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South Asia

Summing Up Indo-Pak Escalation Post Pulwama

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Authors: Amar Maruti Patil & Adithya Anil Variath

The recent escalation between two South Asian Nuclear Powers – India and Pakistan rattled the whole sub-continent and sent alarm waves across the whole world. It had major world powers keenly observing events unfolding between the two antagonistic nations. Terror attacks on India soil emanating from Pakistani soil is not new but as old as antiquity.

Right from the incursion of Jammu & Kashmir by armed tribesmen to this terror attack by Kashmiri youth radicalized and recruited by Jaish-e-Muhammad, the one distinguishing and defining moment post Pulwama terror attack is the unprecedented public outrage and political will to address the state-sponsored terrorism abetted by Pakistan and its Army. “Strategic Restraint” had become a bygone in the South Block with the political leadership ready to do away with restraint – political or strategic.

The pre-emptive non-military strikes carried out by Indian Air Force not just across the LOC but deep into Pakistani territory in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region was a defining moment and a break from tradition in dealing with cross border terrorism. This was the first time that air strikes were launched and terror hubs pampered and protected by the Pakistani Deep State struck. In response to these air strikes attacking terror installations, Pakistani establishment responded by launching air strikes on military installations in India. The F-16 fighter jets of Pakistani Air Force were chased by Indian Air Force as a response. In this chase, an Indian MiG 21 Bison fatally struck one Pakistani F-16 and in the action, the pilot had to eject as the damage was also caused to the Indian fighter jet. The pilot now trending across India and the whole word Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman landed in Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir after ejecting from his cockpit. He was first apprehended by the bloodthirsty locals and then the Pakistani Army interrupted the unlawful act of the locals and took Wg Cdr in their custody.

In a strange course of events, the whole process of Wg Cdr getting apprehended and attacked by locals and then ensuing Pakistani Army custody was recorded and video graphed and the recording was paraded shamelessly on social media. An emotion of anxiety, fear, angst, vengeance and cautiousness gripped the Indian citizenry. In this whole gamut of events while the whole country was praying for the safe return of Wg Cdr the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War was cited time and again in newspapers, editorials and TV debates. Whether the act of returning Wg Cdr amounted to a peace gesture or as stated in Indian Air Force briefing a gesture under the Geneva Convention? Whether the act deserved a much-touted Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan the World Cup winning captain of Pakistan Cricket Team who also happens to be its Prime Minister? Answering these questions would surely require us to be objective in our analysis of the International Law.

At the outset, it would be beneficial for the readers to point out that International Law in all its glory and magnificence with its inimitable prose and utopian conception is not binding and therefore in pure jurisprudential terms may not qualify as a Law. However, given the norm of that, a sovereign nation should keep its promise and words itself carries the weight of law. A dishonor of promise by a normal person would bring him no shame or isolation by the society at large however the dishonor of an obligation or promise in the comity of nations is a sure recipe for bringing ignominy to an entity at two levels as a country or establishment and as a citizen of that country.

Geneva Convention III relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (PoW) or International Humanitarian Law expressly lays down that Prisoners of Wars cannot be prosecuted. The Convention applies to all parties to an armed conflict, including civilians, injured combatants, and soldiers captured or no longer an active participant in the hostilities. Article 4(A)(1) of the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War defines “a prisoner of war” as “Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy: (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces. (2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied.…..”, IAF Wg Cdr being a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict comes within this definition of a prisoner of war.

The Third Geneva Convention on PoW lists down 143 articles dealing with the rights of prisoners of war, and the corresponding obligations of the detaining power. The Convention is based on the principle that detention is not a form of punishment, but only intents to prevent further escalation and participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities with dignity. Article 13 provides that prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated” and lays down that prisoners of war “must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” A literal interpretation of the Article clears the smog and determines that the circulation of videos of the prisoner and humiliating treatment is a violation of the terms under Article 13. Article 17 says “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”

In the instant case of Wg Cdr, he was not just not protected from acts of violence but was also exposed to public curiosity. Moreover, the Pakistan establishment tried to score diplomatic points by spreading misinformation and propaganda videos about the well-being of Wg Cdr when in fact reports have emerged that he was not allowed to sleep for the first 24 hours of detention which is not just in violation of the Geneva Convention but also a blatant violation of human rights. He was further exposed to loud music and bright lights to disorient him and to extract valuable information from him. While the reality of Wg Cdr detention was aloof from the International World Order a concerted effort was made to showcase that in fact he was praising the Pakistani Army and claiming that it is a thoroughly professional army. Such maneuvering of events by the Pakistani Deep State brings to fore the nefarious designs and misinformation campaign in place. A Prisoner of War was used as a bargaining chip for deescalating tensions between the two Nations. It shows that the escalation of violence by Pakistan and its attempt to deescalate it on its own terms seems unilateral imposition of war and peace.

While Wg Cdr was safely repatriated to India his medical test reports are yet to come in. Where on one hand it is encouraging and nurturing terrorists to bleed India, on the other hand, it is trying to implant people in Indian media to project Imran Khan as the messiah of peace and humanity. The case for a Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan is not just preposterous and farfetched but also demeaning to the Institution of Nobel Prize itself. Imran Khan referred as “Taliban Khan” by many, for his subtle support for Taliban, is trying hard to show the International World Order that Pakistan is not the party escalating hostilities while actively nurturing terrorists on its soil.

One of Imran Khan’s Ministers has called for a religious war (Jihad) against a Kafir Hindu India (ignoring its own 4 million Pakistani Hindu Citizens). Such diabolical and inherent hatred is a case in point that the hostilities between India and Pakistan are here to stay and the sub-continent would continue to face its repercussions. No number of dossiers provided by India would address the terrorism issue nor would the temporary bans and an ostensible crackdown on terror by Pakistan would be able to fool India. Nobel Peace Prize is just a distraction to take away India’s attention from the root of this escalation the Pulwama Terror Attacks. Fulfillment of an obligation that too partly, is not a case for Nobel Peace Prize but for international introspection on state-sponsored terrorism.

With foreign help pouring in and no major world power objecting to India’s pre-emptive non-military strikes it seems that the International World Order has woken up to India’s right to defend its sovereignty and integrity by acting on home as well as foreign soil. With India’s break from tradition marks a paradigm shift from “Strategic Restraint” to Preventive Action, India needs to open more than one front to address Pakistan – educational, information, diplomatic missions, economic sanctions, et al. The key to engaging Pakistan is a united and strong Government back home and international commitment and cooperation at the global level.

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South Asia

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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South Asia

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

Sisir Devkota

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

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

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

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

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South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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