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Reshaping Indian Foreign Service should be the priority of Modi 2.0

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India has once again reposed its faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi despite the Poll pundits, Lutyens Media and Exit polls predicting an edge to opposition alliance, Modi has managed to sway voters with his idea of new India and developmental politics. A young and aspirational India is crafting a new political narrative. This mandate is indeed historic. BJP has not only showed the opposition how electioneering is done in style but also forced them to dismantle their opportunistic political ambition and imagination. As many members of the Government said, 2014 was an election of hope but 2019 was an election of trust.

With India rapidly evolving as a global economy, this trust is not limited demographically. Modi’s foreign policy has brought India respect and stature in the global arena. India under his regime has become a major global player. It is apparent from India’s influence in the global diplomacy that no vital discussion or treaty – may it be related to trade or climate change or human rights – can be implemented without India backing it. Modi as a global leader will be far more powerful than he was during his last term in a manner Vladimir Putin is powerful in Russia and Xi Jinping is powerful in China. This command for respect in the global space can be seen by the responses by world leaders rushing to congratulate Modi even before the results of the parliamentary election were formally declared. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu has stood out for his enthusiastic message in Hindi. Xi Jinping’s elaborate message stands out for the speed with which it was issued. Donald Trump said India is lucky to have Modi as Prime Minister.

Foreign policy and Indic diplomacy have been one of the core areas of the Modi Government. We may see a new Foreign Minister in a couple of days, but what we may also see is the long-lasting problem of Indian Foreign Service (IFS). The IFS is one of the most prestigious services in the country and those who desire to be a part of this service and become a career diplomat needs to clear the Civil Services Examination (CSE) first. A diplomat is a representative of his country and a foot soldier of its foreign policy. Good armies fight wars and win. Good diplomats deter wars and win. In spite of the bureaucratised entry system, many of the former Indian officials have come out and stated that an understaffed and underprepared foreign ministry is holding back Modi’s plan to seek greater global influence in line with his country’s fast-growing $2.6 trillion economy. India has 1.3 billion people, but fewer than 1,000 diplomats. With roughly around 940 foreign service officers, India has one of the most understaffed diplomatic corps of any major economy just moderately higher than New Zealand’s 885 officers, or Singapore’s 850. It is to a great extent outnumbered by the Japanese and Australian foreign services of around 6,000 people, the estimated 7,500 diplomats of rival China and the United States’ State Department’s service of nearly 14,000.

Lack of diplomats restricts the Ministry of External Affairs from processing all the information it receives from various embassies and consulates, and a large number of small countries that are deemed as less strategically important are neglected. Deficiency also hinders the MEA’s capacity to manage multiple negotiations at the same time. Between 1998 and 2005, there was a drastic cut-down in recruitment. The total intake through the UPSC exam across services came down to approximately 200 per year. In the early 2000s, no more than eight IFS officers were inducted each year. Between 2008 and 2018, a Ministry of External Affairs expansion plan was put in place. This looked at two aspects – to increase the intake through the UPSC civil services exam and also to fast-track promotions on merit, which meant there were several promotes from group B services who held important diplomatic posts like ambassadors. Over the last six to seven years, the intake through the UPSC exam has been 35-40 IFS officers each year. The total number of recruitments, across services, was close to 1,200 last year.

The Ministry of External Affairs in a written reply to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2016 had said, “India has a pool of about 2,700 diplomatic rank officers in our Missions/Posts abroad and at Headquarters, including those from the feeder service and other Ministries and Services. In contrast, China has 4,500 diplomats, Japan has 5,700 diplomats, Brazil has 2,000, Italy has 910 and Korea has 1,250. The United States is known to have about 20,000 diplomats. We are, therefore, not among the smallest of the diplomatic services, but are also not among the largest.”

BJP’s 2019 election manifesto promises to “increase the strength of the diplomatic and allied cadres to keep pace with our increasing global engagement”. The idea should not be limited to increasing the size of foreign service but also implement lateral entry, an idea that has been opposed fervidly by the civil service cadre in the past. Lateral entry is a sine qua non to restructure the IFS. The MEA’s ongoing Expansion Plan 2.0 has a special provision for lateral entry but here lateral entry will mean officers on deputation for 3-5 years.

India’s interpretation of “Lateral entry” is to involve posting an officer from any other All India service to an overseas mission to execute a specific job. For instance, a railway service official is posted for executing railway projects in a neighbouring country, or a Commerce Ministry official is posted to handle complex trade negotiations. But lateral entrants are not given an opportunity to grow into the service. They have had to return to their parent service after the completion of assigned tasks. A better option would be to introduce the ‘revolving door’ concept. Experts in academia, think-tanks, scholars, research professionals or industry experts should be given an option to serve in the diplomatic ranks. The veil between these fields and diplomacy need to be lifted and interoperability needs to be tested. The United States and European Union have been following this kind of inter-operability for decades, and with success. 

Another major step would be to depart from the colonial system of examination for Foreign services. A completely different exam and selection procedure focussing on international relations, diplomacy, economic history, global governance, negotiation skills and the law should be introduced so that area-specific meritocratic professionals come into foreign diplomacy services and policy making. India has a lot to contribute towards global policy making and for India to maintain its position as a global power, reshaping and revamping of IFS is an immediate necessity.

Adithya Anil Variath is a lawyer based in Mumbai, India. He writes frequently on issues of Law & Policy, AI and International relations

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South Asia

The Potential of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Stabilizing Afghanistan

Shaza Arif

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Afghanistan today remains afflicted with instability and looming threat of terrorism. Kidnapping, killings, bomb blasts and other such notorious activities continue to vandalize the lives of millions of Afghans. Moreover, it also poses a perilous threat to regional security and has the potential to jeopardize the ongoing economic projects, the most pertinent of which is the Chinese initiated Belt Road Initiative (BRI). After a protracted stay of 17 years in Afghanistan, the U.S forces have ultimately decided to withdraw its troops and bring an end to the Afghan War. However, the withdrawal of the United States will change the security dynamics of Afghanistan. The regional players are well aware of this fact and have galvanized their efforts to avert the possibility of chaos in the region after the United States extricates.

BRI is a colossal initiative and is the manifestation of China’s ambitions to entangle the region into an economic interconnectedness. This magnanimous project will evolve a number of opportunities for other regional states including Afghanistan. A stabilized Afghanistan is a dire requirement of BRI; partly because the integration of Afghanistan into the initiative will be very fruitful and partly because turbulent conditions in Afghanistan can pose obstructions in the functioning of various projects particularly, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Furthermore, countries like China and Russia are extremely apprehensive of the spillover effect of terrorism to other states.  Hence, chalking out a secure environment is crucial.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the largest and most populous regional organization which commenced in 2001 for the fostering of friendly relations between the members, expediting regional connectivity and eradicating terrorism. In 2005 SCO-Afghan Contact Group was established to put forward recommendations and proposals for the cooperation between SCO and Afghanistan on security matters along with various aspects of mutual concerns such as enhanced trade activities. Even though the activities of the forum remained stalled till 2009; However 2017 onwards the SCO-Afghan Contact Group held three annual meetings. Moreover, in 2012 SCO accorded the observer status to Afghanistan.

In the 2017 meeting of the SCO-Afghan Contact Group in Astana Kazakhstan, the organization readjusted the Group activities in the light of the expansion of the organization by adding new members: India and Pakistan. All foreign ministers endorsed the building of a stable Afghanistan and exchanged opinions to combat the prevailing threat of terrorism and carve out a secure environment. Similarly, all the parties generated a consensus on the dire requirement to bolster the SCO-Afghanistan cooperation in the future. In addition China offered to host the 2018 Contact Group meeting which was accepted by all of the parties to materialize the initiatives proposed in the meeting through further discussions, proposals and frameworks.

In the 2018 meeting in Beijing, all the members again reasserted their support to intensify the cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO. Secretary-General Rashid Alimov also attended the meeting, and  made the opening remarks by stating,  “The leaders of the SCO member states are unanimous in their firm commitment to Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity, as well as their invariable support for the Afghan Government and people as they strive to restore their country and strengthen democratic institutions”.

Again in 2019, the meeting held for the third time. The participants discussed the current status of the security condition in Afghanistan, Afghan reconciliation process along with a roadmap draft for future actions. Furthermore, parties agreed on fostering further cooperation between Afghanistan and SCO members on terrorism and the prospects of regional connectivity.

SCO has emerged as the largest and most populous regional organization. The BRI initiative will indeed be the manifestation of regional interconnectedness. It opposes unilateralism and trade protectionism. Moreover, the SCOs principles of non-interference and consensus are also quite captivating for Afghanistan. Likewise the geostrategic location of Afghanistan is very pertinent for the BRI initiative. China has become either the first or second largest trading partner of most of the SCO members. Hence Afghanistan can benefit a lot from this initiative provided the security conditions are tamed.

The Chinese attitude towards Afghanistan has been very amiable. In June 2018, during a meeting between President Ghani and President Xi Jinping, Xi called for the amplifying of high-level interaction, bolstering local-level cooperation along the anti-terrorism and trade cooperation. Moreover, he also praised the endeavors of the Afghan government towards peace and stability in view of the announced cease-fire with the Taliban. The President also highlighted that an “Afghan led and Afghan owned” reconciliation process will serve as the sole driver for paving sustainable peace in Afghanistan. An engaging aspect is that China being a dominant regional player has the capacity to pacify the tensions between the Afghan and Pakistan government, this will be a mighty achievement and will serve the interest of regional security. Similarly another area where Afghanistan needs assistance is the governance. Augmenting the weak institutions of Afghanistan is mandatory for the efficient functioning of the state. SCO members can play a part in fortifying the institutions through a proper framework.

Most important is the urgent need to curb the ISIS from protruding its network in Afghanistan. This is a very pressing task and requires a synergized action by all the regions through efficient intelligences sharing and the training of Afghanistan’s forces in a manner that they can tackle this potential threat on their own.

Taliban are an indispensable part of Afghanistan. Years after fighting, all the parties have realized that there is no military solution to the Afghan issue. China and Russia are active actors in the Afghan Peace Process and are even in talks with the Taliban. Hence, they can play an instrumental role to steer them to the talking table with the Afghan government.

The China-led organization serves as a potential driver of stability in Afghanistan in the long run due to the economic interconnectedness which will curtail the onerous economic crisis which Afghanistan is tackling at the moment and at the same time aid Afghanistan for security measures. The SCO members, observers and dialogue partners can collectively push towards stabilizing Afghanistan. Moreover, the expansion of SCO is quite likely in the future with the prospects of roping in Afghanistan as a full member are also on the table. Afghanistan can attain a lot from SCO and vice versa. Changing geopolitical landscape, geostrategic location of Afghanistan coupled with the ongoing economic initiatives has opened a pathway on which Afghanistan can tread towards stability.

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The need of China- Pakistan ties

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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At times the significance of neighboring countries can’t be denied or ignored. History is the biggest beholder that any country who fancied cordial terms with its neighbors has enjoyed the taste of development and otherwise. In the contemporary world, the links get to establish on the plank of how strong are you economically. Gone are the days when the relationships would foster for the reason of being the nuclear might. At the present era, the countries offer you even hand in case you are economically well instituted and dominate the world market. China the world’s biggest emerging economy is fantasized by the majority of the countries. The countries perceive China as an ideal country to foster good terms.

In this respect, Pakistan is fortunate enough to have the best terms with China. The amicable terms of Pakistan and China are an eyesore for many countries particularly the U.S. and India. The saga of Pak-Sino ties began in 1951 when Pakistan recognized nationalist turned communist China. From those very moments, the relationship between both states experienced the unending boom. The friendship between China and Pakistan has now strengthened much more than ever. The rationale behind that intimate bond is now transactional and strategic needs of both the states.

China an economic giant shares 523kms border with Pakistan and situated in the northeast side of the latter. During recent times its significance for Pakistan has grown multiple times. China is vital for Pakistan strategically and transactionally. The BRI (Belt Road Initiative) that envisages China’s connectivity with the world incorporates CPEC is fate changer for Pakistan. The thriving consummation of CPEC would ensure Pakistan’s economic triumph. Pakistan shares a history of a troubled relationship with India. As per the designs of India, it wants Pakistan diplomatically isolated from each front. When it comes to Afghanistan, the North Alliance there doesn’t enjoy good terms with Pakistan. It doesn’t possess virtuous viewpoints about Pakistan. It has ever blamed Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan. In the west, Pakistan has another neighbor Iran, with which the relationship rosary is somewhat fragile. The U.S. sanctions bearer country (Iran) has mixed contemplations about Pakistan. The story of Pakistan’s ties with Russia doesn’t portray the perfect portrait. Across the continent, there is a global power the U.S. that has a longing desire to dictate Pakistan. It has commanded Pakistan whether it is the cold war or the global war against terror. The U.S. outpoured the money in Pakistan whenever it desired and froze the aid according to its desire. Thus, Pakistan is not at good terms with the U.S.

Amidst all the scenario, Pakistan is in dire need to maintain good terms with the one that could mitigate its sufferings. In this respect, China holds the best prospect. Besides, China always came forward to assist Pakistan on international organizations like the U.N. and the S.C.O (Shanghai Corporation Organization). Along with it China being the dominant member of N.S.G (Nuclear supplier group) has always endorsed Pakistan’s membership bid. On the other side, China negates India’s desire to become a member of the N.S.G. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is among the national interest of Pakistan, and China always stood by Pakistan in this matter. The matter is not confined here, China being an industrial and the technological giant outpours its products in Pakistan. The transfer of technology and products from China to Pakistan has helped the latter up to a greater extent.

Indeed China has been kind to Pakistan, but the question is; why China showers its magnanimity over Pakistan.

The answer has multiple dimensions. Aforementioned, China is dominating the global economy. It is emerging as the world’s biggest economy by upsetting the U.S. This upkeep of China is an eyesore for the U.S. Globally, China shares irksome ties with the U.S.  Last year the U.S. entered into the trade war with China. When it comes to the region, Asia, China finds India as its competitor that seeks regional dominance. Additionally, the consummation of the BRI has now become considerably important for China. China is well aware of these challenges and astute enough to read the trends of the time. It deems Pakistan as a considerate opportunity in this respect.

Pakistan and India are rival countries and vie for the dominance in the South-Asia. Also, India seeks Pakistan’s isolation on the diplomatic front. Whether it is LOC skirmish, water dispute, and the Kashmir issue; India and Pakistan ever remain at loggerheads over any of these issues. Such stalemate is an ideal context for China because the U.S. has opted India as its strategic ally in South-Asia. China, Pakistan, and India all the three countries share borders with each other. Regrettably, these three countries have reservations over territory and have fought wars as well. The nexus of Pakistan and China is undoubtedly capable of countering the Indian interests. However, this nexus is more in favor of China than Pakistan. Engaged in other affairs like trade war, operating the BRI, seeking an alliance with other states; China doesn’t want to involve more in countering India. China sees Pakistan as the best option for this purpose because this serves the interests of China and Pakistan as well.

When it comes to technological advancement, China has hit the mark in the world. Industries, power sector, automation houses, such departments require energy to run. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are renowned for being rich in energy resources, and the unique location of Pakistan joins it with the CARs. The CPEC is initiated for this purpose of providing the shortest route for transiting fuel to China from energy-rich countries, and Pakistan is playing its role as the energy-conduit state. Pakistan through the CPEC is conserving China’s transit cost and time as well.

China and the U.S. share a fraught history of bonds and remain at loggerheads; Pakistan in recent times has also experienced cold shoulder from the U.S. The cold war rival of the U.S., Russia is yet another camp that is not at good terms with the former. The neighbor of Pakistan, Iran that is reeling from the vicious cycle of the economic downturn is also the victim of the U.S. rage. Last year the U.S. torpedoed the JCPOA unilaterally, and during the same year, Donald Trump heralded the sanctions on Iran. Iran also initiated a project with India to counter the CPEC on its Chabahar port. China by the cooperation of Pakistan can incorporate Iran in the CPEC, and the alliance of China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia can counter the dominance of the U.S.

The recent visit of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to Pakistan is a good omen for both countries. The Chinese reservations that reared head following the terrorist attack in Gawadar would diminish by the visit of vice president. Wang Qishan also held meetings with PM Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, CM Usman Buzdar and Governor Punjab Chaudry Ghulam Sarwar.

It is also in the national interest of Pakistan that it should seek an alliance with other countries and the foreign policy agenda of Pakistan has also the same appeal. PM Imran Khan with his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi must have to strengthen the bond further since the cordial bonds with China would ensure Pakistan’s prosperity.

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Tussle Between Hindu Nationalists And Reformists

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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On the evening of January 30, 1948, as he walked to his regular interfaith prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu nationalist who opposed Gandhi’s inclusiveness towards those of other faiths, particularly Muslims. 

Manifested in its worst form in the assassination of a revered figure, this conflict between liberal and nationalist Hindus continues to this day.  The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is the current target of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s scorn.

In India’s recent general election, the BJP and Narendra Modi the prime minister were returned to power with an increased majority in the lower house of India’s parliament.  Their usual poor showing in West Bengal, even though improved in this election, has led to comments designed to arouse public ire — like the state has been turned into a mini-Pakistan.  It is worth noting that Gandhi’s killer was a former member of the RSS, leaving it to form an armed group.  Also the RSS is considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, and Mr. Modi continues to be a member. 

Not long ago Gauri Lankesh was murdered outside her home for expressing liberal views.  This time in the Kolkata disturbances against Banerjee, it was a bust of a secular reformist liberal that was decapitated:  the venerated Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) was a lawyer, philosopher and reformist who contributed to rationalizing the Bengali alphabet and prose, and fought for Hindu widows’ right to remarry.

But the difference between Hindu nationalists and liberals is of earlier origin.  In the 19th century, social reformers like Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade were opposed by others like B. G. Tilak.  If Ranade supported the Age of Consent Bill raising the age when girls could be married from 10 to 12, then Tilak thought it to be an interference by foreigners in Indian customs and traditions.  Tilak had also formed cow protection societies raising communal tensions in his Bombay base — sound familiar to the present situation where meat eaters and leather tanners are often targeted?  Ranade sought to keep religion private and foresaw the potential conflict

The practice of celebrating the birthday of the god Ganesh was old and the ‘puja’ or worship usually performed in the home.  Tilak now encouraged a public ‘puja’, encouraging people to bring the Ganesh idols out of their homes and celebrate openly.  The festival of loud music and idols in procession continues to this day and is now spread out over ten days.

The consequences had been predicted by Tilak’s reformist adversaries, notably Justice Ranade and G. G. Agarkar, the latter a friend 0f Tilak who had become a critic.  In September 1893, Bombay suffered its first communal riot leaving nearly 100 dead and 500 injured.  Minor clashes had already occurred over the incessantly loud music and general disruption of daily activity.

The religious flavor so imparted to the independence movement gave pause to Muslims; the glue binding secular society was being dissolved.  Feeling marginalized, they soon formed the Muslim League to protect their rights, and not long thereafter began to demand a separate homeland … Pakistan. 

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