India’s Act East policy and SVIMM strategy
India’s Act East policy has been often cited as the transition from Look East to more action and outcome oriented Act Policy. The effects can be felt in the context of signing of Strategic Partnership agreement with Malaysia, Singapore and laying the template for the more economic orientated initiatives. This includes accelerating work on the Trilateral Highway project(India- Myanmar-Thailand) to be completed by 2020, and Mekong India Economic Corridor(MIEC) which as languishing for the last five years. This is intended to create better conditions for investment and trade. India’s willingness to lower tariffs under the pursuit to be a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, likely to be signed by the end of 2019 or early 2020. PM Modi has been very particular with regard to outcome aspects and has been travelling to many of these countries during his term as prime minister. He endorsed comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia and also engaged Indonesia in a more proactive way through personal interactions with the Indonesian President Joko Widodo along the sidelines of important meetings.
In pursuit of meeting the objectives of Act East policy and engaging the important players in Southeast Asia, India has worked to enhance the base capacity in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and posted the former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D K Joshi as Lieutenant Governor of these islands. Clearly, this was meant to understand the complex utility of these islands as the forward post and also meaning fully engaging Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, lying along the western outreaches of the Southeast Asia. India has also enhanced the length of the two air strips in these islands and build two more jetties for harbouring bigger ships in the environmentally fragile islands. Regarding power generation and developing digital connectivity plans are afoot. There are proposals for helping the local fishermen community who have been the eyes and ears of navy. PM Modi undertook various objectives so that these can have better catch and also provide information related to drug smugglers and arms couriers. These waters have been rich in natural resources and also have varied marine life including sea cucumbers which are scavenged by the fishermen of other countries.
Apart from consolidating the Andaman and Nicobar Command and facilitating better interaction with the Southeast Asia nations, India regularized the naval exercises with Singapore and also undertook regular port visits to Malaysia, Indonesian and Singapore as wellas Vietnam in the recent past with more frequency. The one aspect of India’s relations with other important players such as Philippines, Brunei, Laos and Cambodia has been much below par. With regard to Philippines even though the Defence Cooperation agreement was signed in 2006 there has not been much effective engagement because of structural constraints of Philippines in terms of equipment. India is wary of the fact that engaging Vietnam and Philippines at the same time would set alarm bells in China regarding its objective in South China Sea. However, the Philippines has become important because one of the recruiters of ISIS in India was captured in Philippines and as a counter-terrorism support India provided a sum of 500,000 USD to support Philippines counter-terrorism initiatives. Thailand acts as the natural extension of India but given the fact that Thailand is seen as a Buddhist brother and have more economic, cultural linkages but defence linkages have only gained momentum in the last few years. The bigger question that needs to be asked is why this SVIMM strategy and how one can say that this is the strategy that India intends to follow to meet its strategic and economic objectives.
The SVIMM strategy has four critical components embedded into it. In terms of strategic relevance and importance all the five countries are of immense strategic relevance to India. Myanmar, being the neighbour, has supported India in the last few years on counter-insurgency operations and also Myanmar’s accommodative stance with regard to Indian army’s hot pursuit to kill Indian insurgents in Myanmar shows the resolve and the good relation that the two countries have. Further, India responded in kind and did not criticize openly about the Rohingyas refuges and Myanmar’s action against few of the Rohingyas groups having terror leanings. This shows as quid pro quo as well as deep understanding between the two nations. Singapore, by default, acts as the friend of India and the economic and strategic ties that the two nations have developed over two decades have been strengthened when PM Modi signed the Strategic partnership agreement with Singapore giving the necessary impetus to the already burgeoning relationship. Singapore hosts US ships at Changi naval base and is a strategic partner for US. Singapore hosted PM Modi for the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018 when PM Modi became the first Indian PM to address the gathering. While starting on note of inclusion and citing China as a responsible stakeholder in indo-Pacific architecture, diplomatically PM Modi did a somersault and institutionalized the Indo-Pacific division in the Ministry of External Affairs which meant that India wants to win confidence of both US and China while carefully calibrating its role and agenda.
Further, Vietnam has emerged as an important player and Vietnam despite being not a very open liberal economy was accorded the status of market economy when the negotiations with ASEAN were stuck in 2009. Vietnam being a valued defence and strategic partner was given the market economy status after due consideration. The SVIMM strategy has few inherent objectives from the point of view of India. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are the stakeholders with regard to Malacca straits security and India’s wants that information and necessary support should be provided to the three countries. Secondly, Myanmar and Vietnam has been important for India because of India counter-insurgency initiatives and also Myanmar being the gateway to mainland Southeast Asia. Vietnam is critical for defense purposes as well as India’s gas exploration activities in South China Sea. Further, Japan, Korea and other like-minded countries have undertaken projects in Myanmar, and India would like to complement and involve in partnership with those countries to counter China’s BRI. Indonesia has been driving force with regard to building consensus within ASEAN on Indo–Pacific which is also close to India’s strategic ambitions. Indonesia has joined the BRI project but has not gained large projects from China. Further, Chinese diaspora is seen with apprehension within Indonesia because of their dominance in Indonesia’s economy. The SVIMM strategy would consolidate India’s position in the Southeast Asia while at the same time the other three partners of the Quad have also been giving signs of model cooperative projects in these countries to undermine Chinese presence and also counter BRI. The proposed Indo-Pacific economic corridor would integrate South Asian and Southeast Asian economies and the SVIMM strategy would act as a vehicle for that purpose.
India would like to embark on more project specific initiatives in these countries such as genome research institutes, biotechnology, joint ventures in defence production and also cooperate in developing power grids, improving its electricity transmission networks, personnel training, higher technical education and developing energy efficient products. India has launched low cost satellites and most of the countries are in need of low cost satellite launching facility for both civilian and defence purposes. Lastly, these five countries are very important in the larger strategic scheme of things in Southeast Asia because of relatively large armed forces, and better economies to meet India’s long term objectives. PM Modi’s stop over at Malaysia in 2018 to meet and greet Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad during his visit to Singapore shows the fact that Malaysia has been important and would remain important. The two countries’ are users of Scorpene submarines and also Sukhoi-30 aircrafts. The defence dialogue between the two addresses a lot of issues. However, it has been irregular. Further, India Muslim cleric Zakir Naik is still residing in Malaysia and India would like Malaysian cooperation to get him back to India to get more information related to extremist ideologies and ideologues which have been working in India. While the SVIMM strategy has more connectivity, defence and economic components embedded into it and in the next India- ASEAN Plan of Action it might also reflect in the strategic documents.
Ways to Overcome Afghanistan Crisis in Post-Republic Collapse
On August 15, 2021, the Afghan Republic government collapsed and the Taliban took over the Afghan capital city of Kabul. The last American military flight that airlifted the last American soldier, Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, left Kabul on 30th August 2021 at 11.59 pm Kabul time that ended America’s longest nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Consequently, the abrupt withdrawal created a political vacuum that resulted in a humanitarian and political crisis with far-reaching consequences. During the last two decades, there have been several areas of improvement, notably, in education, civilian government institutions, the media, the economy, civil society, healthcare sectors, and regional connectivity.
Most importantly, the literacy rate significantly improved. The adult total literacy rate (aged 15 and older) was estimated at 43% (2018) which includes 55.5% male, 29.8% female, and 13.3% elderly (65 years old and above). Youth total literacy rate (aged 15-24) is estimated at 65.4% (2018); that contains male 74.1%, and female 56.3%. Now, under the current circumstances, there is a risk of reversing the hard-earned gains of the last two decades. To preserve the hard-earned gains of the last two decades and prevent the impending socio-economic and political-security negative spillover effects, the United States of America, the United Nations, the European Union, China, Russia, and neighboring Central Asian republics should use preventive diplomacy and find a constructive solution to the crisis in Afghanistan.
Current challenges and problems
Women and girlsmake up 49 percent of the estimated 40 million Afghan population who are excluded from public life, including a ban on attending high schools and universities, as well as restrictions on access to work. Studies suggest Afghanistan is one of the worst repressive countries for women and girls, particularly due to the Taliban’s strict restrictions. Direct international development assistance, which accounted for 75 percent of public expenditures, has been suspended after the Afghan Republic government collapsed. 28.3 million people, two-thirds of the Afghan population, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, and 17 million people are at risk of acute hunger.
Insurgent groups are resurging in Afghanistan including the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS-K), a regional affiliate of ISIS. According to a UN Security Council assessment, ISIS-K gained “ strength and visibility” in Afghanistan after the Taliban assumed control of the country and could create concerns beyond Afghanistan.
During a recent hearing in the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, the Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command warned that the terrorist group will be able to carry out attacks beyond Afghanistan against American and European interests within six months “with little to no warning.” As a failing state, Afghanistan could turn into an unwitting host to terrorist groups, and the Taliban’s reluctance to sever ties with Al-Qaeda could further exacerbate security in the region and beyond.
Due to the absence of conflicts, there has been an overall security improvement that contributes to the reduction of the number of casualties since August 2021. However, soaring inflation, economic instability, widespread human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, ban on women and girl education from secondary and tertiary education, restrictions on working in international NGOs, and saying “female NGO staff had broken dress codes by not wearing hijabs”, and international sanctions further exacerbated the livelihood.
Quality education is a fundamental human right that should be accessible to all Afghan citizens, regardless of gender. Freedom of expression and thought is a human right that should not be criminalized or subject to extrajudicial measures. Furthermore, reports of revenge killings could further create concerns among former government officials in the country. Afghans are seeking risky ways to escape from the country, with 1.6 million new arrivals to neighbouring countries, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan following the Taliban takeover.
What can regional and extra-regional actors do?
The Bonn agreement, which took place under the auspices of the United Nations among Afghan political elites in 2001 and led to the establishment of a new western-supported government in Afghanistan. The newly established government received immense political and financial support from the EU, U.S., and other countries toward the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country. Despite facing numerous challenges, the support helped to steer the country on the path to progress.
Currently, the Taliban, a religious group, rules Afghanistan without internal legitimacy through elections or external recognition from any country. Their exclusionary approach may worsen the security and political situation in the country. They have shown no willingness to hold elections, and do not plan to do so since they believe their legitimacy comes from religious interpretations. This political stalemate may drive the country to the brink of another conflict and crisis.
Before the situation worsens, the U.S., UN, EU, Russia, China, and Central Asia through preventive diplomacy can contain the delicate situation from implosion. In terms of financial aid for Afghanistan, the U.S. is the largest donor. The aid includes over $2 billion for humanitarian and development assistance, and $2.7 billion allocated for FY 2022 to the Department of Defense for transportation and sustenance of Afghan evacuees. Additionally, the U.S. made available the transfer of $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets to the Afghan Fund, a Swiss-based trust fund.
The EU allocated €222 million and €174 million for humanitarian support through humanitarian organizations operating in the country and the surrounding region for the years 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Humanitarian support by U.S., EU, and other states may help temporarily ease the humanitarian crises. However, an impending socio-economic and politico-security crisis would spill over beyond Afghanistan and may have implications for the region and beyond. To overcome an impending socio-economic and political-security implications stemming from Afghanistan from escalating, the countries in the region and beyond, particularly, the U.S., China, Russia, and the EU must step up their diplomatic, political, and economic leverage.
The U.S. and the EU possess the necessary means and capacity to intervene and mitigate the potential crisis from exacerbating. Particularly, the EU has diplomatic presence and special envoys in Afghanistan and neighbouring states, thereby enabling them to exert their influence and leverage coupled with political pressure upon the Taliban to initiate a political settlement dialogue encompassing all facets of the Afghan political landscape. The EU and Central Asia Special Representatives and Special Envoys for Afghanistan’s latest meetings in Brussels are effective initiatives but require a tangible push to change the behavior of the Taliban’s leadership.
The U.S. EU, and China have the capacity to overcome the current humanitarian crisis by providing humanitarian assistance through aid organizations operating in Afghanistan and the region and encouraging other countries to step in to address the crises. Additionally, U.S. EU, and China can encourage other countries in the region to exert their influence on the Taliban to show willingness, initially through a traditional Loya Jirga, which could consequently pave the way for more representative government, elections, meaningful representation of women in all socio-political sectors, and respect for human rights.
Gulf countries, especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates could play an influential role by leveraging their politico-religious influence. Moreover, other regional countries especially in neighbourhood, namely: Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, which often express concerns about current and impending spillover effects. These countries could be encouraged to play a constructive role.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has Programme Offices in Central Asia and Field Missions in the region. These offices could help address certain spillover effects of Afghanistan, particularly, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.
To sum up, Afghanistan has experienced tumultuous political upheavals over the past four decades, culminating in the current political impasse that reflects the recurrence of political errors. The U.S., the EU, China, and other actors in the region should closely monitor the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan to prevent escalation.
To consolidate political stability and ensure comprehensive representation across all strata of society, establishing a broad-based and inclusive government is imperative. An inclusive government has the potential to protect human rights, guarantee meaningful representation for women and ethnic and religious minorities, and address the menace of terrorism and extremism. It can also ensure access to education for all, which could help overcome the protracted crisis that has encompassed Afghanistan.
A Coercive Democracy?
Imagine the opposition leader of a major democracy being bundled off to jail for supposedly defaming the surname of the ruling party’s leader but it is exactly what has happened in India. Rahul Gandhi has been given a two-year sentence and has 30 days to appeal. The case was originally brought by a plaintiff named Purnesh Modi in 2019; he is a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and a BJP stalwart.
It is certainly odd that the incident in question occurred not in the recent past but in 2019. Why 2023 for the hearing is then the obvious question until one is informed that Indian elections are to be held in 2024 and the main opposition leader behind bars will certainly make the job of the ruling BJP much easier. It all sounds very much like someone dusted off the files and wondered what could be done with the whole affair.
In his speech, Gandhi apparently pointed out recent notable fraud cases in India — the fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, the Indian Premier (cricket) League chief Lalit Modi and added the name Narendra Modi. He then used the words which became the basis of the trial: “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” Thus the complainant could say he had “defamed the entire Modi community.” To make matters worse, Modi is not an uncommon name in Gujarat.
There is more than a grain of truth in Gandhi’s charge. For example, there is Modi’s friend and supporter Gautam Shantilal Adani. He heads one of the top three industrial conglomerates in India, the Adani Group, with personal wealth in excess of $30 billion.
Hindenburg Research is a group which focuses on activist short selling. They noticed that Adani was using an auditing firm with 11 employees, four of whom were partners in the firm, as auditors for an enterprise worth $100 billion. Given the size, most reputable auditors would virtually have an office there to monitor activity.
Hindenburg’s scathing review of Adani enterprises showed opportunities for a huge profit or the short side. Following a 2-year investigation, they published a well researched 32-page report, and their clients certainly profited. The $100 billion value is down to $45 billion and for the individual investor the stock is down since January from about 4 to 2 thousand rupees.
To return to Rahul Gandhi: There was a reason for his maximum two-year sentence. It turns out that if a parliamentary member is sentenced to two years or more in jail, he has to vacate his seat in the legislative assembly. His comments to the press recalled his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s (India’s first prime minister) time in British jails and likening himself as a similar martyr to tyranny.
One has to wonder if Rahul is the brightest bulb in the Nehru pantheon when he wants to relinquish a platform that easily. Fewer opposition critics would suit Modi fine.
There may, however, be a bright side though it remains to be seen. The fractured opposition (including Rahul Gandhi’s Congress Party) having observed what has been done to him have an incentive to come together and form a united front against the BJP. How successful they will be remains to be seen. Just that it can’t be any worse than it is now.
Will the “Rule of Law” in Our Country Always be an Unreliable Myth?
Modern democratic societies place a strong emphasis on the “rule of law.” It implies that the rule of law must be upheld by all parties, including the government, and that justice will be served fairly. Recent occurrences, though, have cast doubt on the validity of this principle. The absence of consistency in its application is the first factor that leads some people to doubt the reliability of the rule of law. However, because laws are not always applied equally to all parties, justice is not always upheld. Because of their position, resources, or connections, some people might be given preference. People may lose faith in the legal system as a result of this inconsistency and begin to doubt the reliability of the rule of law.
Undoubtedly, every democratic society must adhere to the rule of law. It is the notion that everyone is treated equally by the law and that the law ought to be applied to all people equally and impartially. The rule of law, regrettably, is an unattainable myth in many nations, including Pakistan. Human rights abuses, political unrest, and corruption have plagued Pakistan for a very long time. The legal structure of the nation is complicated, involving a judiciary that is frequently swayed by political pressure and multiple sources of law. Although Pakistan’s constitution upholds the rule of law, the legal system there frequently acts arbitrarily and inconsistently.
Moreover, corruption is one of the main causes of the mythical impossibility of the rule of law in Pakistan. At every level of the government and society, from the police to the judiciary, corruption is rife. Public trust in the legal system can be damaged by corruption, which also threatens its integrity. Officials weaken the rule when they abuse their position for selfish gain or to advance their interests. Bribery, nepotism, and theft are just a few examples of the various ways corruption manifests. Therefore, this means that the wealthy and powerful can frequently sway the legal system to their benefit, while those who are poor and marginalized are denied access to justice. This has made it challenging for common people to access justice because they might not have the money to bribe officials or pay for pricey attorneys. Many Pakistanis lack faith in the legal system as a result of its inability to provide justice.
There have been initiatives to combat corruption and reform the legal system in recent years. Some of the actions taken to combat corruption include the establishment of national accountability bureaus and the creation of specialized anti-corruption courts. Additionally, by offering legal aid to underprivileged and marginalized communities, the government has improved access to justice. Similarly, the influence of traditional and religious customs is another factor contributing to Pakistan’s lack of a functional legal system. Particularly when it comes to issues like gender equality and human rights, these traditions frequently run counter to the principles of the rule of law. For instance, Pakistani laws favor men and a frequently biased judiciary subjects women to discrimination in the legal system.
Contrarily, if the government disobeys court orders, holds people without charge or trial, or commits extrajudicial killings, it sends a message that the law does not apply equally to everyone. A culture of impunity can be established when the government steps in to decide who is right and wrong. However, in numerous instances states respect and uphold this law. For instance, Scandinavian countries like Norway, Denmark, and Finland consistently rank among the best in the world for upholding the rule of law. These countries are characterized by strong legal frameworks, independent courts, and low levels of corruption. This demonstrates that it is not an impossibly high ideal but rather a goal that is attainable with the right institutions and culture.
Last but not least, this law is necessary for upholding individual rights and promoting social stability. Without it, there is a possibility of the use of power arbitrarily, which can result in unrest and instability. It ensures that everyone is subject to the same laws and that justice is done fairly. It is a foundational element of democratic societies, and its preservation is necessary to ensure the efficient operation of society. Modern legal systems are predicated on the idea that everyone, regardless of social standing or position, is subject to the law and that the law is applied fairly and consistently. This means that everyone must abide by the same laws and legal processes to resolve legal disputes and that no one is above the law. In a society where the rule of law is upheld, there is a fair and predictable legal framework that guarantees that individual rights are protected and disputes are settled through the legal system rather than through force or personal influence.
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