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India’s Act East policy and SVIMM strategy

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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.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Afghanistan and the Quest for Democracy Promotion: Symptoms of Post-Cold War Malaise

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The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan should be the first step in a reduced American overseas force posture. Democracy promotion in the form of perpetual force deployment and endless military engagements has resoundingly failed to deliver tangible benefits for the United States. Those who celebrated in the wake of the USSR’s collapse as an unqualified vindication of liberal democracy ignored the role of strategic overextension and deteriorating domestic affairs in the latter. The unipolar U.S. moment was bound to be ephemeral, and should have been used to reevaluate and refocus strategic goals in order to ensure we avoid the same fate of our ideological counterpart.

Instead, the United States dispensed with any notions of humility and allowed democratic peace theory to continue guiding its foreign policy decision-making. Even though it is true that democracies are less likely to engage in military confrontations with one another, only hubris could have led us to believe we could universally create this sufficient condition. Afghanistan is a definitive rebuke to the notion that we can simply will the circumstances for democratic peace—on our own terms and with no compromise—into existence.

Luckily, there is still time to readjust the country’s strategic calculus and begin allocating its limited resources in a less myopic manner. Following through with withdrawal could be a starting point for a new trend of U.S. restraint. The most logical region of the world to address next would be its position in Europe. Relative European weakness at the end of World War 2 threatened the balance of power on the continent as the specter of Soviet Communism crept its way West. With Russia a shell of the Marxist empire, there is no logical reason for the United States to maintain its current outsized military presence in Europe; indeed, the EU collectively holds a GDP 11 times the size of Russia’s, has 3 ½ times the population size, and spends 4 times as much on defense.

The United States should demand that European allies adopt a share of their own defense that is more commensurate with this fact. The decision of the previous U.S. administration to remove 12,000 troops due to Germany’s inability to meet NATO spending targets was a good step. The current administration could continue to capitalize on this trend and set more targets for troop withdrawals. Withdrawal will also signal to countries that use political tension with Moscow to decrease their saber rattling. This includes Eastern European NATO members, as well as countries like Ukraine and Georgia. It must be made explicit to the latter two that they cannot engage in bellicose political brinkmanship, and then hope to simply rely on U.S. led NATO to come to their defense should the situation escalate. It may seem counterintuitive, but this may very well result in a more stable European security environment, at least in regard to its posture towards Russia.

This will also reverberate back into the European political arena, as there will be less incentive for inflating the Russian threat. Moscow acts strategically in accordance with its limited national security interests, anticipating Western responses and reactions. Clear signaling that the United States and NATO do not have the goal of encircling Russia and rendering it strategically inert will only serve to increase U.S.-Russian relations, as well as European-Russian relations. This will free up U.S. resources for more pressing national security interests such as preparing for strategic and economic competition with China. It will also decrease the incentive for closer Russian-Sino cooperation.

Ideally, this would cascade into a reevaluation of U.S. strategic postures in other regions as well, such as Southeastern Asia and the broader Middle East. The former is another area in which the United States could reduce its force presence and incentivize increased defense spending by allies. A decreased U.S. presence would also message to China that the United States does not inherently oppose Beijing as a threat. It should, however, be made explicit that aggression towards a U.S. treaty ally would be met with an asymmetric response, but that does not mean that increased tensions with China need to be the status quo. In the Middle East, large scale U.S. military withdrawal in exchange for a primarily diplomatic mission to the region could also serve to decrease one of the major sources of terrorist recruitment.

An interventionist foreign policy was perpetuated as the product of learning the wrong lessons from U.S. victory in the Cold War. A communist doctrine of proselytizing to the alienated masses with axiomatic dogmas and theological certainties failed not because of the weakness of its scripture (which would require a much different, longer article), but because its millenarian quest for world revolution led the Soviet empire to overextend itself beyond its economic means. Behind the façade of military might, the domestic population grew increasingly disillusioned and dissatisfied. Unfortunately, there are alarming parallels with the current domestic situation in the United States today.

Refusing to remain mired in Afghanistan could be an important catalyst in beginning to reevaluate U.S. foreign policy. If Washington focuses its resources on limited goals that prioritize key national security interests, it can better tend to the state of its own republican government and society. It might not be as romantic as crusading for democracy, but it could be essential in preserving the Union.

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What, in fact, is India’s stand on Kashmir?

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

At the UNGA, India’s first secretary Sneha Dubey said the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh “were, are and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India. She added, “Pakistan’s attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue have gained no traction from the international community and the Member States, who maintain that Kashmir is a bilateral matter between the two countries (Pakistan is ‘arsonist’ disguising itself as ‘fire-fighter’: India at UNGA, the Hindu September 25, 2021).

It is difficult to make head or tail of India’s stand on Kashmir. India considers the whole of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir as its integral part. Yet, at the same time, admits it to be a bilateral matter still to be resolved between India and Pakistan.

What bars Pakistan from agitating the Kashmir dispute at international forums?

India presumes that the Simla accord debars Pakistan from “internationalizing” the Kashmir dispute. That’s not so. Avtar Singh Bhasin (India and Pakistan: Neighbours at Odd) is of the view that though Pakistan lost the war in East Pakistan, it won at Simla.

Bhasin says, `At the end, Bhutto the “dramatist” carried the day at Simla. The Agreement signed in Simla did no more than call for `respecting the Line of Control emerging from the ceasefire of 17 December 1971. As the Foreign Secretary TN Kaul [of India] said at briefing of the heads of foreign mission in New Delhi on 4 July 1972, the recognition of the new ceasefire line ended the United Nations’ Military Observers’ Group on India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) role in Kashmir, created specifically  for the supervision of the UN sponsored ceasefire line of 1949, since that line existed no more. Having said that India once again faltered for not asking the UN to withdraw its team from Kashmir, or withdrawing its own recognition to it and its privileges (Document No. 0712 in Bhasin’s India-Pakistan Relations 1947-207).

Following Simla Accord (1972), India, in frustration, stopped reporting ceasefire skirmishes to the UN. But, Pakistan has been consistently reporting all such violations to the UN. India feigns it does not recognise the UNMOGIP. But, then it provides logistic support to the UMOGIP on its side of the LOC.

India keeps harassing the UNMOGIP vehicles occasionally. Not long ago, three members of the UNMOGIP had a close call along the LoC in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops shot at and injured two locals who were briefing them on the situation after ceasefire violations.

India even asked UNMOGIP to vacate 1/AB, Purina Lila Road, Connaught Place, from where it has been functioning since 1949.

Bhasin says (p.257-259), `The Pakistan Radio broadcasts and…commentators took special pains to highlight …the fact: (i) That India have accepted Kashmir to be a disputed territory and Pakistan a party to the dispute. (ii) That the UNSC resolutions had not been nullified and contrarily (iii) Kashmir remained the core issue between the two countries and that there could not be permanent peace without a just solution based on the principle of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. And Pakistan was right in its assessment. It lost the war won the peace. At the end India was left askance at its own wisdom’.

Obviously, if the UNSC resolutions are intact, then Pakistan has the right to raise the Kashmir dispute at international forums.

India’s shifting stands on Kashmir

At heart, the wily Jawaharlal Lal Nehru never cared a fig for the disputed state’s constituent assembly, Indian parliament or the UN. This truth is interspersed in Avtar Singh Basin’s 10-volume documentary study (2012) of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007.  It contains 3649 official documents, accessed from archives of India’s external-affairs ministry.  These papers gave new perspectives on Nehru’s vacillating state of perfidious mind concerning the Kashmir dispute. In his 2018 book (published after six years of his earlier work), India, Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds (Bloomsbury India, New Delhi, 2018), Bhasin discusses Nehru’s perfidy on Kashmir in Chapter 5 titled Kashmir, India’s Constitution and Nehru’s Vacillation (pages 51-64). The book is based on Selected Works of Jawaharlal (SWJ) Nehru and author’s own compendium of documents on India-Pak relations. Let us lay bare a few of Nehru’s somersaults

Nehru disowns Kashmir assembly’s “accession”, owns Security Council resolutions

Initially, Nehru banked on so-called Instrument of Accession and its authentication by `Constituent Assembly. Yet, in a volte-face he reiterated in New Delhi on November3, 1951 that `we have made it perfectly clear before the Security Council that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly does not [insofar] as we are concerned come in the way of a decision by the Security Council, or the United Nations’(SWJ: Volume 4: page 292, Bhasin p.228). Again, at a press conference on June 11, 1951, he was asked `if the proposed constituent assembly of Kashmir “decides in favour of acceding to Pakistan, what will be the position?”’ he reiterated,  `We have made it perfectly clear that the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir was not meant to decide finally any such question , and it is not in the way of any decision which may ultimate flow from the Security Council proceedings’ (SWJ: Volume 15:, Part II, page 394. Bhasin page 56). He re-emphasised his view once again at a press conference in New Delhi On November 3, 1951.

Nehru does not label Pakistan an aggressor at the UN

And then labels it so in Parliament

He never labeled Pakistan an aggressor at the UN. Yet, he told parliament on March 1, 1954 `that “aggression” took place in Kashmir six and a half years ago with dire consequences. Nevertheless the United States have thus far not condemned it and we are asked not to press this point in the interest of peace (Bhasin pp. 55-56).

Nehru disowns the Security Council as just a non-binding mediator

On July 24 1952, Nehru said, `Unless the Security Council functioned under some other Sections of the Charter, it cannot take a decision which is binding upon us unless we agree to it. They are functioning as mediators and a mediator means getting people to agree (SWJ, Volume 19, page 241. Bhasin page 56).

Security Council re-owned

Bhasin points out (page 57 op. cit.) `At the same press conference on 24 July, 1952 when asked what the necessity of plebiscite was now that he had got the Constituent Assembly [approval], he replied “Maybe theoretically you may be right. But we have given them [UN] an assurance and we stand by it (SWJ: Volume 19, pp. 240-241. Bhasin, p. 57, Bhasin pages 256-257).

Concluding remarks

Pakistan’s recourse to the UN is India’s Achilles Heel. So it is as India’s stand on disputed Kashmir is a rigmarole of inconsistent myths.

To avoid internationalization of the Kashmir issue, India’s own former foreign secretary Jagat Singh Mehta offered proposals (rebranded by Pervez Musharraf’s) to soften the LOC in exchange for non-internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute for 10 years. Mehta presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’.

India had no consistent stand on Kashmir. There was a time when Sardar Patel presented Kashmir to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad and Junagadh. Reportedly, the offer was declined as Pakistan’s prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan thought it could retain not only Kashmir but also Junagadh and Hyderabad. Jawaharlal Nehru approached the United Nations’ for mediation. He kept harping his commitment to the plebiscite.

It is eerie that the whole architecture of India’s stand on Kashmir is erected on the mythical `instrument of accession’ and its endorsement by the disputed state’s assembly, Accession documents are un-registered with the UN. The Simla Accord text makes crystal clear reference to the UN charter.

Let India know that a state that flouts international treaties is a rogue state: pacta sunt servanda, treaties are to be observed and are binding on parties. Self-determination is not only a political but also a legal right in disputed lands. Sans talks with Pakistan, and UN or third-party mediation, what else is India’s recipe for imprisoned Kashmiris? A nuclear Armageddon or divine intervention?

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Afghanistan may face famine because of anti-Taliban sanctions

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Food and blankets are handed out to people in need in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, by © WFP/Arete

Afghanistan may face a food crisis under the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) rule because this movement is under sanctions of both individual states and the United Nations, Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, told TASS on Monday.

“A food crisis and famine in Afghanistan are not ruled out. Indeed, Afghanistan is now on life support, with assistance mostly coming from international development institutes, as well as from the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, i.e. from Western sources and institutes close to the West,” he said. “The Taliban is under international sanctions, not only unilateral US and EU sanctions, but also under UN sanctions. That is why, in formal terms, the Taliban coming to power may mean that these sanctions could be expanded to the entire country, and it will entail serious food problems. Food deliveries from the World Food Program and other international organizations may be at risk.”

According to the expert, statistics from recent years show that annual assistance to Afghanistan amounts to about five billion US dollars, but this sum is not enough to satisfy the needs of the country’s population. “It is believed that a minimal sum needed by Afghanistan to maintain basic social institutions to avoid hunger in certain regions stands at one billion US dollars a month, i.e. 12 billion a year,” Kortunov noted. “Some say that twice as much is needed, taking into account that population growth in Afghanistan is among the world’s highest and life expectancy is among the lowest. And around half of Afghan children under five are undernourished.”

He noted that despite the fact that the issue of further food supplies to Afghanistan is not settled, some countries, for instance, China, continue to help Afghanistan but a consolidated position of the international community is needed to prevent a food and humanitarian crisis. “A common position of the international community is needed and it should be committed to paper in corresponding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which should provide for reservations concerning food assistance in any case,” he added.

However, in his words, the key question is who will control the distribution of humanitarian and food assistance inside the country. “There were such precedents when countries and regimes under sanctions were granted reservations and received food assistance. But a logical question arises about who will control the distribution of this assistance. This has always been a stumbling block for programs of assistance to Syria, as the West claimed that if everything is left to Damascus’ discretion, assistance will be distributed in the interests of [President Bashar] Assad and his inner circle rather than in the interests of the Syrian people. It is not ruled out that the same position will be taken in respect of the Taliban,” Kortunov went on to say. “It means that the international community will be ready to provide food assistance but on condition that unimpeded access will be granted to the areas in need and everything will not be handed over to the Taliban who will decide about whom to help.”

After the US announced the end of its operation in Afghanistan and the beginning of its troop withdrawal, the Taliban launched an offensive against Afghan government forces. On August 15, Taliban militants swept into Kabul without encountering any resistance, establishing full control over the country’s capital within a few hours. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said he had stepped down to prevent any bloodshed and subsequently fled the country. US troops left Afghanistan on August 31.

From our partner RIAC

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