The current protracted election campaign has been enduringly characterized, by a lingering overhang of foreign policy and national security considerations, punctuated by constant reminders of India’s rising acclaim on the world stage and resonation for its touchstone issue of epochal significance (counter-terrorism). Indian diplomatic and capacitive footprint would be deployed, to address the sub-continent’s structural socio-economic impediments and physical capacitation concerns, as a substantive antidote to the invariably operating existential security paradox of fragile states and porous borders. The presumably second Modi administration will have to deal with the scenario in Afghanistan, characterized by the engendering conditions for an American troop withdrawal from the country, the formulation of contours for potential rehabilitation of the Taliban within a prospective Afghan political future and the fomenting US-Iran crisis in the Middle East. The Iran dossier presents Indian foreign policy with a cleft-stick specter, wedging dilemmas and straddling angularities. One could not greater underscore the importance of Tehran for New Delhi, not just from the lens of longstanding energy is driven equations, but from the prism of the criticality of its multi-modal access to the far reaches of the Central Asian and Eurasian continental swathe. The second Modi regime would be under scrutiny for how this foundational economic diplomacy is consolidated and elevated into a new orbit, at a time when the government has pledged to catapult the nation to a five-trillion-dollar economy within a decade. The ensuing epoch in Indian foreign policy would be a build-on phase, under the philosophical and operative moorings of a ‘continuum-neighborhood’ concept, which draws on immutable features of India’s geographical physiology and the attributive tenets of its civilizational span, to construe meaningful engagements in its Eastern and Western vectors.
As the world’s most mammoth democratic exercise at the hustings successfully winds down on another electoral cycle and the intuitive feel and considered wisdom posits plain-sailing return to helms hip for the incumbent BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, the anticipated focus appears to be plausibly shifting, towards decoding the prospective strategic-priorities and attendant policy-parameters, that would constitute and chaperone foreign policy and national security, under a Modi strategic calculus 2.0. (At the time of penning this account, India had not tallied, its federal election results).
The features of the electoral campaign
Unless in the grips of existentialism, national security and foreign policy dimensions rarely figure on the campaign-stump in India, or for that matter across most celebrated and mature democracies. This being said, the current protracted election campaign has been enduringly characterized, by a lingering overhang of foreign policy and national security considerations, punctuated by constant reminders of India’s rising acclaim on the world stage and resonation for its touchstone issue of epochal significance (counter-terrorism). The expected narrative of the ruling coalition trenchantly prosecuting the virtues of continuity versus the pyrrhic costs of change and the medley of opposition parties desperately litigating the need for the electorate to embrace their case for change. The election has been conducted in the shadow of India’s punitive cross-border air-strikes into Pakistan, presenting itself as arguably swift comeuppance for the terror assault in Jammu Kashmir state and evidence of emphatic decisive leadership of the Prime Minister to glower at and not be cowered, by the scourge of terrorism emanating from across its North Western border. The terror attacks in Sri Lanka helped coalesce popular opinion within India on the urgent imperative to choose the establishment, which can confront this metastasizing phenomenon and not favor the one which would equivocate on the issue. Then, the rare occurrence of the United Nations Security Council unite in unanimity, in placing the regional terrorist mastermind Masood Azhar, under global sanctions regime proscription, after Chinese relent over its technical-hold, allowed for the peddling of spin that speaks to visible evidence of persuasive traction for quiet, but purposeful Indian diplomatic manoeuvres, under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership. (After all, Indian diplomacy has worked to bring international opinion around this issue, since 2009, but with little success until recent moves). Besides, as elections unfolded, the news of the Prime Minister being feted with highest civilian honors, first from Russia and latest by the UAE, for coveted contribution to the development of bilateral ties, served as effectively oriented the outcome of Indian foreign policy were pursued these past five years. Hence, it was no surprise that throughout the campaign, these accomplishments were used as evolving signposts of a globally practiced foreign policy forged on a wider elemental and dimensional canvass.
India’s engagement in its neighborhood
The neighborhood surrounding India remains a challenged and contested geopolitical area, which would understandably attract the attention of the new government, mirroring the impulse from the onset of the Modi premiership back in May 2014. Consequently, the incoming Prime Minister pulled a diplomatic fast-one, by inviting all South Asian regional leaders, carrying out its strong sense of instructiveness. Such a move encapsulated an interplay of trinity messaging to stakeholders, showing its disproportionately outsized role in consensually shaping the region-on-the-move towards productive beneficence. This Indian diplomatic and capacitive footprint would be deployed, to address the sub-continent’s structural socio-economic impediments and physical capacitation concerns, as a substantive antidote to the invariably operating existential security paradox of fragile states and porous borders. Also, the region and all of its sovereign constituents would be subject to the inviolable redline of scrupulous good neighborliness, that would certainly require reciprocity though not necessarily parity in action, meaning the preclusion of their territories from being leveraged for inimical actions against itself. Through enhancing the profile of Indian engagement of its contiguous and proximate partners, wide assiduous politico-diplomatic engagement, it would be seen in the higher incidence of echelon visits (Modi sojourned to all South Asian countries during his full term in office) and revving-up of institutional mechanisms for bilateral dialogue. The Indian approach in South Asia over the past five years has witnessed a conscious effort to recoup ceded strategic space and to induce centrality back to New Delhi’s.
Moreover, the key to underpin the tectonic pan-South Asian economic transformation and mobility would be the following methods: a conscious coordinated endeavor from the highest reaches in government, a streamline tardy and slothful cross-country infrastructural projects towards expedited completion in winning back eroded credence of commitment, and entrenching the imperative notion of multi-vectored connectivity, along logistical compact, commercial interchange and civilizational affinities. However, it might be hard for New Delhi to diminish South Asian countries’ trade dependence upon China and to shrug-off the increasingly indomitable buccaneering industrial and infrastructural footprint of Beijing across Himalayan and Maritime South Asia, which constitutes the former’s proverbial sphere of influence. This is the reason why, the new administration has to embrace a strategy of counterpoise, blending elements of outright reductionist retaliation in certain coordinates, with the sophisticated and nuanced operation of a qualitatively differentiated paradigm at shaping the region in the piloting of newly minted and revived functional initiatives at regional economic cooperation (BIMSTEC), and models of mini-lateral integration (BBIN), etc., to build greater heft in the vicinity.
The presumably second Modi administration will have to deal with the scenario in Afghanistan, characterized by the engendering conditions for an American troop withdrawal from the country, the formulation of contours for potential rehabilitation of the Taliban within a prospective Afghan political future and the fomenting US-Iran crisis in the Middle East. Furthermore, the new administration will have to manage the American diktat to Iranian oil consumers, such as India, to shutter sourcing which exerts a collateral undermining impact on Indian strategic interests Their outcomes could undercut Indian stakes and valid expectations for exercising its influence in the region. These issues become further critical from an Indian standpoint, as their propitious resolution holds the sluice-gate keys to New Delhi’s tangible profile in engagement of Central Asia for strategic resources and as avenues for markets, both of which are contingent on a democratically benign, secure and stable Afghanistan. Concerning Iran, it is not subject to straitjacketed coercion from its arch-rivals within the region and the US on the extent, that would dis-incentivize its amenable disposition towards initiatives at regionally multi-lateralised economic cooperation and advancing objectives for share the access. These two issues are expected to figure in principal discussions at the impending SCO Summit in Kyrgyzstan, in June. In the meanwhile, since no potential solutions are to be forthcoming, it would put at a premium the Indian quest since 2012 and since Prime Minister Modi’s maiden visit to all the CARs in 2015 and India’s incorporation into the SCO in 2017, for cultivating cogent and enlightened bilateral exchanges with each of the region’s sovereign constituents.
Regarding Afghanistan, while the US has kept India abreast on the trajectory of its Qatar based backchannel with the Taliban, New Delhi fully sentient of Washington’s longing for terminating its inordinately lingering military involvement, which made it anxious, due to the apparent lack of clarity of Washington’s redlines and the latter’s ambivalence over Taliban’s incorporation into an Afghan government, without eliciting adequate accountability and a sufficing abjuration of violence. As a significant developmental partner for Afghanistan, with the involvement of fisc and material resources across a wide spectrum of capacity building projects, only second to Washington, New Delhi expects to be actively shaping the progression to a democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan. Henceforth, aware of the fluidity of the situation and mindful of the steadily expanding role of Russia and China in exploiting the pristine diplomatic space in Afghanistan, and how it could potentially resurrect Islamabad’s mission ‘strategic-depth’ in Kabul through the backdoor, it has precipitated into an enlightened New Delhi tactical approach, through shedding some of the idealism that has traditionally pervaded Indian strategic thinking in favor of participating in the Russian spearheaded Six-Party Dialogue Framework, even to sit at the Moscow table alongside Taliban interlocutors. In addition, it has worked with the US establishment principals at the State Department and the Pentagon, on calibrating a convergent and harmonizing approach, whilst niftily tiptoeing around the occasional rants of an irascible US President, taking derisive swipes at India’s developmental compact with Afghanistan, and its considered and principled reluctance, to not burden-partake through commissioning of a supplanting military presence in Afghanistan.
The Iranian question
The Iran dossier presents Indian foreign policy with a cleft-stick specter, wedging dilemmas and straddling angularities. One could not greater underscore the importance of Tehran for New Delhi, not just from the lens of longstanding energy is driven equations, but from the prism of the criticality of its multi-modal access to the far reaches of the Central Asian and Eurasian continental swathe. Also, Iran could be the maritime leverage in the Western Indian Ocean, where India manages port infrastructures and logistics arrangements, constituting vital instruments for strategic influence, commercial and mercantilist traction, along strategic sea lanes of communication. If US policy forces principal oil buyers, such as India, to totally blank oil purchases from Iran, (moreover, the chances seem remote as long as Trump helms affairs), then the potential forsaking of Iran from India allows peer competitor China to exploit the situation and trigger an Iranian tilt to its side, in pursuance of Beijing’s tangible offers of Iranian incorporation within the infrastructural ambit of the robustly fording Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Iran portfolio also brings to the fore, the debate about what exactly is strategic autonomy in foreign policy, and how does it pan out. Among the animated dynamic setting of an interconnected and interdependent world, it is most understood and internalized that trade-offs and quid pro quos undergird transactional interchange occur. Under a Modi premiership, Indian foreign policy has managed the enviable reputation for dexterously navigating through regionally adversarial juxtapositions, not through defensive self-preservation or abstinence of the past, but through proactively cultivated productively beneficent relationships, with a Jewish Israel, Shia Iran and the Saudi tutelage the Sunni Gulf States. However, this largesse may just have run its course, hopefully momentarily, as New Delhi might well perceive circumscribed downsides to its downgrading of commercial exchanges with Iran, as hydrocarbons deficits could be bridged through realigning shipments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Besides riling up a strategically blinded non-countenancing and punitively oriented Washington won’t be desirable.
The second Modi regime and the prospects of new economic diplomacy
Historically, Indian foreign policy trajectory, and strategic orientation, in the post-liberalization period, has suffered from a triumvirate of infirmities, which have rendered its external outreach and engagement hemmed, hobbled and hortative. The advent of the Modi administration in 2014 was refreshing in that, it delineated a new template for Indian internationalism and forged it in the dispensing with staid cartographic imaginations of our neighborhoods in favor of re-imagined carve-ups of conceptions of the near-abroad. In abandoning the self-deprecating sub-continental scale of our economic existence and subsistence in favor of a comprehensive re-envisioning of economic diplomacy, it anchored in the inherent dynamism of rule-based democratic governance and demographics of demand being pitched as an attractive global proposition, building societal affinities and synergies. The second Modi regime would be under scrutiny for how this foundational economic diplomacy is consolidated and elevated into a new orbit, at a time when the government has pledged to catapult the nation to a five-trillion-dollar economy within a decade. Thereby, it made robust international economic interaction and interchange, an indispensable sine qua non for accomplishing such an ambitious strategic objective, amidst global headwinds of recession and the rising tide of protectionism worldwide. Achieving this quantum-leap scale-up, in economic size and profile, would need more than just linear organic progression. During the last five years, India moved from being viewed as a country with the promise to deliver on its potential to a nation on the economic march, witnessed in the hue of tectonic reforms consummated domestically and investment initiatives envisioned and instrumentalized in addressing both hard and soft infrastructural deficits. India transitioned, to being globally acclaimed as the fast-growing emerging economy, besides dimensions of its internal economic and policy transformation finding enthused endorsement in international policy circles. This elevated economic performance and the cogency of politico-executive leadership of the day has allowed Indian diplomacy to turn sure-footed, vigorous and purposeful on the international stage. It also resulted in the participation of Prime Minister’s pitch on the major platform of international relations, such as 2014 G20 in Australia and the annual World Economic Forum conclave in Davos in 2018. Notwithstanding, Indian diplomacy is moving further it by committing to in the global agreement on Climate Change in Paris, and to the India-France co-sponsored International Solar Alliance (ISA) initiative, headquartered in India, which is aimed at promoting expanded use of renewable energy for sustainable development, across the sovereign-comity of the putative ‘Global South.’
The ensuing epoch in Indian foreign policy would be a build-on phase, under the philosophical and operative moorings of a ‘continuum-neighborhood’ concept, which draws on immutable features of India’s geographical physiology and the attributive tenets of its civilizational span, to construe meaningful engagements in its Eastern and Western vectors. With India’s Eastern longitudinal stretch, both seaboard and inland, its position in the North-Eastern section and its obscuring black-hole, starved from rudimentary development, abutting South East Asia with one half of the Indian manufacturing GDP for exports. Besides the civilizational contacts, the process of fostering comprehensively intimating ties with the ASEAN comity of nations, as with other economic titans in East Asia, has been a signature initiative of the Modi government during 2014-2019, with no reason for it to flag or dampen. It ought to intensify across intertwining dimensions of augmented trading exchanges, deepened the development of multi-modal transportation infrastructure, enhanced integration of markets and logistics facilities, and greater investor-led stake-holding by these countries.
Similarly, with India’s ordained maritime location, residing astride strategic sea lanes of communication, the Modi government, during its first term, has embarked on a mission to impart situational sense to locational amenability, principally in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), through the commissioning and execution of a slew of path-breaking projects and initiatives, which pioneered under the marquee nomenclature of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region). With the IOR, it is incumbent upon the new Indian government, to sustain its alacrity and proactivity, by its quest for preserving the primacy of operation, insulation of its sea-borne commercial interests and safeguarding its strategic sphere of influence, even though not exclusionary or prejudicial to any extant entity refuses insubordination or supplication. The Modi government seeks to enhance India’s power profile in the immediate maritime stretch, which would allow it to serve as a covetable stabilizing influence, contributing in its role as a prime ‘swing-power’, maintaining symmetry and equilibrium between competing domineers and helping shape the normative, institutional and capacitive edifice of the wide ocean ‘Indo-Pacific’ space, away from singularized ascent and towards a shared commons.
What about the US, China, and Russia?
The greatest operative determinant to Indian foreign policy, as it seeks to carve-up prominent stock for itself within a rising Asia, is how it handles its coupled equations, with the strategic trifecta impinging on its external orientation with the United States, China, Russia, and Japan. The Indo-US relationship remains the predominant key to India’s national aspirations for autonomous development and accretion in power-profile and attendant power-projection, across Asia and on the world stage. However, there is no gainsaying, that despite the brimming potential of the relationship in bilateral and regional terms, it does intermittently constrain New Delhi’s strategic choices and does inflict collateral damage to Indian strategic interests. Despite the burgeoning levels of political affability, economic interaction and societal interface, US-India engagement finds itself meandering, in aspects of market-access based trade disputes, disagreements over certain technology transfer mechanisms and perceived inadequacy over regimes governing the protection of intellectual property and the interests of the knowledge-based services sector.
Moreover, notwithstanding the significant advances incrementally achieved in the mutual strategic partnership, most notably witnessed in iconic collaborative agreements inked, in high-end civilian, high-tech communication, and sensitive defense-cooperation and military-operability sectors, a mutual wariness permeates ties brought on by a perceptible gap in actual performance, falling short of expectation thresholds. While New Delhi feels let-down, that Washington does not adequately tighten the noose on Pakistan towards extracting substantive remedial action on terrorism spawning from Islamabad, the US reckons that New Delhi does not step-up its game enough to dispose more proactively in countering China across Asia, most notably, across the Indo-Pacific, where intriguingly the two sides are concurred on an ostensible Joint Vision formulation and articulation for the ocean-continuum. It is clear that Prime Minister Modi, in his second term would have his hands full, in continuing to deal with an overtly transactional and short-leashed temperamental US administration, having to keep his side of the grand partnership bargain, whilst not transgressing on inveterately held and well-deliberated red-lines. Even as his government works through the scope of US institutional labyrinth, both congressional and bureaucratic, towards tempering the incumbent President’s pushbacks on matters of bilateral concern.
This segues into an examination of Sino-Indian relations, which seems to have historical baggage and mutual chariness of each other’s strategic intentions, between two simultaneously rising continental powers, in relative proximity and regional contiguity of each other. with the concurrence of politically ascendant trajectories of two leaders with strong personalities and cult-like followings domestically, the relationship during the past five years, marked a roller-coaster ride, commencing with the hyped euphoria of significant Chinese investment-led economic cooperation, descending into a purportedly escalatory slide that verged on potentially miscalculated conflict. During this period, the apogee of the Doklam territorial standoff during 2017 led to mutual good sense and to a commitment to establish ties concerning the indeterminate border. Additionally, it signified an engagement in a candid, but constructive dialogue, to comprehend strategic intentions around broader aspects of the relationship, and how each other’s instrumentalities militate, in each other’s coterminous and overlapping realms of perceived and proven influence. While the informal setting of the Wuhan Summit of 2018 was meant to induce a reset in ties, notwithstanding the bonhomie and geniality that was manifest, it would be risky to consider the bedevilling issues stemming from Chinese imperviousness to strident Indian criticism over the sovereignty contravening China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) component within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese refusal to allow Indian candidature of NSG membership decoupled from that of Pakistan, that is viewed and regarded as deeply and qualitatively odious, by the latter, and the nature and tenor of Chinese investments across South Asia, which has India spooked on dimensions of being predatory through vitiation of the fiscal health of the smaller nations. China harbors have their own set of concerns, stemming from a stepped-up Indo-US compact and an India-US-Japan role for strategic maneuvering across the Indo-Pacific, and the reviving of the QUAD framework, described as a Concert of Democracies quadrant committed to ensuring the plurality of the Indo-Pacific, a veiled reference to work against Beijing. The challenge for both sides would be to ally each other’s concerns credibly and tangibly, which would entail political statesmanship, forthright exchange of views, but some craft in forging project cooperation, that can reduce the trust deficit, which in turn lies at the core of the mutually critical relationship steeped in chariness and hesitation.
The resurgent role of Russia on the world stage and it’s robust inject into hotspots and flashpoints around the globe, allowing for a duality of views about its genuine intentions and how to respond to them, with the Indian establishment being no exception either in being called upon to re-appraise the once bell-weather relationship. Among perceptions about Moscow being a necessary strategic disruptor, contributing to balancing an otherwise US skewed global order, Prime Minister Modi has been pragmatic and principled in letting Indian national interests drive the Indo-Russian exchange, rather than be wedded to preconceived notions. The challenge on the bilateral track of reinventing the relationship beyond defence cooperation and a few lines of commercial interchange, notwithstanding the Modi government’s effort has been to forge new vistas of engagement on strategic dimensions of ramped-up energy cooperation, science and technological intermediation for civilian applications, innovation smitten joint-investments, in addition to the sophisticated and value-added co-development programs in modernised defence platforms, apart from the perfunctory phenomenon of defense hardware transactions. The fact of resilience in India-Russia engagement was tested and showed-up well, in the resoluteness of India’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, weathering repeated US prodding, nudges, and implicit threats of collaterally damaging implications.
Similarly, New Delhi’s recent reconsideration of long-held reticence at upgrading the level of the mundanely operating Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral dialogue from Foreign Ministers forum to Summit status, and the actual convening of the RIC. The Modi regime desires to follow the vision enunciated and delineated in the Shangri-la address of the Prime Minister, of an Indo-Pacific narrative, that stands for a free and open Indo-Pacific, through plurality, not prejudice. One can then contextualize the stated indications that an ingenious “Indo-Pacific” dialogue would be a noted feature of overall India-Russia and Sino-Indian bilateral consultations going forward.
One can also see India putting a premium on its ties with Russia, from the standpoint of Moscow emerging, though by no means on parity, but as a critical-mass bulwark to an overbearing Washington, in multiple sub-regional areas, from the AFPAK theatre to the Middle Eastern vector. The Russia-China axis constitutes a significant pillar, alternatively framing and shaping the potential contours of a futuristic Afghanistan, and in concert with Pakistan, which can bring certainly material, if not game-changing influence to bear, on ultimate transpiring. Hence, it’s a no-brainer that Modi’s New Delhi, which has prioritized its Central Asian foray and recognizes Russian facilitation towards its incorporation within the SCO and its indispensability to achieve longitudinal access deep into Eurasia, circumventing all the way to Europe, cannot but keep Moscow cultivated, in the face of deepening ties with Washington. Russia was no less central to ironing out the creases that led to the P5+1 — Iran arrangement of the JCPOA, in that it had a protagonist-cum-superintendence role to dispose of, in the accord’s sequential and qualitative implementation. With current US-Iran tensions on the boil, Russia could once again emerge the “prima donna conduit” to de-escalation, which beholds dividends for India. Similarly, despite not being an OPEC member, Moscow through its strong links with Iran and a blossoming working relationship with Saudi Arabia, it is a not-so-discreet influence, nudging energy politics, if not dynamics, again with implications for India.
Going forward, three quintessential strategic objectives continually permeating Indian foreign policy endeavors and initiatives are the quest for consolidation of its uniquely centripetal role in advancing economic cooperation and functional regionalism goals sub-continent wide, within an increasingly vibrancy sworn South Asia; to substantively and efficaciously integrate adjoining neighbourhoods, both in the East (South East Asia) and to the West (Central and West Asia), through all forms of connectivity accessed mobility, be it hard and/or soft, physical and/or virtual; and to seamlessly integrate within, rather than aggressively impinge upon, the wider global institutions of financial management, regimes at trade facilitation and structures of governance enabling, by clamouring for reforms in architecture and processes, but not quite an upending the order.
First published in our partner RIAC
Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions
Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.
The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.
Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.
The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.
The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.
Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.
Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.
Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.
Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.
A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.
That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.
These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.
The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.
Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.
“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.
“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.
The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.
Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.
Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.
Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.
Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.
Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.
“Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.
Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan
The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people of the country’s recalcitrant mountainous province of Panjshir. Whoever controls the region’s passes controls the routes leading to China and Tajikistan, but to seize this mountain valley and, most importantly, to keep it permanently under control has always been a problem for all invaders. Eager to let the international community see for the first time in 40 years a united Afghanistan as a sign of their final victory, the radical Islamists were prepared to make any sacrifices, including filling the approaches to the Panjshir Valley up with dead bodies. Moreover, the Taliban’s longtime ally Pakistan, which, regardless of its status of an ally of the United States, has provided them with direct military support. In fact, Islamabad admitted its less than successful role when it proposed signing a truce to find and take out the bodies of its special Ops forces who had died during the attack on the valley. However, drones flown by Pakistani operators, professional commandos (possibly once trained by the Americans), air support and other pleasant gifts from the allies eventually bore fruit letting the Taliban be photographed in front of the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., the famous “Lion of Panjshir,” who controlled the valley from 1996 to 2001. The Islamists also took control of the province’s central city of Bazarak.
Having deprived the province much of its Internet access, the radicals, who control most of the Afghan territory, found it easier to wage an information war. Their claims of victories were now more difficult to contest, even though information about their retreat did reach the outside world. Reflective of the heavy losses suffered for the first time by the Taliban and their allies – the Haqqani Network and other remnants of al-Qaeda, as well as by the regular Pakistani army is the brief truce arranged by Islamabad. Looks like the mountain passes leading to Panjshir were literally filled up with corpses…
As for Massoud Jr., the young lion of Panjshir, and his supporters, they retreated to the mountains. In fact, they had nowhere to fall back to. The problem of Afghanistan is its ethnic diversity. Thus, the country is home to 23 percent of ethnic Tajiks, most of whom live in the Panjshir Valley. However, the Taliban rely mainly on the Pashtuns, who account for over 50 percent of the country’s population. As for the new masters of Afghanistan, they are ready to carry out ethnic cleansings and even commit outright genocide in order to bring the valley into submission. To make this happen they are going to resettle there their fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Local men aged between 12 and 50 are already being taken away and, according to the National Resistance Front, no one has seen them again. However, due to the information blockade, the Taliban will not hesitate to refute such facts. One thing is clear: Massoud’s Tajik fighters and the government troops that joined them are fighting for their lives, and there will be no honorable surrender!
The main question now is whether the young lion of Panjshir will receive the same support as his father once did, or will find himself without ammunition and food. After all, the Taliban leaders have reached certain agreements with the United States. Suffice it to mention the numerous remarks made, among others, by President Biden himself about the Taliban now being different from what they were 20 years ago.
But no, the Taliban`s remain the same – they have only hired new PR people. Meanwhile, hating to admit their defeat, Brussels and Washington will have to engage in a dialogue with those who are responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and for the numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Taliban are pretending to make minor cosmetic concessions. Minor indeed, since they are still depriving women of the opportunity to work and study, destroying higher and secondary education and brutally clamping down on people who simply do not want to live according to religious norms.
The United States is actually helping the “new-look” Taliban. Their potential opponents, including the famous Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, left the country under various guarantees, and Washington is trying to keep them from any further participation in the conflict. Democratic politicians naively believe that by creating an Islamic state and ending the protracted civil war in Afghanistan the Taliban will ensure stability in the region and will not move any further. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan do not think so and are strengthening their borders and preparing to protect their Afghan compatriots, because they know full well that the Taliban`s are not a national political party; they are a radical Islamist ideology.
It knows no borders and spreads like a cancerous tumor, destroying all pockets of Western culture. It can only be stopped by force. However, the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan showed that Washington, which quickly took control of the country in 2001, simply had no strategy to keep it. The Afghans were given nothing that would appear to them more attractive than the ideas of radical Islam. As a result, the few Afghans who embrace European values are fleeing the country, and those who, like Massoud Jr., decided to fight for their freedom, now risk being left to face their enemy all by themselves.
Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy
India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to India’s perception, yearns. If India had a pragmatic policy, it would not have found itself whimpering and whining like a rueful baby over spilt milk.
India supported the invasion of Afghanistan by both the former Soviet Union and the USA, both losers. President Trump mocked Modi for having built a library for the Afghan people. Trump expected India to contribute foot soldiers, and by corollary, body packs to the Afghan crisis. India played all the tricks up its sleeves to convince the USA to make India a party to the US-Taliban talks. But the USA ditched not only Modi but also Ashraf Ghani to sign the Doha peace deal with the Taliban.
India’s external affairs minister still calls the Taliban government “a dispensation”. Interestingly, the USA has reluctantly accepted that the Taliban government is a de facto government.
The United Nations’ Development Programme has portrayed a bleak situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is faced with multifarious challenges. These include prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, and rising poverty.
About 47 per cent of its people live below the dollar-a-day poverty line. If the poverty line is pushed to $2 a day, 90 per cent of Afghans would be poor. About 55 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.
Ninety seven percent of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line, As such, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty. Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. The UNDP has proposed to access the most vulnerable nine million people by focusing on essential services, local livelihoods, basic income and small infrastructure.
Currently, the gross national product of Afghanistan is around $190 billion, just a little more than the $160 billion economy of Dhaka city. The country’s legal exports of goods and services every year account for $1 billion. It imports$6 billion worth of goods and services every year.
About 80 per cent of world production of opium comes from Afghanistan. Every year, Afghanistan produces nearly 10,000 tons of opium and the revenue generated from it amounts to $7 billion approximately. About 87 per cent of the income of opium producing farmers comes exclusively from this single product. The illicit opium export by Afghanistan is worth $2 billion every year. The role of opium is significant.
About 80 per cent of public expenditure in this country is funded by grants. Since 2002, the World Bank has provided Afghanistan with a total of $5.3 billion as development and emergency relief assistance. The IMF earmarked for Afghanistan $400 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
The United States has frozen about $10 billion worth of Afghan assets held at various banks in Afghanistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn the $400 million worth of SDRs allocated earlier to Afghanistan for addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The World Bank has not said anything as of yet, but it may also put restrictions on its funding to Afghanistan.
India’s lip service to Afghanistan
India provided around $3 billion in aid to fallen U.S.-backed Afghan government. It trained the Afghan army and police. But now it is not willing to pay or pledge a penny to the Taliban government. Look at the following Times of India report:
“India did not pledge any money to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan probably for the first time in 20 years. That it has not done so as Jaishanker declared … (At UN, India offers support to Afghanistan but does not pledge money. The Times of India September 14, 2021).–The Hindu, September 11, 2021
India’s tirade against Afghanistan
Indian policymakers and experts say they see no guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a haven for militants. “Afghanistan may be poised to become a bottomless hole for all shades of radical, extremist and jihadi outfits somewhat similar to Iraq and Syria, only closer to India,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who was India’s ambassador in Kabul between 2010 to 2013. He added that the Taliban victory could have an “inspirational effect” not only for Kashmir’s rebels but wherever religiously-driven groups operate in the broader region… Lt. Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan (With Taliban’s rise, India sees renewed threat in Kashmir, Star Tribune September 14, 2021). “Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh conveyed to Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the rise of the Taliban raises serious security concerns for India and the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a “catastrophic” situation for the Afghan people and be a “gift for terrorist groups.”). Afghan economic meltdown would be ‘gift for terrorists,’ says U.N. chief” (The Hindu, September 11, 2021)
India’s former envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay is skeptical of the conciliatory statements by the taliban government. He advises: “We should welcome recent statements by Stanekzai and Anas Haqqani that suggest some independence from the ISI. But we should also ask some hard questions and judge them by their actions and words, and not let down our guard, both with regard to our multiple security concerns such as whether they can protect us from the Ias and ISI, sever ties with other terror groups, especially those supported by the ISI against India, deny Pakistan strategic depth, and preserve and build on our historic P2P and trade ties; and a genuinely inclusive govt in Afghanistan that accommodates the majority of Afghans who want the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2004 Afghan Constitution or at least acceptable to the Afghan people.” (Taliban move to form govt, Naya Afghanistan brings new challenge for India, September 2, 2021).
India wants a “central role’ to be given to the UN in Afghanistan. India’s mumbo jumbo implies that Afghanistan should be made a UN protectorate. Indian media is never tired of calling the Afghan government a bunch of terrorists. They have even launched video games about it.
India needs to rethink how it can mend fences with Afghanistan that it regards a hothouse of terrorists.
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