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70th Milestone of the Indian Republic: Building a New Foreign Policy Partnership with Sri Lanka

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Yashodha Rathnayake

It is 70 years since the first republic day of India which is a significant milestone in the Indian sub-continent history. Twenty two years later following the footsteps of India the southern neighbor Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972.  The tremendous political will of the makers of the two modern South Asian nations are good reasons to be proud off. Both of these nations had experienced several phases of foreign policy making since the time of independence. Modernization of Indo-Lanka foreign policy approach also emphasizes trade ties should be the prime determinant of this diplomacy. In recent years, the constitutional framework of India and Sri Lanka created the necessary pre-conditions to secure a stable, democratic future for the South Asian nations. It is evidently worthwhile to say that both of these nations share common interests, values and beliefs from generation to generation. In fact, during the post-independence history the two nations have had some remarkable foreign policy successes. What catches the eye, the most is its closer geographical proximity and the scope this cooperation will further carry forward diplomatic endeavors based on profound historical linkages.

Nonetheless both of these nations need to show greater flexibility, pragmatism to reinforce this optimistic long-standing relationship. Viewing through the prism of economic diplomacy the favorable contrast between India and Sri Lanka can also be measured through economic indicators. When we carefully review the two way trade, India and Sri Lanka had worked hard to normalize the trade status through the South Asian Free Trade   Agreement (SAFTA). Further Indo Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISFTA) reviewed the economic diplomatic aspects between the two neighbors. These two agreements provided a wide range of alternatives.  Yet one could argue that the uneasiness in these trade ties was a far cry and was quite gloomy prior to signing the ISFTA and the SAFTA. The annual bilateral trade figures had risen to over US$ 4.6 billion in 2016 from  US$ 1.7 billion  in 2004 (Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Mumbai). Especially greater exports from Sri Lanka to India was US$789 million in 2017 that contributed towards greater economic ties. (United Nations comtrade database on international trade, 2018). If everything goes well according to plan, in the next couple of years, the bilateral trade volume might reach US$ 8 billion (estimates, 2019).

If we analyze another aspect of the foreign policy, the two way trade and opportunities can be improved, if Sri Lankan consumer demands and Indian supply side are balanced with minimum tariffs. Therefore, not all tariff concessions are necessarily beneficial. However, Indo-Lanka market oriented companies must build those bonds to smoothen the trade relations. Hence for Sri Lanka and India, the economic diplomacy has a dependency perspective emphasizing on exports and imports of major commodities. As a matter of fact, the joint effort of India and Sri Lanka gaining preferential access to the regional common market through SAFTA stands as a major achievement. The other side of this diplomacy is the bilateral aid policy of India. In 2014, a new era of South Asian diplomacy began with India’s neighborhood policy. During a state visit to Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, one of the most famous state leaders in the modern political history stated,

“When I look at Sri Lanka, I see not only a neighbor, but a very special and trusted partner of India in South Asian and in the Indian Ocean. I believe that our development cooperation with Sri Lanka is an important means for translating our vision of shared progress into reality”.

Trade alone does not create a mutuality of interest among the bonded neighbors. India has served through the decades as a major supporter of Sri Lanka’s development process. Sri Lanka is one of the major recipients of development credit given by the Government of India, with total commitment of US$ 2.6 billion (High Commission of India, Colombo, 2017). As for credit itself India had been prepared to offer major concessions for Sri Lanka in the past few years.   For example   US$ 800 million line of credit for the laying of the 150 kilometer Northern Railway track that is in operation since 2014 was one of the major milestones in Indo–Lanka cooperation. From an analytical stand point, the commitment from the Indian government to construct 50,000 housing units especially in the conflict affected areas was commendable. On the other hand, in 2018 a state of the art ambulance service that was launched in all provinces under the Indian assisted “Suwasariya” medical aid project is another highly admirable initiative that won the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans.  In this respect last year at the signing ceremony of the “Suwasariya” project, the current High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Shri Taranjit Singh Sandhu stated, “This joint project is one of the most shining examples of the India-Sri Lanka friendship”.

The real trade and aid flows between India and Sri Lanka are highly interactive and interdependent. Sri Lanka’s policy makers must adapt new changes in India’s approach towards South Asian nations with the growing economic tendencies. The success of solidifying Indo-Lanka ties rest in policy makers’ hands. In fact, both these nations might take on responsibility of becoming the future architects of taking forward and modernizing the SAFTA policies that benefit the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In this context, SAFTA is a crucial entry point for Indo–Sri Lanka cooperation. Therefore, India and Sri Lanka has articulated a free trade policy objective which is a step towards more effectiveness on bilateral and regional level interactions. In years ahead India together with Sri Lanka needs to fashion out a new foreign policy strategy that builds considerable strength. Despite these promising signs, the framers of the new foreign policy doctrine between India and Sri Lanka, requires wisdom and far-sightedness in forging stronger neighborly relations.

*Yashodha Jayathmi Rathnayake, a scholar BA (Hons) in English, at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages, Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.

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

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South Asia

Indian Elections 2019: Towards New Economic and Political Goals

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The current protracted election campaign has been enduringly characterized, by a lingering overhang of foreign policy and national security considerations, punctuated by constant reminders of India’s rising acclaim on the world stage and resonation for its touchstone issue of epochal significance (counter-terrorism). Indian diplomatic and capacitive footprint would be deployed, to address the sub-continent’s structural socio-economic impediments and physical capacitation concerns, as a substantive antidote to the invariably operating existential security paradox of fragile states and porous borders. The presumably second Modi administration will have to deal with the scenario in Afghanistan, characterized by the engendering conditions for an American troop withdrawal from the country, the formulation of contours for potential rehabilitation of the Taliban within a prospective Afghan political future and the fomenting US-Iran crisis in the Middle East. The Iran dossier presents Indian foreign policy with a cleft-stick specter, wedging dilemmas and straddling angularities. One could not greater underscore the importance of Tehran for New Delhi, not just from the lens of longstanding energy is driven equations, but from the prism of the criticality of its multi-modal access to the far reaches of the Central Asian and Eurasian continental swathe. The second Modi regime would be under scrutiny for how this foundational economic diplomacy is consolidated and elevated into a new orbit, at a time when the government has pledged to catapult the nation to a five-trillion-dollar economy within a decade. The ensuing epoch in Indian foreign policy would be a build-on phase, under the philosophical and operative moorings of a ‘continuum-neighborhood’ concept, which draws on immutable features of India’s geographical physiology and the attributive tenets of its civilizational span, to construe meaningful engagements in its Eastern and Western vectors.

As the world’s most mammoth democratic exercise at the hustings successfully winds down on another electoral cycle and the intuitive feel and considered wisdom posits plain-sailing return to helms hip for the incumbent BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, the anticipated focus appears to be plausibly shifting, towards decoding the prospective strategic-priorities and attendant policy-parameters, that would constitute and chaperone foreign policy and national security, under a Modi strategic calculus 2.0. (At the time of penning this account, India had not tallied, its federal election results).

The features of the electoral campaign

Unless in the grips of existentialism, national security and foreign policy dimensions rarely figure on the campaign-stump in India, or for that matter across most celebrated and mature democracies. This being said, the current protracted election campaign has been enduringly characterized, by a lingering overhang of foreign policy and national security considerations, punctuated by constant reminders of India’s rising acclaim on the world stage and resonation for its touchstone issue of epochal significance (counter-terrorism). The expected narrative of the ruling coalition trenchantly prosecuting the virtues of continuity versus the pyrrhic costs of change and the medley of opposition parties desperately litigating the need for the electorate to embrace their case for change. The election has been conducted in the shadow of India’s punitive cross-border air-strikes into Pakistan, presenting itself as arguably swift comeuppance for the terror assault in Jammu Kashmir state and evidence of emphatic decisive leadership of the Prime Minister to glower at and not be cowered, by the scourge of terrorism emanating from across its North Western border. The terror attacks in Sri Lanka helped coalesce popular opinion within India on the urgent imperative to choose the establishment, which can confront this metastasizing phenomenon and not favor the one which would equivocate on the issue. Then, the rare occurrence of the United Nations Security Council unite in unanimity, in placing the regional terrorist mastermind Masood Azhar, under global sanctions regime proscription, after Chinese relent over its technical-hold, allowed for the peddling of spin that speaks to visible evidence of persuasive traction for quiet, but purposeful Indian diplomatic manoeuvres, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. (After all, Indian diplomacy has worked to bring international opinion around this issue, since 2009, but with little success until recent moves). Besides, as elections unfolded, the news of the Prime Minister being feted with highest civilian honors, first from Russia and latest by the UAE, for coveted contribution to the development of bilateral ties, served as effectively oriented the outcome of Indian foreign policy were pursued these past five years. Hence, it was no surprise that throughout the campaign, these accomplishments were used as evolving signposts of a globally practiced foreign policy forged on a wider elemental and dimensional canvass.

India’s engagement in its neighborhood

The neighborhood surrounding India remains a challenged and contested geopolitical area, which would understandably attract the attention of the new government, mirroring the impulse from the onset of the Modi premiership back in May 2014. Consequently, the incoming Prime Minister pulled a diplomatic fast-one, by inviting all South Asian regional leaders, carrying out its strong sense of instructiveness. Such a move encapsulated an interplay of trinity messaging to stakeholders, showing its disproportionately outsized role in consensually shaping the region-on-the-move towards productive beneficence. This Indian diplomatic and capacitive footprint would be deployed, to address the sub-continent’s structural socio-economic impediments and physical capacitation concerns, as a substantive antidote to the invariably operating existential security paradox of fragile states and porous borders. Also, the region and all of its sovereign constituents would be subject to the inviolable redline of scrupulous good neighborliness, that would certainly require reciprocity though not necessarily parity in action, meaning the preclusion of their territories from being leveraged for inimical actions against itself. Through enhancing the profile of Indian engagement of its contiguous and proximate partners, wide assiduous politico-diplomatic engagement, it would be seen in the higher incidence of echelon visits (Modi sojourned to all South Asian countries during his full term in office) and revving-up of institutional mechanisms for bilateral dialogue. The Indian approach in South Asia over the past five years has witnessed a conscious effort to recoup ceded strategic space and to induce centrality back to New Delhi’s.

Moreover, the key to underpin the tectonic pan-South Asian economic transformation and mobility would be the following methods: a conscious coordinated endeavor from the highest reaches in government, a streamline tardy and slothful cross-country infrastructural projects towards expedited completion in winning back eroded credence of commitment, and entrenching the imperative notion of multi-vectored connectivity, along logistical compact, commercial interchange and civilizational affinities. However, it might be hard for New Delhi to diminish South Asian countries’ trade dependence upon China and to shrug-off the increasingly indomitable buccaneering industrial and infrastructural footprint of Beijing across Himalayan and Maritime South Asia, which constitutes the former’s proverbial sphere of influence. This is the reason why, the new administration has to embrace a strategy of counterpoise, blending elements of outright reductionist retaliation in certain coordinates, with the sophisticated and nuanced operation of a qualitatively differentiated paradigm at shaping the region in the piloting of newly minted and revived functional initiatives at regional economic cooperation (BIMSTEC), and models of mini-lateral integration (BBIN), etc., to build greater heft in the vicinity.

The presumably second Modi administration will have to deal with the scenario in Afghanistan, characterized by the engendering conditions for an American troop withdrawal from the country, the formulation of contours for potential rehabilitation of the Taliban within a prospective Afghan political future and the fomenting US-Iran crisis in the Middle East. Furthermore, the new administration will have to manage the American diktat to Iranian oil consumers, such as India, to shutter sourcing which exerts a collateral undermining impact on Indian strategic interests Their outcomes could undercut Indian stakes and valid expectations for exercising its influence in the region. These issues become further critical from an Indian standpoint, as their propitious resolution holds the sluice-gate keys to New Delhi’s tangible profile in engagement of Central Asia for strategic resources and as avenues for markets, both of which are contingent on a democratically benign, secure and stable Afghanistan. Concerning Iran, it is not subject to straitjacketed coercion from its arch-rivals within the region and the US on the extent, that would dis-incentivize its amenable disposition towards initiatives at regionally multi-lateralised economic cooperation and advancing objectives for share the access. These two issues are expected to figure in principal discussions at the impending SCO Summit in Kyrgyzstan, in June. In the meanwhile, since no potential solutions are to be forthcoming, it would put at a premium the Indian quest since 2012 and since Prime Minister Modi’s maiden visit to all the CARs in 2015 and India’s incorporation into the SCO in 2017, for cultivating cogent and enlightened bilateral exchanges with each of the region’s sovereign constituents.

Regarding Afghanistan, while the US has kept India abreast on the trajectory of its Qatar based backchannel with the Taliban, New Delhi fully sentient of Washington’s longing for terminating its inordinately lingering military involvement, which made it anxious, due to the apparent lack of clarity of Washington’s redlines and the latter’s ambivalence over Taliban’s incorporation into an Afghan government, without eliciting adequate accountability and a sufficing abjuration of violence. As a significant developmental partner for Afghanistan, with the involvement of fisc and material resources across a wide spectrum of capacity building projects, only second to Washington, New Delhi expects to be actively shaping the progression to a democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan. Henceforth, aware of the fluidity of the situation and mindful of the steadily expanding role of Russia and China in exploiting the pristine diplomatic space in Afghanistan, and how it could potentially resurrect Islamabad’s mission ‘strategic-depth’ in Kabul through the backdoor, it has precipitated into an enlightened New Delhi tactical approach, through shedding some of the idealism that has traditionally pervaded Indian strategic thinking in favor of participating in the Russian spearheaded Six-Party Dialogue Framework, even to sit at the Moscow table alongside Taliban interlocutors. In addition, it has worked with the US establishment principals at the State Department and the Pentagon, on calibrating a convergent and harmonizing approach, whilst niftily tiptoeing around the occasional rants of an irascible US President, taking derisive swipes at India’s developmental compact with Afghanistan, and its considered and principled reluctance, to not burden-partake through commissioning of a supplanting military presence in Afghanistan.

The Iranian question

The Iran dossier presents Indian foreign policy with a cleft-stick specter, wedging dilemmas and straddling angularities. One could not greater underscore the importance of Tehran for New Delhi, not just from the lens of longstanding energy is driven equations, but from the prism of the criticality of its multi-modal access to the far reaches of the Central Asian and Eurasian continental swathe. Also, Iran could be the maritime leverage in the Western Indian Ocean, where India manages port infrastructures and logistics arrangements, constituting vital instruments for strategic influence, commercial and mercantilist traction, along strategic sea lanes of communication. If US policy forces principal oil buyers, such as India, to totally blank oil purchases from Iran, (moreover, the chances seem remote as long as Trump helms affairs), then the potential forsaking of Iran from India allows peer competitor China to exploit the situation and trigger an Iranian tilt to its side, in pursuance of Beijing’s tangible offers of Iranian incorporation within the infrastructural ambit of the robustly fording Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Iran portfolio also brings to the fore, the debate about what exactly is strategic autonomy in foreign policy, and how does it pan out. Among the animated dynamic setting of an interconnected and interdependent world, it is most understood and internalized that trade-offs and quid pro quos undergird transactional interchange occur. Under a Modi premiership, Indian foreign policy has managed the enviable reputation for dexterously navigating through regionally adversarial juxtapositions, not through defensive self-preservation or abstinence of the past, but through proactively cultivated productively beneficent relationships, with a Jewish Israel, Shia Iran and the Saudi tutelage the Sunni Gulf States. However, this largesse may just have run its course, hopefully momentarily, as New Delhi might well perceive circumscribed downsides to its downgrading of commercial exchanges with Iran, as hydrocarbons deficits could be bridged through realigning shipments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Besides riling up a strategically blinded non-countenancing and punitively oriented Washington won’t be desirable.

The second Modi regime and the prospects of new economic diplomacy

Historically, Indian foreign policy trajectory, and strategic orientation, in the post-liberalization period, has suffered from a triumvirate of infirmities, which have rendered its external outreach and engagement hemmed, hobbled and hortative. The advent of the Modi administration in 2014 was refreshing in that, it delineated a new template for Indian internationalism and forged it in the dispensing with staid cartographic imaginations of our neighborhoods in favor of re-imagined carve-ups of conceptions of the near-abroad. In abandoning the self-deprecating sub-continental scale of our economic existence and subsistence in favor of a comprehensive re-envisioning of economic diplomacy, it anchored in the inherent dynamism of rule-based democratic governance and demographics of demand being pitched as an attractive global proposition, building societal affinities and synergies. The second Modi regime would be under scrutiny for how this foundational economic diplomacy is consolidated and elevated into a new orbit, at a time when the government has pledged to catapult the nation to a five-trillion-dollar economy within a decade. Thereby, it made robust international economic interaction and interchange, an indispensable sine qua non for accomplishing such an ambitious strategic objective, amidst global headwinds of recession and the rising tide of protectionism worldwide. Achieving this quantum-leap scale-up, in economic size and profile, would need more than just linear organic progression. During the last five years, India moved from being viewed as a country with the promise to deliver on its potential to a nation on the economic march, witnessed in the hue of tectonic reforms consummated domestically and investment initiatives envisioned and instrumentalized in addressing both hard and soft infrastructural deficits. India transitioned, to being globally acclaimed as the fast-growing emerging economy, besides dimensions of its internal economic and policy transformation finding enthused endorsement in international policy circles. This elevated economic performance and the cogency of politico-executive leadership of the day has allowed Indian diplomacy to turn sure-footed, vigorous and purposeful on the international stage. It also resulted in the participation of Prime Minister’s pitch on the major platform of international relations, such as 2014 G20 in Australia and the annual World Economic Forum conclave in Davos in 2018. Notwithstanding, Indian diplomacy is moving further it by committing to in the global agreement on Climate Change in Paris, and to the India-France co-sponsored International Solar Alliance (ISA) initiative, headquartered in India, which is aimed at promoting expanded use of renewable energy for sustainable development, across the sovereign-comity of the putative ‘Global South.’

The ensuing epoch in Indian foreign policy would be a build-on phase, under the philosophical and operative moorings of a ‘continuum-neighborhood’ concept, which draws on immutable features of India’s geographical physiology and the attributive tenets of its civilizational span, to construe meaningful engagements in its Eastern and Western vectors. With India’s Eastern longitudinal stretch, both seaboard and inland, its position in the North-Eastern section and its obscuring black-hole, starved from rudimentary development, abutting South East Asia with one half of the Indian manufacturing GDP for exports. Besides the civilizational contacts, the process of fostering comprehensively intimating ties with the ASEAN comity of nations, as with other economic titans in East Asia, has been a signature initiative of the Modi government during 2014-2019, with no reason for it to flag or dampen. It ought to intensify across intertwining dimensions of augmented trading exchanges, deepened the development of multi-modal transportation infrastructure, enhanced integration of markets and logistics facilities, and greater investor-led stake-holding by these countries.

Similarly, with India’s ordained maritime location, residing astride strategic sea lanes of communication, the Modi government, during its first term, has embarked on a mission to impart situational sense to locational amenability, principally in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), through the commissioning and execution of a slew of path-breaking projects and initiatives, which pioneered under the marquee nomenclature of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region). With the IOR, it is incumbent upon the new Indian government, to sustain its alacrity and proactivity, by its quest for preserving the primacy of operation, insulation of its sea-borne commercial interests and safeguarding its strategic sphere of influence, even though not exclusionary or prejudicial to any extant entity refuses insubordination or supplication. The Modi government seeks to enhance India’s power profile in the immediate maritime stretch, which would allow it to serve as a covetable stabilizing influence, contributing in its role as a prime ‘swing-power’, maintaining symmetry and equilibrium between competing domineers and helping shape the normative, institutional and capacitive edifice of the wide ocean ‘Indo-Pacific’ space, away from singularized ascent and towards a shared commons.

What about the US, China, and Russia?

The greatest operative determinant to Indian foreign policy, as it seeks to carve-up prominent stock for itself within a rising Asia, is how it handles its coupled equations, with the strategic trifecta impinging on its external orientation with the United States, China, Russia, and Japan. The Indo-US relationship remains the predominant key to India’s national aspirations for autonomous development and accretion in power-profile and attendant power-projection, across Asia and on the world stage. However, there is no gainsaying, that despite the brimming potential of the relationship in bilateral and regional terms, it does intermittently constrain New Delhi’s strategic choices and does inflict collateral damage to Indian strategic interests. Despite the burgeoning levels of political affability, economic interaction and societal interface, US-India engagement finds itself meandering, in aspects of market-access based trade disputes, disagreements over certain technology transfer mechanisms and perceived inadequacy over regimes governing the protection of intellectual property and the interests of the knowledge-based services sector.

Moreover, notwithstanding the significant advances incrementally achieved in the mutual strategic partnership, most notably witnessed in iconic collaborative agreements inked, in high-end civilian, high-tech communication, and sensitive defense-cooperation and military-operability sectors, a mutual wariness permeates ties brought on by a perceptible gap in actual performance, falling short of expectation thresholds. While New Delhi feels let-down, that Washington does not adequately tighten the noose on Pakistan towards extracting substantive remedial action on terrorism spawning from Islamabad, the US reckons that New Delhi does not step-up its game enough to dispose more proactively in countering China across Asia, most notably, across the Indo-Pacific, where intriguingly the two sides are concurred on an ostensible Joint Vision formulation and articulation for the ocean-continuum. It is clear that Prime Minister Modi, in his second term would have his hands full, in continuing to deal with an overtly transactional and short-leashed temperamental US administration, having to keep his side of the grand partnership bargain, whilst not transgressing on inveterately held and well-deliberated red-lines. Even as his government works through the scope of US institutional labyrinth, both congressional and bureaucratic, towards tempering the incumbent President’s pushbacks on matters of bilateral concern.

This segues into an examination of Sino-Indian relations, which seems to have historical baggage and mutual chariness of each other’s strategic intentions, between two simultaneously rising continental powers, in relative proximity and regional contiguity of each other. with the concurrence of politically ascendant trajectories of two leaders with strong personalities and cult-like followings domestically, the relationship during the past five years, marked a roller-coaster ride, commencing with the hyped euphoria of significant Chinese investment-led economic cooperation, descending into a purportedly escalatory slide that verged on potentially miscalculated conflict. During this period, the apogee of the Doklam territorial standoff during 2017 led to mutual good sense and to a commitment to establish ties concerning the indeterminate border. Additionally, it signified an engagement in a candid, but constructive dialogue, to comprehend strategic intentions around broader aspects of the relationship, and how each other’s instrumentalities militate, in each other’s coterminous and overlapping realms of perceived and proven influence. While the informal setting of the Wuhan Summit of 2018 was meant to induce a reset in ties, notwithstanding the bonhomie and geniality that was manifest, it would be risky to consider the bedevilling issues stemming from Chinese imperviousness to strident Indian criticism over the sovereignty contravening China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) component within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese refusal to allow Indian candidature of NSG membership decoupled from that of Pakistan, that is viewed and regarded as deeply and qualitatively odious, by the latter, and the nature and tenor of Chinese investments across South Asia, which has India spooked on dimensions of being predatory through vitiation of the fiscal health of the smaller nations. China harbors have their own set of concerns, stemming from a stepped-up Indo-US compact and an India-US-Japan role for strategic maneuvering across the Indo-Pacific, and the reviving of the QUAD framework, described as a Concert of Democracies quadrant committed to ensuring the plurality of the Indo-Pacific, a veiled reference to work against Beijing. The challenge for both sides would be to ally each other’s concerns credibly and tangibly, which would entail political statesmanship, forthright exchange of views, but some craft in forging project cooperation, that can reduce the trust deficit, which in turn lies at the core of the mutually critical relationship steeped in chariness and hesitation.

The resurgent role of Russia on the world stage and it’s robust inject into hotspots and flashpoints around the globe, allowing for a duality of views about its genuine intentions and how to respond to them, with the Indian establishment being no exception either in being called upon to re-appraise the once bell-weather relationship. Among perceptions about Moscow being a necessary strategic disruptor, contributing to balancing an otherwise US skewed global order, Prime Minister Modi has been pragmatic and principled in letting Indian national interests drive the Indo-Russian exchange, rather than be wedded to preconceived notions. The challenge on the bilateral track of reinventing the relationship beyond defence cooperation and a few lines of commercial interchange, notwithstanding the Modi government’s effort has been to forge new vistas of engagement on strategic dimensions of ramped-up energy cooperation, science and technological intermediation for civilian applications, innovation smitten joint-investments, in addition to the sophisticated and value-added co-development programs in modernised defence platforms, apart from the perfunctory phenomenon of defense hardware transactions. The fact of resilience in India-Russia engagement was tested and showed-up well, in the resoluteness of India’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, weathering repeated US prodding, nudges, and implicit threats of collaterally damaging implications.

Similarly, New Delhi’s recent reconsideration of long-held reticence at upgrading the level of the mundanely operating Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral dialogue from Foreign Ministers forum to Summit status, and the actual convening of the RIC. The Modi regime desires to follow the vision enunciated and delineated in the Shangri-la address of the Prime Minister, of an Indo-Pacific narrative, that stands for a free and open Indo-Pacific, through plurality, not prejudice. One can then contextualize the stated indications that an ingenious “Indo-Pacific” dialogue would be a noted feature of overall India-Russia and Sino-Indian bilateral consultations going forward.

One can also see India putting a premium on its ties with Russia, from the standpoint of Moscow emerging, though by no means on parity, but as a critical-mass bulwark to an overbearing Washington, in multiple sub-regional areas, from the AFPAK theatre to the Middle Eastern vector. The Russia-China axis constitutes a significant pillar, alternatively framing and shaping the potential contours of a futuristic Afghanistan, and in concert with Pakistan, which can bring certainly material, if not game-changing influence to bear, on ultimate transpiring. Hence, it’s a no-brainer that Modi’s New Delhi, which has prioritized its Central Asian foray and recognizes Russian facilitation towards its incorporation within the SCO and its indispensability to achieve longitudinal access deep into Eurasia, circumventing all the way to Europe, cannot but keep Moscow cultivated, in the face of deepening ties with Washington. Russia was no less central to ironing out the creases that led to the P5+1 — Iran arrangement of the JCPOA, in that it had a protagonist-cum-superintendence role to dispose of, in the accord’s sequential and qualitative implementation. With current US-Iran tensions on the boil, Russia could once again emerge the “prima donna conduit” to de-escalation, which beholds dividends for India. Similarly, despite not being an OPEC member, Moscow through its strong links with Iran and a blossoming working relationship with Saudi Arabia, it is a not-so-discreet influence, nudging energy politics, if not dynamics, again with implications for India.

Going forward, three quintessential strategic objectives continually permeating Indian foreign policy endeavors and initiatives are the quest for consolidation of its uniquely centripetal role in advancing economic cooperation and functional regionalism goals sub-continent wide, within an increasingly vibrancy sworn South Asia; to substantively and efficaciously integrate adjoining neighbourhoods, both in the East (South East Asia) and to the West (Central and West Asia), through all forms of connectivity accessed mobility, be it hard and/or soft, physical and/or virtual; and to seamlessly integrate within, rather than aggressively impinge upon, the wider global institutions of financial management, regimes at trade facilitation and structures of governance enabling, by clamouring for reforms in architecture and processes, but not quite an upending the order.

First published in our partner RIAC

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US geopolitical interests offer Iran sanctions loophole amid mounting tension

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Indian-backed Iranian port of Chabahar has emerged as a major loophole in a tightening military and economic noose and ever harsher US sanctions that President Donald J. Trump, reluctant to be sucked into yet another war, sees as the best way to either force Tehran to its knees or achieve regime change.

Alice Wells, the State Department’s assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, said during a meeting with Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani that Chabahar had been exempted at Afghanistan’s request.

The State Department said earlier that the exemption was granted because it was related to “reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan, which includes the development and operation of Chabahar Port.”

US officials said privately that the exemption was also a nod to India that sees Chabahar as vital for the expansion of its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asian republics.

They said it was moreover an anti-dote to the Chinese backed port of Gwadar just 70 kilometres down the Arabian Sea coast in the troubled neighbouring Pakistani province of Balochistan.

That may be a long shot, certainly as long as India like much of the rest of the world is restricted by the US sanctions in its economic and commercial dealings with Iran.

The exemption comes however as Chinese security concerns in Balochistan as well as Pakistan at large are mounting.

China’s massive US$45 billion plus Belt and Road-related infrastructure investment in Pakistan with Gwadar and Balochistan at its core has become a prime target for nationalist insurgents that has officials in Beijing worried. It has also reinforced long-standing doubts in some circles in Beijing about the viability of the project.

Dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, China sees the project, involving a network of roads, railways and pipelines that would link Gwadar to China’s troubled north-western province of Xinjiang as a key economic component of its brutal effort to Sincize the strategic region’s Turkic Muslim population.

“China, you came here (Balochistan) without our consent, supported our enemies, helped the Pakistani military in wiping our villages. But now it’s our time… Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) guarantees you that CPEC will fail miserably on the Baloch land. Balochistan will be a graveyard for your expansionist motives,” a commander of the BLA’s Majeed Brigade said in a video message released a week after militants stormed a hilltop, highly secured luxury hotel in Gwadar, killing five people.

The BLA claimed a month earlier responsibility for an attack on a convoy on a highway leading out of Gwadar in which 14 Pakistani military personnel died and an assault last year on the Chinese consulate in Karachi.

The attacks and threats have prompted Chinese sceptics of China’s massive investment in Pakistan to express their doubts more publicly.

“Gwadar wants to be in the shipping business, but it has failed to do so. Pakistan’s economy is not very good, and this port has become very wasteful … under these circumstances, including with the hotel attack, how can China conduct its business? The roads and traffic cannot even be maintained,” said Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming.

While many in Pakistan believe that the BLA enjoys Iranian support and Iranians are convinced that Pakistan enables shadowy Islamic militants who have claimed responsibility for a rare suicide bombing in December in Chabahar and attacks on Revolutionary Guards elsewhere in the Iranian province of Sistan and Balochistan, fact of the matter is that both countries are vulnerable to Baloch insurgents.

The situation on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border is complicated by suspicions that the violence also has links to the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that the Baloch provinces of Pakistan and Iran could become a stage for a proxy war.

Amid reports that China has reached out to Baloch nationalist leaders in exile, Pakistani security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana cautioned that the exiles may no longer be in control.

“The new leadership of the Baloch insurgency largely hails from the educated middle class with urban backgrounds and is not hiding in Europe; therefore, it does not face the sort of constraints that exiled Baloch leaders do vis-à-vis Iran,” Mr. Rana said.

Mr. Rana noted that Iran’s influence in Pakistani Balochistan was visible in oil smuggled across the border, Iranian products in grocery shops and the supply of electricity to the coastal strip of Makran that includes Gwadar.

“For Pakistan, the security cost of CPEC is increasing which could frustrate the Chinese as well as foreign and local investors,” Mr. Rana warned.

For now, China confronts a more serious challenge in Gwadar, Balochistan as well as other parts of Pakistan that are struggling with un-related incidents of political violence compared to India and Chabahar.

That could change if the Saudi Iranian component of the low level Baloch insurgency spins out of control with the escalating stand-off between the United States and Iran.

Iran appears to have pinned its hopes that Chabahar will be shielded from the impact of regional tensions on the perceived US geopolitical need to protect India’s interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Said Pir Mohammad Mollazeh, an Iranian Afghanistan and Central Asia scholar: “US long-term geopolitical interests, due to the lack of relations with Iran, require India to maintain its position in the region and protect India as a partner in Central Asia… Chabahar port is considered to be a very important and strategic which is an opportunity for our country to enable Iran to reduce its sanctions by means of economic exchanges in Chabahar.”

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South Asia

Pointless Colonial Massacres and Post-Colonial Wars and Killings on the Indian Subcontinent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Two colonial mass killings from the twentieth century are always remembered:  The Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre on April 23, 1930 in Peshawar (then India, now in Pakistan) was the result of peaceful demonstrations protesting the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan who had called for a nonviolent movement of ‘patience and righteousness.’  Authorities nervous at the size of the crowds called in the military.  The local Garhwal Rifles refused an order to fire.  A special city disturbance column and four armored cars were sent for;  they did not.  The number of dead vary with the source ranging from 20 to 400.  Whatever the figures, the incident legitimized the protest movement and creating a new Gandhi of the northwest in Ghaffar Khan. 

Pakistan since independence has had insurgencies — in the Northwest where Peshawar is located,in Baluchistan (ongoing) and, the worst of all in  its eastern half in 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh.  Estimates of casualties range from 300,000 to 3 million. 

This year is the centenary of the notorious Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar.  April 13, 1919 was the day of Baisakhi, a major Sikh festival, so people had come to the holy city from surrounding Punjab villages and gathered to listen to speakers.  They were also unhappy with the deportation of independence leaders Dr. Saifuddinn Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal out of state to Dharamsala.  The protesters were mostly Sikh, the leaders being deported a Muslim and a Hindu, and India then secular in the minds of the people. 

Brig-General Reginald Dyer the local commander had banned all meetings.  To him the crowd gathering in the Bagh was a challenge to authority.  He took a contingent of Gurkha troops and proceeded forthwith to disperse what to him was an illegal assembly.  It is worth noting that Nepali Gurkhas are alien to the area, speak a different language, and look more like Tibetans.  The force took up positions on a raised bank at the main entrance and were ordered to fire on the unarmed crowd.  People tried to flee toward the other exits and in the stampede some were trampled.  Yet the firing continued for an incomprehensible ten whole minutes using up 1650 rounds and leaving hundreds dead and over a thousand wounded.

No respite for the Sikhs despite their anti-Muslim stance during the 1947 partition.  In 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by a Sikh bodyguard — itself a result of her military response killing Sikh religious zealots occupying the Amritsar Golden Temple — riots broke out.  An estimated 8000-17,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi and Haryana.  The connivance of the Delhi police and the Congress party has long been suspected, and Human Rights Watch has complained of no prosecution for the killings.  Ditto for the perpetrators of the Muslim pogrom in Gujarat during Narendra Modi’s rule.

While the callousness of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar and Jallianwalla Bagh incidents horrifies, the number killed pales in comparison to what has happened since independence.  Within months of freedom, India invaded the independent principality of Hyderabad, allied to the British since the 18th century.  An estimated 200,000 people were killed and many fled to Pakistan.

It also invaded, occupied (1973) and then annexed Sikkim in 1975, a Himalayan foothill monarchy since 1642.  The suppressed independence movement in neighboring Assam and the Northeast and other ongoing insurgencies across at least a quarter of India continue. 

In Kashmir, a decades long struggle for some kind of autonomy has cost tens of thousands of lives.  Estimates vary from 40 to 80 thousand.  Some Indians have a conscience:  Long critical of India’s stance, the Booker Prize winning novelist and peace activist Arundhati Roy has called the Modi government ‘reckless’ in its policy there.

The Muslim minority in India appears to be intimidated and abused.  A recent feature story on Chamanganj, a Muslim neighborhood in Kanpur, illuminates the distress and discrimination experienced by Muslims.  The Congress candidate never visits; the BJP candidate shows up hoping to capture some votes but his party’s policy is notoriously anti-Muslim.

The violence against Christians is also on the rise.  Opendoorsusa.org reports over 12,000 incidents last year, while the number of churches attacked rose dramatically from 34 to 98.  It has now become the 10th most dangerous country in the world for Christians on the 2019 World Watch List.

A secular India, the pride of Indian independence leader and its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is under threat.  In its place, a muscular Hindu nationalist agenda enforced by goons from nationalist organizations has been labeled “saffron terror”.  The Hudson Institute called these attacks “not inchoate mob violence, triggered by … insult; rather they involved careful planning by organized Hindu extremists …”

The record is surprising yet evident:  Independent India has killed hundreds of times more people than the Dyer atrocity, and the present-day Indian subcontinent is becoming a noticeable contrast to the relatively secular country of 1919.  In India itself, the Modi government and its affiliates by encouraging Hindu nationalism must shoulder the blame. 

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