been affected by continuous struggle to attain power by warring warlords. Home to many ethnicities, the Afghan conflict has also impacted various ethnic groups disproportionately with many ethnic minorities becoming victims. Economic woes combined with rigid social norms and values have all contributed to a dwindling state marred by conflict. Afghanistan before the dawn of modernism was home to one of history’s notorious empires. It housed the rulers who invaded across to the rich plains of India in search of arable land for cultivation and for its natural resources. Despite its rich history Afghanistan was primarily distinguished along the lines of a tribalistic society with consistent conflict over land, domestic feuds and scarcity of resources. This all saw a radical change when during the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union, seeking to gain inroads in to South Asia invaded Afghanistan. What followed was a prolonged and protracted conflict in which not only the Afghan people but the people of neighboring Pakistan were also deeply affected in adverse ways. (Britannica , 2021 )

Afghanistan’s ascendancy to the mainstream global political spectrum came as a result of America’s denouncement of terrorism and the beginning of the war on terror. Post 9/11 American coalition forces invaded Afghanistan with the aim of targeting terrorists’ strategic strongholds in hopes of preventing future recurrences of attacks on European states. Another primary objective of the US and NATO coalition forces was to establish a national government enabled by foreign aid of the United States and led by social representatives of the people of Afghanistan. Before the US becoming an entrant in to the Afghan conflict, Afghanistan had largely been unaffected by radical transformations by globalization. Strict adherence to religious and social norms combined with a sense of alienism was one of the dominating factors which rendered Afghanis practically immune to the effects of globalization. Furthermore, economic and social insecurity had led Afghan societies to cluster into communities in hopes of reducing these anxieties which had become a recurrent theme in the pretext of globalization (Kinnvall, 2004 ).

Globalization for Afghanistan has been what is commonly termed as a “mixed bag”. For inviting international bodies to provide aid, relief and security meant a continuous rise in political influence exercised by foreign nations and institutions. Before the advent of American intervention in Afghanistan, foreign influence was mostly restricted to Afghan political elite where several key political stake holders had gained primacy in the eyes of the European governments (EUC paper series , 2017 ). The post 9/11 political spectrum was to radically effect the social political and economic spectrum of the conflict ravaged country. Foreign intervention aimed to radically change the societal fabric of a conservative afghan society and to introduce it to the global financial markets. Economic strife had complemented Afghanistan’s bulging unemployment, increased violence and vilification of what was termed as ‘evil, alien’ concepts of democracy and capitalism. The United States had aimed for re-vitalizing an Afghan society subjugated under Taliban rule.

Afghanistan before 2001 had chronic lapses in communication infrastructure which was largely due to poverty and rigid control by the then Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. Since 2001 the communication bulge came due to a rising influx of international aid and US military deployment. Subsequently Afghan societies were able to connect, report and increase knowledge as a result of the growth in media outlets. Qualitative studies point to the conclusion drawn that content produced by BBC played a significant role in behavioral changes of Afghan society (Adam, 2005 ).  The rich monopoly over the constructive discourses surrounding Afghan societies has also changed through the years as analyzed by various academics. Import of cultural and social identities and appreciation of various political voices came due to the significant influence of globalization.

The Afghan economy is another important aspect which has been significantly affected by the geo-political events and the onset of globalization. Globalization has bought with it the economic interdependence through a global financial market system aiming to liberalize and interconnect regional and state economies. Afghanistan for long had seen a frail economy compounded by elements of corruption, ceaseless conflicts and an influential control of trade routes by the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban, a pre-dominantly Pashtun organization consisting of multiple influential operating factions has for long controlled the opiate trading routes which form the bulk of Afghan domestic export. Primary trading routes had traditionally also included the Pashtun regions of Pakistan. Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet role was furthered by control over such content flows which not only allowed a vast and complicated network of interconnected guerilla groups but also served as the primary produce generating capital (Mendel, 2019 ).

While many argue that globalization inherently is a positive force aiming to alleviate and provide further economic, social and political stability, contested views argue in terms of empirical evidence against the normative claim. The Afghan perspective under the subject of globalization was seen as largely as a disconnect from the rest of the world. The process of integration, Western scholars argued was through the increased presence of defense forces and international institutions aiming to uplift societal deprivations. Another interesting perspective in this regard comes during the analysis of Al-Qaeda networks which for long operating on a global level. Such a degree of efficiency combined with a global distribution of opium trade was only possible through a systematic interconnectedness with various international networks. These would then allow a vast and lucrative drug business to operate despite chronic lapses in the government institutions on economic policy and implementation of government economic models.

Afghan society under the Taliban was rigidly controlled and monitored. Consisting largely of rural tribesmen, high rates of unemployment and extreme poverty had subjected the society to the will of powerful tribal leaders who worked to further their objective of accumulating power and influence. Religion in Afghanistan has also induced a traditional society to follow principals ascribed in religious texts. Laws and structure of society were decided on the basis of a rigid code of scripture. US department of State in its report argues that “legal change occurs usually when it is followed, not when it is leads public by opinion”. This argument follows in line with the narrative that while although US forces and NATO allies were able to remove a Taliban government, applying US democratic values and legal constitutions would be difficult and would ultimately fail when it came to attaining societal approval (Palmerlee, 2003 ).

Afghani society has followed traditional principals and held on cultural traditions and narratives. With globalization many academics have argued that Afghanistan’s inability or the lack of want to change arises from either a poor system of governance or a strongly entrenched traditional societal structure. Despite having multiple programs and promoting organizations representative of the Afghan people, resistance to change has always come due to deeply held beliefs of the need for religious protectionism and maintaining tribal identity. This ‘counter-global’ stances show a societal push back of what is considered as an interference of foreign media, and institutions as a challenging force to disrupt established social norms and values. US forces therefore ever since entering into Afghanistan have found it difficult to reconcile Afghan societies thoughts and values with Western ideals of democracy and capitalism. It is one of the influential factors which allow organizations such as the Afghan Taliban to continue an armed insurgency where general acceptance of society has created the space for the Taliban to operate for a continuous period.

The political spectrum of Afghanistan has also been affected by globalization. International institutions and states have continuously aimed to impart western form of governance in Afghanistan. Foreign investments and defense deployments have continued with the pursuit of gaining political leverage and to back national governments representative of Afghanistan. Despite the continued inflow of foreign capital and operations conducted by NATO forces, the Afghan conflict has largely remained un-resolved and unchanged. The current government having the backing of powerful NATO forces has been largely unable to gain credibility and acceptability in the eyes of Afghanis. Afghanistan’s continued withdrawal from globalization and a rejection to imparting new and improved means of governance has been a primary factor which hasn’t allowed credible space for forms of governance like this to prosper.

The political spectrum also continues to be shaped by consistent sense of ‘loss of sovereignty’ This concept comes as result of a globalization where the greater influence of international institutions and foreign states is observed to have a negative impact on the states individual sovereignty. Despite the profits gained from having a highly interconnected market system and the creation of institutions to reduce the chance of conflict, such influence has been challenged by developing countries. South Asia is largely populated with people living below the average rate of income established by international organizations such as the United Nations. The people of Afghanistan belong to the poorest strata where people have the lowest levels of income followed by a large scale of unemployment and little to no foreign export except the opiate trade. International organizations and non-state actors have over the years gained increasing levels of control and influence in the governance structure of Afghanistan. Through providing aid, defense and foreign policy strategies Afghanistan government and the role of influential international actors has led to an increasing sense of loss of sovereignty by the Afghan population (Political works , 2009 ). This has allowed the continuing Afghan insurgency to gain traction and acceptance where despite being dislodged from power the guerilla paramilitary force has taken up an aggressive and largely successful campaign against the foreign led forces.

Cultural identity has been at the forefront of the debates surrounding globalization. Common conceptions of globalizations mainly discuss the normative aspects of increased communication and inter-dependence between countries. Globalization has increased interconnectivity and has led to a homogeneity of cultures and traditions. While debatable, the concept remains significant in the debate on globalization. The study on Afghanistan has largely been on political economy and connecting Afghanistan with the global financial institutions. Cultural values of democracy and westernized conceptions on human values have found little acceptance in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries. This interesting concept can be studied by understanding the radically altering understanding of individual values and identities of Muslim cultures with that of Westernized democratic ideals. This makes it problematic where enforcement or promotion of these values then leads to cultural rifts and becomes the precursor for possible future conflict. In the case of Afghanistan cultural identity is fixated in the identification on the basis of religion and tribal identities. The celebration of the ‘collective’ and the promotion of shared norms and values gains greater acceptance over westernized ideas of the individual. With these fundamental differences cultural identity has been largely unchanged despite continued foreign assistance and commitment in Afghanistan (Weisberg, 2002 ).

Afghanistan for a large part of its history has seen great conflict of different scales. From internal rifts to foreign interventions the complicated and prevailing nexus in Afghanistan continues to invite academic debate till today. Globalization has increasingly allowed greater connectivity and enhanced opportunities of cooperation and increased global/regional ties. For Afghanistan the complicated situation has been further exasperated with an increasingly globalized world. With foreign interventions and rising levels of inequality and influence of non-state actors, the situation of Afghanistan continues to remain in flux. Only time will truly tell how and to what extent has globalization truly impacted Afghanistan.

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Why France holds the key to India’s Multilateral Ambitions

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Authors: Prof. Nidhi Piplani Kapur and K.A. Dhananjay

As Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla pitches for permanent membership and reforms at the United Nations (UN), India’s prowess in multilateral diplomacy is tested. Against this backdrop, allies and partners who intend to support India become a critical factor not only to its UN ambitions; but also, areas where India’s multilateral interests are emerging – namely in the European Union (EU) and Indo-Pacific Region. In this regard, India’s multilateral goals are threefold–securing a permanent membership at the UN, enhanced multilateral trade relations with the EU, and enlarged capacity-building in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, for realizing its multilateral endeavours, India’s age-old relationship with France remains the key.

Since the signing of the Strategic Partnership with India in 1998, France has played an enormous role in supporting Indian interests. Whether it is backing India’s stance on Kashmir, collaborating in defence and space, or even pledging solidarity in fighting the second wave of the pandemic, France has assisted India in its strategic and societal causes. Therefore, being a reliable and strategic ally, France is a perfect guide for India in the aforesaid multilateral pursuits primarily because of its credentials as a permanent member in the UN, founding member of the EU, and in recent times, an emerging power in the Indo-Pacific region too.

UN Reforms and Permanent Membership

Ever since India was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2020, it has constantly batted for organizational reforms within the UN. As India puts it – ‘reformed multilateralism’ is in the need of the hour. It is a fact that the UN is currently beleaguered by an unevenly poised multilateral system, mainly wedged between the politics of the United States, Russia, and China, and hence is proving antithetical to the organisation’s legitimacy and purpose per se. Besides, with China reportedly making inroads within the UN system, India’s call for reforms underpins its cause to arrest Beijing’s influence that could otherwise prove costly to its strategic interests, including territorial disputes along the Line of Actual Control.

At the UN, France has endorsed India’s bid to overhaul the Security Council on numerous occasions. Currently, France and India are presiding over the Security Council in successive terms for July and August respectively. While India has signalled to make ‘best’ efforts to reform the UN during its short stint at the Security Council, France has already called for negotiations with India to explore and expedite the reformation it proposes. Whatever may be the challenges, France provides elbow room for India to set the ball rolling.

Brokering the India-EU FTA

The EU has been an important multilateral partner for India via trade and strategic relations. Post the EU-India virtual summit in May, an event that drew participation from leaders of all the 27 EU member states, there has been a lot of talk on India’s burgeoning importance in Europe. The summit was a positive outcome for India, as negotiations for the long-pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU were set to restart after a gap of 8 years. Notably, FTA talks with India come at a time when the highly debated EU-China trade deal was frozen by the European Parliament owing to ‘tit-for-tat’ sanctions surrounding China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

For India, the FTA is a watershed for extending multilateral relations with the European continent and an opportunity to consider an alternative to futile Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. Though the FTA might look vibrant and dynamic, the EU considers India’s policy on market access, intellectual property, and data security unfavourable to pursue a free trade agreement. These issues may not be easy to forego, especially given the socio-economic conditions induced by the pandemic; but there comes the French angle to the discussion.

In the EU, France was one of the main proponents for resuming FTA negotiations with India. Since France has a significant foothold in the EU and a long-standing relationship with India, it has the tenacity to cement the middle ground while both parties deliberate on the FTA. This way, both India and the EU’s interests are not shredded, and if the FTA becomes a reality, France gets to keep the legacy of brokering an otherwise impossible landmark deal.

Enlarged Indo-Pacific Cooperation

The rise of China and the consequent formation of the QUAD has put the Indo-Pacific region in the global geopolitical landscape. The Indo-Pacific is at the centre of India’s strategic and territorial interests. As a prominent state in the region, India pursues a strategy that counters China’s dominance and expands its outreach in the Indo-Pacific. Seeing the political circumstances in the Indo-Pacific, France has also shown a keen interest in exploring its prospects in the region.

From securing membership at the Indian Ocean Rim Association to participating in strategic engagements such as the Australia-India-France Trilateral Dialogue and the QUAD-Plus network, France is gradually expanding its footprint in the Indo-Pacific. Not to forget, through 4 overseas territories, France also has a regional presence in the Indo-Pacific. With the EU also launching its Indo-Pacific strategy, France naturally has a tactical advantage to even pilot European interests in the region.

Ergo, French entry in the Indo-Pacific is good news for India because now it has more partners to restrict China. As a result, multilateral capacity-building and maritime domain awareness operations in the Indo-Pacific look at a major facelift in ensuring maritime security, freedom of navigation, and most importantly – restrict Chinese expansionism. Given the French factor, enlarged Indo-Pacific cooperation is beneficial for India to rise as a pivot as well as keep an eye on China’s incessant effrontery in the region.

Based on what France brings to the table, India is looking at a friend whose promising rapport provides a new prism for its multilateral aspirations. Albeit, the judicial probe ordered on the Rafale deal in France might cause light tremors in Indo-French relations and may also spill out a political limbo. It is a headache for both Paris and New Delhi to eschew, and hopefully, they could steer it in a way mutual interests do not succumb to the looming uncertainty.

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