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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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Is an Anti-Government Narrative Safe in Pakistan?

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Pakistan as a state has rarely projected a revered image to the world when it comes to a lasting democracy. The governments have been a bait for the respective leaders and the military counterparts to juice the nation even further; passing the baton from one term to another in a power game between civilian and totalitarian regimes. Not even a decade has gone by to look back at the spiral of power that once vacillated between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). The rise to power of Imran Khan, however, was unprecedented and was duly celebrated as a speck of a possible change in the already wrecked political arena of the county; a narrative that was convincingly chanted in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) slogans “Tabdeeli Aagai Hai”. Yet, with over thirty-months under the premiership of Imran Khan, the only observable change is the acceleration in the destruction of the country, inside out.

There was no doubt throughout the tenacious campaign of Imran Khan that he has the most decadent character amongst his political rivals. Be it his triumphant feat captaining the World-Cup winning national cricket team in 1992 or his relentless efforts to build Shaukat Khanam, the first cancer hospital of Pakistan, from ground up. Even his valour and determination culminating into a 22-year struggle to wade through the reeking political scenario of the 90’s and early 2000’s to eventually accede to power in 2018 is a commemoration in itself. However, half way through his tenure, no concrete results have showcased since the elections declared him as the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan.

While many of his apparent failures are subject to his over-the-top promises to his supporters; promises he failed to even materialise on paper, his brash allegations over his political rivals and guising his pitfalls as a carry-forward of their incompetency shows how his government has let down even in performing the rudimentary tenets required to lead a country. As the inflation runs rampant; crossing over to projected double figures in the following quarters of the fiscal year, and as the GDP growth plummets into the negative territory, the ruling PTI lacks the basic decency of accepting their failures head-on but on the contrary, never miss to initiate the blame game over petty issues whilst the country verges economic crisis amidst the pandemic. Ironically, however, Imran Khan continues to direct Pakistan on the very routes he once criticised the preceding leaderships over for adopting. An apt example presents in the decision of negotiating with the IMF for economic relief or receiving a $6 Billion loan from UAE and Saudi Arabia respectively, the notions once denounced by PTI as acts of selling the country or rendering the country servile to western powers.

Even the totalitarian position is not spared subtly as the Khan-led regime continues to harness any and all individuals who dare to criticise the policies of the great Imran Khan; a sardonic reality that is continually shifting towards a serious note. The recent comment of Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, sheds some light on the vengeful exercise of political writ: “Pakistan’s continuing assault on political opponents and free expression puts the country on an increasingly dangerous course”.

The government operates on an apparent strategy to incorporate the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), country’s anti-corruption watchdog, under the pretence of its autonomous nature under the constitution, to prosecute and harass any and all holding an anti-government narrative. At first the rumours were wafted off as allegations over the austerity of the venerated PTI government. However, pilling reports of harassment of many famous journalists and human rights activists have surfaced, on the account of warrants of inquiry over inane matters; being held under interrogation for hours and even being threatened to tone down the criticism of state issued policies.

However, barring the criticism doesn’t hide the fact that whilst the country continues to deal with economic turmoil, unhinged violence continues to prevail against the minorities. The Ahmadi community being on the target of the extremists for decades, the even sturdy Imran Khan bowed down to the radical demands of the extremists to relinquish Mr. Atif Mian, a globally renowned economist, from his advisory position by accepting his resignation without a hint of apology or regret. The laws of Blasphemy continue to pillage multiple lives each year yet the government, hailed into power on the account of ‘change’, worsened the conditions further. Not only has the government failed to repeal or even amend the preposterous law provisions, it has failed to even proceed with just trials of the accused whilst the assailants wander freely without conviction. The Khan-led government tends to take the narrative of being the self-proclaimed defenders of the human rights in IIOJK yet fails to protect the Hazara community at the helm of genocide for decades. Even when victims like Tahir Naseem are shot dead during a trial of a supposed blasphemy case and a cold-blooded gang raped is officially insinuated as the victim’s fault for travelling late at night, it’s astounding how the state even claims to be under the arching definition of a ‘Islamic State’ and even more insulting when it is compared to “Medina Ki Riasat”.

The list goes endless but the festering reality of the country is as clear as it could be to a sane mind. Pakistan has made no progress on the economic front but has further deteriorated. Aspects of law and litigation are a rarity nowadays and free speech is a myth that once laced the breeze of an independent country. As to the ruling figure in Pakistan, the political image hinged on the “Famous cricketer and self-less philanthropist” has lasted long enough and the signs of weakness and decimation are showing. For the continually deteriorating nature of living of the country, it was well concluded in the 2021 Human Rights Watch Review, analysing Pakistan: “Threatening opposition leaders, activists and Journalists while trampling on the rights of the citizenry is a hallmark of an authoritarian rule, not a democracy”.

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Pakistan Needs to Learn from the Balochistan Havoc

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The brutal killing of ten coal miners in Mach (a town near to Quetta, Balochistan) has so much to offer to the elite class, policy makers and even their fellow citizens of Pakistan. The deceased were poor and hardworking labourers having no direct concern with the state and the terrorists still became prey of the menace of terrorism. They were sleeping peacefully after a tiring day of one of the most demanding, dangerous and underpaid job in a coal mine in Mach. They were not promoter of any specific ideology but working hard for the bread and butter of their families. They were not linked to any religious or political organization in and outside of the country. The only thing which can be related to them is that they were weak and belonged to Shiite Hazara community, a vulnerable minority in Pakistan.

Another point of notice is that the involved external hands changed their modus operandi this time. Instead of funding and fueling the separatist movements in Balcohistan to carry out such attacks, they have opted a completely different proscribed terrorist organization. Right now, Baloch separatists are unable to actively operate in the province as they are in tightened grip of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan and are involved in terrorist activities in other provinces to maintain their presence in mainstream media locally and internationally. This scenario has compelled the external involvement in the province to adopt an alternative way. Islamic State, an extremist Sunni terrorist organization, is selected this time to carry out a terrorist attack in the largest but poorest province of Pakistan. External powers have the heinous ambitions to destabilize Pakistan internally through sectarian crisis since long and they are not successful up till now due to institutional stronghold by different stakeholders of LEAs and improved inter-departmental coordination. Pakistan has not only targeted the terrorist elements in the country but their root causes are also focused like extremism, sectarianism and separatism. After all the above, the state has to include vulnerable minorities into consideration as they become an easy target of non-state actors. As minorities attract huge media attention, locally and internationally, they help pursuing terrorists’ agendas more effectively. This is also a concern related to human rights in any country.

The act of terrorism will benefit the masterminds behind the attack in two ways. First, it will help culminating Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the province by terrorizing local and foreign investors and by portraying negative image of the country on international fora. Development under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is not a comfy sign for the opponents of China and Pakistan. It will be imaging Pakistan a dangerous country and Balochistan an unsafe place for business and investment. Second, once again creating sectarian crisis in the province where Shiite Hazara community has always remained a prime target of proscribed sectarian/ terrorist organizations. The terrorists hit the most vulnerable part where the wounds are already deep. Hazara community is being attacked continuously by the Sunni extremists who are playing in the hands of external powers.

Pakistani state is doing everything possible to protect the Hazara community living mostly in Quetta and making around half of the population of Balochistan’s largest and capital city. Mining in Pakistan remains sub-standard but such incidents are rare in the country. This makes us sure that the incident is not a simple terrorist activity but a sectarian motion where people belonging to a minority are targeted. What could have been done was to resolve the mourners’ grievances within time. The mourners spent a whole week on the road protesting the brutal killing of their loved ones amid the most chilled month of the winter season. They were approached by the representatives of provincial and federal governments, but protestors wanted assurance from Prime Minister of Pakistan before burial of the dead bodies. The negotiating delegations accepted all their demands except the resignation of the provincial government where PM’s political party is also in alliance. Later, on 6th January 2021, PM Imran Khan reassured the protestors via Twitter that culprits must be held accountable and requested them to bury the bodies. His assurance satisfied the grievers and they set off the protest.

There is a need of permanent and in place policy for the protection of the community. Pakistani state needs to work on creating inter-faith and intra-faith harmony in the country. The government must admit that confining an ethnicity within a barred city is not the solution of the issue. There is a need to take some concrete steps for a permanent resolution as Hazard community has the distinguished features which make them easily identifiable. They cannot limit themselves to a walled city. Furthermore, Hazara community of Afghanistan also comes across the border in search of livelihood which causes a threat to the national image.

Moreover, public needs to stand with the people of Hazara community in the time of havoc. During the present time, where social media plays a vital role, it is easy to support such cause. The government should focus on finding the permanent solution to the community’s issues. LEAs of the province should leave no stone unturned with dedication and commitment by helping the families of the victims and overall Hazara community. The society needs to learn from the incident before it is too late. It is the time to stand with the bereaved families of the community or else be ready for the creation of more extremists.

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Arnab Goswami’s whatsApp leaks show power of propaganda

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Image credit: shethepeople.tv

WhatsApp leaks concerning Arnab Goswami (Republc TV) have  brought into limelight some bitter truths. One bitter truth is that the general public is a `bewildered herd’ (to quote Noam Chomsky) who could easily be made a fool of. Abraham Lincoln was wrong in saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

History tells that the people, even the Americans, are gullible. Propaganda deeply influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with words `we the people’. Chomsky says even the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking (Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, p.16). He asserts that, in a “properly functioning democracy”, there are a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of the World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Committee, which succeeded, within six months, in Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of the World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War.  The Wilson administration established government propaganda committee, called the Creel committee, which [through fake news, films, etc.] succeeded, within six months, in  turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war mongering population which  wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war  and save the world….  After the war the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Square…’ (op.cit.page 12).

Arnab Goswami’s Leaks

The leaked WhatsApp chats revealed that Abbottabad `surgical strikes’ were conducted to shore up Narendra Modi’s image as a `strong man’, a Brobdignagian among the Lilliputian self-centred Indian politicians. The `strike’ helped Modi win elections with a thumping majority.

Though Modi is educated only up to high school he understands the power of propaganda. He has done a three-month course in the USA on Image Management and Public Relations. His campaign blitz cost about US $ 700 million. Modi is considered the most techno-savvy leader of India as he is very active on various social media platforms including Twiter, Facebook, Instagram, etc (Wikipedia).

Shocking information in Leaks

WhatsApp chats between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta that run into 500 long pages. They revealed nexus between media and politicians to hoodwink the masses. Several Congress leaders, including former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan have raised alarming questions.

Chidambaram has questioned how the journalist and his friend knew about the Balakot strikes three days before it took place.

Meanwhile, senior journalist Madhavan Narayanan, in his piece, raised pertinent questions about the clearly transparent violations of media ethics, professionalism and business malpractices, as are evident from the purported chats between the Republic TV CEO and former BARC head. In the transcripts, Arnab purportedly referred to the Pulwama attack on February 14, 2019. Three days before the Balakot air strike on February 26, 2019, Goswami purportedly wrote India’s response would be: “Bigger than a normal air strike. And on the same time something major on Kashmir (abrogation of Special Status).

Dasgupta was arrested in the fake Television Rating Point (TRP) case. The Mumbai police had earlier told the court that Goswami had allegedly bribed Dasgupta with lakhs of rupees to ramp up Republic TV’s viewership.

Army stunts

Like the Indian air force, Indian army also knows the value of propaganda. It occasionally staes fake encounters in which innocent Kashmiris are kidnapped and killed in `encounters’. Afzal guru was hanged but subsequent revelations by police officer Davinder Sing revealed that he was in fact innocent.

Impact of Modi magic

In elections, Congress lost even in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where it ruled. Even  Rahul Gandhi lost its citadel,  Amethi. In the gory West-Bengal contest, the formidable Mamta Bannerjee lost many seats to BJP. Modi’s self-image brand prevailed. The RSS held many conclaves to reach out to intellectuals. Muslim munch, distributed RSS leaflets. Even after winning the elections, BJP stalwarts visited Madrassa Deoband. He captivated popular imagination as a strong leader _ Modi hai to mumkin  hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible). Through power of propaganda, Modi brazenly bagged credit for all achievements of previous Congress governments. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who abolished the zamindari system. It is Nehru, not Modi, who set up space centre that catapulted India’s ASAT Shakti.

Modi 1.0’s  economic- progress figures were plain cookery.

Pulwama questions

Goswami Leaks further debilitates India’s accusation that Pulwama attack was masterminded by Pakistan. Several questions, given heretofore come to mind about India’s `charge sheet’ on Pakistan: (a) Why did India bank on the FBI when it already possessed all communications from Pakistan? For instance, it intercepted the whole talk between military dictator Yahya Khan and his coterie during the East Pakistan/Bangladesh crisis. It intercepted Musharraf’s conversation with his generals while he was flying back from China to Pakistan. India blamed. Isn’t there collusion between the FBI and India? (b) Why did India blame Pakistan even before forensic-lab and National Investigation Agency investigation report? (c) Why are there differing reports about weight of the RDX used?  The Indian Express speculated `High-grade RDX explosive, weighing about 80 kilograms, was used in the suicide attack’. The Hindu estimated 100-150 kg. (d) Why was a private vehicle allowed to approach the scene of incident in violation of the CRPF Standing Operating Procedures? The CRPF’s Standing Operating Procedure required movement of up to 100 persons in a convoy. Why has the CRPF been moving such convoys, comprising more than 2,500 personnel each, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. In the past fortnight, two such convoys had moved from Jammu to Srinagar. The latest was on February 4, with a convoy of 91 vehicles and 2,871 personnel’. (e) Why could the convoy not spot the lonely suicide vehicle trailing behind? (f) How did the terrorists know the convoy movement was delayed by two days? (g) How did they remain undetected while loading the vehicle with explosives the whole day? (h) Not only WhatsApp but also landlines have never been accessible even in Hindu-majority Jammu (occupied Kashmir). Then how come `the FBI has told the NIA about the WhatsApp group operated by a member of the terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad who was in contact with the people who carried out the attack of Pulwama? (i) According to the FBI, a man called Mohammed Hussain was operating the WhatsApp group, from Muzaffarabad. But the number was however registered under the name of Jameela from Budgam’ (INDIA NEWS NETWORK, August 27).

Inference

Modi owes his electoral victory to the power of propaganda. He is making a fool of not only the Indian masses but also the world around. 

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